Film Cameras - Buy/Sell/Keep/Avoid
27th August 2022
In this monthly blog I will will feature four film cameras that I think are either worth buying, have had their day, are worth keeping or are to be avoided.
It is intended to be a fun piece and I welcome any feedback or discussion (providing it is polite).
Please remember this is a personal opinion piece based on buying film cameras over the last twenty five years and for the last two years selling them, so please don't be offended if I list your favourite camera in 'Avoid'! We are all entitled to our opinions after all.
Buy/Sell/Keep/Avoid - How it works
I take four cameras freely available in the marketplace, online or other, and rate them as to whether you should be putting them in your wishlist to 'Buy', or if you own them to 'Keep' as they will appreciate, be ever harder to find in a reasonable condition and therefore become ever more desirable, or if they have had their day they should be a 'Sell' as they will potentially lose their sheen, or finally 'Avoid' that camera you have had your eye on but you really shouldn't!
I will detail my reasons, which may or may not meet with agreement but will be based on my personal experience or of those of people I know and respect.
I use the following perspectives (not exclusively) that lead me to my conclusions:
Quality (both build and image potential)
Performance and reliability
Form and Function
Desirability (both as a reason to own and not to own)
So all that said here goes!
The Nikon F100
Introduced in 1999 just as digital cameras were starting their march towards photographic domination, this beautiful camera was designed to appeal to photographers who wanted a camera capable of professional results but didn't want to lug around the behemoth F5. The significantly more expensive and better Nikon F6 was launched in 2004 but the F100 still had its place and lasted another couple of years until production of the F100 ceased in 2006.
Still capable of working with pretty much all of the modern Nikon AFS and later G lenses, the F100 handles better than the F5 and is about half the weight. It has a very good auto focus capability for a camera of that era (way better than the F5) and is robust enough to handle supremely in challenging locations. And it is serviceable/repairable.
Negatives are that the LCD viewfinders can be unreliable (but there are parts around to sort that) so check that out and the grip/leather gets very sticky and tatty over time.
Whilst not pretending to be an F6 alternative (although it really is) it is a brilliant film camera that is ideal for 'Nikonistas' that don't want to fork out big bucks for an F6 but still get a camera capable of pro quality imagery. And then there's those Nikon lenses...all of them!
It is gaining in popularity. Boxed versions can be found on eBay for around £250 which is one of photography's great bargains.....but don't hang around, given the F6 currently goes for around four or five times more I expect to see the prices for the Nikon F100 go up.
Grab one whilst you can.
The Contax T2
Now I know this one is probably going to be the most controversial one but bear with me.
By way of background Contax was originally conceived in 1932 as the first rangefinder by the Zeiss Ikon company. After the war in 1947 Contax was formed in Eastern Germany to make other cameras amongst then their first SLR. In 1972 Contax and Yashica partnered up, enabling the Japanese company in essence to secure supply of the Carl Zeiss lenses and produce a line of far more credible cameras. Yashica was swallowed up by Kyocera (in 1984) at the same time the Contax T was introduced. After the onset of digital cameras and mounting losses Kyocera left the camera production business in 2005 and since then the Contax brand has remained dormant. Predictably there is now no Contax production facility, no parts supply or after sales back up, nothing.
The Contax T2 is an excellent camera, it does everything well and has that brilliant Carl Zeiss 38mm f2.8 lens. But....since a Kardashian/Jenner fired the gun on must have accessories on a chat show this camera has garnered a cult following and prices are ridiculous as a result. It seems that no self respecting hipster would be without one, loaded with the ubiquitous Portra 400 and worn as a fashion/wealth statement. Be that as it may, in terms of capability it is a brilliant camera (if you ignore the distinctly average viewfinder and the inability to shoot wide open in certain light conditions), but it isn't that brilliant in some other more important ways.
As the era of digital dawned back in the early 2000's you could pick one up for around £200. Now it is not uncommon for them to be fetching over £1,000 on eBay and if you go for the black copy then nearer £1,500. And here's the rub, whilst brilliant they can be brittle in one key area. The electronics in them are beginning to get a reputation for unreliability and are expensive to fix, in some cases unfixable.
