Our first of three film camera format posts (35mm, medium format, large format)... 

vintage advertisement

Chances are, if you have been into photography for more than 5-8 years, then you have shot 35mm before. 35mm was the standard for both at-home picture taking (vacations, snapshots, etc), and for learning the basics of photography on. If you have joined the photography world, whether for hobby or career in the last couple of years and went straight to digital, then this post if for you.


Canon Rangefinder IIs, without lens
35mm is one of the largest format categories of available cameras and equipment. 35mm refers to the type of film that is used which is 135 film, or more commonly referred to as 35mm (due to its measured size.)
The three main categories that fall under 35mm are: manual focus, auto focus, and rangefinder systems, which are all categorized based on how they are focused.
Nikon (AF) F4S

Because the 35mm category is so vast, you will get many different opinions on which is the best brand and system. There are systems that range from simple and cheap, all the way up to pro-level, expensive, and collectible.

If you're interested in shooting 35mm and have no prior camera gear, then there's a few things you will need to ask yourself before trying to figure out which system to start on. Do you want a more manual or more automatic camera (and focus)? What is your price range? Do you already have a system that may have compatible lenses and accessories (such as Nikon or Canon AF)?

Contax T2 (AF point and shoot)

For anyone that started taking photos on a digital camera, I would suggest starting on a manual 35mm system. The reason is, shooting digital allows people to too easily rely on automatic functions such as focus, metering, aperture, and shutter speed controls. By shooting on a manual system, it can build up your photographic knowledge and skills by starting at the beginning and allowing you to slow down and understand how and why the different controls are working. Not only is this important if you want to do anything within photography professionally, but it will also help to take your photography much further in general by providing you with the knowledge to apply to any other format you choose to shoot in (including digital).

Pentax K1000

My personal favorite camera for beginners is the Pentax K1000 with a 50mm lens. This camera is affordable, manual, simple, sturdy, and allows you to control every aspect of shooting.

I asked a few other people around here what their recommendations were, and they were: (Also more K1000 recommendations), Canon AE1, Nikon FM, Nikon FE, Nikon FG, and Minolta SRT series.

If you have been around 35mm for awhile and want to move up, Leica is typically considered the 35mm elite, as the cameras are better quality and much more expensive.

Minolta X-370
Leica R3
Luckily, 35mm is the easiest film to both purchase and have developed. Consumer grade color film can be found many places including grocery and drug stores, which makes it very convenient. Pro films can be found online or at pro photo labs. You can read more about where to buy and develop films here.
Konica collectible
In addition to a camera body, the only other thing you will NEED is a lens, unless the camera you choose doesn't have a built-in light meter (but most do). Other accessory options include a flash unit, filters, grips, and motor drives/winders. None of these are necessary when starting out however. After mastering the camera alone (and in natural light), the first accessory I would suggest purchasing would be a flash.

Since most manual 35mm cameras are older these days, there's one specific thing to check before shooting with one- the foam or light seals! If you purchase a camera from KEH, the foam and any light seals the camera has will have already been checked and replaced if necessary. But, if you've found an old camera in a family members attic, or found one at a yard sale, chances are the foam will be bad. This will cause light leaks on your film. It's a fairly inexpensive repair, and our repair center does them regularly. You can read more about this topic and how to check the foam in our troubleshooting light leaks article.

So, thinking about picking up 35mm yet? Consider all the "pros": it's easily transportable, affordable (and affordable as a second system, no need to ditch your digital!), aids in learning and mastering manual photographic principles, can produce an authentic "vintage feel" without the digital manipulation, the film is available and easy to find. Most manual 35mm systems are also far less delicate that digital systems and have less electronics (or none) to worry about failing or becoming damaged. Unlike with digital, you also don't have to worry about charging the batteries constantly (but do occasionally check the batteries to make sure they are still good and not corroded). And what some digi. users may consider a con, but most film enthusiasts consider a pro is that you must be more selective of what photos you are taking since you are more limited on space.

35mm brands and categories (browse on KEH.com)
Canon EOS (AF)
Canon Manual Focus
Canon Rangefinder
Contax G Series
Contax N Series
Konica 35mm
Leica M
Leica R
Leica Screwmount
Minolta Manual Focus
Minolta Maxxum
Minox 35mm
Nikon Autofocus
Nikon Manual Focus
Nikon Rangefinder
Nikonos (underwater)
Pentax Autofocus
Pentax Manual Focus
Pentax Screwmount
Rollei 35mm
Tamron Adaptall (35mm Lenses)
Yashica Autofocus
Zeiss Contarex
+ many other 35mm miscellaneous and collectibles