Camera Reviews

Minolta XD-11

My hopes were sky high when I bought this Minolta XD-11 as so many prominent film-photo sites give it such high praise. Developed in cooperation with Ernst Leitz, this camera is supposed to exude quality to nearly Leica levels. The two companies worked together so that Minolta could better compete in the luxury rangefinder market and Leitz could build a cost-effective SLR platform. Leica built its R4, R5, R6, and R7 SLRs on this chassis.

Minolta XD-11

You might also see this camera called the XD-7 or just the XD; those were this camera’s name in Europe and Japan.

This is the world’s first SLR to offer full manual exposure with both aperture-priority and shutter-priority autoexposure. It features a vertically traveling metal-blade shutter that operates from 1 to 1/1000 sec, plus a 1/100-sec manual speed (the O setting on the shutter-speed dial) and bulb (B). In automatic modes, that shutter operates steplessly — if 1/218 second is the right shutter speed, that’s what the XD-11 chooses. The camera also features a mechanical self timer. Two SR44 batteries power the XD-11.

Minolta XD-11

You choose the exposure mode with a switch around the shutter-speed ring: M, A, and S, each meaning just what you’d expect. You can set ISO from 12 to 3200; press the little button and twist the collar around the rewind crank. You can also add or subtract one or two stops of exposure. Press in the tab on the rewind crank and move it to the amount of exposure compensation you want.

Minolta XD-11

The selected aperture is always visible in the viewfinder; a little window shows what you’ve dialed in on the lens. In shutter-priority and manual modes, the viewfinder shows the selected shutter speed. (For shutter-priority mode, first set the lens to its minimum aperture, e.g., f/16 on the 50mm f/1.7 MD Rokkor X lens that came with my XD-11.)

For manual and aperture-priority modes, a shutter-speed scale appears in the viewfinder. (Or it’s supposed to; it didn’t switch over on mine. A fault!) In shutter-priority mode, an aperture scale appears in the viewfinder. LED dots appear next to the scale. In manual mode, they show the aperture you need to choose for proper exposure. In aperture-priority mode, they show the shutter speed the camera has chosen, and in shutter-priority mode, they show the selected aperture. One dot means the camera has chosen that value exactly, while two adjacent dots mean the camera has chosen the proper value between the two marked values.

The XD-11 features “green mode” — set the camera to shutter-priority mode, choose minimum aperture, and choose 1/125 second. Notice that all of these settings are marked in green. In green mode, if 1/125 sec. is too fast, the XD-11 reduces shutter speed until it gets proper exposure.

Under use, the XD-11 is light, smooth, and pleasant. The viewfinder is bright and gives a great view. Its electromagnetic shutter button needs only an easy touch to operate. The wind lever is light and luxurious. My only ergonomic complaint is that there’s no on-off switch. To stop the meter from operating and thus draining the battery, you have to cap the lens.

If you like Minolta SLRs, you might also enjoy my reviews of the X-700 (here), the XG 1 (here), the SR-T 101 (here), and the SR-T 202 (here). I’ve also reviewed some autofocus Minolta SLRs, including the Maxxum 7000 (here), the Maxxum 7000i (here), the Maxxum 9xi (here), and the Maxxum HTsi (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I’ve had a lot of bad luck with Minolta manual-focus SLR bodies, and it continued with this camera. To be fair, I picked up a body at far below market price that the seller couldn’t represent well, and hoped for the best. I’ve already mentioned that the shutter-speed scale doesn’t appear in the viewfinder when it’s supposed to, but there’s more wrong than that. I tested the camera with a roll of Fomapan 200, and on three frames the shutter stuck open. Switching the shutter-speed dial to O, the one mechanical shutter speed, immediately closed the shutter. But those frames were entirely washed out, and the adjacent frames were partially overexposed as well.

I shot the Fomapan at EI 125 and developed it Ilford ID-11 1+1 at the ISO 200 time as I usually do. This was my first time developing in ID-11. It turned out great.

Boone County Jail

The XD-11 feels great in my hand. It’s got enough heft to inspire confidence, but not so much that it feels heavy. The materials all feel nice; the controls are all smooth and luxurious.

