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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On the bridge

Interurban overpass
Minolta XG-1, MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Fujicolor 200
2013

Electric trains called interurbans could take you to many Indiana cities in the early 20th century. At their peak, 111 traction companies operated more then 3,000 cars along 2,100 track miles. 68 of Indiana’s 92 counties were served by at least one line.

Most Indiana interurbans had shut down by 1950 as the automobile took over. Remarkably, one interurban still serves, carrying passengers between South Bend and Chicago.

Some interurban infrastructure remains, like this bridge. You’ll find it today on the campus of Newfields, formerly known as the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Below once ran the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company’s line from Indianapolis to Lafayette, which was abandoned in the 1930s. You can see more views of this bridge on bridgehunter.com here.

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Film Photography

single frame: Interurban overpass

A bridge over an abandoned interurban line in Indianapolis.

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Garrett at the bridge

My son at the old railroad bridge
Minolta XG 1, 50mm f/1.7 Minolta MD
Agfa Vista 200 at EI 100
2018

A lot of abandoned railroad infrastructure remains across our nation. As railroads consolidated and shed lines through the 20th century, they left a lot behind.

Some of those lines have been converted to rail-trails. The best-known one in central Indiana is the Monon, named for its former rail line. But there are others.

A short rail-trail in Zionsville ends/begins at this bridge over Eagle Creek. A ramp leads down into Starkey Nature Park below, where there are great hiking trails. I like to go over there with my sons when they visit. Hence this photo.

This line was originally part of the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway, also known as the Big Four Railroad. The New York Central took it over in 1906; they built this bridge. In 1968 New York Central merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad to form Penn Central, which went bankrupt in 1970. When Conrail was formed in 1976 it took over this line. I don’t know when it was abandoned.

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Film Photography

single frame: My son at the old railroad bridge

My son near an old railroad bridge in Zionsville, Indiana.

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Headstone's in Terre Haute

Headstone Friends
Minolta XG 1, 45mm f/2 MD Rokkor-X
Fujifilm Fujicolor 200
2017

I spent so much money in this place in my late teens and 20s.

It’s an old-style head shop, still operating in Terre Haute, Indiana, of all places. Since 1970, Headstone Friends has sold records, tapes, and (since the mid 1980s) CDs. They also sell rolling papers and scales, black-light posters, and tie-dye T-shirts. Spend even fifteen minutes in here, and you’ll walk out smelling of incense.

The guys who founded the store all still worked in it when I first entered in 1985. They looked the part of aging hippies, their graying hair spilling most of the way down their backs. I’m older now than they were then, of course. One of those fellows still owns the shop, and his wife now runs it.

I love that they’ve persisted. I don’t get back to Terre Haute much anymore but when I do I try to stop in and buy a CD, for old time’s sake.

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Film Photography

single frame: Headstone Friends

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Collecting Cameras

I’m continuing to work through my camera reviews to freshen them up and fix little things that need fixing. I have a pair of SLRs to share with you today.

The first is the Minolta XG 1, which leans heavily into electronics but is a delightful performer. See it here.

Minolta XG-1

The other is the mechanical, metal, manual Canon TLb. I think it’s the great bargain among Canon FD-mount cameras, and is the one I recommend. See my review here.

Canon TLb

Updated reviews: Canon TLb and Minolta XG 1

Aside
Film Photography

The 50mm f/1.4 MD Rokkor-X is a lovely lens

After shooting my Minolta XG 1 in Operation Thin the Herd, I decided it was time to part with all of my Minolta gear. Bit by bit I’ve been selling it off. But before I let my 50mm f/1.4 MD Rokkor-X lens go, I shot one last roll of film with it.

1996

It’s a crying shame I’ve had such bad luck with Minolta bodies, because the lenses are sublime. This 50/1.4 leads the pack. It’s easily the finest 50/1.4 I’ve used for any system.

Queen Anne

Ultrafine Xtreme 100 has been a good utility b/w film every time I’ve used it, but this lens made the stuff absolutely sing.

Chicory

Just look at that sharpness and detail! If only I had better luck with Minolta bodies, this lens and I could have made beautiful music together for years to come.

West Park Church

But I sold the camera to one person and the lens to another. I hope that they both get excellent use in new hands.

View out the window

Now every time I look at these photos, I will think wistfully about this lovely 50mm f/1.4 MD Rokkor lens.

Carpentry Hall

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