In the last 5 years, I’ve been lucky enough to shoot with a large range of film cameras and figure out which delivers the best results. I know that the cost of cameras has gone up a lot so I thought I’d put together my tried and tested top 5 for under $100!
The best camera is the best camera for you, but it’s very valuable to get an idea of a few different cameras that give the best bang for their buck. Each camera has different pros and cons so it’s important to understand what might be better for your style of photography.
In this article, I’ll cover the 5 best 35mm cameras that you can still get for under $100 and I’ll briefly cover each camera’s attributes.
1) The Pentax Espio 738S
I genuinely think this is an unsung hero of point-and-shoot cameras. This is the super affordable, reliable point-and-shoot of the ’90s. I’ve heard that some people think it’s a little ugly or unremarkable but I’ve had some really good experiences of shooting with these, they’ve never let me down and I don’t think that I’ve even discovered any faults in the ones that I’ve shot with.
Price? $40-70 depending on how hard you look, you can definitely get these for a reasonable price.
What’s it good for? This is ideal for travel, nightlife and shooting day-to-day life, it’s fairly compact, you could fit it in a jacket pocket or something like that. It’s definitely robust too, so you won’t have to worry so much about damaging it.
Is it easy to use? Damn straight, the only thing that people don’t like is that it can be a bit flash happy, you have to change the settings every time you turn it on so it doesn’t flash automatically if you don’t want it to. Otherwise, just pop some film in and press the big button on top, easy peasy.
Specs? The Espio 738S has autofocus, flash and a 38-70mm 4.8-8.5 lens (although I’ve heard that the zoom is not so good, maybe keeping it at 38mm is the best bet). Shutter speeds go to 1/300, there’s a self-timer and the film auto-rewinds when it’s finished.
I personally think this is a really great camera that can be purchased for a lot less than it’s probably worth in the current film market, well worth it if it suits your style of shooting.
2) The Olympus OM10
The OM10 is a classic, simple as that, I think it’s an ideal camera to learn manual photography with, it can be coupled with some fantastic lenses which really makes it stand out as a semi-affordable SLR. There are certainly some cons to the OM10 and I wouldn’t label it as a professional camera, that being said, you can still get some fantastic shots with it.
Price? $95, and that’s if you’re lucky, you could certainly purchase just the body for around $75 but prices have risen significantly, I think these could sit around $100-150 at the moment but you can certainly get them for below $100 which Is why I’ve put it in this list.
What’s It good for? I think that the OM10 is perfect for learning how to shoot manually on an SLR, this is by no means a professional camera, a lot of the build feels moderately flimsy which is definitely a con. If you want to learn how to shoot manually, shoot street photography, travel, documentary photography or landscapes then this could be a really good choice for you. When coupled with the classic 50mm 1.8 Zuiko lens or a 28mm lens, this is a great asset.
Is it easy to use? The OM10 is fairly easy to use, it definitely requires some understanding of shutter speeds and aperture, and it’s certainly a step above a point-and-shoot camera. You can choose to use it with a manual adapter or without, so this can either be fully manual or an aperture priority camera, which makes it a lot easy to use than most.
Specs? I don’t want to write too much about the specs but the shutter speeds go up to 1/1000, you can use it as an aperture priority camera or a fully manual camera and some of the lenses available are very high quality. It’s medium size and not overly heavy.
CONS? Well, there are a couple of cons with the OM10, mainly down to the build and common faults. The OM10 does feel a bit cheaply made sometimes, which it is in fairness and this means it could be more easily broken.
There are also some common faults that mean the winder can jam and you can only fix it if you replace a tiny spring in the bottom of the camera. Sometimes the light meter may also be broken just because of the age of the OM10, they were initially launched nearly 40 years ago so this isn’t too surprising.
My advice would be to be a little careful when looking at buying the OM10, if it means going for a slightly more expensive one that seems to be from a reputable dealer then I would suggest doing that for your own peace of mind.
