The 7 Best 35mm Film Cameras For Portraits

We’ve all read about the best film cameras but they very rarely provide you with the best for specific styles. Over the years I’ve shot hundreds of film cameras and I’ve found the best portrait cameras for you!

The best 35mm cameras for portrait photography are also some of the best film cameras generally. To understand whether a camera is good for portraits, we need to understand the quality of the lenses available for these cameras.

These are the best 35mm cameras for portrait photography:

  1. Contax G2
  2. Yashica T4
  3. Nikon F6
  4. Olympus OM4TI
  5. Pentax LX
  6. Leica M6
  7. Canon EOS 3

These are some of the best 35mm cameras full stop. If you want to understand them even more and figure out which one might be good for you then keep on reading!

1) Contax G2

Price: $2000+

Client Perception: Good

Our Rating: 8.7/10

Okay let’s face it, there is no ‘perfect’ Portrait camera and no ‘perfect portrait lens but the G2 with its incredible Ziess lenses comes pretty close.

The Contax G2 is at the top end of the film camera world and for good reason, with some of the best lenses ever made, you can shoot incredible shots. With Contax’ 28/35/45/90mm lenses, you really do have a fantastic selection to take any kind of portrait you like.

The 90mm Lens is the classic portrait lens for this camera but I’d suggest using the 45mm lens too. Of course, the lens you use is completely personal preference and there are no exact rules with photography.

The Contax G2 is at the top end of the film camera world and for good reason

The G2’s superior Autofocus is what sets it apart from it’s predecessor, the G1. The fact that it’s so easy to use gives you much more ability to focus on the composition and your subject.

My only issue with the Contax G series cameras is that manual focus is quite annoying to try to do. If you’re someone that likes having more control over focus then I’d strongly advise you to go for one of the other cameras.

2) Yashica T4

Price: $450+

Client Perception: Bad

Our Rating: 6.5/10 (More personal preference)

Okay I thought I’d sneak the Yashica T4 in, it does have a history of editorial shoots and portrait work although it wouldn’t usually be considered a classic portrait camera by any stretch.

The Yashica T4 is a brilliant camera with amazing autofocus for a point and shoot. This 3.5 Zeiss lens can capture some beautiful portraits and although it’s not at the classic 85mm ‘portrait focal length’, it’s 35mm lens will create a completely different look and feel.

Of course, I could have put the Contax T2 in this list instead, but where would be the fun in that? The Yashica is just great despite it’s basic looks.

If you want to take low effort portrait and still get really nice looking shots then this is your camera. Nothing about your shots will be the standard for portraits but it’ll be a lot of fun!

3) Nikon F6

Price: $1000+

Client Perception: Great

Our Rating: 10/10

The Nikon F6 is an unreal film camera, made in 2004 as the photography world was moving to digital, this camera had very modern technology but it was still a film camera. The F6 has incredible autofocus and all of the settings are just a dream to work with.

The F6 is compatible with a massive range of Nikon lenses, of course you can choose to use all of the vintage lenses, or of course you can use autofocus lenses too, which means the quality is just unreal. You get all the perks of using a DSLR without your photos looking bad.

You get all the perks of using a DSLR without your photos looking bad.

I’m a sucker for the 50mm 1.8 AF lens, of course the 85mm 1.8 AF lens would be the go to for classic portrait shots, this really can creat some beautiful shots with a lot of ease.

The shot above was taken with the Nikon F5 using the 50mm 1.8 AF lens. The quality is pretty much the same with the F5 and F6, the differences are more ergonomic and the F6 is a much quieter camera.

I can’t speak highly enough of the Nikon F6 and I’d say for the variety of lenses available for it, this has got to be one of the top film cameras for portrait photography (and all other kinds of photography).

Olympus OM4TI

Price: $400+

Client Perception: Ok

Our Rating: 7/10

Having used the OM4TI a few times, I was struck by its size and its build, it’s a very small SLR camera but it looks like it means business.

To be honest, there isn’t that much that sets the OM4TI apart from the OM1N or OM2N because all of the same lenses are available to all of these cameras. The key difference being that the OM4TI is fully electronic and it has shutter speeds up to 1/2000th which might help you to shoot at a lower F stop in daylight should you want to.

These OM series cameras were really fantastic cameras and they definitely stand up to some of their much more expensive counterparts.

These OM series cameras were really fantastic cameras and they definitely stand up to some of their much more expensive counterparts. The range of lenses available are really good and the well known 50mm Zuiko 1.8 lens is top notch. One thing that I always look out for with lenses is how close you can focus with them, with the 50mm Zuiko you can focus as close as 0.45m, which is about as close as a 50mm gets.

Basically the OM4TI is a great alternative to some of the much more expensive cameras, you’ll still get a top notch camera and some really sharp lenses, it may not quite reach the heights of the Contax or Leica but for $400 or so, you can’t go far wrong.

Pentax LX

Price – $400+

Client Perception: Ok

Our Rating: 8/10

This could have been one of many Pentax cameras, notably the K1000 which I also love. The LX is a professional SLR and it can house some of the nicest vintage lenses available.

This is a light, easy to use SLR with shutter speeds up to 1/2000, so you’ll be able to get some lower aperture shots even if you’re using a higher ISO film.

The key pros to the Pentax LX are the amazing lenses available, you can get a 50mm 1.2 Pentax lens, which is just unreal if you’re going for a really shallow depth of field kind of shot. Of course, you may want a longer lens for a tighter portrait, you can grab the 85mm F2 lens, which is just perfect for the classic portrait style.

I’d certainly rate the LX as being better than any of the Olympus range

I’d certainly rate the LX as being better than any of the Olympus range, the lenses are just far better in my opinion, I’ve always felt that the 50mm Zuiko Lens for Olympus is a little bit flimsy feeling, you’ll get none of that with Pentax.

Leica M6

Price: $3000++

Client Perception: Good – Clients may think that because this is a smaller camera, it’s not as good, they would be wrong.

Our rating: 9.5/10

I can’t make a list like this without including a Leica and that’s mainly because they have some of the best lenses available. The Summicron/Summilux lenses are really some of the best in the world and the Summilux floating element lenses will be some of the best portrait lenses around.

If you want pretty much the best lenses ever made for a film camera and money is no object then look no further, the Leica Summilux-M 50mm 1.4 with floating elements, The Leica Summilux-M 35mm 1.4 with floating elements and the Leica 90mm F2 lens are basically the dream set up. The 90mm F2 lens would be the perfect classic portrait lens if that’s your style and your shots will have unrivalled sharpness and detail.

In my opinion, if you’re just starting out and you don’t have the money then don’t be aiming for anything like this, it’s just not necessary. You need to learn your craft first and having a great camera doesn’t make you a great photographer.

7) Canon EOS 3

Price: $500+

Client Perception: Great

Our Rating: 9/10

The Canon EOS 3 is basically Canon’s answer to the Nikon F5/6 so you know it’s going to be a professional grade 35mm camera.

This camera can house some fantastic lenses although it won’t fit its vintage lenses without using a converter. Once again you can’t go wrong with a 50mm 1.4 AF lens and an 85mm portrait lens. This is a slightly more affordable professional film camera and it even looks the part which can be a big thing with clients.

If you decide to go for the EOS 3 I think it’d be a great shout, with shutter speeds up to 1/8000 and lenses that’ll make the ugliest face glow, this budget option is a great middle ground for those wanting to take their portrait and overall photography game to the next level.

Final Word

Ultimately the quality of your portrait shots are down to you, the more you shoot and the more you understand about photography, the better your work will become. If you really want to take things to the next level then I’m sure that this article will really help!

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