Details

The 50mm f/1.7 MD Rokkor-X lens that came with this camera performed as well as any 50/1.7 Rokkor ever does; that is to say, brilliantly. This is a wonderful lens.

Bike parking

I drove up to Lebanon, Indiana, just to make some photographs with the XD-11. Lebanon is my county’s seat. I photographed the courthouse on the square, but I wasn’t thrilled with the images. Therefore, you get photographs of things around the square.

One Way

Lebanon, like most Indiana county seats, features a courthouse square with sturdy old buildings living their fourth, eighth, or nineteenth small-business life. Truly, the photo below could be from any of a hundred small Indiana towns.

On the square in Lebanon

This is the point in the review where I’m supposed to heap giant praise onto the Minolta XD-11. I’ll refrain. I liked this camera, but I like my Olympus OM-2n far better. Camera reviews like this one are highly subjective — what tickles my fancy might turn you right off. So just know that the XD-11 is a fine camera and you should try one someday if you can.

Rocket Liquors

I stopped finding interesting things to photograph in Lebanon, so I headed back to Zionsville, specifically to Lions Park, which is always good for a few frames.

Zionsville Little League

This little lion is a drinking fountain, and it’s on the edge of one of the park’s many playgrounds.

Lion drinking fountain

To see more from this camera, check out my Minolta XD-11 gallery.

Minolta considered its XD-11 to be its premium SLR in its day, slotting it above the full-program X-700. I can see why; this is a very solid and smooth camera. That mine isn’t fully functional is a shame, as I wouldn’t mind being able to do more than a one-roll review of this well-regarded camera. Instead, I did something I’ve never done before: after writing this review, I asked the eBay seller for a refund.

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

Sears KSX-P

Sears, Roebuck and Company sold cameras under its own brands starting in the 1950s. Outside manufacturers made them all; Sears was a department store, not a manufacturer. From the late 1960s through late 1980s, if you bought a Sears 35mm SLR, Ricoh made it — with one exception. Sears turned to Chinon for its last 35mm SLR, the 1985 Sears KSX-P.

Sears KSX-P

This camera differs only cosmetically from Chinon’s CP-5. It offers two program modes, hence the “Dual2 Program” label on the prism cover. It also offers aperture-priority and manual exposure modes. You can mount any of the huge range of Pentax and third-party K-mount lenses to this camera. I don’t know how they did it, but automatic exposure modes work with any K-mount lens. I mounted one of my SMC Pentax-M lenses and program and aperture-priority modes worked fine. Pentax’s autoexposure SLRs required SMC Pentax-A lenses; older SMC Pentax-M lenses worked only in manual exposure mode.

Sears KSX-P

The KSX-P uses a metal, vertical-travel focal-plane shutter that operates from 30 sec. (8 sec. in manual mode) to 1/1000 sec. It accepts films from 25 to 3200 ISO, selected using the dial around the rewind crank. Pull it up to turn it. The viewfinder features split-image and microprism focusing. The camera also chimes for various reasons mostly related to misexposure; you can turn that off with the switch next to the lens mount and under the KSX-P logo. That switch also activates the self timer. Three AAA batteries power the camera; they’re under the grip.

Sears KSX-P

The two program modes are Program Action (Pa) and Program Creative (Pc), which you select with the gray lever on the mode dial. Pa chooses faster shutter speeds to freeze moving subjects, and Pc chooses smaller apertures for greater depth of field with static subjects. When using one of the program modes, put the lens at its smallest aperture. If you don’t, program mode still works, but the camera can’t choose apertures smaller than the one set on the lens.

Manual mode is unusual: you press the M button (next to the mode dial) to step through shutter speeds in ascending order. If you press the shutter button partway and then press the M button, you step through shutter speeds in descending order. It’s challenging to get both fingers in there. A flashing LED in the viewfinder appears next to the shutter speed. A second LED, glowing steady, shows the shutter speed necessary for the selected aperture. To set proper exposure, adjust aperture and shutter speed until the two LEDs become one.

The KSX-P lets you make multiple exposures on a frame. Slide the lever above the winder to the left and hold it, and wind. The film stays put but the shutter cocks so you can make a second exposure on the frame.

