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.

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.

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.

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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Sears KS-2, 50mm f/1.7 Auto Sears MC
Fujifilm Fujicolor 200

Film Photography
Camera Reviews

Sears KS-2

I had so much fun shooting my Sears KS Super II earlier this year that when I came upon its more fully featured brandmate, the KS-2, for a good price, I scooped it up.

Sears KS-2

In 1982, when this camera was made, Sears was selling Ricoh SLRs as its own. This camera is the same as the Ricoh XR-7, which was then Ricoh’s top-of-the-line SLR. Where the KS Super II was limited to point, focus, and shoot, the KS-2 offers full manual control plus aperture priority autoexposure. Its shutter operates from 16 to 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. And as best as I can tell, the KS-2 came in a kit with a fast 50mm f/1.4 lens. For whatever reason, my KS-2 came with the pictured 50mm f/1.7 Auto Sears MC lens. Like all Ricoh/Sears SLRs, this camera uses Pentax’s K lens mount.

Sears KS-2

The KS-2 runs on two button batteries, either two silver-oxide SR-44s or two alkaline LR-44s. Without batteries, the KS-2 is inert.

Sears KS-2

The KS-2 has but one quirk: the meter shuts off after a bit, and to turn it back on you have to press that tall button on the camera’s face. My finger always struggled to find that button when the camera was at my eye. But when the meter is active, an LED display in the viewfinder shows what shutter speed the camera selected in aperture-priority mode, or in manual mode shows up and down arrows that let you triangulate on an accurate exposure.

By the way, if you like 35mm SLRs of this era, see also my reviews of the Canon T70 (here), the Nikon N2000 (here), and the Canon EOS 630 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I loaded some Fujicolor 200 and shot about three photos when the mirror stuck up and the camera wouldn’t wind. Fortunately, the Internet knew an easy workaround: Remove the bottom plate (five screws). Inside, look for the pin I’ve circled in red. Press it in to release the winder. Keep winding until you hear the mirror return. Ta-da!

IMG_1686 rawproc circled

Problem solved, I set about shooting. And truth be told, I wasn’t feeling very inspired. It happens. But here’s some of what I shot. At church, our parking lot is behind the building. For whatever reason, we don’t allow the alley to connect to our parking lot, so these concrete barriers block the way.

Jesus rocks

Around front, here’s our sign. Washington Street, formerly US 40, formerly the National Road, is within sight of our sign. But since we’re on a residential side street, you pretty much have to live in the neighborhood to know about us.

West Park

The KS-2 went about its business unobtrusively. Anonymously, almost. Everything just worked. The Ricoh lens was sharp and contrasty enough.

Church entrance

I carried the KS-2 around with me for a couple weeks. One day, my son and I went to Crown Hill Cemetery for a walk and some photographs.


This summer I worked part time as a consultant for a startup software company in Fishers, so the KS-2 went along sometimes.

Nickel Plate District

Closer to home, I shot this sprinkler on the path to my front door. The subject isn’t very exciting, but the photo shows the clarity and detail this lens can capture.


And I shot my daisies, because daisies are so darned cheerful.

Daisy, daisy, give me your answer do

My KS-2 also came with a 135mm f/2.8 Auto-Sears MC lens. I clipped it on to shoot my neighbor’s ’67 Chrysler from my driveway. The spot is spoiled by a little camera shake, but I suppose that’s always a risk with a long lens.

Neighbor's old Chrysler

To see more photos from my test roll, check out my Sears KS-2 gallery.

This is a competent camera with a capable lens. A fellow could shoot it for the rest of his life and make wonderful images. That fellow won’t be me, however; I have plenty of other great gear with which I’m very comfortable. But if you want a solid SLR with good features and a good lens, the Sears KS-2 is a great, inexpensive choice.

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