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
Story Inn
A portrait of the photographer

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Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan
Nikon N65, 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6-G AF Nikkor
Fujifilm Fujicolor 200

Film Photography
Camera Reviews

Nikon N65

The Nikon N65 is a forgotten camera. A 35 mm film SLR for the masses, it was introduced in 2001. Two years before, Nikon issued the the first viable digital SLR, the D1; within a few years, the DSLR would reign. The N65 never had a chance.

Nikon N65

This SLR is point-and-shoot simple. Press the shutter button halfway and the camera sets both exposure and focus, zip-zap. If flash is needed, one pops up atop the camera and fires. Film winds and rewinds automatically.

A versatile 28-80 mm f/3.3-5.6 AF Nikkor zoom lens came with the N65, but you can attach a huge collection of good Nikon glass to this camera.

Nikon N65

The N65 has all the modes you’d expect, and they work just like the ones on your digital camera. (Or is it more accurate to say that your digital camera’s modes work just like the ones on the later film SLRs?) Turn the dial atop the camera to A for aperture priority, S for shutter priority, P for program, and M for manual, plus several special modes. Of course, fiddling with those settings is so annoying that nobody ever used them.

Nikon N65

Given that this was Nikon’s entry-level SLR, at about $300, it is made almost entirely of plastic. It weighs just 14 ounces! But Nikon didn’t skimp on features, giving this camera a shutter that fires from 1/2000 to 30 sec., and the ability to handle film of up to a whopping ISO 5,000. The N65 needs two pricey CR2 batteries to power everything.

If you like fully automatic SLRs like this one, also see my reviews of the Nikon N60 (here); the Canon EOS 630 (here), EOS 650 (here), Rebel (here), Rebel S (here), and A2e (here), and the Minolta Maxxum 9xi (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

My road-trip loving buddy Pat (check out his blog) placed this camera on permanent loan in the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras. When a camera lands in my hands, I shoot with it. Why not? I keep lots of Fujicolor 200 in the fridge for just such an eventuality.

I don’t remember taking this photograph. But there it is, the one that pleased me most on my test roll.

Black-eyed Susan

A soccer-goal farm consumes a field near my home. This crop looks ready for harvest.


I wanted to see how the N65 did in available light, but I couldn’t keep the flash from firing. If I were controlling focus and exposure, I would have gotten the fake flower fully in focus.

Pencil cup

When I did want the flash, it did a terrible job.

Flash mishap

Shot outside, the N65 got good exposure time after time, in all conditions I threw at it. I shot in Program mode, letting the camera make all the decisions. It was both freeing, because I didn’t have to fuss with the camera, and boring, because I didn’t have to fuss with the camera.

Lawn furniture

The 28-80 zoom was a surprisingly good performer. My chief complaint is barrel distortion at the wide end, but you can correct that in a second in Photoshop.

Anonymous office building

To see more from this camera, check out my Nikon N65 gallery.

Under routine circumstances, the N65 is a perfectly adequate SLR. There were times I wanted more control, but that is not the N65’s mission.

Because this camera does so much for you, it’s too easy to mindlessly frame and press the button. I fell prey to this, which led to many poor compositions. Also, a few shots were ruined by a sensitive shutter button that fired before I was quite ready.

I’ll always prefer my metal, mechanical 1970s SLRs. But a camera like the N65 has its charms, and is plenty good for a day of easy shooting.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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