The rewind crank is unusual in that it is round, covering the shaft like a lid. I found the knob to be hard to hold as I rewound my test rolls. It kept slipping from my fingers, which caused the crank to close.

My Sears KSX-P came with a 50mm f/1.7 Auto Sears MC lens made by Chinon, which was probably the kit lens. My Sears KS-2 had a 50/1.7 Auto Sears MC lens too, but Ricoh made it. The easiest way to tell these identically named lenses apart is that the Ricoh lens takes 52mm filters and the Chinon lens takes 49mm filters, and the lenses are marked as such right on the front.

I’ve reviewed other Sears SLRs, namely the KS-2 (here) and the KS Super II (here). These are all K-mount SLRs, shared with Pentax. Check out my reviews of the Pentax KM (here), K1000 (here), ME (here), and ME Super (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I loaded a roll of Fomapan 400 and shot it in Program mode at EI 200, and then developed it in LegacyPro L110 and scanned the negatives on my Minolta ScanDual II.

Sears KSX-P - Suburban scene

I used Pa mode when I was chasing after our little granddaughter and Pc mode otherwise. The KSX-P’s viewfinder shows which shutter speed the camera chooses by lighting an LED along a scale. You can see the lens’s selected aperture in a window at the top of the viewfinder, but in program mode that’s always 22, not the aperture the camera selected. I would have liked know the aperture so I could guess the depth of field I might be getting. The camera has no DOF preview.

Sears KSX-P - Bubbles in the sink

The KSX-P feels plasticky, but it’s got moderate heft. The viewfinder is a little dim, but it’s plenty usable. The battery grip makes the camera comfortable in the hand.

Sears KSX-P - Flowers

This lens focuses down to 18 inches, which ain’t bad for a non-macro lens. I like having the ability to get in close.

Sears KSX-P - VW

This lens has mild but noticeable barrel distortion, which I find to be uncommon among 50mm primes. The lens handles easily, however, and is compact.

Sears KSX-P - Stones on the sill

You’ll never mistake the KSX-P for a professional or luxury camera. The controls are sure, but aren’t hefty or silky.

Sears KSX-P - State Bank

I shot a roll of Fujifilm Superia Reala 100 next in this Sears KSX-P. This stuff expired in March, 2002, but it was stored frozen, so I shot it at box speed. I took the camera to Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, an enormous, sprawling place, for a warm evening walk. Every time I’ve lucked into a roll of ISO 100 Fujicolor film, which isn’t made anymore, I’ve been blown away by the color.

Deeply red

I started the walk with the camera in program mode, but switched to aperture-priority mode after just a few frames. The forecast for full sun proved to be wrong as clouds rolled in. Light was mixed. With such slow film I wanted more control over depth of field, and aperture-priority mode gave it to me. The window at the top of the viewfinder showed me the aperture I’d chosen, and an LED in the viewfinder lit next to the shutter speed the camera chose. Perfect.

Fake flowers on the door

My only gripe with this camera is that the shutter sounds weird and cheap: Shhhhhh-chunk-ping. It sounds the same regardless of the shutter speed, which made me wonder whether the shutter speeds were accurate. (I get a sense of shutter function by listening to it. 1/15 sounds a lot slower than 1/500.) It wasn’t until I saw my developed negatives that I was sure the shutter worked properly. I don’t know if this sound is normal for a KSX-P or not, though.

Crown Hill road

A couple times I knew I was photographing into the light, and sure enough, the lens flared. Photoshop let me tone that down.

Military cemetery at Crown Hill

I bought this KSX-P from its original owner, who hadn’t used it in many years. It says something about this camera that when I put batteries in it, it fired right up and functioned properly.

Military cemetery at Crown Hill

Yet I didn’t fall in love with this camera. I suppose my bar is high after having used so many truly wonderful SLRs over the years. I know that if someone had gifted me one of these when it was new in 1985, I would have been thrilled, and I would have made wonderful photographs with it for years.

At Crown Hill

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Sears KSX-P gallery.

I bought this Sears KSX-P because I’m curious about Sears SLRs and this one cost very little. It is a decent performer, but more than that, it’s truly remarkable that automatic exposure works with any K-mount lens. If you have a passel of Pentax glass a KSX-P might be worth adding to your stable for its versatility.

