Film Cameras for Intermediates

Posted on 03 November 2010 by Brian Auer

The previous article in this mini-series looked at Film Cameras for Beginners, and prior to that we looked at The Pros and Cons of Each Camera Type. Naturally, we’ll be looking at cameras a notch above the “beginner” level.

For the purpose of this article, I’m defining “intermediates” as photographers with a bit of experience using a few different types of film cameras. If you’re craving more control than a point & shoot or viewfinder can offer, you just might fall into this category. These folks can handle manual (or semi-manual) camera functions with relative ease, and the term “f-stop” doesn’t scare them.

So here are a few types of cameras that are well suited for intermediates.

Single Lens Reflex

SLR cameras come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and flavors. They shoot everything from 110 film to medium format. They can range from full manual to full auto functionality. The most common and easily found SLR for film photographers is the 35mm manual — these things were produced for decades and most of them are very well built.

The SLR is great for intermediate photographers because it’s relatively simple and intuitive to operate, but still offers a great deal of capture control. What you see is what you get for framing because you’re actually looking through the lens. Most manual SLRs will have a built in light meter, so exposure settings aren’t terribly difficult. The focusing aids are generally easy to use with a high level of accuracy. And for those who opt for a fancy automatic SLR, you just have the ability to let the camera do the thinking. The other strong points for SLR cameras is the relatively high build quality and the ability to change lenses for different situations (which is the case for most SLRs).

One downside to an SLR can be the bulk. Street photographers would usually find these things to be too big and obvious in a crowd, but most other situations wouldn’t cause concern. On that note, they’re also a bit noisy because of the mirror flopping around in there each time you hit the shutter. And depending on the model you decide to buy, they can also be a bit expensive (Hasselblad anyone?).

Here are a few examples of SLR film cameras:

Nikon FM HASSELBLAD 500/CM Minolta 110 Zoom SLR Minolta Dynax 9 (Maxxum 9) Pentax 6x7 with 75/4.5

Photo credits: Creative Commons License John Kratz, Creative Commons License JT-Pixel, Creative Commons License Capt Kodak, Creative Commons License intermayer, Creative Commons License g.bremer

Rangefinder

The rangefinder is a more advanced relative of the viewfinder camera we talked about previously. These are small cameras that operate quietly and efficiently — a prime choice for the street photographer. Most rangefinders are 35mm, but medium format rangefinders are out there too.

Rangefinders get their name from their method of focusing — they use a rangefinder mechanism! This is a strong point for the camera because it allows the package to be small (no reflex mirror) while providing an accurate means of focusing the image on the film plane. Rangefinders are inherently manual focus cameras and most will have semi-automatic exposure controls (shutter or aperture priority), though some are full manual control. Some rangefinders offer removable lenses while others are fixed lens, so pay attention to what you’re buying if you have a preference. The build quality of a rangefinder is also very good on average, and most of the popular models out there are several decades old.

While the rangefinder mechanism is a strong point for these cameras, it can be a downside too. The split image focusing aid might take some practice to master, and not viewing the scene through the lens can cause parallax errors on models that don’t compensate for it with a moving viewfinder frame. On the topic of cost, rangefinders can get expensive if you’re after one of the “elite” models, but good rangefinders can be found at a relatively low cost.

Here are some examples of rangefinder cameras:

Leica IIIf My First Rangefinder Woohoo! New camera: Super Baldax Leica M6 & VC Ultron 35/1.7 Huge Compact

Photo credits: Creative Commons License selva, Creative Commons License Whateverthing, Creative Commons License Voxphoto, Creative Commons License mr. Wood, Creative Commons License Roman Schmitz

Instant

Instant cameras generally fall into various other categories of cameras (SLR, rangefinder, viewfinder, p&s, etc.), but I’m grouping them together for this article. The binding element between all instant cameras is the film, which actually comes (or came) in a bunch of different sizes and formats. I’m generalizing instant cameras as an intermediate camera because a lot of the films and cameras can be quirky and sometimes difficult to work with.

