Every time I see a post about the best first film camera, the comments pile on. So many different, strong opinions. So many of them recommend a mechanical, manual SLR like the Pentax K1000 or the Minolta SR-T 101.
I think that’s a terrible place for a newbie to start. There’s so much to learn about exposure to use a camera like that. It’s a barrier that could turn a budding film photographer away.
Instead, buy an auto-everything 35mm SLR from late in the film era, around the turn of the century. My favorites are the Nikon N-series cameras, like the N55, N60, and N65. Get one with a lens already attached, preferably a Nikon Nikkor. A 28-80mm zoom lens is common and still useful. You can buy kits like these for $30 on eBay every day. (Read my post here about how to buy film gear on eBay.)
There are some risks. Any used camera could have issues. But I choose these N-series cameras because, in my experience, unless one has been abused it is likely to work reliably.
The other reason I recommend these cameras is that when you twist the big dial atop the camera to Auto, you have a giant point-and-shoot camera. You’ll easily get great first results.
If you try one only to realize that film photography isn’t for you, you’re out very little money. You can probably sell the kit to someone else for what you paid for it!
If you find you like shooting film, keep going with this auto-everything SLR until you feel like you’ve mastered it. Then try a mechanical, manual camera like that K1000 (more info here) or SR-T 101 (more info here).
Here are some photos I made with my Nikon N60 and N65 with my 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6-G AF Nikkor lens, a common one to find with these cameras. I used everyday color films: Fujicolor 200 and Kodak Gold 200, which you can still buy at the drug store. I walked up, twisted the lens barrel to zoom in on the scene, and pressed the button. (My wife shot the last one.) That’s all there is to it.
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