- Johnny Wilson
You don't need an expensive film camera.
This week I finished shooting my third roll of film I've put through my Olympus mju-II since getting it, and although I picked mine up for a crazy bargain price from a charity shop. presumably they didn't know how much they sell for online, because a mju-II in pretty good condition nowadays will set you back three figures! And that got me thinking, as much as I like my little mju-II, and whilst it does take a nice photo, in reality there are film cameras you can pick up nowadays that won't cost you as much as a second hand car... that will still give you equally as nice, and maybe better, photos than those that you might get out of the premium priced high end compacts like the mju-II, the Fuji Natura, the high end Lomo cameras, and the crazy expensive Contax cameras. So here are some of my favourite bargain cameras and why I think for not very many pennies that they are really rewarding buys and awesome value for money.
Olympus Trip 500
Cost: > £10 What I paid: £1
The Trip 500 is my favourite bargain point and shoot compact and I gush emotively about it to anyone that will listen! I've waxed lyrical about it before on my blog so I won't repeat myself too much but if you like the shadowy vignette of the LC-A / LC-A+ and want an all purpose point and shoot camera with built in flash, the Trip 500 is definitely worth looking at. I also really like it's modern and minimal design, coupled with the fact that even with batteries inside it's a crazy light camera. I found mine in a charity shop for £1. And because the Trip 500 doesn't have the celebrity cult status of some of it's older brothers and sisters, if you shop around, you can pick one up for not very much money at all nowadays.
Canon EOS 650
Cost: £10-15 (body only) What I paid: £10 body, £35 for ef28-80mm f.35 lens
After buying my first DSLR; a Canon EOS 700D in 2012, I wanted a 35mm SLR to pair it with so I could enjoy the benefits of shooting both film and digital with the Canon EF range. I browsed eBay and ended up picking a body only EOS 650 - the first Canon camera to carry the EOS branding for £10. I mostly pair it with a 28mm - 80mm lens I picked up from a second hand shop, but the great thing about the EF range is the sheer amount of different lenses you can buy and, allowing for crop factor, they are all compatible with the old film SLR bodies. The EOS 650 is heavy. There is no disguising that. It's the heaviest camera I own I think! But it does everything I need it to; shutter priority, aperture priority, manual ISO adjustment, and I can swap in a 200mm telephoto lens when I need to to get some crazy long distance shots. If you want a multipurpose film SLR that you can use like a modern digital, the old Canon bodies, providing they've been looked after, will fit the bill.
Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim Cost: £50 - £60 What I paid: £2
Admittedly, since these tiny, lightweight cameras are becoming more and more difficult to get hold of nowadays, their value online has shot up. Especially since the Superheadz clones are now equally quite difficult to find. But I stumbled upon my VUWAS years and years ago in a charity shop for £2 and having no idea just what a cult icon it actually was, I bought it just because it was lightweight and small! This is another camera that I've covered here before now but the crazy wide angle lens combined with a cheap, plastic element will give you some real toy camera vibes but with some genuinely impressive compositions and I loved mine so much I took it to Paris with me in 2012. Because of their fragility - the film wind mechanism is prone to breaking with enough tension (although mine is still fighting fit!) I wouldn't recommend putting down anything north of £20 on one if you can get away with it, and if you shop around I'm sure you can find one for less than the sellers on eBay are trying to fleece out of people, or if you're lucky you might just chance on one in a charity shop or at a boot sale! But if you do find one in the wild and the price isn't too eyewatering you should absolutely pick one up.
Cost: £20 - £40 What I paid: £5
Anybody into antique film cameras will probably talk at you for hours about why they love Soviet film cameras, and not without good reason. The likes of the Zenit-E SLR range, the Fed-3 and the Smena-8 are legendary icons of photography still cherished by people today, and I picked up a Western export of the Smena-8 from London not too long ago, but before buying one of those I found this boxed, new, unassuming Soviet camera at an antiques fare in Wolverhamption; still wrapped in purple tissue paper and priced at a paltry £5. Knowing nothing about BeLomo, or whether or not it was particularly valuable I sort-of maybe fell a bit in love with it and had to end up buying it. And I'm glad I did! After putting a film through it I was really happy with the results! And I even took it to Chernobyl and Pripyat with me in 2019. You need to be careful when buying Soviet cameras; they were mass produced at industrial scale and at times with questionable build quality, but Soviet optics are amongst some of the finest ever produced and there are probably a wealth of undiscovered Soviet treasures forgotten to history that should command the same respect as the Smena-8 and Fed-3 and, personally, I think the BeLomo Vilia is one of them!
If your content with not having to have the super flashy, super impressive, trendy fashionable film cameras, it's really easy to get into film photography in an affordable way, and the film community nowadays is stronger than it ever was before with lots more independent businesses flying the flag for shooting film and new reloadable 'simple' film cameras coming to the market more recently from Dubblefilm (I've covered the SHOW!), Lomography, Ilford, and Kodak make it easier than ever to take the first step into the film community. There has never been a better time to get into film photography, the future only ever looks brighter, and the community is growing all the time. You don't need to take out a second mortgage to buy a mju-II, a Contax or a Leica camera when there are more affordable and more rewarding options available to be a part of the community and if you're looking for your first camera take a chance on a bargain and it'll be infinitely more rewarding.