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The Best 35mm Cameras to Use in 2022

These 35mm champions are a terrific way to get great shots while using film that's relatively cheap and easy to get developed.

collage of three 35mm cameras
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So you want to do film photography. Welcome! It may be old-fashioned, but there are still plenty of reasons to do it here in 2022. Whether you're looking for your first camera, your second, or your twelfth, these 35mm champions are a terrific way to get great shots while using film that's relatively cheap and easy to get developed. Sure, there are more exotic options available, but 35mm is never a bad choice.

With additional contributions from AJ Powell.

What to Look for When Buying a Used Film Camera

The great news when it comes to film cameras (and 35mm cameras especially) is that the "sensor" or the medium actually recording the images is the same across all of them. At its most basic form, all the camera body really does is hold the lens and provide a light-proof box for the film to live in.

So, what that really means is that all great film cameras (especially when looking for vintage or used examples) share the same few things:

Great lenses: They're basically the only thing that can make one 35mm film camera "sharper" or "higher resolution" or "tonally" better than another. For interchangeable-lens cameras, this is pretty easy, but where you'll have to be savvy is with point-and-shoot or fixed lens cameras. Red flags with those are (generally) zoom lenses and lenses without a fixed wide aperture - think 24-70 f/4.5-5.6.

Reliability: Really the only other thing that a film camera has to do is work. Things that get in the way are finicky electronics (common on compact cameras from the 90s) and age. Just about all of the mechanical ailments of vintage cameras can be fixed with a reasonably affordable CLA (Clean, Lubricate, Adjust) service from any good camera repair shop.

Cost: There was a time when all film cameras were fairly cheap. Now, there are a small handful that — through the hype, celebrity endorsement, or general excellence - have become quite expensive. Sometimes, the price is still justifiable and at least feels rational. Some of the cameras on this list — Contax's G and T line ◊ are insanely expensive these days, but the reason they got expensive is that the nerdy film photographers in 2010 (rightly) said that they were excellent. Also, it's not like they're making any more of them.

What Is the Best film for 35mm Cameras?

We've got a long list of excellent 35mm films, but, practically speaking, your choices are fairly limited as we get further and further from film's golden age. Short answer: start with Kodak Portra 400 and explore from there.

The Different Types of 35mm Cameras

Point and Shoots: As the name suggests, these are largely automatic, compact cameras that require just about zero expertise to shoot well. Not that that's a bad thing at all. Think of these as the absolute greatest (and reusable) version of a disposable camera that you'd find at a party.

Rangefinders: Most of the compactness of point-and-shoots with quite a bit more user involvement. You'll definitely be setting apertures and most likely be manually focusing, but you'll get interchangeable lenses and a reasonably compact size: win/win!

SLRs: As classic as it gets. Interchangeable lenses and a viewfinder where you're looking directly through the lens. They tend to be bigger than rangefinders or point and shoots, but they're less complicated, easier to shoot, cheaper, and have a much broader selection of lenses. If you're getting into film photography and are interested in having lots of control over your image: this is the play.


But What About...

This list is a (highly) curated selection of cameras from a 50-year-long era of photography. There are thousands of different 35mm film cameras, but these are the ones that balance usability, modern convenience, build quality and availability the best. It's also worth keeping in mind that these are vintage objects with often-limited repairability, there are notable omissions (Yashica T3/T4, Ricoh GR, Leica M6 TTL) that are excellent cameras but aren't worth investing huge amounts of money in because once they break, that's it, many necessary parts simply don't exist anymore.

Our Picks

The Point and Shoots


Konica Hexar AF

Courtesy
Konica Hexar AF
ebay.com

  • Great lens
  • Easy to operate
  • Fairly reliable

  • Max shutter speed of 1/250 will require faster film or ND filters to shoot outside
  • Shutter can get sticky and require professional maintenance

The Hexar AF is a great fixed lens camera. It's got a fixed 35mm f/2 lens, autofocus, an aperture priority mode, and it's quiet, like… bizarrely quiet. It's not the most compact point-and-shoot, but it's plenty small.

  • Launched In: 1993
  • Lens Mount: Fixed
  • Weight: 495 grams
  • Find One For (in 2022): $500


    Nikon L35 AF

    Courtesy
    Nikon L35 AF
    ebay.com

    • Easy to use
    • Great lens
    • Reasonably affordable

    • Not a lot of options for manual control
    • Older versions are limited to a max film speed of 400

    The L35 AF is a great point and shoot that's pocketable and features a small-but-mighty 35mm f/2.8 lens attached. The camera itself is dead simple, runs off of AA batteries and good-enough autofocus. If you're looking for a reasonably affordable alternative to some of the more hype point-and-shoot film cameras, this is it.

    • Launched In: 1983
    • Lens Mount: Fixed
    • Weight: 345 grams
    • Find One For (in 2022): $200


      Contax T2 / T3

      eBay
      Contax T2 / T3
      ebay.com

      • Stunning build quality
      • Amazing lens
      • Tiny form factor

      • Heinously expensive
      • Autofocus isn't as good as it should be

      The Contax T2 and T3 are the gold standards when it comes to luxurious point and shoots. Their titanium-clad compact bodies house a 35mm f/2.8 lens (38mm on the T2) and a slew of really great electronics. At this point, and as good as these cameras are, they're status symbols. Popularized by Jurgen Teller and more recently by Frank Ocean and Kendall Jenner, the Contax point and shoots are insanely good, but the prices are eye-watering.

