Updated October 2021
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Buying guide for best film slr cameras

Though the world of photography has steadily evolved to favor digital cameras, mobile phones, and selfie sticks, the demand for classic film photography and any artistic imperfections they deliver still remains. Unlike instant film cameras that print images immediately after taking the picture, SLR cameras first capture the images on film, which then must be developed using special chemicals and equipment.

Once the standard of past decades, film SLR cameras are now some of the hottest new gift items on the market. But because technology has brought more diversity to the arena, shopping for the perfect one might pose a challenge.

Here is some key information to help you decide on what film SLR camera is ideal for you. If you’re ready to buy, check out our top recommendations, too.

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One great thing about film cameras is that they encourage a more spontaneous and creative experience. The photographer can’t analyze every image immediately after taking it, which is a habit of recreational photographers using digital cameras.

Key considerations

Camera type

There are three main types of film SLR cameras: 35mm, 120, and large format.

  • 35mm: These cameras shoot on rolls of 135 film, better known as 35mm film. Other than instant film cameras, these classic cameras are the most popular and affordable film cameras on the market. Though new technology has made some versions of these devices slightly more complex, they are generally straightforward and easy to use compared to other film cameras.

  • 120 (medium): Any camera that utilizes 120 film is considered a medium film camera. The biggest difference between medium film cameras and 35mm cameras is the film that they use. Medium film cameras also used 220 film in the past, but production of this type of film was discontinued in 2018.

  • Large format: These cameras are somewhat complex and require a level of manual control that typically only photography professionals or enthusiasts have. Large format film cameras shoot on sheets of film that measure 4 x 5 inches (or larger) and deliver incredibly high print quality.

Camera size

Film SLR cameras are generally made for convenient transport and point-and-click shooting, though you won’t find any that are small enough to fit in your pocket. They are equipped to handle various interchangeable lenses and tend to be a bit bulkier than digital cameras. Even still, most film cameras are compact enough to fit in small bags and light enough to carry from a strap around the neck or wrist.


  • Size: Photos from your film camera are not developed instantly, so the final size of your photos will depend how the prints are developed. The most common print sizes from film SLR cameras have a 2:3 ratio, the same as 35mm film (4 x 6, 8 x 12, 10 x 15, and so on).

  • Quality: The larger the film negative, the higher the print quality. This is because larger negatives require less magnification. The larger the 35mm film print, the lower the quality of the image.

  • Quantity: Film SLR cameras using 35mm film shoot 36 photos per roll. Some hybrid instant film cameras may print on paper instead of film, thus providing more images at an affordable price.


You will find that most film SLR cameras use one of a few different battery types.

  • CR2 and CR123: Many film cameras require either CR2 or CR123 batteries, both of which use the same technology. CR123 is slightly larger, which is why you typically need only need one CR123 battery in certain cameras verses two CR2 batteries.

  • Lithium-ion: Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are commonly found in film SLR cameras.

  • Other: Some cameras work with accessories like a AA battery adaptor or have a built-in battery backup in case the camera runs out of power during a shoot. Be sure to check your product specs or packaging to determine what battery types you need.
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Did you know?
Many film SLR cameras are sold without a lens, or “body only.” This keeps the cost down and allows photographers to use their favorite lenses.

Film SLR camera features


Camera lenses are compatible with camera bodies from the same manufacturer because they share the same mount system. For example, if you purchase a Canon film SLR camera, most of Canon SLR and DSLR camera lenses will fit it. This concept applies to other brands like Minolta and Nikon as well. Some brands may limit certain lenses to a series or generation of cameras.

Keep in mind that lenses are only interchangeable if they share the same mount system. If you absolutely must use a lens with a different mount, you’ll need an adapter, and most likely you’ll compromise some features and functionality. Also, adapters may not be able to accommodate every combination of lens and camera mount.

Additional settings

Most film cameras today have new features that weren’t available in the past. These features allow users to enjoy capturing the moment and ensure that every picture comes out reasonably well. Typically, you’ll be able to adjust shooting modes to match the light and setting, and some cameras do this automatically. Other common settings you’ll find include red-eye reduction, autofocus, exposure control, rapid-fire shooting, manual shutter speeds, and adjustable lenses.

Film SLR camera prices


While you might be able to snag a film SLR camera for under $100, chances are it will be used and have a mediocre lens (if it comes with one at all). If you’re just looking for a starter film camera, neither should be deal breakers if you don’t mind a used product and know where to look for compatible lenses. If you’re interested in a new camera that’s easy to use, $100 to $250 is a great price range to start in.


Film SLR cameras that cost between $250 and $500 feature additional automatic and manual settings to enhance the quality of your photos. Many come in a kit, which means the camera comes with a pretty good lens. Some film camera hybrids also start in this price range. This is also where you’ll be able to find bundled items, such as extra film and additional add-ons like a carrying case and photo album.


The most expensive film SLR cameras cost $500 and more. These are high-end cameras that typically boast added lens functionality (like wide-angle shots) to go along with automatic and manual settings. Products in this price range might also be bundled with unique film variations, lenses, or accessories like a tripod and cleaning materials.


  • Shoot with the light behind you. Particularly with film, always shoot with the light behind you or to your side to avoid overexposed photos.

  • Keep photographic prints out of direct sunlight. This will prevent unwanted fading and discoloration.

  • Learn your camera’s settings. Even the simplest film SLR cameras have a few settings to adjust exposure, photo type, and focus.  Read the manual and take some time to learn your camera’s settings so you don’t waste precious film.

Other products we considered

While narrowing down our final list, we came across a couple other film cameras that we thought were great but didn’t quite make the cut. The Nikon FM-10 SLR Camera is a fantastic mid-priced camera kit that includes a zoom lens. It’s fully manual, which is great for photographers who want total control. Another affordable choice is the Olympus OM-2 35mm Film Camera. It’s got a compact and elegant design and robust automatic and manual features, and it’s a great device for photography students or hobbyists.

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Some of the best photographs result when the subject isn’t posing for the picture. Have fun and experiment with candid and unexpected shots.


Q. Can I preview the picture before deciding to print the image?

A. Nope. Modern film cameras act much like their classic counterparts in that once the shutter button is pressed, the image is captured.

Q. Can I email or save pictures?

A. No, film SLR cameras don’t provide an SD card slot for saving images. However, some hybrid instant cameras have an SD card slot as a backup feature, and digital SLR cameras (DSLR) use SD cards as their primary storage.

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