Getting into film photography can be a little bamboozling, but the best film cameras for beginners will help you start shooting and developing your analogue snaps in no time at all.
The finest film starter models let photographers capture photos quickly and with precision. Of course, balancing camera settings and framing up a shot is tricky at the best of times. And that’s particularly true for film cameras, which have no Live View LCD screen or the ability to display a preview of your photo. Which is why it’s important to pick a model with a simple control layout and film-loading process.
Luckily, we’ve spent hours on the streets with all kinds of film cameras, from vintage classics to modern-day remakes. And we’ve boiled down all of our experiences to make the ranked list below of what we think are the best beginner film cameras around.
If you already have some background knowledge or experience in film photography, and are looking to re-learn the ropes, we’ve also included a few models that are capable of growing with you. These models, like the Nikon FE2, have semi-automatic features such as aperture or shutter priority mode, or the ability to shoot fully manual.
This latter feature is especially helpful for beginner film photographers who are looking to spend time learning their craft and gradually become intermediate or even professional photographers. But if you’re simply looking for something cheap and cheerful to get you started, we’ve also included options like the Lomography DIana F+. Whatever your film photography needs, there’ll be something in the guide below – and if you’re not sure where to get started, you can follow our tips below to help you decide the best beginner film camera for you.
How to choose the best beginner film camera for you
Film photography has a steep learning curve. Not only do you have to learn all the same physical principles as digital photographers such as balancing aperture, shutter speed and ISO sensitivity, getting composition nailed, and using accessories like lens filters, you also have to do all this without being able to see the image before it’s developed. That’s why, when first starting out, it’s important to look for film cameras that offer a graduated blend of automatic and semi-automatic features.
Look for film cameras that will autofocus with sets of lenses, or are perhaps compatible with zoom lenses, to help with composition. Semi-automatic modes like aperture or shutter priority are useful as they remove the need to balance both aperture and shutter speed, alongside the ISO of the film and instead rely on the camera’s built-in metering system to decide on the correct exposure settings themselves.
Budget is important, too. Beginners who have a habit of starting lots of hobbies without following them through may want to look at some of the more affordable camera models on this list, whereas those who know they can lovingly obsess for months and years on end may need to invest a little more initially to get something with a little more manual control.
Those who really want to take things to the next level will need to consider off-camera flash connections, too, but that’s a little beyond the scope of this beginners’ guide.
Best film cameras for beginners in 2022:
Canon took a clear step away from its previous cameras with the AE-1 by making it the first microprocessor SLR, thereby allowing it to shed weight compared to its fully mechanical siblings. A mix of aluminum and plastic in the body helped to keep weight down make it suitably portable. While that does make it feel a bit cheaper to handle, it makes it a viable SLR-option for those with limited budgets.
The AE-1 was the world’s first SLR to feature a shutter priority mode and that small but significant feature lends itself toward amateur photographers who need to work their way towards fully manual control slowly. While in today’s modern digital cameras shutter priority is perfect for shooting fast-moving subjects like sports and automotive stills, the AE-1 had a limit of just 1/1000 sec shutter speed which, although fast, was slower than its competition.
Still, this is a fabulous SLR to take with you for travel photography, because it’s so lightweight. Be careful not to drop it, though, as the aluminum and plastic composite body isn’t as durable as its heavier, full-metal cousins.
Nikon was known for decades as a producer of professional-grade cameras, but as time moved on its cameras gradually broadened to support a wider audience that included beginner photographers. The FE2 has an aperture-priority mode that allows shooters to dial in their desired aperture to control shallow depth of field, without having to concern themselves with shutter speed to get a good exposure.
This semi-automatic mode is useful when you consider it appears on what was the fastest SLR in the world (at the time); the Nikon FE2 shoots at a maximum 1/4000 sec shutter speed. If you need to freeze fast-paced action in its tracks then this super fast shutter speed is ideal.
It’s even scalable for those who want to take their photography further, by shooting up to 3.2fps with an additional motor drive and the optional interchangeable focusing screens. The FE2 will even save its battery for you by turning off the meter after 16 seconds if you flick the shutter release button. All of these features combine with some excellent robustness from the FE2’s copper-aluminum alloy body to make it a really enjoyable, accessible SLR for beginner photographers.
An absolute firecracker of a point-and-shoot film camera, the Pen-EE is often overlooked in favor of the similar Trip 35. But we think this half-frame model is a great beginner option for a few reasons.
