Collecting Cameras

Five semi-automatic 35mm SLRs for under $50

Not long ago I shared three all-metal, all-manual SLRs you can still get for under $50, all fine machines. But they all require you to set exposure manually, based on the onboard meter’s reading. It can be so nice for a camera to offer exposure automation! If that sounds good to you, then check out these semi-automatic 35mm SLRs for under $50.

Full programmed, aperture-priority, and shutter-priority autoexposure take some of the fuss out of shooting. You’ll find many wonderful cameras in this category — including many popular options that routinely sell for well north of $100. I’m looking at you, Canon AE-1, Nikon FE/FA, Minolta X-700, and Olympus OM-2! They’re all wonderful cameras, and if you can afford them you should buy them! But you might be on a tight budget and need to spend far less.

I can think of five great cameras that offer either some level of exposure automation that you can still buy for under $50 every day on eBay. Read my tips for buying on eBay without getting taken for a ride here. You can also buy from UsedPhotoPro and KEH for a little more, but you get their good guarantees.

Here now, five semi-automatic 35mm SLRs for under $50.

Nikon N2000

Nikon N2000

Read my review here. I love this camera. I’ve shot mine a ton. It was the camera I took on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Ireland. I chose it because it take all of my wonderful Nikon lenses — but if it were damaged, lost, or stolen I could buy another for next to nothing.

The N2000 (also known as the F-301) offers two program modes, aperture-priority autoexposure, and manual exposure. Its shutter fires as fast as 1/2000 sec. and it even allows for continuous shooting at at about 3 frames per second. It works with films of ISO 12 to 4000. The N2000 runs on four AAA batteries, easily purchased at any drug store.

Couch
35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor, Kodak Ektar 100

Canon T70

Canon T70

Read my review here. This camera isn’t pretty, but it is a fine performer. It takes the whole range of easy to come by, inexpensive Canon FD-mount lenses. They often show up on eBay with the wonderful 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD lens already attached.

The T70 offers a generous range of exposure modes: three program modes, a shutter-priority mode, a couple of flash modes, and even a stop-down metering mode for when you’ve adapted older FL-mount lenses. The T70 even offers two metering modes: center-weighted average and “selective area” which meters just the center 11 percent of the frame. Whatever modes you choose, your settings appear in the easy-to-read LCD panel. The T70 offers a big and bright viewfinder, and it winds and rewinds your film for you. Two common AA batteries power everything.

This might just be the biggest bargain on a programmed autoexposure 35mm SLR.

Glass
50mm f/1.8 Canon FD, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200

Sears KS-2

Sears KS-2

Read my review here. This is the real sleeper of this bunch. Originally sold at Sears, it’s the same camera as the Ricoh XR-7, the top of Ricoh’s SLR line in the early 1980s. But because it looks like a no-brand camera, people overlook them.

Really, you can look at any of the Sears KS-series SLRs as they’re all made by Ricoh and are all good performers. The KS-2 just happens to be fully featured, with aperture priority autoexposure and full manual exposure. Its shutter’s top speed is 1/1000 second. It takes films from ISO 12 to 3200. It offers a self timer, a hot shoe, multiple exposure capability, and depth-of-field preview. Two common SR44 button batteries power the KS-2. Most drug stores carry them.

But the best part is that these Sears/Ricoh SLRs feature Pentax’s K lens mount. You can mount any of Pentax’s wonderful manual-focus K-mount lenses. The Ricoh/Sears lenses are no slouches, either.

Phlox
50mm f/1.7 Auto Sears MC, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200

Minolta XG-1

Minolta XG-1

Read my review here. Minolta’s XG cameras were a step down from their pro line, aimed at advanced amateurs. The XG-1 was the entry-level camera in the line.

After you load film into the XG-1, just set the shutter speed dial to A, choose an aperture, and let the XG-1 do the rest. Its cloth shutter is stepless from 1/1000 to 1 sec. A shutter-speed scale appears inside the viewfinder. You can set the XG-1’s exposure manually, too, but the camera doesn’t make it easy. This camera is really designed for aperture-priority use. It needs two SR44 button batteries to work.

The XG-1 feels the most luxurious to use of all of these cameras. I especially enjoy its electronic shutter button, which requires only a light touch.

Carpentry Hall
50mm f/1.4 MD Rokkor-X, Ultrafine Extreme 100

Pentax ME/ME Super

Pentax ME

Read my ME review here and my ME Super review here. I’ve used my Pentax ME more than any other camera I’ve ever owned. It’s the smallest and lightest camera in this list, and is so easy to handle.

The Pentax ME is an aperture-priority-only camera. I like that just fine, but if you want manual exposure control you’ll want the ME Super instead. If you don’t care either way, buy whichever one you find first at the price you like.

The ME and ME Super are reasonably flexible, working with films up to ISO 1600 and allowing exposures as fast as 1/1000 sec. on the ME and 1/2000 sec on the ME Super. All of this convenience relies on two SR44 button batteries.

I almost didn’t include this camera because it’s a little harder to find than the others for under $50. It surprises me, because only a handful of years ago you could buy these any day of the week for under $20! If you want one, buy it soon, before prices are consistently above that $50 threshold.

GMC truck
50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak Gold 200 (at EI 100)

There you have it, five semi-automatic 35mm SLRs for under $50. Any of these cameras will prove a fine companion when you want the ease of automatic exposure.