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

Nikon F50

In 1994, when the Nikon F50 was new, we didn’t know whether digital photography would ever be good enough to replace film. Maybe companies like Nikon could see the day coming, but they had cameras to sell in the meantime. Nikon in particular kept evolving its lines of 35mm SLRs, including those at the entry level like this F50, which was called the N50 in North America.

Nikon F50D

Nikon’s SLRs moved slowly toward what we now consider the standard idiom, with an on/off switch around the shutter button, a mode dial, and an LCD display of settings. The F50 added the LCD display, but not the rest. A series of buttons around the LCD display let you choose most of the camera’s settings — not as simple as a mode dial, but not hard to figure out.

First, set the Simple/Advanced switch to Advanced. Then press the leftmost button to enter selection mode. The LCD panel lights up with P S A M; press the button above the mode you want. In P mode, press a button for the sub-mode you want; there are a bunch of them including a macro mode and a sports mode. I just used Auto, which is the first option on the left. For the S, A, and M modes, select aperture, shutter speed, or both using the buttons. If you need a little help figuring it out, here’s a manual at the wonderful Butkus site. Or set the Simple/Advanced switch to Simple and just use the F50 like a big point and shoot.

Nikon F50D

My F50 is technically an F50D because it has the date back. Not that I’m ever going to use it. The camera is a good size, noticeably smaller than the semi-pro N90s which was made around the same time. I recently got to shoot a Minolta Maxxum HTsi, which is smaller than this F50. The Minolta handled easily enough, but the F50’s slightly larger size made it even easier to handle.

Nikon F50D

The F50 is surprisingly heavy, though! Nikon’s next two entry-level 35mm SLRs, the N60 and N65, weigh next to nothing in comparison. The F50 isn’t as heavy as my all-metal Nikon F2, but it’s got noticeable heft.

The F50 offers a self timer, but it doesn’t offer mirror lockup, depth-of-field preview, or cable release. It reads the DX coding on your film to set ISO from 25 to 5000, but you can override ISO manually down to 6 and up to 6400. It uses Nikon’s famous matrix metering except in manual exposure mode, when it switches to center-weighted metering. Its shutter operates from 1/2000 to 30 sec. You can use most AF Nikkor lenses with it, and many AI Nikkor lenses in manual exposure mode. The F50 automatically loads, winds, and rewinds your film. A typical Nikon-style LCD inside the viewfinder shows exposure settings. A 2CR5 battery powers everything.

Speaking of winding, mine is a little on the loud side, and sounds weak and wobbly. There’s an odd, slight disconnect between pressing the shutter button and the shutter firing. It doesn’t inspire confidence, but you do get used to it. In contrast, when you press the button on the N60 or N65, it fires immediately and the winder is crisp and quiet.

If you like auto-everything SLRs, especially check out my reviews of these Nikons: the N90s, the N60, the N65, and the N8008. I’ve also reviewed the Canon EOS 650, EOS 630, EOS Rebel, EOS Rebel S, and EOS A2E. If you fancy Minolta, see my reviews of the Maxxum 7000, Maxxum 7000i, Maxxum 9xi, and Maxxum HTsi.

I mounted my 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor lens and loaded a roll of Ilford HP5 Plus, which I developed it in Adox HR-DEV 1+30. This was my first go with this film/developer combination. I wasn’t wowed. The scans needed heavy post-processing and some of them could not be made to look good. I later learned that this developer, once opened, should be used within six months — and this bottle had been open at least that long. Perhaps that contributed to the meh results. I let the rest of the bottle go.

1 Thess 5:16-17

It was far below freezing outside, so I shot this roll around the house. This Sears box camera is missing the red plastic bit over the exposure-counter window around back. I need to repair that before I can shoot and review it. But it made a fine subject for my F50. I shot a handful of other cameras with it, but they all suffered from shake as I shot them handheld. In Program mode, the F50 chose apertures of f/3.3 and f/4.5 with shutter speeds of 1/15, 1/20, and 1/30 sec. I normally have a very steady hand and can get away with shutter speeds down to 1/15, but not on this roll.