Identifiable by its selenium meter window that encircles the fixed 28mm f/3.5 lens, it’s an attractive film camera with cleverly integrated camera controls. The dial on the front of the camera controls aperture, shutter speed and ASA (ISO). Care should be taken while composing as the viewfinder is a direct optical viewfinder, which means you aren’t looking through the lens – this means framing can be slightly off on some occasions, though the wide-angle lens means this shouldn’t be too noticeable.
Spectacles wearers may struggle to use the small viewfinder, which otherwise helps to keep the controls streamlined against the Pen-EE’s body. But the shutter release button comes with an inner thread for remote shutter releases and it has a flash sync socket on the front for off-camera lighting. The camera feels satisfying in the hand, with the lightweight, compact body feeling like a smooth block of metal juxtaposed with a gridded plastic wrap-around.
While this isn’t the camera for new photographers who want to advance to more complex setups, it does perform well for beginners or semi-pro film shooters who need a back-up camera.
An inexpensive toy camera that actually performs surprisingly well, the Diana F+ is a beginner camera with very simple camera controls. It’s a great film camera for kids and adults alike thanks to those limited settings, which give photographers a little creative input without being too overwhelming.
You can swap between different apertures, which are handily categorized into sunny, half-shade and cloudy at f/16, f/11 and f/8 respectively. That means the maximum aperture of f/8 should keep portraits and most landscape scenes sharp. But it does also limit creative approaches to shallow depth-of-field in your photos.
An otherwise versatile camera, the Diana F+ performs well with other accessories such as the Diana Flash Plug, which boosts light in darker or interior scenes. The camera also ships with flash gels to filter the Flash Plug light into a smorgasbord of bright colors.
The Diana F+ is a film camera that’s perfect for absolute beginner photographers or casual users who want to dabble with the camera throughout the year, perhaps saving it for special events like birthdays. It won’t give you the best-quality photos in this round-up, but considering its price, ease-of-use, gorgeous retro design and ability to add flash, it’s a real corker.
Setting up Canon’s EOS line for their digital future, the EOS 630 is studded with automatic features that speed up shooting for beginners and intermediate shooters alike. For example, photographers can shoot up to 5fps with the 630 by slipping into One-Shot AF mode (or 2.5fps in AI Servo AF mode). It has auto-bracketing for up to five stops to save you from missing out on that incredible one-off shot just because the highlights were too overexposed. And a six-zone evaluative metering function means accurate exposures without having to take a separate light meter with you.
Autofocusing is sophisticated and uses TTL (through-the-lens) phase-detection system. Sure, it doesn’t compete with today’s digital cameras, but it’s still capable of autofocusing at ISO 100, which suits daytime shooting or interior portraits using studio lamps. A built-in electronic self-timer with a blinking light is ideal for those who love a selfie, too. The EOS 630 also has seven custom functions, plus AF, AE, film advance mode and program mode as well, making it one of the most feature-packed in this list.
The priority for most beginners is a film camera that’s simple enough to use in most situations so they don’t waste film. But if you’re looking to go further, then an affordable 35mm SLR with manual controls could appeal. Meet the Asahi Pentax K1000. It may be over 45 years old, but there are still plenty of examples of this fully-mechanical camera on the used market. And that’s made it a popular choice for students, in particular.
Photographers can see through-the-lens thanks to the built-in pentaprism and bright viewfinder, which helps to increase engagement with your scene and subject. The K1000 offers full manual control and, while it isn’t the smallest SLR in the world, it still easily slips into an overarm camera sling or small camera bag.
The K1000 offers a truly expansive step into the film SLR world with room to grow your skills. The Pentax K-mount gives owners a big range of excellent lenses to choose from for a wide range of subjects. And while all K1000s are great, look out for the Asahi-branded bodies, which were originally produced in Japan – these are generally better built and more rugged, too.
For many, the magic of film photography lies in processing the final image and seeing the real, live print. But if you’d rather press fast-forward on the development process, then Polaroid is for you. The classic brand has always been ideal for casual, point-and-shoot film snapping and it’s instant cameras live on today. We think one of its best models right now is the Now+ i-Type.
Compatible with i-Type and 600 film, it has a few tricks up its sleeve to keep your images looking fresh and sharp. For beginners, automation is key and fortunately the Now has built-in autofocusing. This maintains consistent sharpness on subjects while shooting and changing composition. You can also charge the camera via USB, which makes carrying a powerbank a viable option for holidays where you don’t want to run out of juice while on-the-move.
Intuitive to use, the Now+ i-Type is blissfully simple to operate. You can instantly shoot full-size Polaroid prints, but the camera also has many of the mod-cons you’d expect from more modern beginner cameras.