      • Launched In: 1991
      • Lens Mount: Fixed
      • Weight: 295 grams
      • Find One For (in 2022): $1,200 (T2), $2,000 (T3)


        Olympus Mju II (AKA Stylus Epic)

        eBay
        Olympus Mju II (AKA Stylus Epic)
        ebay.com
        $300.00

        • Compact and weather-sealed body
        • Great lens
        • Included flash is easy, effective

        • Probably overpriced at this point, but what isn't
        • Plastic body doesn't feel great

        It's a tale as old as time at this point, but the Stylus epic is a compact 35mm film camera with a great 35mm f/2.8 lens, weather sealing and snappy autofocus. Sure it's made of plastic and costs a ton compared to what it did in 2010, but the image quality is there.

        • Launched In: 1997
        • Lens Mount: Fixed
        • Weight: 135 grams
        • Find One For (in 2022): $300

          The Rangefinders


          Contax G1/2

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          Contax G1/2
          ebay.com

          • Beautiful build quality
          • Great lenses
          • TLA 200 flash is one of the best camera accessories ever mad

          • G1 has the world's smallest viewfinder
          • Autofocus only is a tough sell for rangefinder classicists
          • Bizarrely loud

          Much like their revered little siblings, the T3 and T4, the Contax G1 and G2 are similarly hyped (if a bit more affordable). At their core, the G1 and G2 are interchangeable lens autofocus rangefinders that use an absolutely legendary system of Carl Zeiss lenses. The lenses are the real star here, but the compact electronic rangefinders are really well made and provide an excellent - if not very involved - shooting experience. While the cameras technically offer manual focus, it's a complete joke.

          • Launched In: 1994
          • Lens Mount: Contax G
          • Weight: 450 grams
          • Find One For (in 2022): $800 (G1), $2,000 (G2)


            Leica M6 Non-TTL

            Leica M6 Non-TTL
            ebay.com

            • Iconic design
            • Best lenses on Earth
            • Rangefinder has a learning curve but is super snappy once you've got it down

            • Body is expensive, lenses are insanely expensive (though they hold their value well)
            • Very little electronic hand-holding

            What's left to be said about the Leica M6 at this point? It's a legendary manual rangefinder camera with just the right amount of modern convenience (i.e. a built-in light meter). The viewfinder is bright and beautiful, the camera is a design icon, the rangefinder focus is intuitive and the Leica M lens ecosystem is probably the best in the history of cameras. Why not the more modern TTL version? They're a hair more expensive, but mainly there are some lingering repairability issues around the camera's central control board. Leica no longer makes control boards for the M6 TTL and a broken one bricks the camera, so unless you are the world's biggest fan of through-the-lens flash metering (why??) get the classic M6.

            • Launched In: 1984
            • Lens Mount: Leica M
            • Weight: 585 grams
            • Find One For (in 2022): $2,700


              Voightlander Bessa R2M

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              Voightlander Bessa R2M
              ebay.com

              • Cheaper than and M6
              • Intuitive LED-based metering system
              • Bright rangefinder

              • You might eternally wish for that red Leica dot
              • Strap lugs are on the front of the camera instead of the sides, which is dumb

              Remember when I said that the camera matters less than the lenses when it comes to 35mm film cameras? Best to think of the Bessa as a cheaper alternative to the M6. It uses the same Leica (or Voightlander) M Mount lenses, has a similarly good rangefinder focusing system, and is generally excellently made. You'll definitely have moments where you wish you'd bought the M6, but the savings can't be beat.

              • Launched In: 2002
              • Lens Mount: Leica M
              • Weight: 430 grams
              • Find One For (in 2022): $1,200

                The SLRs


                Nikon FE

                Nikon FE
                ebay.com

                • Everything you need, nothing you don't
                • Compact
                • Wide variety of affordable lenses

                • Quite old at this point, will definitely need some degree of preventative maintenance
                • Boring?

                The FE just rips. It's basic, it's incredibly well made, and Nikon's F series of lenses are widely available and excellent. The FE was one of Nikon's first cameras with an electronically-controlled shutter, but despite the camera being nearly 40 years old everything seems to have held up quite well. The FE is low on razzmatazz, but an absolutely killer SLR for the price.

                • Launched In: 1978
                • Lens Mount: Nikon F
                • Weight: 590 grams
                • Find One For (in 2022): $120

                  Pentax K1000

                  Courtesy
                  Pentax K1000
                  ebay.com

                  • Cheap
                  • Cheerful
                  • Omnipresent

                  • Not super sexy
                  • Lenses are good-not-great

                  The K1000 was in serial production from 1976 to 1997 - an astonishing 21 years. For that reason, and for the fact that it was a no-frills, mechanical SLR with zero sex appeal and unbeatable reliability, it's earned the reputation as the kind-of Toyota Camry of 35mm film cameras. Any high school film photography class will have a handful of them and they really are all you'd ever need.

                  • Launched In: 1976
                  • Lens Mount: Pentax K Mount
                  • Weight: 620 grams
                  • Find One For (in 2022): $75

                    Contax RX

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                    Contax RX
                    ebay.com

                    • Undervalued
                    • Great lenses
                    • Nifty kind-of-autofocus feature that tells you when you've hit focus

                    • Lens roster isn't quite as deep as Nikon
                    • Lots of electronics

                    Every one of these "Best Film Cameras" articles has at least one novel pick that's undervalued in the market, and it's our job as journalists to shed light on that camera and ruin its bang-for-buck factor. The Contax RX is that camera. It's a habitually-undervalued SLR from Contax that boasts similarly great build quality as the T and G series and can use some truly excellent Carl Zeiss lenses (the 50mm f/1.4 is a bonkers value). It's got a lot of electronic niftiness, but at its core it's just a really nice SLR for reasonable money.

                    • Launched In: 1994
                    • Lens Mount: Contax C/Y Mount
                    • Weight: 810 grams
                    • Find One For (in 2022): $165
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