Tower 120

I was at a bit of a loss for subjects, so I reached for anything that I thought would work, like this orange. The tablecloth on the dining table had an interesting texture so that’s where I placed the orange.

Orange

This is where I write this blog and process my photographs. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s also where I work. I spend a lot of time in that chair staring at that screen. As you can see, I have a lot of wires running about, which I don’t enjoy. Someday I’ll figure out a good wire management solution.

At my desk

I did make a few photos outside, but only by sticking my head and the camera out the door. One day during the cold snap we got about a foot of snow. My wife grabbed our youngest son (who’s 20 and hardly a child!) and a couple plastic snowboards and sledded down the back-yard hill. A zoom lens would have let me move in closer without having to step outside! The F50 did a reasonable job of setting exposure in the snow.

Sledding

I wanted to see how this Nikon F50 handled with the kinds of subjects I normally shoot. So I loaded some Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 and mounted my 28-80mm f/3.3-4.5G AF Nikkor lens. I first used it to chase our granddaughter around to make a couple candid photos of her. She’s hard to capture perfectly still!

Playing with blocks

I love this 28-80mm zoom and turn to it often. It handles easily, has good sharpness, and resolves subjects well with little distortion, except at 28mm. I generally zoom it out no more than 35mm.

Little bus

I finished the roll on a couple walks outside in near-freezing weather, the F50 in my hand unprotected in the cold. It just kept on working.

Sidewalk closed

The snow from the day I photographed my wife on her sled was beginning to melt. It made for a soggy walk through downtown Zionsville.

the flower shop

I was very happy with these images. They required next to no tweaking in Photoshop — little more than applying the “Auto Tone” command to brighten everything up.

Black Dog Books

See more photos from this camera in my Nikon F50 gallery.

I really enjoyed using the Nikon F50. It’s a terrific auto-everything 35mm SLR. This one was a gift from a reader to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, but a quick look at eBay shows these selling for between $10 and $30, often with a zoom lens attached. The main concern with electronic auto-everything cameras is how robust they are, and whether they can be repaired when they fail. I’ve personally had much better experience with Nikon autoexposure and autofocus cameras working for the long haul than the other brands I’ve tried, namely Canon and Minolta. It’s why I recommend cameras like this F50 to people curious about film photography.

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

Minolta Maxxum HTsi

It didn’t take long after Minolta introduced the first in-body autofocus and autoexposure 35mm SLR, the Maxxum 7000, for these features to take over the entire SLR market. It opened the SLR market to even casual shooters who wouldn’t know an f stop from a shortstop. Anyone could get high-quality images with point-and-shoot ease. Almost from the beginning, Minolta offered auto-everything SLRs aimed at the entry-level photographer. In 1998, the Minolta Maxxum HTsi was that entry-level camera.

Minolta Maxxum HTsi

The Maxxum HTsi cost far more than a point-and-shoot, however. It listed for $770 (including a 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens), which is about $1200 today. Nobody paid that; street prices were far lower. But you got a lot of camera for that money. It has a three-point autofocus system and 14-segment honeycomb-pattern metering. Its shutter operates from 1/4000 to 30 seconds. It reads the film’s DX coding to set film speed from ISO 25 to 5,000, or you can set film speed manually from ISO 6 to 6,400. It offers the usual modes: program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and manual. A built-in flash pops up when the camera doesn’t detect enough light. You can also slide a separate Minolta flash unit into the proprietary hot shoe. Unfortunately, two expensive CR-2 batteries power everything.

Minolta Maxxum HTsi

The HTsi offers the usual modes: programmed, aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual exposure. To access them, move the Mode dial to PASM. Press the P button above the LCD to return the camera to program mode at any time. To access the other modes, press the FUNC button and turn the wheel below the shutter button to cycle through A, S, and M. The HTsi also offers portrait, landscape, close-up, sports, and night portrait modes. To access them, press the P button and then press the button next to the LCD with a head on it, repeatedly, until an arrow appears beneath the mode you want.

