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What older manual 35mm camera is the best to purchase? price max out at 350

Danielle Visco , Mar 14, 2009; 11:22 p.m.

Ok so I am relatively new to 35 mm film cameras and I am in the market of purchasing one. I currently am shooting with digital and I am really looking for a more intimate experience. I want a camera that is older, heavy and fully manual. I have been looking at two that I am especially interested in and I wanted the opinion of more experienced people as to which one I should get. The two I am looking at are the Leica Leitz III (3c) and the Nikon F2. Please help!
I am also fully open to any other suggestions regarding older cameras (a.k.a. which you think are the best, and also I need recommendations for lenses for whichever you choose)
Thank you so much!
p.s. my price range for the camera max. out at 350 dollars.


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Michael Ferron , Mar 14, 2009; 11:44 p.m.

Are you more interested in a rangefinder like the Leica or a SLR like the Nikon?

Jeff Adler , Mar 14, 2009; 11:47 p.m.

If you get a camera like a Nikon F2 then you will not be able to also get many lenses for your total of $350. If you can get a camera like a Canon FTbN or a Nikkormat FT2 for $75 to $100 and then spend another $100 or so to get it overhauled you will have $150 left to spend on lenses. For the Canon a good starter set would be a 28/2.8 FD SC, a 50/1.8 FD SC and a 100/2.8 FD SSC. For the Nikkormat you might look for a 28/3.5 AI, a 50/2 HC or later and a 105/2.5 (any lens marked in mm).
If you just want to experiment you can get a Vivitar V4000 or V4000S with a 50mm lens for$25 to $50. These have K mounts and will accept a wide variety of Pentax an other K mount lenses. My favorite slower 50mm lenses are the 55/1.8 SMC Pentax and 55/2 SMC Pentax models. Even the slow 35-70 kit lens which comes with the Vivitar cameras isn't half bad but an f/1.8 or F/2 standard lens will make focusing in lower light easier.

John Shriver , Mar 14, 2009; 11:48 p.m.

The Leica screwmount rangefinders are a very different experience from a single-lens reflex like the Nikon. They also have appeal to obsessive collectors, which means some accessories are crazy expensive. Things like hundred dollar lens hoods -- just insane! You really should try out a Leica screwmount before committing to it.
Another Leica screwmount approach would be a Canon P or 7 rangefinder, which is in your budget. Not as small or light, but a much more modern design, nice finders.
Nikon F and F2 are tank cameras. However, the meterless prism is rare and pricey -- could use up over a third of your budget. The metered prism is bulky and prone to irreparable failures in the meter circuit.
Nikon is a good choice since your lenses can be re-used with their digital SLRs. But you really want to use at least "AI" lenses and cameras to do that. A Nikon FM or FM2 could be a great choice.
Another approach would be Pentax K-mount cameras. Huge variety of lenses, and Pentax makes excellent ones. However, anything older than a Pentax-A lens is awkward to use on their digital SLRs. Pentax-A lenses are fetching high prices used for that reason.
If you don't have any interest in ever re-using the lenses on a digital SLR, consider Minolta (MC and MD mount) and Canon (FD mount). Both of these mounts were orphaned in the transition to autofocus, making used lenses really cheap.

Fred Latchaw , Mar 15, 2009; 12:05 a.m.

I can't pronounce on the two you listed. I can recommend the Canon F-1N (latest model) without the AE finder. It's a big heavy pro camera, takes modern batteries, and you should be able to find one in good condition for around that price. Keep in mind also that any older camera should have a CLA done soon, you'll want to factor that into your price. Being a dead-end system, the Canon FD mount lenses are a lot cheaper now than Nikkor or Leica lenses.

(Psst.... I can also recommend the Nikon F4, though I probably shouldn't say so too loudly on this forum. Said to be the best manual focus camera Nikon ever made. I love mine, I just wish I could afford more lenses for it! It's more modern than the others mentioned, your choice of metering modes and metering patterns, all of which can easily be ignored; set the camera to manual and fire away.)

Kozma Prutkoff , Mar 15, 2009; 12:09 a.m.

looking for a more intimate experience. I want a camera that is older, heavy and fully manual.

Leica is light, Nikon F2 is not fully manual.
Get yourself an original Contax. Heavy, fully manual, older and you will get very intimate experience. Price is higher than $350 but not much.

Danielle Visco , Mar 15, 2009; 12:15 a.m.

you guys are wonderful for getting back to me so quickly. ok so I have decided the leica is out for now. so for the nikon, what one would you recommend more? I have looked at the fm-10 and its ok. but what else do you think?

what minolta is best for me?

Luis G , Mar 15, 2009; 12:16 a.m.

Your two candidates cover a lot of ground.

In Leica, I much prefer the M3. Leicas sing in one's hands. But this is way over budget.

I love the Nikon F2 (around $160-300 @ KEH) and while we're talking heavy, I should mention the Nikon F (I presently have 6 or 7). You can find one in EX condition for $200 at KEH right now.

The F3 might be a little too electronic for you, but they rock, and can be found at around $200.

I love the Nikon FM-2n, and FM-3, though they're a little lighter. Figure on $245 or so.

Nikkormat FT2 or FT3 can be had for $75 or so. A bargain, and 1/125th synch.

Lighter & smaller still, and among my favorites, are the Olympus Om-1ns without the winder. $110-245

Other cameras to consider are the Canonet QL-IIIs ($175), and Olympus XAs ($50-150), maybe not pro caliber, but stellar in every way. And the last two offer 1/500th flash synch.

One more recommendation: Use vintage lenses matching the camera. These earlier lenses are dripping with character and distinctive optical signatures, what today would be designated as "flaws".

I would advise you to cruise Flickr searching for users of each of those cameras before making a decision, then go play with some in the used section at a nearby camera store.

Red Buckner , Mar 15, 2009; 12:28 a.m.

A Minolta SRT-102 can be picked up for very little, and you can use the leftover money to have it CLA'd and to get some of the amazingly underpriced and widely available MC or MD lenses for it. The 102 has mirror lockup, double exposure, dof preview, and a notably accurate meter. The meter is match-needle, so it doesn't violate your all-mechanical rule. And of course, you can shut it off and use a hand meter. The meter is the only part of the camera that needs electricity. This is a real cast-iron tough machine with a nice feel in the hand. The Rokkor lenses are as good as any out there, and a few are unique. You will interact with this camera a lot, and I think you will find it inspiring. Really. When I pick up my 102, I want to go straight out and shoot some pictures--just something about that camera. Minolta kept the SRT series going for decades, steadily improving it, and this was the high water mark.

Kozma Prutkoff , Mar 15, 2009; 12:29 a.m.

What are you gonna do with that camera?

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