Over the years I’ve shot a massive range of film cameras and in that time I’ve learned what’s the best!
The best film camera is arguably the Leica M6 or something similar but that doesn’t really answer the question, the ‘best film camera’ may not be the best film camera for you and your type of photography.
In this article, I’ll try to write a nuanced and mixed list of the best film cameras that are still available to this day so if you want to find out more, read on!
What Makes A Great Film Camera?
If you ask anyone what the best film camera is then you’ll probably get a different answer every time. There are so many top-notch film cameras out there that it’s hard to really say which one’s the best. There are so many different reasons why a camera would be great, so it’s a complicated question.
A great camera is usually great at one or a few things. Some cameras are perfect for landscape photography, street photography or sports photography while some a great all-rounders.
Obviously, price can be an indicator but not always. You’ll get better quality photos from a cheap SLR than you would with an Olympus MJU II but there are other factors that come into why the MJU II might be better for you.
With all of this in mind, I’m going to try to come up with the best cameras for all kinds of photography needs and I’ll explain why – I’ll even suggest similar cameras to the ones I mention.
Mamiya RZ67 – Medium Format – Portrait/Editorial
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The Mamiya RZ67 is effectively one of the best film cameras ever made. It’s a solid, square, tank of a camera with a beautiful top viewfinder and bellows focusing.
I’d say that this bellows focusing is one of the things that sets the RZ67 apart from most other film cameras as it effectively allows you to focus incredibly close (unlike other medium format cameras like the Pentax 67).
Amongst other things, the RZ67 can house some unbelievable lenses that produce beautiful images, the rotating back allows you to switch between landscape and portrait easily and the big and bright viewfinder allows you to easily compose brilliant shots.
Now, you can of course use the RZ67 for things like landscape photography or documentary photography and it will produce some phenomenal images, it’s just that it’s the king of portrait photography.
Contax G2 – 35mm – Street Photography/Documentary
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The Contax G2 is one of the best autofocus rangefinder cameras ever made and it houses some of the most beautiful Carl Zeiss lenses.
Personally, I’ve used the Contax G1 and the only thing letting it down was the speed of autofocus. The G2 rights the wrongs of the G1 and makes it one of the sharpest film cameras going.
The G2 can be really easy to use because of its autofocus and auto-exposure, it feels like a super high-quality point-and-shoot with more settings.
The Contax G2 is pretty much ideal for street photography and documentary photography because it allows the shooter to be more intuitive and still get incredible shots. Of course, it’d be amazing for other kinds of photography too, it’s great for portraits, landscape photography and a lot of other kinds of work.
The thing that some photographers may find frustrating with the Contax G2 is that it’s really difficult to shoot manually and it can be frustrating if you want the focus to be elsewhere and the closest focus distance isn’t as close as you’d sometimes like it to be (big negative for portrait work).
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Oh daddy-o, is the Nikon F6 one of the best SLR cameras ever made? Probably.
With compact size being at the forefront of Nikon’s agenda after the massive F5, the F6 is much easier to handle, it has incredible autofocus and metering and it can house some brilliant lenses.
Because the F6 is an early 2000s film camera, it has a tonne of settings that most other film cameras don’t have. It can shoot at really high or low shutter speeds so that you can shoot for any occasion and of course, access to top quality Nikon AF lenses.
There isn’t much bad I can say about the Nikon F6, if you have the money and you want an SLR then the F6 is a perfect option.
The F6 is great for street photography, documentary photography, sports photography, portrait photography and editorial photography. It’s pretty much an all-rounder and I can’t really speak highly enough of it.
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The Pentax LX is the top of the crop when it comes to Pentax’s manual SLR cameras, similar in quality to the likes of the Nikon F3. The LX is really light and small, it’s reasonably simple to use but it really packs a punch.
It’s kind of like the ‘proper’ photographer’s favourite camera, with shutter speeds between 4 seconds and 1/2000 of a second, auto modes and some of the best lenses about, it’s a real lesser-known gem.
Pentax decided to fully weather and dust seal this bad boy so it’s far more durable than the other professional cameras of the time (Canon F1 and Nikon F3).
The fact that you can shoot this in auto mode and aperture priority as well as plain old manual means that it’s a pretty perfect SLR that’s way ahead of its time.
This is ideal for street photography, documentary photography, portrait photography and editorial work, you could definitely shoot great landscapes on this although there are certainly better cameras for that (Like the Pentax 67).
I’m still gutted to have not yet had a chance to try the LX myself, but I’m always on the prowl for it.
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The Olympus OM3Ti is probably the best film camera that Olympus ever made. The OM3Ti is the last in its series and the people putting it together knew it, they went out of their way to produce something amazing.
There are very few OM3Ti cameras around, I don’t think that many were made in the first place.
It can be shot in auto exposure modes, aperture priority or manual but it can also be shot at any shutter speed without a battery (something that most SLRs weren’t capable of).
It’s a super small, light and incredibly durable camera (as parts of its body are titanium).
Once again, this camera would be great for all kinds of photography, specifically portrait, editorial and street photography!
I’ve never had my hands on one of these either, but I have shot the OM4Ti which was great!
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The Minolta TC-1 is a rare, high-quality point-and-shoot film camera and I just had to include it. It’s one of the smallest point-and-shoots with a brilliant 28mm 3.5 lens.
You can shoot it in auto or aperture priority and there are a number of different settings on top of the camera that aren’t usually available on point-and-shoots.