Minolta Maxxum HTsi

An unusual feature of the HTsi is its customizable functions, like allowing the shutter to fire even when autofocus hasn’t locked on a subject, and leaving the film tip out upon rewind. The manual describes the rest of them. Only one was useful to me. By default, the HTsi fires the flash anytime it thinks it needs to. I hate that! But you can turn it off. The functions and their settings all have numbers; this one is Function 5, Setting 2. Turn the mode dial to CUST. Then turn the wheel under the shutter button until the LCD reads CUST 5. Then press the FUNC button and turn the wheel until 2 appears below CUST 5. Return the mode dial to PASM to take pictures.

By the way, this camera was called the Maxxum HTsi only in North America. As best I can tell, in Europe it’s called the Dynax 505si. I don’t think Japan got a version of this camera.

If you like auto-everything SLRs like this one, also check out my reviews of the Minolta Maxxum 7000, the Maxxum 7000i, and the Maxxum 9xi; as well as the Nikon N60, N65, N8008, and N90s; and the Canon EOS 630, 650, and A2e. Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I loaded a roll of Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 into the HTsi. The pictured 35-80mm f/4-5.6 Maxxum Zoom lens came with this body, so I left it on. I took it on a few walks around my neighborhood, one of which lasted a half-hour on a clear 25-degree morning. I held the camera in my hand in the cold the whole way. To its credit, it never complained or malfunctioned. It made every photograph I asked of it.

Snow-dusted BMW

I shot the whole roll in full program mode. I figure that a camera like this is meant to be a giant point and shoot. As one, it’s competent and handles easily. It’s nothing to carry it just by holding its grip. That’s very nice on a long photo walk.

000036680016 proc

The HTsi focuses fast and I could never make it hunt. I was testing an older autofocus SLR from another manufacturer at about the same time and it hunted like mad unless the subject was crushingly obvious. That SLR was a more robust machine with better specifications, aimed at the semi-pro market. I’d rather shoot this HTsi because it just works.

Footprints

I’m sure that other camera is built to outlast the HTsi. But the amateur who would have bought a camera like the HTsi was unlikely to use it nearly as often. It was likely to last a long time in that photographer’s hands.

Old Navy

To finish this roll I popped up the flash and photographed our home office, which happens to be in our living room. It’s odd to walk into this from the front door, but it works for us. The flash lit evenly.

My office

I had a good enough time with the HTsi that I loaded a roll of Ilford HP5 Plus and kept shooting on a walk through downtown Zionsville. I developed the film in LegacyPro L110, Dilution B, and scanned it on my Minolta ScanDual II scanner.

Pot

Who knows how my HTsi came to have a 35-80mm f/4-5.6 Maxxum AF Zoom lens rather than the kit 28-80mm lens. This 35-80mm lens offered good sharpness corner to corner but did suffer from a little barrel distortion at the wide end. That’s typical of the genre, and isn’t surprising.

Window

It’s also not surprising that this lens always flared in the sun, too. These are the kinds of challenges you expect from a zoom lens like this one and I wouldn’t be surprised if the 28-80mm kit lens performed similarly. Lenses like these aren’t stellar performers, but they are more than fine for an amateur photographer documenting his family’s activities.

Flower shop

The lens doesn’t offer a macro mode but it did all right when you moved in as close as it could focus.

70

I enjoyed using this camera, plain and simple. It just worked. What more can you want?

Knight

See more photos from this camera in my Minolta Maxxum HTsi gallery.

A reader donated this Minolta Maxxum HTsi to my collection. I wouldn’t have bought one on my own. It opened my eyes, as this is a terrific little SLR for easy shooting. Here’s the crazy thing about cameras like the HTsi: you can buy them for next to nothing. I just did a quick check of eBay and find dozens of these that sold for less than $50, and many for less than $20, often with some sort of lens still attached. Cameras like these are the great value in film photography today.

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

Three all-metal, all-manual 35mm SLRs for under $50

The prices of old film cameras have been slowly on the rise since about 2015, when this hobby started to become more popular. Before then, you could pick up some really stellar 35mm SLRs for under $50, as I did with a Pentax K1000 and a Minolta SR-T 101. You’d be very lucky to find a deal like that today! These cameras go for $100 or more now.

