My Favorite Film Cameras



This is not another camera review website.  I'm just giving an overview of some film cameras that I have bought and love using over the years.  I've bought several other cameras but never keep a camera that I don't like using.  I'm pretty particular about which camera I actually keep and do tons of research before deciding on a camera or lens. My cameras don't stay on a shelf gathering dust.  I use them all!

Canon QL17 GIII Rangefinder

Canonet QL17 GIII
QL17_Fuji80007.jpg



 Staple of Old Town Alexandria, The Hard Times Cafe. Taken with a Canonet QL17 GIII, Fuji Pro 800z 35mm film


This photo is taken with a Canon QL17 GIII circa 1972.  I scanned it on an Epson V700 at 15MP.This camera has a super sharp fixed 40mm f1.7 lens that I have scanned at 52MP!   This camera is so smart that the shutter locks when you are trying to take an under or overexposed photo! This camera is a perfect unassuming rangefinder like Leica X1/X2 or Fuji X100s, but has better full frame picture quality, more megapixels and cost me only $90.00!  The button battery lasts forever so if you don't use your camera everyday, you don't have to worry about charging it before going out.  It has a perfect film loading system that works for the most clumsy hands-even I can't screw up loading film in this camera. Reviews are for digital cameras that change every year, but if you insist look here for a review of the Canonet.  You can buy one on eBay, Adorama, KEH or even craigslist from $50-$190 and they work great.



Nikon F3


untitled-17.jpg
Nikon F3 w/ Nikkor 50mm f1.8 Series-E street photo hand-held, zone focused.
What can I say about this literally bullet-proof workhorse of a camera?  It's beautiful, durable, functional and does everything right.  It was designed by an italian race car designer for goodness-sake! The F3 was so good and does everything so well that Nikon sold the same basic design for 25 years! It is a manual focusing, removeable-everything, Nikon system camera that works with just about every nikon lens ever made except the newest DX toy lenses.  I have an arsenal of Nikkor Ai-S lenses that I use pretty regularly with this camera. It also has a removable prism that can take several types of waist level or high magnification or other accessory finders that are still available today. The quality of this wonderful camera's construction is most evident by simply advancing the film and feeling the ball-bearing loaded advance lever.  Super smooth and unlike any other film camera.    The MD-4 Motor Drive while adding a lot of bulk and weight, (eight AA batteries) but provides a perfect handgrip that makes the weight really easy to manage and advances the film at 5fps to keep up with any action.  The MD-4 facilitates long exposure photos since it by-passes the cameras battery and powers the camera itself.  

Nikon F3hp on Manfrotto
Nikon F3 w/ Nikkor 50mm f1.8 Series-E on a modern Manfrotto Tripod

  Typically a long exposure photo will kill the battery in a lesser camera since it takes electric power to keep the shutter open. The F3 has B, T, and X settings that can also be used for long exposure photos with out taxing the battery.  I get perfect photos with my Nikon F3 time and again.  The pictures are always properly exposed and in focus with the huge viewfinder always giving me the opportunity to frame a perfect picture.  I noticed when I finally started trying out autofocus cameras how the focus might jump at the last second and screw up the picture.  The F3 has a super-precise focusing system and tried and true center weighted aperture priority metering that gives me perfect results all the time.  Once again, this is not an in-depth review (go here for that) but suffice it to say that this camera is so good that it is almost offensive how cheaply you can buy these for.  I paid only $180.00 for my copy which was pristine and $34.00 for the MD-4.  You can get a scuffed up and dented F3 that will still last you a lifetime for $60-$80!  This camera is so durable and was manufactured for such a long time that they can be found in large quantities on eBay, BHPhoto, Adorama or KEH, etc.

This 7 minute exposure was metered by theNikon F3
 in near darkness at f22! This was my way of putting the
F3's metering system through it's paces.  I was really
surprised to see that the scene was actually metered correctly.


