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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Lonely little window

Lonely little window
Nikon N2000, 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Zoom Nikkor

Kosmo Foto Mono
Rodinal 1+50
2020

I live in a modern vinyl village. It’s not my cup of tea, but it made practical sense when Margaret and I got married and so here we are. We both hope to move on from here when the nest empties.

While we’re all on stay-at-home orders during the global pandemic, my photography is limited to my house and, when I take a walk, my neighborhood.

The houses all present well from the front, but they paid zero attention to what the sides and back look like. Windows, when they exist, are stuck wherever it made sense from the inside, without regard to how that would look on the outside. Our house has windows on the front and back, but the sides are huge, unbroken slabs of vinyl. Some houses have windows inserted in random places. The pictured house has this one window on this side, in the extreme lower left corner. It just looks weird.

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Film Photography

single frame: Lonely little window

Lonely little window

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Film Photography

Kosmo Foto Mono in Rodinal

Reeds

I’m shooting through all the film I’ve stockpiled, and a roll of Kosmo Foto Mono was next in the queue. I spooled it into my Nikon N2000 as I hadn’t shot it in a long while. My 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens is still new to me, so I mounted it to give it another spin. I developed this Kosmo Foto Mono in Rodinal 1+50 and I was overall happy with the results.

But first, let’s look at some photos I wasn’t too happy with. Several shots were lighter on the edges than in the middle like the one below.

Lowe's reflected

Shadow detail wasn’t great in a few photos as well, as in the photo below. Can you see the runner on the path? He was much more obvious in real life as I made the photograph.

Suburban living at its best

There’s so much that goes into what a photograph looks like when you see it here. I almost always let the camera meter the scene; did my N2000 favor the highlights here? Is its meter still accurate? It was great the last time I used it. But that was more than a year ago and old cameras — this one is from about 1985 — do fail sometimes.

I used my CanoScan 9000F Mark II and its bundled ScanGear software to scan these negatives. Better scanner software or a better scanner might have resolved these images better.

I’m still new to developing my own film, but I’ve built enough skill at it to get consistent results. That doesn’t mean consistently perfect results; perhaps something about this developing session wasn’t ideal. The temperature of my developer was higher than ideal: 22.8° C rather than 20° C, thanks to ambient temperature. That led me to reduce development time from 9 minutes to 7 minutes 10 seconds, as calculated using the converter at the Massive Dev Chart Web site. Maybe that played a role.

Who knows. The rest of the roll looked really good to me.

Fence and shadow

At the time I made these photos Indiana was on stay-at-home orders thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. So I shot the whole roll around the house and on walks I made around my neighborhood. This is what I like to call la-de-da photography — images of anything that strikes my fancy. None of this will ever hang in a museum. But I had fun shooting the roll, and that’s what matters.

Film

I like Kosmo Foto Mono. But when I’ve sent this film out to my usual labs for developing and scanning I sometimes thought the results were a touch too contrasty. My usual labs use D76 or one of its clones. Rodinal managed the contrast better. There’s a slight muddiness in some images, but a good range of tones overall.

Pine needles

It was strange to walk around the deserted streets of my subdivision, so I walked over to the nearby strip mall and it was similarly deserted. We walk over to this Mexican restaurant a lot, or at least we did before they closed thanks to the pandemic.

El Rodeo

Ah, vinyl village life. Our neighbor owns this funky Jeep with its white fenders. This shows Kosmo Foto Mono’s signature deep blacks.

Jeeeeeeep

That 35-105mm zoom lens has a macro mode. I love macro work! On a rainy day I put some small things on the kitchen windowsill and photographed them with the lens wide open (f/3.5).

Rocks

I was with Margaret when we bought this little bird sculpture, but I can’t remember where that was. The focus is a little soft.

Birb

There you have it: Kosmo Foto Mono in Rodinal 1+50. It’s a fine combination.

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Collecting Cameras

I’m back with two more refreshed reviews of cameras from my collection.

Up first is the Nikon N2000, from early in the plastic-body era. The N2000 is a fabulous bargain among Nikon bodies. It doesn’t have the solid all-metal construction of earlier Nikon SLRs but it is still a robust and capable camera. I’ve shot mine a great deal and it just works. See my updated review here.

Nikon N2000

This camera might say Sears on it, but it’s really built by Ricoh — and it’s a solid performer. I got some lovely photographs through those Sears/Ricoh lenses. These are serious bargains on the used market — if you want an inexpensive SLR to knock around with do look at these Ricohs in Sears clothing. See my review here.

Sears KS Super II

Updated reviews: Nikon N2000 and Sears KS Super II

Aside
Film Photography

Shooting Fujifilm Provia 400X

Fire station

Stephen Dowling of Kosmo Foto sent me a few rolls of film from his fridge in thanks for a favor. It was mostly slide film, something I haven’t shot very much as my skinflint tendencies reliably turn me to inexpensive stuff like Fujicolor 200. I’ve been shooting it a roll here and a roll there. After enjoying a roll of my usual inexpensive stuff in my Nikon N2000 recently, I went for broke and loaded a gifted roll of slide film: Fujifilm Provia 400X.

The Bungalow

My 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens was already on the camera, so I left it there. Say what you will about zoom lenses, and this zoom lens in particular — Ken Rockwell calls it one of Nikon’s worst lenses ever — but I like this lens. It’s sharp enough, the zoom range is super useful for the subjects I shoot on photowalks, and it offers a macro mode. The wicked barrel distortion evident at its wide end is easily corrected in Photoshop.

