Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

What’s the best film camera to start with?

Every time I see a post about the best film camera to start with, 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.)

Nikon N65

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.

Nikon N65

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.

Red house
Goals
Story Inn
A portrait of the photographer

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Story Inn

The Story Inn
Nikon N60, AF Nikkor 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6
Fujicolor 200
2013

You’ll find this old country General Store, today operating as an inn and restaurant, in the middle of nowhere in Brown County, Indiana.

This dot on the map was an important little village until the Great Depression did it in. But I’m getting ahead of myself — come back tomorrow to read the story of Story, which is what this village is called.

I made this photograph on my first visit to Story a few years ago.

Photography, Road Trips

single frame: The Story Inn

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Curvy State Road 45

Curvy State Road 45
Nikon N60, 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6 AF Nikkor
Fujicolor 200
2013

One of my two favorite highways to drive in Indiana is State Road 45 between Bean Blossom and Bloomington. It’s good twisty fun. (The other favorite highway is State Road 62 where it skirts the Ohio River.)

Film Photography, Road Trips

Photo: Curvy State Road 45 in Indiana

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Film Photography

Captured: Foodliner

Foodliner

I remember a time, during my 1970s kidhood, when the IGA Foodliner was the official grocery store of the rural Midwest. Even through the 1980s, if you drove out of the city and into the cornfields, when you came upon a small town you’d almost certainly find a Foodliner.

In the intervening years many rural IGA stores have closed. The one in Burlington, Indiana, on the Michigan Road, was the only one left anywhere near me as far as I knew. It hung in there until a couple years ago, but it’s a Dollar General now. When I came upon this one as I passed through Morgantown, Indiana, recently, I stopped to photograph it. It’s hard telling when I’ll see another, and this is such a classic example. Nikon N60, AF Nikkor 28-80mm, expired Kodak Gold 200.

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Camera Reviews

Nikon N60

When a buddy of mine said I could have his Nikon N60 for $20 (and if I met him for lunch and paid), I said yes. It wasn’t because I’ve always dreamed of owning an N60 – I’m more into old-style, all-metal, all-manual film SLRs, and the N60 is a modern, plastic, auto-everything SLR. No, it’s because I can’t resist a stray camera. Heck, I even have a camera very much like this one already – the Nikon N65, which was the N60’s successor. The N60 was made from 1998 to 2001, and the N65 picked up from there.

Nikon N60

I’m going to skip my usual rundown of this camera’s features because, really, just go read my writeup of the N65. The N60 is slightly less camera than the N65, with less sophisticated autoexposure and autofocus systems, no depth-of field preview, and no way to fire the shutter remotely.

But who cares? This camera is tricked out just fine for the easy automatic shooting it’s meant for. Set the dial atop the camera to Auto and the N60 is a giant point-and-shoot that makes you feel like you’re a real photographer.

If you like auto-everything SLRs, also check out my reviews of the Nikon N65 (here), the Nikon N90s (here), Canon EOS 630 (here), the Canon EOS A2e (here), and the Minolta Maxxum 9xi (here). If you’re a Nikon fan see my reviews of the F2 (here), F3 (here), and FA (here). Or just check out all of my camera reviews here.

My N60 came with a couple of Quantaray lenses, one at 28-80mm and another at 100-300mm. I took only a few photos with the Quantaray lenses, not expecting much from them. I also loaded a roll of expired Kodak Gold 200 I found at the bottom of the bag the camera came in. I did have to get the two 123 batteries out of my N65 to power the N60; without them, the camera is inert. As so often happens, I started shooting in my front yard. My tiger lilies were in bloom.

Tiger Lily

The photos from the Quantaray lenses show a fair amount of noise and some barrel distortion. This is the best shot from the Quantaray lenses. The black areas were pretty noisy, but I fixed that in Photoshop.

Carnations

I used the AF Nikkor 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6 off my N65 for the rest of my photos with the N60. Noise disappeared and sharpness and color rendition improved. You’d never guess this shot of the main drag in Morgantown, IN, was shot on expired film.

Downtown Morgantown

This is the entrance to the Methodist church in Morgantown.

Morgantown United Methodist

When I finished the expired film, I dropped in some fresh Fujicolor 200 and kept shooting. This is the Story Inn, a little restaurant and bed-and-breakfast in Brown County, just off State Road 135.

Story Inn

Here’s the inside of the renovated Medora Covered Bridge. The N60 handled this challenging lighting situation pretty well.

Medora Covered Bridge

On the other hand, the N60 struggled with the blazing sunlight contrasting with deep shadows from overhanging trees on State Road 45. It favored the shadows; lit areas were a little blown out. This spent thistle bloom stood along the roadside there.

Roadside flowers

If you’d like to see more photos from this camera, check out my Nikon N60 gallery.

I wasn’t very enthusiastic about my N65 when I shot it last year, but I rather enjoyed shooting this N60. When I shot the N65, I farted around with it in old familiar places. But I took this N60 along on a road trip as my primary camera. As such, I used it as a tool, and it handled easily. Except for the challenging light on State Road 45, it performed well, especially after I ditched the Quantaray lens for a Nikon lens.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Film Photography, Road Trips

Captured: Red house

Bean Blossom, IN

My recent State Road 45 excursion started in the little town of Beanblossom (or Bean Blossom, if you prefer). If you like bluegrass music, you probably recognize it as the home of the Bill Monroe Music Park. There’s not much more to Beanblossom. But this great little red building stands on the northwest corner of Beanblossom’s main drag, State Road 135, where it intersects with State Road 45.

I recently added a Nikon N60 to my camera collection and it was along for the ride. As a modern auto-everything film SLR, it’s not the kind of thing I normally buy. But I couldn’t resist the good deal I was offered, and it made for easy shooting on this this perfectly sunny day. A couple rolls of expired Kodak Gold 200 film came with the camera, so I plopped one in and off I went. Rather than shooting the probably lousy Quantaray zoom lens that came with the camera, I attached the AF Nikkor 28-80mm lens from my similar Nikon N65.

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