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Thursday, 19 December 2019


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No mention of my favorite, the Canon AE-1? Or even the no automatic FtbN? Beautiful cameras. I learned a whole lot from my AE-1 before making the mistake of beginning to chase my tail for the golden ring...

The slightly earlier Minolta XD7 (XD11 in the USA) was a better camera than the X570 and arguably the best camera they made. They can still be found.

As an eastern block (Hungary) I started shooting with a Zenit. I wouldn't recommend that one, it was a heavy one, but my next camera, a kinda cheap Praktica SuperTL, had everything one would need. I need 1/1000th time, a nice 1,8/50 Prakticar lens and, well, nothing more. I really loved it; it made me the hobbyist I am today.

I used to own an ME Super & it was a very good camera, except for the up/down shutter speed buttons, which was a slower way to change speeds compared to a traditional dial. Based on that I wouldn't get another one.
I like basic concept of the Olympus OM2 but i don't think I would like the shutter speed ring which looks awkward to operate.
I own a Nikon FE and think it's a very good camera. No design complaints although I do wish the shutter sound was a bit quieter.
No knowledge of the Minolta, but oh dear, it is quite ugly.

Mike, you've chosen very beautiful cameras (except the Minolta), but... no autofocus? Even a screwdriver one? That would be a big drawback for a newbie. Not to mention lack of auto film loading and winding, DX code reading, etc... Doing all those things manually is tedious and adds nothing to the "film experience". I'm all for Wunderplastik!

I owned and used a mint (seemingly never used) ME Super a few years ago and enjoyed it very much. The only thing that would put me off recommending it is that I went through a few copies (4-5) before I found that mint copy, and they all developed the common problem of corrosion of the metal contacts in the ISO/exposure-comp dial, leading to either crazily jumping meter readings or completely wrong exposures.

The push-button shutter speeds really don't encourage you to use it in manual either; I essentially ended up always using it in aperture priority, adjusting exposure-comp for back-lighting if necessary. The viewfinder is still one of the nicest I've seen though.

In the previous thread, I mentioned my beloved Nikkormat FTn. It, like the Olympus, has the shutter speed around the lens mount.

Far from being a minus, I far prefer it to any top-mount shutter speed dial. My right hand is responsible for stability, framing, and pushing the shutter button. My left hand is responsible for setting parameters (aperture, shutter speed, focus, zoom). I always found the gyration of reaching up to turn a top-mount shutter speed dial really awkward.

The thumb wheels of the plastic-fantastic era eliminate this awkward finger stretch, thankfully.

If you're going to shoot film, manual focus, I say manual exposure is the way to go.

Coincidentally, I owned an FM and an OM-1, the manual matches to 2 of your selections.

The OM-1 I was particularly fond of.

OM-1, ME-Super, FM3A- 3 most beautiful SLR's ever made, and reliable to boot!

No, the FE is not the best built. And its shutter and mirror slap can wake the dead. But it does have the most delicious film crank, with the finest ratchet action. I bring mine out once a blue moon just to work the lever.

Just in time for that holiday shopping list...for Christmas 1979!

Nice to see two of mine (FE & OM2) on there. I would have voted for them too. I also went through Zenits etc. back then, but the FE is my favourite film SLR now, and I still enjoy using it a couple of times a year.

alex-virt writes no autofocus? Even a screwdriver one? That would be a big drawback for a newbie, and is also in favour of auto-loading etc. I don't see it like that. Given the number of focus misses I get even with my D-SLRs, and given how easy split-screen manual focus is (for slow-moving subjects), I would recommend manual focus to a film newbie. As for loading the film oneself... is it that bad? I like trying to get 38 from a roll.

However, I don't agree with with bt when he writes that manual exposure is the way to go, but rather with Mike that aperture-priority automatic exposure is a minimum requirement.

When I want to shoot a roll of film, I want an experience that is sufficiently different from that of using a DSLR that it feels like a change, but at the same time not annoyingly difficult. A camera with aperture-priority automatic exposure and split-screen manual focus hits that sweet spot for me.

I still have an OM-1 and an OM-4T. Excellent beautiful cameras.

I bought my FE new... I had it tuned up for the first time last year as the flash sync was getting out of sync (boom tish!). Took it to Canada recently and it kept working in -20C temps. 2 out of 3 digi's we had had long given up. Shutters not quiet but never thought it was loud... until you bolt the MD-12 to her. Also have a FM2n which I meant to take to Canada but picked up the wrong body in my late minute rush. However, I rarely use either as I generally use a 645 and 4x5. One other thing about my FE. It only has one scratch on it, where I landed on it when falling over whilst rock hopping over a waterfall.