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18 thoughts on “Five semi-automatic 35mm SLRs for under $50

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    As much of a Pentax person as I am, I have to say the “gold” here for me is the Nikon N2000. We had one of these laying around at one of the studios I managed, and it was just a fun little thing to pick up and “bam” off a few photos in a pinch. They seemed like precision cameras, but they never seemed to get much love. They came and went pretty fast, and I always remembered how easy to use they were, but wondered if they were dependable or not, since I rarely ever saw any after their period? Hidden gold!

    • They don’t get any love even today. It’s why they go for twenty bucks!

      When I did Operation Thin the Herd, I kept the N2000 over the technological tour-de-force FA. The N2000 is just a better camera for everyday use for me.

      (Of course, shortly another FA found its way into my hands. I guess I was destined to own one.)

  2. For me, local used prices are a lot different from eBay prices. Just last week I could have picked up a black AE-1 with a couple of Canon lenses and a few accessories for $50. I paid $25 for a like new AE-1 Program just last year. YMMV, but that’s been my experience where I live.

    • I’ve never bought camera gear off CL or FB Marketplace, the ways I’d do that locally here. I’m not hip to going to meet someone to look at their gear and then say “no thanks” to it if something’s wrong. Maybe I should get over myself. But I’ll bet you can pick up some bargains that way.

      • Craigslist is how I got my SR-T 101. Yeah, there was the weirdness/awkwardness of meeting seller in the parking lot of a Fred Meyer in suburban Vancouver, Wash. That type of meeting doesn’t lend itself to thorough inspections, and the camera did need repairs due to the broken mirror gear. But I got the camera, case, manual, nice MC Rokkor PG 50mm f/1.4 lens, and a Vivitar 28mm f/2.8 lens, all for $50!

      • It’s interesting that different people have different perspectives on that. When I answer an ad locally (CL, usually) I have a set of questions that I ask just to see how much they know about the camera. If I meet them, I’ll look at the battery compartment for corrosion and test to see if the shutter speeds sound reasonably accurate. I usually bring a battery for that model along just for that purpose. If everything checks out, and the price is right, I’ll usually go ahead with the purchase. For lenses, I just make sure that everything that turns or switches does so, and I of course look for signs of fungus or other unwanted markings on the glass.

    • tbm3fan says:

      I guess it depends on where you live for Craigslist. Just looked and see a fellow asking $475 for a Pentax ME. So much for under $50 although this seller will find that out the hard way. They are even selling a Vivitar 283 flash for $110 or the set for $550. That flash isn’t worth more than $20.

  3. Jim, read your buying from eBay advice—very good. I strongly agree that buying from someone who knows nothing about cameras can be dicey. But, I’ve had a very high success rate. The key, as you mentioned, is communicating with the seller.

    Quite a few times I have walked sellers through checking lenses for fungus, oil and haze. I’ve also advised on what batteries to buy and where to get them. Sometimes these interactions go on over days. As a last step, I ask if they will accept a return if the item doesn’t work when I get it. I have used this on eBay, Etsy and ShopGoodwill with nearly 100% success. I have never been stuck with a non-working item. Even better, I have been offered discounts by sellers grateful for me teaching them how to evaluate camera gear.

    One of my best eBay deals was a mint X-700 with two lenses (one exceptional) and motor drive (never used). It had been bought in the 90s for a college class and not used since—70.00! Sold by a friend of the family with no camera knowledge.

    From ShopGoodwill a Maxxum 7000, no bleed, 50mm 1.7 lens, and tweed Minolta bag— all in beautiful cosmetic condition for 9.99! They sent extra pics and checked the lens for flaws.

      • Andy Umbo says:

        I learned on eBay a long time ago, not to buy lenses from below the Mason-Dixon line and East of the Mississippi. I can’t tell you how many fungus filled lenses I got from those humid environs early in my eBay buying career! So many, I just decided to swear off years ago… Amateur users in not very well regulated environments!

        • I agree, generally speaking. However, I never buy lenses without additional pics taken at my direction and an agreement via email to accept a return.

          My worst episode was from the Midwest, though. I asked for pics and the seller said no more were needed. He said he had checked everything and all were in good shape, and he accept a would a return if not.

          This was for a Nikon n65 and 3 Nikon lenses, with 30.00 shipping.

          Well, there was so much fungus on everything that I could have made wine or bread. It was disgusting.

          When I told the buyer, he insisted I wasn’t telling the truth and said he would double check SN to make sure I was sending back the same items.

          After getting the set back, he wrote and said, he never checked. They were his sister’s, and she had said they were ok. He told me he trashed the lot.

          I got my money back, and he paid 60.00 shipping for nothing.

        • Andy Umbo says:

          Wow Jerome, that’s a hell of a story! Glad you got your “dough” back!

  4. Most people try to be honest when selling. I avoid anyone who doesn’t answer or isn’t willing to send extra pics or check the equipment. I find many have no idea how to detach a lens from a camera body.

    Helping them lessens my anxiety about buying and theirs about selling. Everyone wins!

  5. arhphotographic says:

    Ah ha wallet safe again😊 as I own all the cameras you suggest. Totally agree with your recommendations , although a Nikon N2020 could be in there🤔
    Andrew

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