Instant cameras have a strong cult following much like toy cameras, and users of instant cameras can become obsessed if caution is not taken. That’s because they’re fun to use and the photos have a special look to them! If you’re just getting into instant film, you might start down near the easy end with integral films. If you’re comfortable with that, maybe work up to pack film.

Truthfully, I have a hard time keeping up with which films actually exist and which cameras take which films. If you decide to get deep into instant film, you’ll need to do some research on cameras and film because there are a lot of cameras out there that can’t be used with available films (I own one such camera). And if you do get a camera that takes available film, plan on spending a bit of dough on each shot — the stuff is spendy. But, according to some, it’s totally worth it.

Here are a few instant cameras out there:

Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera Polaroid 1000 Land Camera and Polatronic 1 Flash Polaroid Land Camera 250 with flash #268 (three-quarter view) 0176 Polaroid 600SE Fuji Instax Mini 7

Photo credits: Creative Commons License Capt Kodak, Creative Commons License Arty Smokes (deaf mute), Creative Commons License Timmy Toucan, Creative Commons License Zokyo Labs, Creative Commons License John Biehler

Any other suggestions for “intermediate” cameras? What are some good ones for the beginners looking to step it up? And to conclude this mini-series, we’ll get into the “advanced” or “expert” cameras next time.

4 Comments For This Post

  1. Tomas Webb Says:

    Actually, Impossible Project now make Spectra film so your camera is no longer redundant!

    http://shop.the-impossible-project.com/shop/film/spectra

    [Reply]

    Brian Auer Reply:

    Yeah, I’m stoked about that. I do like the Spectra. But I’m still out of luck with my Model 80 Land Camera… unless those guys are planning on bringing back roll film.

    [Reply]

    Tomas Webb Reply:

    Why not a DIY 4×5 conversion? Or even a 6×12 roll film conversion?

    [Reply]

    Brian Auer Reply:

    I’m thinking about a MF roll film conversion (4×5 would be a little tight with the space available on the camera back. I just need to work up the guts to rip apart a camera in nearly perfect shape.

    [Reply]

  2. John Cumisky Says:

    How do you decide what level you are?
    I still consider myself a beginner, but have many of these cameras.
    Perhaps I’m just a hoarder.

    [Reply]

    Brian Auer Reply:

    There are no hard set lines in this topic (personally, I would consider you to be more than a beginner based on your work). I would also say that if you’re comfortable with operating these types of cameras and if you have a good understanding of how they work and how to use them to your best advantage, you’re probably more than a beginner.

    These are just camera types that are generally aimed at photographers with some amount of experience. That’s not to say that beginners and experts can’t or don’t use them too — it’s just a generality.

    [Reply]

  3. Lori Says:

    If I am insensitive to price what is the best instant camera to buy. I have found a fuji ins tax 500af? Any recommendations. Thanks

    [Reply]

    Brian Auer Reply:

    An old Polaroid SX-70 is always a classic choice. They fold down flat and most have manual focus capabilities.

    [Reply]

  4. kenneth Says:

    Ok I have two camera systems. One system in a Leica M system and the other a Nikon F system. These are both 35mm film camera system with unmatched optical quality. The only reason I purchased the Nikon system was that it is not possible to fit PC lenses onto rangefinder cameras. PC Sift lenses are the only way to deal with converging verticals in architecture and landscape, and, yes I know you can tilt the base board on an enlarger, but I never found the to be the answer. Would I consider formats larger than 35mm. quite frankly no. With the quality on Summicron lenses and Nikkor lenses I cannot see the point and as I rarely print 8 X 10 or over it is unnecessary. One day I might buy a scanner but the jury is still out on that. Oh and did I say I only take photographs in B&W since the sad demise of Kodachrome II. My Leica Pradovit 300 with a 90mm Colourplan stays in the cupboard most of the time. You may surmise by the above that I am a contented and happy user of film and all things analogue

    [Reply]

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  1. Film Cameras for Advanced Shooters Says:

    [...] previous article in this mini-series looked at Film Cameras for Intermediates, and prior to that we looked at Film Cameras for Beginners. So here we are at the end of this [...]

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