Aperture priority auto-exposure is a tad luxurious if you really want to give a newbie the basic grasp of a film camera.

Learning how to coordinate shutter speed and aperture is good foundation.

I miss my youth...

Mike, it seems there is no mention of a workhorse camera from the 70's and on. My first SLR camera was the MINOLTA SRT 101, which I still own. The XE-7 was also a great camera which was a joint effort with LEICA I believe. My XE-7 always had shutter issues but nonetheless a great semi auto exposure setting camera. The lens line up was enormous and were heavy and well constructed, rare earth glass as well. I could not afford NIKONS at the time so that is why I chose the MINOLTAS with no regrets. I wish the MINOLTA brand was not sold off a few years ago when digital took over.

hello Mike,

You mentioned that the shutter speed dial on the OM-2 around the lens mount was an oddity or a minus. Yes, it's an odd spot, but Olympus wisely placed the aperture dial at the foot of the lens. So the two dials are right beside each other and you can grab both at the same time. Instant adjustment of the shutter and aperture keeping the same EV for a different depth of field or desired exposure time. Brilliant!

A similar bit of engineering ingenuity of the OM lenses was to integrate the aperture stop down into the lens release button. So no matter how cheap a body or lens you bought, you would still have the useful feature of DoF preview!

Merry Christmas to one and all!


Excellent choices. I owned an ME Super in it's heyday, and loved it. I came to it from a Nikkormat FTN I had used in college and the compact, lightweight design was a revelation and a pleasure to take along on my "galavanting" trips. The main advantages to these cameras is really the excellent, plentiful, compact lenses that are still widely available for them and their continued repairability. Coincidentally, and unrelated to your posts, I just purchased a Nikon FM2n to use on my wilderness and fishing forays. Bulletproof camera that many PJs used in conflict and disaster zones because of how robust it is with a top speed of 1/4000 and the ability to fire at all speeds without a battery. Honestly, the main reason I started shooting BW film again is to be able to use these old cameras--they were well made, elegant machines.

I have owned and used every one of these cameras except the Minolta (although I did own a Minolta XE-7 for a while) and agree with your recommendations and comments. The only caution I would add is that older film cameras often have issues with the foam rubber that was used to dampen mirror vibrations and seal the film door. The foam can deteriorate and decompose to the point that it's no longer effective. It's a quick and easy fix for anyone who's reasonably handy - you can buy foam replacement kits online - but for anyone who's not up to it, check before you buy.

The OM-1 was my first 'modern' camera, having used my Dad's Exakta VX beforehand (loved the left-handed shutter release on the VX!). I am happy to see that at least one person besides me likes the shutter speed placement around the lens mount! I could tell by feel, before bringing the camera up to my face, what shutter speed I was on. The top-mounted shutter dials have always felt rather stupid and cumbersome to me.

Now, here's a thought - maybe Fuji would put it on one of their cameras, just for fun!

I'll put in another plug for Canon's mid-line; the FTb up through the AE-1. The FTb (and lower featured TLb & TX siblings) are glorious chunks of metal and glass that, in my experience, have been very reliable. The FTb's semi-spot meter is a big advantage. They do use the NLA PX625 battery - but you can get a voltage regulating adapter to use modern batteries (https://shop.criscam.com/products/mr-9-mercury-battery-adapter).

The later AE-1 isn't as solid or nice to the touch but is lighter, uses a common battery, offers auto exposure and has an accessory power winder.

Step up from both is the superb Canon F1 and F1N or even the "tank" T90.

The real advantage of these cameras is wide availability of very good Canon FD lenses. When Canon made a clean break to a different mount for the auto-focus EOS cameras, FD lenses started to become very inexpensive and seem to have mostly stayed that way (except for folks seeking out the 50mm F1.2 for shallow DOF on mirrorless cameras!)

Regarding the Olympus OM-2n. I agree with those touting the shutter dial concentric around the lens. Brilliant. Left hand handled shutter and f-stops and the dials were logically arranged so that exposure adjustment was rational: one click to the right on the f-stop ring was exactly matched by one click right on the shutter speed dial.
Additionally the OM-2n had one killer feature: really long auto exposure. The shutter stayed open until the meter looking at reflected light falling on the film got enough light for a good exposure. This meant that it could do auto exposures up to several minutes long in near darkness. I used this a lot. In fact I got the closing picture in the Day in the Life of America, of a lightning storm over a small town at midnight using that feature. Thank you Maitaini.