Nikon F100
The Nikon F100 is the blueprint for the modern Nikon Digital SLRs that we all know and love (and can't afford) today.  If you've ever used any D series camera, ie D200/D300/D700/D800/D2/D3/D4, then you already know how to use an F100.  You really have to look twice to realize that this is in fact a film camera and not digital.  It is a full-sized, modern, autofocus, VR,  plastic-bodied semi pro film SLR with built in motor drive that accepts 4 AA batteries as a power source. It has a big beautiful viewfinder like the D3/D4 and gives you the same handling and full frame photos as the modern high dollar Nikons.
Trusty Nikon F100 film SLRw/ Nikkor 50mm f1.4 AFD.  Matrix metering,
 fast autofocus, 4.5 fps, very customizable, and all the handling and
goodies that we are all used to in a modern Nikon DSLR
  Again, the reviews are herebut in a nutshell the meter in the F100 utilizes a 10 segment light sensor and uses distance information from Nikon D-type and G-type lenses for more accurate exposure calculations. In addition to matrix metering, the F100 also offers standard center weighted and spot metering modes. The super fast focusing mechanism is built into the body of the F100 making it compatible with AF-D, AF-S and AF-G lenses as well as Nikons superb manual focus lenses.  The F100 is capable of 4.5 frames per seconds in a relatively compact package and handles superbly. It has a lot of custom modes that you can use to make the camera work exactly as you want it to. For example, I set the auto focus on the back button so my focus doesn't change right before pressing the shutter. This is a great camera for photos of pets, kids, sports, and other fast moving subject matter.  It's a quick handling camera with smooth,refined, quiet operation and a fast frame rate that won't slow you down.  Film loading is hands-down the easiest I've ever used.  The camera literally does everything for you.  It also has a lot of features that I will never use but that is the norm in modern DSLRs/SLRs.  I think a smart photographer makes a super-flexible camera like this work for him without getting too caught up in the many bells and whistles.  I use it 90% of the time in Aperture Priority mode and only bother with Program Mode if I'm handing the camera to someone to take our picture. 
Portra800_F100_75-300-023.jpg
Taken with an Nikon F100 and Nikkor 75-300mm f4.5/5.6 Tele Zoom. 
Great auto-focusing performance  from the F100 following the seagull.

Leica M6
The exqusite Leica M6 is far and away my favorite! Please understand that I use my cameras pretty regularly and I never give a camera a favorable reveiw or a "free pass" based on nostalgia or reputation.  I rate and recommend cameras based purely on the user (my) experience and the technical results that I acheive with the camera. 
M6 35mm Biogon C 2.8-010.jpg by greauxe
Leica M6 with Zeiss 35mm f2.8 Biogon-C. This camera and lens combo besides being a beatiful to look at, are great handling and easy to use.  This camera & lens are easily my favorite combo and the perfect rig for street photography.
 In both aspects, the Leica M6 is  superb! The handling and exceptional technical results make it my favorite.  The Leica M6 is an extremely well engineered camera with manual exposure metering (you set the aperture & shutter speed), a quiet, unobtrusive focal plane shutter that executes with a smooth "plock" and takes the optically perfect Leica M-Mount lenses.  When using this rangefinder you compose the picture in one window that doesn't show you the view through the lens of the camera, but offers a bright unobstructed view with a few simple LEDs for metering.  You rotate the aperture dial in the direction of the LED arrow in the viewfinder or the shutter speed dial the opposite direction of the LED arrow, focus using the patch in the middle of the viewfinder, compose and shoot!   My shooting method with the M6 is to simply set the "base shutter speed for my environment, ie sunny=fast shutter speed, dim=slower shutter speed and then fine tune with the aperture dial when I'm actually ready to snap which makes the picture-taking happen very quickly. it's very similar to using an aperture priority setup and doesn't slow me down in the least. I like knowing that since I set the shutter speed myself, the camera isn't going to choose a shutter speed for me that may be slower than I expect thus resulting in a blurred picture.  I get perfect (technical) results from every frame in the roll when using the M6!  Always in focus, always properly exposed-why? Because I'm in charge of all of the settings!  I'm all for technology, but the smartest camera will never be as smart as the photographer.

In all fairness this Leica or any rangefinder camera is not a camera the works well (or at all) for macro photography or extreme telephoto or fast moving subjects.  For most people the Leica covers 95% of life's subject matter, ie candids, events, people, landscapes, city-scapes, street photography and such. For the remaining less common subjects like close ups of ladybugs, birds in flight, a tight end in the back corner of the end zone or the craters on the moon you will probably be better off with an SLR or DSLR.  All I can say is that being the camera freak (read afficionado) that I am, I tend to carry several camera bodies and lenses when I go out to take pictures.  I inevidably reach for my Leica when it's "go-time" and leave the bulky SLRs in the bag.  I do so enjoy photographing with my M6 and am never disappointed with the pictures that I get as a result.
It's hard to explain how much this camera is about picture taking and not about fidgeting with camera settings and the like. The first time that I went out looking for subjects with my M6, I felt completely empowered as if I was a really good artist with a blank canvas.  Again, it's hard to explain the Leica mystique, but it's very real and worth the seemingly ridiculous money that these fine cameras demand.   I spent enough money on this 25 year old, non-autofocus, non-matrix metering, non 8 frames-per-second,  film camera to buy a brand new Nikon D7100 with a decent kit zoom lens and haven't regreted it for a single second!  If you know at all the art of photography, a better tool does not exist.
old town night pics-007.jpg
Leica M6, Ektar 100, Voigtlander 21mm f4 Color-Skopar at f8 for about 5-6 seconds using a manfrotto mini tripod

old town full moon-015.jpg
Add caption
Leica M6, Ektar 100, Voigtlander 21mm f4 Color-Skopar at f8 for about 5-6 seconds using a manfrotto mini tripod