Photography Blog Post | Film SLR Cameras by Paul Ellis

Like many photographers, I’m an eBay addict. Searching for bargains last week, I noticed a Leica R6 for £300. For those of you who don’t know, the R6 was Leica’s fully mechanical manual SLR camera.

An object of desire for many. Sebastiao Salgado used one for his famous Workers and Migrations projects. This got me thinking… so I searched for the Contax equivalent, the Contax S2. Again a fully mechanical manual SLR camera but with titanium body and built in spot meter – yours for under £300. Then I kept on searching.

Photography Blog | Film SLRs

The equivalent Nikon would be the classic Nikon FM/2* – yours for anything between £50-150. And the titanium bodied FM2T for about £250! These are serious cameras. Over-engineered, and built like tanks. Stick on some Leitz, Zeiss or Nikkor glass and you’ve got yourself a very special camera. Even if you only want to spend £50, you can still easily pick up a classic fully mechanical and manual Pentax K100, Pentax MX or Olympus OM1, all very capable and dependable cameras. In fact these were the cameras that millions of photographers have learnt on.

Photography Course | Shoot to Print

It’s my contention that many – too many – digital photographers don’t really look at reality, they look at the trace of reality that their digital camera captures. In this age of 16-bit, auto-focus, auto-wind, face recognition, 6 FPS Matrix/Evaluative metering, using a film camera is almost like having a Zen experience. With a film camera, you have to do everything yourself – from winding the film lever to advance the film, to twisting the lens to focus the image. Even if the battery dies the camera would still carry on perfectly happily (you just wouldn’t have a light meter).

Film cameras are part of the Slow Movement. They literally make you slow down (after all you’ve only got 36 frames on a roll of 35mm film). More importantly they make you concentrate, they make you look, they make you scrutinise – and therefore, they make you think. Thinking Photography as Victor Burgin would say.

Don’t think that you have to grow a beard, smoke a pipe, drink real ale, wear slippers and a multi-pocket adventure waistcoat to be part of this revival. Slow photography, thinking photography, film photography is for anyone who wants to experience a new old way of making images. It’s not better than digital photography, its simply different. Very different.
So if you want to embrace the cultural shift of slow photography then buy yourself a manual film camera and look and think with fresh eyes and mind.

BTW if you want bigger and even slower you could buy a 120 roll-film camera. A Hasselblad 500c/m (good enough for NASA to take to the Moon) or Rolleiflex F3.5 or F2.8 TLR cameras (good enough for Diane Arbus, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Vivien Maier, Paul Ellis), again both are fully mechanical and manual and you don’t need a NASA sized budget as both can be picked up for around £500. And if You want to go even bigger and even slower you could buy a 5×4” sheet film camera, many are available but a Sinar F or P with Schneider lens can be yours for well under £500.

New Photography Course | Shoot to Print

If you’re interested in trying out your photography skills using a film SLR, we’ve just scheduled in a brand new course called Shoot to Print, that covers the whole process; how to use a classic 35mm all manual and mechanical SLR film camera, how to process a roll of black and white film and finally how to make a black and white print in our darkroom.


* Word of Warning. Don’t buy a Nikon FM/2/T if you are left eyed (most are right eyed). That is, you look out of your left eye when looking through a camera. This is because to turn on the Nikon’s light-meter you have to push out the film advance lever and this sticks into your right eye!!!