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5 Film Cameras To Get Started With

5 Film Cameras To Get Started With

Notes On Photography - Five film cameras to get started with - from a simple point-and-shoot, a 35mm SLR, to a panoramic plastic.

For those who are thinking about going into film photography, being curious about it, or if you are just starting out shooting film, here's my take on 5 cameras that will prove a real challenge to you. A couple of them are off-the-grid items and are not easily found on auction or camera-for-sale sites. If you persist, you will probably find one that is being offered at a darn good price.

Olympus XA1

5 Film Cameras To Get Started With: Olympus XA1

Introduced in 1982, the Olympus XA1 is a true point-and-shoot camera. It was the simplest model of the clamshell design Olympus XA series cameras.


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The camera is fitted with a fixed focus four elements 35mm f/4 lens, a mechanical push-button shutter from 1/30 to 1/250, and a programmed exposure driven by a selenium meter with a red pop-up flag for a low-light situation. The only film speed settings are ASA 100 and ASA 400. Like the rest of the series, the camera only uses proprietary XA series flash units. The XA1 was sold with the A9M flash unit as a package but will also work with the A11 or A16.

5 Film Cameras To Get Started With: Olympus XA 1

The compact clamshell design is ideal for sliding in and out of your pocket and is just as handy to hold snugly in the palm of your hand. Slide the clamshell open to uncover the lens, which also activates the camera’s selenium metering, and you are ready to go. While some moan at the lack of the red membrane touch shutter, as the rest of the series has them, the shutter of the X1 is mechanical, does not get stuck, and you know what, the XA1 is the only model in the series that you can do exposure lock with.

Olympus Pen EF

5 Film Cameras To Get Started With: Olympus Pen EF

The Olympus Pen EF, a 35mm half-frame point-and-shoot film camera, was the last in the series of Pen half-frame film camera models from Olympus.

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Available only in black with white lettering, the Pen EF differs itself from the Pen clan with the addition of a small built-in flash, powered by a single AA battery. The camera was launched in 1981 and comes fitted with selenium metered automatic exposure system, a fixed focus G Zuiko 28mm f/3.5 lens with a focal range from 1.4 meters to infinity, and a programmed lens shutter mechanism range from F3.5-1/30 sec. to F22-1/250 sec.

5 Film Cameras To Get Started With: Olympus Pen EF

The fun of using the camera is shooting in the half-frame film format, which is half the size of a normal 35mm frame of 24 x 36 mm. With a half-frame camera, one can shoot and capture twice as many images on a standard 35mm film roll - 48 shots from a 24-exposure roll, and 72 shots from a 36-exposure roll. Film framing for half-frames is in the vertical or portrait orientation, much like if you are using a mobile to shoot vertical images, and images are in the 3:4 aspect ratio.

Olympus LT Zoom 105 QD

5 Film Cameras To Get Started With: Olympus LT Zoom 105

Finished in a rich burgundy leather-like and silver finish, the Olympus LT Zoom 105 Panorama QD is the final version of the LT (Leather Tech) series cameras introduced with the launch of the LT-1 (1995), LT-1 QD (1996), and the LT Zoom 105 (1997), which came with a 35mm f/3.5 AF lens.

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The LT Zoom, rarely seen and heard in the reviews, is designed to be a case-free fully-automatic 35mm compact with a stylistic retro-look point-and-shoot with a zoom lens. As with the rest of the series, the body of the camera is weatherproof, but not waterproof, meaning that it can take splashes of water, rain, and snow, but not submerged.

5 Film Cameras To Get Started With: Olympus LT Zoom 105

This crop-frame panoramic capable camera is fitted with a 38-105mm, f/4.5-8.9 zoom lens which focuses from 0.6m (2 feet) to infinity. The lens is protected by a built-in lens cap that snaps back to cover the lens when the camera is switched off and the lens retracted. The zoom function is controlled by a Zoom In/Zoom Out lever located on the top plate beside the shutter release button. Panoramic shooting is controlled by a lever located on the back of the top plate behind the pop-up flash unit.

Canon AE-1 Program

5 Film Cameras To Get Started With: Canon AE-1 Program

The Canon AE-1 Program is acknowledged as one of the most popular cameras of all time, is a 35 mm single-lens reflex camera introduced in 1981.
This model follows the success of the Canon AE-1 with the introduction of the Program AE mode, which enables both the shutter speed and aperture to be set automatically by the camera. The meter reading was with a slight bias towards the shutter speed setting. The camera offers just the right amount of options which makes it more interesting for the advanced user as well, including full manual control and depth of field preview.

5 Film Cameras To Get Started With: Canon AE-! Program

For the normal user, you have a shutter speed dial, a film advance lever, and the shutter release button which is pretty much all you need. Set the shutter to 'Program', the lens aperture to 'A', focus, confirm that the exposure is correct with the viewfinder’s built-in display, and fire away. A three-position level located on the top right corner of the top plate operates as the main switch of the camera - 'A' sets the camera operation on, 'L' locks up all active circuits, and 'S' is for self-timer photography. The huge and bright viewfinder is a joy to use.

Holga 120 Panoramic

5 Film Cameras To Get Started With: Holga 120-Pan

The Holga 120 Panoramic, is a medium format plastic-bodied film that takes 180ยบ panoramic images on 120 format color or B&W film.

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The camera is fitted with a 90mm fixed focal length lens with a choice of two aperture settings - sunny and cloudy - and a single shutter speed of 1/100 second. Focusing is adjustable to 4 zones - portrait, small group, big group, and infinity. Fun to use, the Holga 120-Pan captures 60x120mm images, which is twice the width of the standard 6x6 format image, on recommended ASA 400 120 films.

5 Film Cameras To Get Started With: Holga 120-Pan

Externally the camera is fitted with an eye-level viewfinder, a spirit bubble, two standard hot shoe mounts, and a tripod mount. With nothing much by way of manual control or other adjustments, what you will get are panoramic images captured with the renowned Holga look. Needing no batteries to operate, all you have to do is simply insert the film, wind it forward to the correct next-one-up frame number, and shoot. You will end up with six 60x120mm exposures per 120 rolls.

Sample images above are shot with Fujifilm Superia 400 on the Olympus XA1, Fujifilm Superia 200 on the Olympus Pen EF and Olympus LT Zoom, and expired Fujifilm PRO 160 S on the Holga 120 Pan, and post-processed on Olympus Viewer 3 (OV3).

Why Are These Cameras My Favorites?

Olympus XA1
  • My best street/hip style shooter (street photography camera), fits snugly in the palm of your hand, is unobtrusive, can be operated with one hand, superb D.Zuiko lens.
Olympus Pen EF
  • Favorite for half-frame portrait frame (3:4 aspect ratio) landscapes, good film ASA range, palm-size, flash assist, equally superb D.Zuiko lens.
Olympus LT Zoom 105 QD
  • Retro eye-catcher design, elegant flash support, good zoom range, equally good lens, minuscule viewfinder, crop-frame panoramic.
Canon AE-1 Program
  • Almost the perfect point-and-shoot SLR, as long as you remember that it is not autofocus, super bright, and super large viewfinder.
Holga 120 Panoramic
  • Fun, remember to always bring a tripod, classic Holga colors.

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