Choosing your Era?
First of all, it’s probably worth thinking about which time period is going to suit you best. That may sound weird, but the difference between cameras from the 60s and 80s is huge. Even cameras made just 5 years apart can look and feel hugely different from one another.
Take the Pentax Spotmatic, which looks something like this….
That’s a fairly typical looking camera from the mid/late 1960s. In fact, it’s probably the camera design that went on to influence so many other camera designs over the decades that followed, but that’s a whole other article…..
Cameras from this period are generally very well made. They won’t contain much (if any) plastic and they are an utter joy to even just hold.
On the other hand though, the metal construction makes them heavier, they tend to be a bit bigger than some of the 70s cameras, and some of the technology in them – like the metering – isn’t always as good as in later models.
Importantly, they are nearly always fully manual as well, meaning you, the user, will have to tell it exactly what to do. This is great, because it’s part of the fun and you get total control over the final product. It isn’t the most practical though and whilst you’re learning the ropes you’ll probably end up with quite a few photos that are over or under exposed.
But if you ask us, everybody should own at least one camera from the 60s (or 50s!) just so you can feel how it all began. It’s a great way to get into shooting film and getting things wrong is part of the learning process. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of it, and once you do these cameras will take incredible pictures for you.
Pentax really were the kings of the early era of 35mm SLR photography. They invented the pentaprism that all SLR cameras went on to use, which creates that prism shape at the top of the camera you look through. Before the Pentax Spotmatic burst on to the scene in 1964, cameras didn’t have internal metering – you had to use a separate meter, or attach one to the top of the camera. The Spotmatic changed all that though, and subsequent SLR cameras all did their metering “through the lens”.
So if you fancy something from the 1960s, Pentax would be an ideal place to start your search, and any of the Spotmatic range are going to be great cameras to shoot with. You’ll soon fall in love with your Spotmatic, as so many others have before you!
Our 1960s Favourites:-
- Nikon F – expensive but legendary for a reason!
- Pentax Spotmatic – not expensive, and legendary for a reason!
- Nikkormat FT – A great camera and an affordable alternative to the Nikon F.
- Zenit E – Fantastically unique styling in an absolute tank of a camera. M42 mount, so tonnes of great lenses to choose from.
Metering on 1970s cameras tends to be a bit smarter and more reliable. You start to see the development of more user friendly features, and a better understanding of how to fine tune cameras so they are ideal for everyday use. They tend to be smaller than the 1960s cameras, and the build quality stays fairly high.
The 70s saw the introduction of shutters that worked electronically rather than mechanically. If you get a camera with an electronic shutter, when your batteries die you won’t be able to use it until you replace them. With a mechanical shutter the batteries are only needed for the metering – everything else on the camera is mechanical, including the shutter mechanism.
You also start to see the introduction of “entry-level” cameras. By this time cameras were becoming something everybody wanted to own. Manufacturers responded to this by building more affordable cameras, with stripped back designs and/or cheaper parts compared to their “flagship” or “professional” models.
Take Nikon for example – they spent a lot of the 70s working on their Nikkormat brand of cameras, and in particular the EL range. These were cameras at affordable prices that were much easier for the beginner to pick up and use. They’d be a great place to start these days if you want something from this period but don’t want to spend £200 (or more!) on a Nikon F2.
We start to see the use of “Automatic” modes on cameras, enabling people to simply point at the target and shoot, without having to worry about shutter speeds and f-stops (If that doesn’t mean anything to you, have a look at our article on the different user modes and what they mean).
Some cameras even forego fully ‘manual’ shooting all together, and only have aperture priority modes. These cameras, like the Canon AV for instance, are cheap as chips today, but fantastic cameras for those wanting to have a go at film photography without having to get their head around lots of new techniques.
So if you’re new to photography and don’t think you’ll have the time or confidence to shoot with something very ‘manual’ from the 60s, the 70s is a good place to look. If you think you’d be happy to forego fully manual shooting, then the Canon AV or AV1 would be great models to go for, as would the Nikon EM and the Penatx MV (or the similar Pentax ME or MG). These cameras are virtually guaranteed to take great pictures and are incredible value for money.
Our 1970s Favourites:-
- Olympus OM10 – If you find one of these with a manual adapter fitted you’ve got a camera with a choice of Av mode and manual for a bargain price.
- Pentax ME Super – quite possibly the most intuitive camera ever designed for beginners.
- Pentax MV1 – A beautiful, very compact and lightweight camera, guaranteed to produce great photos, especially given all the great Pentax lenses from this era.
The 1980s saw a continuation of trends from the 1970s towards cameras that offered fully automatic settings. Cameras from this period began to offer the full range of shooting settings – fully manual, aperture priority, shutter priority, and fully automatic, all in one body.
Prices stayed affordable, with a lot of brands moving away from expensive top of the range models all together. They kept prices down by moving increasingly towards plastic bodies, but this reduction in build quality and feel did help keep cameras lighter. You could easily have one of these round your neck all day and not notice it – you couldn’t do that with any camera from the 1960s!
The cameras scream 1980s as well when you look at them. The Canon T70 for instance;
It couldn’t be more 80s if it had a Sony Walkman taped to the side!
Our 1980s Favourites:-
- Pentax Super A - Great focusing screen and all the modes, in a gorgeous black compact body.
- Canon T70 – Probably the best spec SLR camera anybody has ever made.
- Olympus OM4 – Like all Olympus cameras, a joy to use with it’s own style, and with ‘Spot metering’ for an added bonus.
- Pentax P30 – Possibly the best example ever of a camera that embodies the “everything you need and nothing you don’t” philosophy.