Had a Nikon FE since 1984. I am on my third one. For a $100 or less, you can't go wrong. My current one was bought in 2002 for $75.


Can't believe you didn't include the Canon AE-1!!

For the Minolta X-570, called the X-500 in England, the 35-70mm f/3.5 lens is very good. it's constant aperture, and there's a macro setting. I had an outfit with these lenses, all good and not too difficult to get hold of:

A Tamron Adaptall 2 17mm f/3.5, a Tamron Adaptall 2 24mm f/2.5, the 35-70mm, a couple of Minolta's 50mm lenses, f/1.4 (a bit flare prone) and 1.7, the Minolta 135mm f/2.8, and a Tamron Adaptall 2 80-210mm f/3.8-4.

Actually, I ended up with three copies of the Tamron zoom; I bought one, was given one, and the third came with an outfit I bought cheaply to get a Tamron Adaptall 2 mount for Pentax KA. This is how common they are, and they can be found for around £25-30, often with a mount.

I had a couple of X-700 bodies and an XG-M body. With slide film in all three cameras I would set the ASA to a third stop higher than the box speed, as using the box speed meant the shots were consistently a bit "thin".

I've always been a fan of the OM's shutter dial around the lens mount. Grip the camera with the right hand, twist stuff around the lens for focus and exposure. All while keeping the camera at eye level. Works great that way. For me, at least.

Great to see these cameras again. I started on a Minolta XG7 when I was 12 and then graduated to an FE2 when I was HS yearbook photographer. Thanks for the article.

I'd find it hard to recommend an SLR without depth-of-field preview, which the ME Super does not have. Otherwise it's fine, but I got rid of mine because of this. The later Program A did have DoF-preview.

And all four selections are basically a paperweight without batteries. However this is not always a bad thing. I snagged a OM4-Ti for $35 because it was ‘jammed’, with the mirror stuck in the up position. A set of fresh S76 batteries and it’s operation was restored to nominal.

Alexander Thorp, I am not opposed to manual focusing, have been doing it a lot lately, but I want to have at least an option of autofocus. I shoot mostly static subjects and autofocus on my film cameras works fine with them.

A full manual camera can be very off-putting for a "film virgin". My first film camera 10 years ago was a Mamiya C330 with a heavy and dim prism. The pictures were gorgeous but the UX was terrible, and I ended up selling the camera after one year. Now I use relatively modern 35mm SLRs and am very satisfied.

Hi Mike,

I had them all and only the Om-2’s have gone. They all had a mirror that wouldn’t go down any more. Btw rhe OM-1 was my first camera, secondhand, at the age of fifteen and I loved it, but mechanically they’re not great.
I’ve got an FM2n from when it was introduced and it still is perfect.
In the past 10 years I bought many many analogue cameras - and used many of these.
With all these camera’s I’ve been mostly surprised by:
1/ The beautiful finder of the X-500 and X-700 camera’s (of which I slightly prefer the X-500 (= X-580) because it shows the chosen speeds together with the automatic speeds). Only my R6 has a better finder.
2/ The buttersmooth handling of the Takumar lenses and the ‘filmic’ redering of these lenses ( btw the rendering of the cheapo 55 1.8 i.m.o. Is equally beautiful as my 50 1.4 6 elements.
3/ The rendering of the R50 summicron E55 wide open for portraits. The smoothness and color of that lens can be magic.

Btw the ES ii indeed is a fine camera. But mine eats batteries like there’s no tomorrow..

Merry Christmas!

My first SLR was a Ricoh KR-5. Known at the time for being a little cheaper than the SRT101 and using Pentax K mount.
Nice viewfinder, dependable exposure meter and it came in black, a real plus for me!

I bet there’s a similar sweet spot — of just enough useful features, but not too many complicated, fragile and unnecessary ones — in the development of most technologies. Cars, for example, in case you’re short of Off Topic post ideas!

Bought my FE new in 1980. Still use it occasionally. Never had any issues with it. Liked it so much I bought an FM3a on ebay about 5 years ago. Yeah it’s overpriced but it’s great. Love the match needle metering on both models. Shoot slide film with both of them. I’m hopelessly old school. 😎

Can’t quite get on board with the X-500/570 or any of the other X-xxx models being recommended over the XD-7. The latter is only a bit more expensive but leagues ahead in user experience.

Also, as an added bonus, the lines of the prism housing and that the ‘black’ finish is actually a beautiful slightly gunmetal/charcoal grey. It’s probably the most aesthetically refined of the 70s & 80s auto/manual SLRs.

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