Monon bridge

I am pleased with the rich color this film delivered. It hits a sweet spot between realistic and deep. These are the colors I remember when I was on the scene, but they’re richer, deeper somehow, and they make me want to go back and experience them again in person.

Purple link

This place, by the way, is Broad Ripple, a hip neighborhood on Indianapolis’s Northside. I visited it because it’s so colorful. I loved being able to shoot this ISO 400 slide film on a cloudy day — most slide films I’ve shot before are much slower, ISO 50 or ISO 100, requiring slower shutter speeds and a steadier hand.

The Depot

I also shot some of this roll on a bright, sunny day in downtown Fishers. This was the last time I shot any film there before I lost the job that brought me there five days a week. I hated that long, tedious commute and don’t miss it. There’s no good way to get to Fishers from anywhere. After you’re there, though, it’s not too bad.

Fountain

The Provia 400X kept on delivering. Just look at those blues and greens.

Mean street of Fishers

Here’s a quick look down one of Fishers’ few remaining original downtown streets. I showed you some of them not long ago in this post. I’m sure that in the next few years this will all be gone in favor of urban density. I shot this in late October, just as the trees were beginning to turn. We had an unusually warm early autumn, which delayed the onset of color. But when it came, it came fast and intense. The trees were largely bare after just a couple weeks.

Red leaves

The 35-70mm lens’s macro mode let me get right up on some of the leaves.

Pillow on our couch

Provia 400X’s speed let me experiment with a few shots inside. The subject isn’t terribly interesting but the colors are spot on with reality — after I Photoshopped out a green caste that the ambient incandescent lighting imparted.

Bathroom selfie

I tried a bathroom selfie. My black hoodie was a bit of a stretch for the Provia, even with 240 watts of light burning right over my head.

The Ruins

I also made a quick trip to The Ruins at Holliday Park in Indianapolis. I just love that place. I need to go photograph it proper one day and show it to you. This one photo will have to do for now.

My other slide-film experience has been a single roll of Velvia 50 and a whole bunch of Ektachrome E100G. The Velvia is super ultra saturated, which would be fun sometimes but isn’t my style most of the time. The E100G is nice stuff but a little too blue. This Provia really hits a sweet spot for me: realistic but rich color rendition.

Fujifilm doesn’t make Provia 400X anymore, and remaining stocks are all past their use-by dates. This roll was expired, but Stephen obviously stored it properly and it performed as new. This is very nice stuff and it’s a shame it’s discontinued.

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Collecting Cameras

Operation Thin the Herd: Nikon N2000

In Starkey Park

Nikon fans had to be disappointed in their favorite camera manufacturer in 1985 upon the introduction of the N2000. It was the first Nikon SLR ever to have a plastic body. Polycarbonate, to be precise. It was also first to lack a winding lever — automatic winding was built into the body. Perhaps that luxury feature softened the blow for dedicated Nikon shooters.

Nikon N2000

Does Nikon even make a metal-bodied camera anymore? The N2000 pointed toward the future. And when I came upon mine, I found it to be a robust and highly capable tool. Here’s a shot from my very first roll of film in it, Fujicolor 200, through a 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E lens. This is my most-viewed photo on Flickr, by the way, with 36,838 views as of the day I am writing this.

Every step of the way *EXPLORED*

I liked this camera so much that I shot it all over Ireland a couple years ago. I was gifted a 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor lens that was just right to take in Ireland’s sweeping vistas. I shot Kodak T-Max 400 all over that country.

At Kylemore Abbey

This gives me a great chance to plug my book, Textures of Ireland, which collects the best of my black-and-white Ireland photos. They’re all as beautiful and as deep as the one above, of Kylemore Abbey in County Galway! I’d be thrilled if you bought a copy today: $14.99 plus shipping for paperback and $4.99 for a PDF. Click here to order one!

The N2000 handled beautifully all over Ireland. It proved fully Nikon tough when I fell hard on some slippery rocks — the camera banged right into them, leaving a dent in the bottom plate. It kept working as if nothing had happened.

It was with this memory in mind that I loaded some Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 into it for a hike through Zionsville’s Starkey Park. It had rained the day before and the trails were wet.

Backlit leaf

I had mounted a 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens that I picked up somewhere along the way. I like this lens a lot, except that at its widest end it has wicked barrel distortion. It shows right up in any shot with straight lines. I corrected this photo’s distortion in Photoshop with a few clicks.

Bridge

I did have some trouble getting good exposures this late afternoon. The sun was low in the sky, casting deep shadows. But by the end of the roll the winder was sounding sickly, meaning that the batteries were weak. Drat! That had to affect the meter’s accuracy.

Stalk

This little zoom lens offers a macro mode, too. I love macro lenses!

Berries

There was plenty of autumn foliage to get close to.

Flowers

I shot this whole roll in Program mode, letting the camera choose all the settings for me. With its automatic winder, all I had to do was focus and press the shutter button. At the end of the roll I did have to manually rewind the film — automatic rewind was one nicety that Nikon wasn’t ready to offer the world yet in 1985.

Rocks

The N2000 was an eager and versatile companion on this hike. If only I had thought to put fresh batteries in before I left the house!

Pond

To see everything I’ve ever shot with this camera, check out my Nikon N2000 gallery.

I just love this plastic Nikon SLR. I love most of my other Nikon SLRs, too, especially my two F2s and my F3. I sure as hell don’t need them all. But it’s good to have a reliable F-mount body that, if damaged or lost, would not reduce me to tears. I can buy another N2000 for under $30. Try that with an F2 or F3.

Verdict: Keep

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