I would be very wary of buying one now (particularly off eBay) as the 'value v risk' coefficient possibly makes them economically unviable. And that is why I would recommend that if you have one now is the time to consider its future with you. Prices are at an all time high, as the reliability issues become more common that may slide. If you have to have a Contax go for the mainly manual T, same lens and way cheaper but with the same electronic gremlins, crucially between a third and a half the price of a T2, so a less expensive paperweight when it fails.
Alternatively, here are a few options that are more reliable - at the top end a Leica Minilux or a Nikon Ti - both reliable and repairable - or a more reasonable but brilliant Yashica T4. If the lens is your reason for owning then the all manual Rollei 35s has pretty much the same lens, is nearly a 1/3rd of the price and much cooler!
However if you have, or hanker after, a camera that fits with the hipster image of drinking free trade coffee when visiting the Brick Lane Coffee shop then maybe stick with it or go for it. Ignore the irony that a Kardashian family member (torch bearers for rampant consumerism) made the market for this camera, so enjoy it whilst it lasts.
The Contax T2 is an undeniably brilliant camera but it isn't the only brilliant compact out there, and the value is no longer there.
The Leica M2
Probably not a difficult one this, but if you are lucky enough to own a Leica M2 then unless you have a bailiff at your door, do not let it go.
One of the most underrated cameras in the Leica film camera stable for years it has sat below the M3 in terms of price, popularity and to some people desirability. That is changing. It was produced in 1958, first sold as a budget Leica compared to the M3 which confusingly was produced four years earlier, and for years it has been underpriced compared to the M3, but the gap is narrowing and for good reason, it is every bit as capable as its big sister.
The prices for an M2 five years ago were about 70% of a comparable condition M3. Now they are pretty much the same. Its illustrious sister the M3 gets all the plaudits and rightly so, I even have one, but I wish I had an M2.
Both are made of brass and have the highest quality construction of any subsequent Leica M cameras especially the more cheaply constructed M6 which is made from zinc, alloy and the odd bit of plastic.
Ok so the M2 has a .72mm viewfinder as opposed to the .91mm viewfinder in the M3 but it is this that enables better frame lines, those glorious frame lines of 35mm/50mm & 90mm which means you don't need to guess or have an add on viewfinder, so you can put a lightmeter on your cold-shoe if you feel the need! The M3 has no 35mm frame line but it does have the 135mm frame line.... exactly. When did anyone last shoot a Leica with a 135mm lens? Why would anyone even do that? Oh and the film counter on the M2 is a bit pedestrian.
The M2 is aesthetically prettier than the M3 too in my opinion, it's slightly less angular and notchy, altogether better looking.
If you own one and plan to sell it I wouldn't, it's a beauty.
For now I'd hold on.
The Diana F+
Ok, now I know that the price of film is going up fast and this is bad news, it risks once again killing off a beautiful medium, but if you have to waste film don't do it with a Diana F+
Thought by some to be mildly amusing and interesting (as it shoots 120), the Diana F+ is neither of those things.
To my mind they are bottom end useless and the appeal is only in the aesthetic, which is tenuous at best. Yes it shoots medium format film, but that is counter intuitive. Medium Format is all about the size of the negative to get an even better more detailed image. Isn't it? A Diana uses plastic glass. How is that aiding the process? It is a plastic camera with a plastic lens that produces plastic imagery. And at £70 it is not even that cheap to buy. If you have to have an egalitarian camera then there are better options around.
If plastic is fantastic in this upside down world then try the Kodak Ektar Half Frame Camera if you really have to, it is half the price and twice the fun. You get 72 images out of a standard roll of 36 exposure 35mm film and it is way cooler than the Diana. It even has a built in flash. Now this I get. Fast, practical and fun. And you get 72 images not 10 or 12.
I do like the idea of a cheap(ish) medium format camera that is capable of producing great results, but this one just doesn't.
If you want a good cheap MF camera and if you don't mind risking President Zelensky's disappointment in you, try a Moskva, Lubitel or a Horizon (yes they are Russian, the last two made by the same company). Or if you do want to support Ukraine (in spirit obviously) then try a Kiev 80 or 88. All are Medium Format, all believe the Crimea is part of Ukraine and all are a good, longer lasting alternative. The Kievs are cheap as chips and a load of fun. They also made excellent Contax tooled Rangefinders for 35mm photography too that are a steal.
All are far more likely to float your boat than the Diana F+ and unlike the Russian effort are pretty cool looking to boot.
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