Post Summary: Best Film Cameras For Beginners Under $500
Are you interested in getting into film photography, but don’t know where to start?
It can be overwhelming finding the right beginner film camera for you, especially if it’s your first time shooting with film!
In this post, we’re breaking down the best film cameras for beginners under $500. You’ll learn the unique features of each camera, including settings, light meters, interchangeable lenses, and so much more.
By the end of this post, you’ll know which are the best 35mm film cameras for you!
Need more resources in your film photography journey? Read these posts too:
Tips For Buying Used Cameras
Beginner 35mm film cameras are surprisingly a lot more available to buy than you might think!
Considering buying a used film camera? That’s great! When looking around for the perfect beginner film cameras, here are a few tips to keep in mind before handing over your money…
- Do your research! Know which film camera you want and why, and know the pros and cons of your model. (This current post is a great place to start your journey!)
- Buy from a reputable source. We recommend a business that focuses solely on cameras, like Film Supply Club. Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist is not recommended but still fine – just but be extra cautious and try it out before you buy from a private seller.
SLR vs DSLR: What’s the difference?
So, what’s the difference between film cameras and digital cameras?
For starters, SLR stands for “single lens reflex”, which uses an internal mirror to reflect the image into your viewfinder.
The DSLR is simply “digital single lens reflex” which means it uses a digital sensor to record the image, and stores it on a memory card. For a deeper breakdown, here is Adorama’s breakdown of the SLR vs DSLR debate.
In this post, we’re specifically covering 35mm SLR cameras, which are the ones that use film. These will vary between full manual models, models that use batteries, and even newer models that have digital screens for reading camera settings.
The 12 Best Affordable Beginner Film Cameras Under $500
1. Canon AE-1
The Canon AE-1 (also called the AE-1 Program) is a very popular beginning film camera choice for its wildly reliable functionality and inexpensive price tag. The Canon AE-1 is a great beginner film camera not only for film newbies but photography newbies in general. It also comes with an internal light meter for those wanting to shoot manual, or you can switch it to ‘program’ mode to change it automatically.
There are a limited amount of settings to tinker with, making it easy to focus on the moment rather than fussing with your camera functions. It also has an enormous selection of compatible lenses that work with this body.
2. Nikon FE2
This is one of the best film cameras for beginner photographers because of its ease of use and versatility. It may have quite a few settings and adjustments to try out, but that makes it perfect for photographers who want to test out several functions to find the perfect settings.
The FE2 is one of the most compact and lightweight in its family, making it a great option for travel photographers. It also works incredibly well in a wide variety of light conditions.
3. Olympus OM1
Like the Canon AE-1, the Olympus OM1 has that vintage type feel to the exterior, making it a fun film camera for beginners to try. It has a super big viewfinder, and lots of advanced functions, so you can grow in skill as you continue to use the Olympus OM1.
It’s a great choice for beginner film photographers who have prior knowledge of camera settings, and want to improve their game quickly.
4. Pentax K1000
The Pentax K1000 is often compared to the Canon AE-1 for its dependability and ease of use. If you’ve taken a high school photography class, it was probably on a Pentax K1000.
This model is a full manual, full mechanical camera, making it a great option to learn the basics of photography like ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.
5. Nikon FM
The Nikon FM retains its vintage look, while also being an incredibly affordable film camera. It’s a great starter film camera for beginners because it gives you just enough setting options to learn and grow in your shooting confidence.
It also is compatible with other digital Nikon lenses, making it a film camera you will be happy to hang on to for years and years.
6. Nikon F2
The great thing about the Nikon family is that the lenses between SLR and DSLR are actually interchangeable. This makes the Nikon F2 a great beginner film camera for photographers who already shoot with Nikon – no need to buy extra lenses!
7. Minolta SRT-101
The Minolta SRT-101 is a great beginner film camera under $500, not only for its ease of use but its sturdy build. This model was built to last, being on the heavier side of beginner film cameras.
While Minolta no longer sells or produces new cameras, you’ll have to buy this one used. To get the best deal, make sure to buy a used one bundled with a standard lens, like the versatile Minolta 50mm.
8. Minolta XG1
Built as an economical option, Minolta was in the market for making less-expensive, auto-exposure cameras for the everyday hobbyist photographer and one of the best film cameras for beginners.
It provides auto-exposure for good quality photos nearly every time, and also gives motorized film advance for a really easy-to-use experience. This is a great beginner film camera for users who want a simple way to shoot film, without fussing with too many settings.
9. Minolta x700
The Minolta x700, like most of the Minolta models, are built for the causal photographer: sturdy, straightforward, and easy to use. It’s also one of the best film cameras for beginners for easy functionality – it’s simply fun to use!
The x700 has a bit more features to play with, so if you’re ready to improve your hobby, this might be the right beginning film camera for you. It’s lightweight with a big viewfinder, TTL flash metering, and has several exposure modes to try.
10. Ricoh XR-10
If you are a travel photographer living on the cheap, this might be one of the best film cameras for beginners out there.
It has a rugged build, which can handle a little banging around in a backpack or getting lugged around in a suitcase. Manufactured between 1981 and 1988, it’s a bit behind technology-wise, but it gets the job done for shooters who aren’t super picky.
The Ricoh XR-10 has quite a few accessories that are compatible, which makes it easy to buy and use a wide array of lenses.
Are there better film cameras out there? Probably. But for the dirt-cheap price tag and the high chance of finding it at a thrift store, the Ricoh XR-10 is a really inexpensive way to get into film photography.
11. Canon EOS Elan 7/7E
This is an excellent beginner SLR film camera if you already are a dedicated part of the Canon family. It’s one of the best film cameras for beginners if you love Canon!
The lens mount works for EF lenses, which means you can use the same ones from your DSLR camera. It’s like a “buy the body get the lenses free” – that is, if you already own the gear.
The Canon EOS Elan 7 has the same feel as other Canon cameras, making it an excellent (and inexpensive) film camera choice if you’re just starting out.
12. Canon EOS 650
The Canon EOS 650 was one of the first film cameras to use internal lens control, rather than the full manual focus.
Its EF mount (rather than the older AF lens mount) makes it interchangeable with lenses from any other full-frame lens in its line.
Because of these features, it’s one of the cheapest film cameras for beginners to try if they’ve already invested in the Canon lineup.
In your opinion, what are some of the best film cameras for beginners? Did we miss any that you would recommend? Share them in the comments below!
Are These All The Best Film Cameras For Beginners?
No, but it’s a very good starting point! This is an ever-growing list, and we’re going to be adding more 35mm film cameras to this list as we learn and grow in our own photography journey. This list of 35mm film cameras is great if you are just starting out and need a place to begin, and we hope this will kick start your hobby.
For medium format film cameras, single-lens reflex cameras, large format film, and point and shoot cameras, stay tuned for more!