Yes, this comes with a much bigger price tag than it probably should but it really is an incredibly sharp, high-quality camera that’s ideal for shooting intuitively.
I’ve got a special place in my heart for cameras that do it all for you and it’s because it can allow you to capture real moments without any consideration for anything inconsequential. In my opinion, that can be when you get your best pictures.
So to me, this camera is best for street photography and day-to-day life. There are some photographers that seem to capture really rare moments and I think this is the kind of camera that’ll do that for you.
Because of the 28mm lens, it’s probably not ideal for portrait photography or editorial-type work.
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Okay, this is potentially one of the best and most beautiful cameras ever made, especially if you get yourself one with the wooden handle, what a thing to behold.
The Pentax 67 is a brilliant medium format camera that feels like a gigantic SLR, it can house some of the best lenses known to man and it can shoot some brilliantly sharp images.
I used a 67 for quite a while and I made some of my favourite work on it, the only reason that I moved from the 67 was that you can focus much closer on an RB67 than on a Pentax 67.
The quality of shots that a Pentax 67 can produce is unbelievable so it’s ideal for landscapes, editorial work and documentary photography. It’s good for portrait work but when shooting with the 105mm lens (which is near enough 50mm in actual focal length), the maximum focusing distance was like 0.8m and I really didn’t like that.
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Okay, the Contax T2 is all the rage but the Contax T3 is better and smaller.
Sporting a 35mm 2.8 Zeiss lens, it’s probably one of the sharpest lenses that exists on a point-and-shoot camera. The T3 also has a close focusing distance of 0.35m which is half that of the T2 which means you can actually take proper portraits.
With aperture dials and autofocus lock buttons galore, the T3 is a wild camera when it comes to point-and-shoots.
Of course, the price tag is equally as wild as the camera at £2000, but (and there is a big but), maybe it’s worth it?
As I said before when speaking about the Minolta TC-1, you can’t put a price on being able to shoot intuitively and capturing those rare moments (I feel like I’m persuading myself to buy this but I’d have to sell a kidney first).
The T3 allows you to shoot top-quality pictures without having to worry about settings. No SLR would be as handy to use or easy to stow away in a pocket. So ultimately, it really depends on what you want from your photography.
The T3 is ideal for lifestyle, street photography and some forms of documentary photography.
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Just as the Pentax LX is probably Pentax’s greatest SLR achievement, the Nikon FM3a is Nikon’s best-ever SLR, there are no two ways about it.
The FM3a is basically Nikon’s final hurrah before SLR cameras become more automatic, they rolled everything they’d learned into one incredible camera for the purists.
It’s effectively an FM2 mixed with an FE2, it can be used fully manually (even without a battery) or it can be used as an aperture priority camera. The camera has shutter speeds between 1 second and 1/4000 of a second.
I’ve used one and I really loved the feel of it and I’m an absolute sucker for Nikon lenses so this is pretty much the ideal SLR for me.
This would be ideal for shooting portraits, documentary, editorial, lifestyle and landscape photography and I’ve shot a lot on its younger brother – the FM2.
Canon EOS 3
|Canon EOS 3|
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This camera is specifically known for having an unrivalled 45-point AF system which people claim ‘knows where you want it to focus’.
I knew I’d have to include one of Canon’s later SLR cameras in this list and although it isn’t quite the Nikon F6, it’s great in its own right.
One of the only things that really lets the EOS 3 down is its size and weight, similar to the Nikon F5, it’s pretty big and heavy which can be a bit of a chore. But if we look past that then we can see a camera with incredible autofocus, autoexposure and brilliant lenses.
The EOS3 would be ideal for portrait photography, documentary photography, lifestyle and sports photography. It’d be pretty great at a lot of stuff, to be honest with the only caveat being that it weighs quite a lot.
I haven’t had the chance to use this camera but if it’s anything like the Nikon F5 then it’s a brilliant camera.
Mamiya 7 II
|Mamiya 7 II|
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The Mamiya 7 II is a medium-format rangefinder with interchangeable lenses that are unbelievably sharp. The main selling point of the Mamiya 7 II is that it’s super easy to use but it can produce some really sharp, detailed pictures due to the size of the negatives.
Mamiya pretty much only made brilliant cameras and the Mamiya 7 II is no exception. With beautiful, leaf shutter lenses and and basic settings, it’s the ideal camera if you’ve got the money (it’s hella expensive).
The Mamiya 7 II is ideal for street, documentary and landscape photography. Sadly, due to a maximum focusing distance of 1m, it’s not really ideal for portraits (what a damn shame).
If I had the money I’d have one of these but unfortunately, I have to eat.
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Reading about the Hasselblad X-Pan genuinely made me emotional and made me consider drawing down money from my Help-To-Buy ISA so that I could run away and make pictures that the X-Pan deserves to make.
We’re possibly talking about the best film camera ever made, one of the only true panoramic 35mm cameras.
Built with one thing in mind, just to make it, not even to worry about whether anyone would buy it, just make this beautiful thing and show that it can be made.
It basically has a shutter that is twice as wide as usual and all images shot on it are panoramic, go take a look at some shots from an X-Pan, they look incredible.
The X-Pan is ideal for landscape photography, documentary photography and street photography but it’s all down to your personal preference and whether you want that panoramic look and feel.
If you have the insane amount of money available to pick up an X-Pan then perhaps you should because it’s unreal.