Never fear: you can still buy some great old-school metal, manual 35mm SLRs for under $50. You’ll find your best bargains on eBay; read my tips for buying on eBay without getting taken for a ride here. You can also buy from UsedPhotoPro and KEH and get their good guarantees, but you’ll pay more.

Here are three 35mm SLRs for under $50 that I’ve owned and can vouch for.

Canon TLb

Canon TLb

Read my review here. Built in the mid 1970s, the TLb takes Canon’s full range of FD lenses. When I see these for sale, they often come with the 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD lens already attached. It’s a fine performer. FD lenses are often excellent bargains themselves because in the 1980s Canon abandoned the mount. You can also use the older Canon FL lenses on the TLb if you don’t mind stopping down to meter.

The Canon TLb’s focal plane shutter has a top speed of 1/500 sec. A 625 battery powers the CdS-cell light meter. It was designed for now-banned mercury cells, but I shot mine with PX625 alkaline cells I bought on Amazon and had no trouble. (Read why here.)

The TLb is the little brother to Canon’s FTb, and lacks a few of the FTb’s features such as mirror lockup, self-timer, 1/1000 sec. top shutter speed, and hot shoe. Canon also offered the TX at about the same time, which is the same as the TLb except it includes a hot shoe. These two cameras usually go for more than $50, but not always, so include them in your search. All three cameras handle the same.

Another dashboard
Canon TLb, 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD S.C., Kodak Gold 200 (at EI 100)

Pentax Spotmatic

Pentax Spotmatic SP

Read my review here. Pentax offered a range of Spotmatic cameras from the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s. Pictured at right is the original Spotmatic SP, but you will also find the SP500, the SP1000, and the SP II. You’ll also find the F, which is a little different (read my review here), but probably not for less than $50.

Spotmatics offer a focal plane shutter with speeds up to 1/1000 sec. (1/500 sec. on the SP500) and through-the lens metering. You have to press the stop-down lever on the side of the lens housing to activate the meter so you can set exposure, and then release it to make the photograph.

Spotmatics take lenses in the M42 screw mount. Pentax made a huge series of them with the Takumar name and they’re all terrific. But many other companies made M42 lenses as well. A Spotmatic opens the door to a whole world of interesting optics.

One challenge with these cameras is that the meter requires the 1.35-volt PX400 battery, which hasn’t been made in ages. The 1.55-volt 387 battery fits, and the Spotmatic includes circuitry to adjust the voltage to the expected 1.35 volts. You can buy 387 batteries at Amazon.

Maze
Pentax Spotmatic SP, 55mm f/2 Super-Takumar, Arista 400 Premium

Nikon Nikkormat FTn

Nikon Nikomat FTn

Read my review here. Nikon’s Nikkormat line (Nikomat in Japan) is often overlooked in favor of the company’s Nikon-branded offerings. It’s a shame, because if you get a Nikkormat FTn in good nick and take care of it, you’ll make beautiful images with it for the rest of your life. These are incredibly well-built machines.

The 1967-75 Nikkormat FTn is the most fully featured camera in this list. It offers a vertical focal-plane shutter with speeds from 1 to 1/1000 sec. It also features center-weighted average through-the-lens metering, as well as depth-of-field preview and mirror lockup.

The Nikkormat FTn takes Nikon F-mount lenses, but there’s a quirk. To mount a lens and meter it properly, you have to set the aperture to 5.6 and make sure the coupling pin is all the way over before you mount the lens. As you mount the lens, line up the coupling shoe on the lens with the pin on the body. Then with the lens mounted, you have to turn the aperture ring all all the way to the smallest aperture and then all the way to the largest aperture. It’s the “Nikon twist,” and after you’ve done it a couple times it will be second nature.

A 625 mercury battery powers the meter, but of course mercury batteries are banned. I always used PX625 alkaline batteries I bought on Amazon despite their slightly different voltage. (Read why that works well enough here.)

Down the path
Nikon Nikomat FTn, 50mm f/2 Nikkor H-C, Kodak Portra 400

There you have it: three metal, mechanical 35mm SLRs for under $50. All of them work with a wide array of wonderful lenses. Get a good one, and with care they will serve you well for years.

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