Projects and ponderings for film photographers

SLRs you *do* want, part 2: Autoexposure models

After warning you about some SLR lameness you ought to avoid, a couple months ago I ran a post about desirable 35mm classics with manual exposure controls.

Today we’re back for the autoexposure models. Again, this isn’t some list of “the ultimate” in 35mm SLRs. These are just some decent, compact, accessible models that offer a solid value today. Click on any camera for a closer look.

Because camera meters can be fooled by backlight or contrasting surroundings, enthusiast shooters always wants the option to set exposure manually, based on their own judgement and experience.

But negative films have forgiving latitude in most routine situations. Autoexposure metering usually works just fine—letting you quickly grab the shot without a lot of fumbling. And here in 2015, even if the original exposure isn’t 100% perfect you can often work miracles afterwards using a scanner & image-editing software.

Adjusting the f-stop is what allows you to refine which areas of your photo are sharp versus blurred. So I’m pretty violently opposed to “program” or shutter-priority autoexposure, where the camera wants to take that control away from you.

All the models listed below use aperture-priority autoexposure (with manual override possible). Each has a viewfinder display to tell you what shutter speed the camera will use if you click the shutter, varying as you move from shadow to light.


Olympus OM-2N camera

A radical new metering scheme to update the classic OM-1

Model name: Olympus OM-2N
Introduced: 1979
Why it’s great: For quite a few years this model was my own camera-technology sweet spot: a small and rather minimalist SLR, but one with impressive aperture-priority autoexposure. Once the shutter opens, the meter cells actually measure off the film: They’re accurate for anything from a 2-minute time exposure to instantly throttling the output of Olympus flashes (one or several). By a smidge, an OM-2 offers the largest viewfinder image of the whole group here. Olympus made many sweet OM-series lenses (like a 24/2.8 and an 85/2.0) all harmonizing with the compact and elegant styling of the body itself. Read the rest of this entry »

The manual is wrong: Loading 35mm film without pain

Take practically any 35mm camera from the 1970s or 80s. Look in the owner’s manual, and you’ll see an illustration a bit like this:

Typical 35mm film-loading instructions

Load the cassette, then thread the tongue?

Now look: millions of rolls of 35mm film have been loaded this way, and hopefully it works for you too.

But the way I see it, you are trying to do two things here:

  1. Ensure that the tongue of the film is grabbed firmly by the take-up spool
  2. Avoid spoiling any more film than necessary by exposing it to daylight

Read the rest of this entry »

SLRs you *do* want, part 1: Manual exposure

Now that my earlier post warned you away from some vintage 35mm SLRs you should avoid, what’s left?

I won’t inflame any fanboys by trying to proclaim “the greatest film SLRs of all time.” But what I think most people need in a film camera today is a something that’s not too enormous, not too expensive, and covers all the basics with a bit of style. You also want an SLR where the lens options are plentiful, which rules out a few niche brands.

Our first batch covers cameras where the exposure settings are entirely in your hands. You’ve got a built-in light meter to consult (maybe moving close to the subject for a more accurate reading), but after that—it’s all up to you. If you want to take photography back to real hand-crafted basics, start here.

Click any camera for a closer look. We’ll be back in a few weeks to look at the grooviest autoexposure models you might consider.


Olympus OM-1 camera

The quiet revolutionary

Model name: Olympus OM-1
Introduced: 1972
Why it’s great: I have to start with this one: The SLR which upended a whole industry by being so tiny, lightweight, and elegant. And the matching OM lens lineup is just as svelte and lovely. Only a simple needle intrudes into a viewfinder image which seems impossibly large and bright, given the low profile of the pentaprism housing. Relatively quiet shutter. Mirror lockup option for vibration-free shots. Timeless styling.
Versions & cousins: The very earliest version lacked connections for a motor drive (and so is missing the “MD” badge to the right of the lens). The slightly revised OM-1N has some small improvements, and means the camera is a few years younger. The near twin OM-2 (& OM-2N) add aperture-priority autoexposure.
Quirks & quibbles: Removable hot shoe is prone to cracking. Unusual shutter-speed ring around the lens (the the silver dial on the top only sets the film speed). Meter circuit designed for unobtainable mercury battery; but an easy workaround is possible. Read the rest of this entry »