Today we have a question from the lovely Daisy about film cameras.
Hello, pretty Mir, I know you have a source for this information. (snicker, sneaky laugh). My college age daughter is a journalism major and budding photographer. She recently won a photo contest (her third so far), and part of the prize package was a roll of film Well, she usually shoots in digital, but this reminded her that she would like to take what she calls “pretty pictures” with a camera of reasonable quality that won’t break the college-tuition- paying bank. Any suggestions? Is buying used a safe thing to do?
I’m not sure why she can’t take pretty pictures in digital, but I turned your question over to Otto for his expert take, anyway. He took it very seriously and he’s really cute when he’s serious.
Here’s what Otto said:
First, the camera (once you get past a certain quality level) won’t make photos any prettier — it’s up to the photographer to control the “pretty” quotient.
As for looking for used film cameras, there are lots of questions to ask. The first is does she want a 35 mm camera or something more complex, like a view camera or Hasselblad medium format system? Or, perhaps, something much less complex but in a different film format, such as a Holga (which uses 120 mm film and produces very artsy images)?
Assuming she wants to stay with 35 mm, what is she using now? The major digital single lens reflex (DSLR) manufacturers (which is essentially Nikon and Canon) have film bodies that will use most (though not all) of the same lenses. It’s much easier (and cheaper) to have one set of lenses that work on a couple of bodies, as opposed to multiple kits of lenses and bodies.
(Note that the lenses that come with some of the DSLR kits will not work on film bodies — due to the digital chip being smaller than a 35 mm piece of film, some “digital” lenses won’t cover the entire piece of film. Check the lens specifications at the respective manufacturers web sites.)
Now, as for buying used … go for it. In my nearly 30 years of shooting, I have bought one new camera — and that was my first one when I was about 12. Everything since then has been used — much of it well used.
The caveats — buy from a reputable dealer. I have used KEH.com for years with no problems from their sales teams. Their ratings are comically conservative — stuff they list as “bargain” is better than most of the stuff I own and use. B&H Photo in New York City is not a bad place to go, either, or Newtonville Camera in Massachusetts.
Ebay is a little trickier — if you don’t know what something should look or sound like, you won’t know if there’s a problem when you get it. Most of the stuff on the auction site is probably fine — but you may get a few sleazy folks who are dumping broken cameras. I like the the dealers because they back up their sales with a warranty of some sort.
As for specific models … I like Mir’s readers, so I won’t start a Nikon vs. Canon war here. Both have plusses, both have limitations. There’s more film stuff on the Nikon side since their lens mounts haven’t changed since, um, 1959, whereas Canon changed theirs in the late-1980s. Make sure the camera allows for full, metered manual mode — that’s the only specific thing I would require.
But either will make “pretty pictures” — if you know what to do with the camera.
Here’s what I say: What Otto said.
I hope that helps, and if it doesn’t, I’d be happy to go back to Otto and make him think some more.