3) The Canon AF35M
The Canon AF35M is a classic retro-looking point-and-shoot camera with a sharp 2.8 lens. To be honest, the aesthetic is a big plus for this camera, I think it just looks so cool, like an old boxy car.
Price? You can pick these up for around $70-90 if you’re lucky, but it really depends on where you’re looking.
What’s it good for? This camera is best for nightlife, travel or documenting your daily life, it is a bit more bulky and boxy though so can be a little annoying to try to carry around.
Is it easy to use? This is really nice and easy to use, a lovely classic point-and-shoot with a pop-up flash!
Specs? This comes with a 38mm 2.8 lens and shutter speeds of up to 1/500. It has centre-weighted autofocus and the flash recharges at a rate of about 5-7 seconds.
Cons? The boxy design, although very pleasing, can be a bit annoying to carry and may be a little too big for certain situations. I’d also say that the autofocus is fairly early so may not be quite as good as some of the later cameras. The body may also be more prone to damage because it’s not quite as robust as some other cameras. I still think this is a fantastic set-up for a reasonable price.
4) The Pentax ME Super
This could be one of the best aperture priority cameras but for some common faults. If you find one in good working order then it really is a brilliant camera that’s ideal for learning manual photography.
Price? $80-100, but be careful, the ME Super has some common electrical faults that mean it’s worth spending a little bit more on one that comes from a reputable dealer. There are a few common issues that can render the camera totally useless so spending a bit more could pay off.
What’s it good for? The ME Super is perfect for all sorts including street photography, documentary photography, portrait, landscape and travel, it’s a bit smaller and lighter than most other SLRs which makes it a little more mobile.
Is it easy to use? The ME Super is nice and easy to use, it’s an aperture priority camera although it can be shot manually (most people wouldn’t, it’s a bit weird). You choose your aperture and the ME Super will choose your shutter speed. It’s an ideal camera for learning to shoot manually.
Specs? Shutter speeds from 4s to 1/2000, tiny in size, (440g), and can fit some unreal K Mount lenses.
Cons? Unfortunately, due to the age of the ME Super and the fact that it’s an electrical camera, there as some common faults, I believe this is one of the major letdowns of the ME Super. You try to avoid this by purchasing from a reputable buyer, even if you buy from eBay you’ll be able to return it if there’s a fault.
Quick tip for some reason ME Supers take their batteries upside down, it’s completely opposite to every other SLR but just be aware if you’re having issues then it may be that.
5) The Olympus AF10
The Olympus AF10 is a brilliant affordable point-and-shoot that’s absolutely ideal for travel and nightlife. The design is nice and pretty sleek, and the body is also pretty weatherproof!
Price? You could still pick up an AF10 for $60-80, the price has risen in the last year or so and I think this is because most of the MJU series have become unaffordable to a lot of people over this time and the AF10 is a great alternative.
Is it easy to use? The AF10 is really easy to use, just pop some film in and press the big button on the top, easy as pie.
What’s it good for? The AF10 is ideal for travel, nightlife and documenting general life, it’s weatherproof, lightweight and pretty robust so you won’t have any worries taking this wherever you want.
Specs? The AF10 has a great 3.5 35mm Lens, the flash is automatic on the normal version but you can turn it on/off on the AF10 super as seen above. It’s lightweight and robust. The autofocus is centre weighted.
Cons? Honestly, I can’t think of many cons, the only thing that springs to mind is that the autofocus is automatic on the original AF10, people can find this annoying they can’t control it.
This is a nice simple list of some of my affordable favourites, I’m sure you’ll have some favourites that aren’t on here, they may be covered in another article. Hopefully, I’m providing valuable information from my experience with film cameras and how they’re holding up today.
My advice would be to either purchase from eBay, as there’s a lot of cover for the buyer on eBay, or buy from a reputable dealer. Obviously, if you purchase from a thrift store or flea market, cameras may have issues and that’s a risk you have to take. Either way, have fun and keep shooting!