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How to Choose and Buy a First 35mm Camera
2004 KenRockwell.com

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Picture quality doesn't depend on what sort of camera you have. Please read that here if this concept is new to you, as it is to most people.

This page is for people who just want a simple camera to make great photos. This page is also from back in the good old days before digital replaced film. Today, only reactionary folks like my Mom want small film cameras. I'd suggest a small digital, like any ofg the Canon compact digitals long before a compact film camera.

Anyway, on with history.

Of course these are not what you'd want if you are a serious photographer, but if you are a regular person who wants something with which to start, here are some of the best buys in inexpensive and capable cameras today. Each is capable of making fantastic photos once you know how to use it:

Least expensive pro-image-quality 35mm camera: Olympus Stylus Epic. ($85) This camera is a pro's secret: it has a super sharp, super fast f/2.8 lens and is even splashproof! This is the best $85 you can spend if you don't need to zoom. I avoid zooms in point-and-shoots since the tiny lenses on p/s are pretty useless with the 50 speed slide film I use.

Inexpensive, compact, durable, high quality zoom 35mm camera: Canon Sure Shot 80 ($77) or Canon Sure Shot 85 ($85). The older 85 sure shot was rated a best by in Consumer Reports in the November, 2001 issue. There are a zillion zoom lens point and shoot cameras out there, and this one is a great choice. For the same $85 as the Stylus above you trade off the ability to zoom for a slower lens, no splashproofing and it's not as compact. I'd go for the Olympus above if you shoot slides as I do, and onlly a zoom if you shoot print film (which most people do.) I explain all about film here.

Inexpensive 35mm SLR camera (takes all the lenses) Canon Rebel G2 (with lens for $200!) This very inexpensive SLR can do just about everything. If you are limited on price then today there is no reason not to get this camera. Unlike the 1970s where cameras needed to be expensive to offer necessary features because they were all mechanical, today this is done in software and thus this $200 camera can do what you need it to do. No, it is not as durable as a $1,000 camera and of course the $1,000 camera will have more detailed features you probably won't understand, but this G2 even has a flash built-in which the $1,000 camera will not!

People contemplating Nikon may think they want an F5 and expensive AF-S zooms, but to be honest even I couldn't tell the difference in quality between photos made with that set up and real photos made with an N65 and the cheapest Nikkor zooms. All the F5 gives you is a pain in the shoulder from having to haul it around. An N65 and the cheaper zooms will weigh so little that you'll actually take it with you and make great photos instead of leaving it home.

The Nikon N80 is also very light. Except for it's slow sync speed (only important for fill flash in daylight) I can't see any reason not to use it, or the N65, if price is important. In fact, if you want to do some serious film photography, I do suggest the N80.

Same for the lenses; the 18-35 AF Nikkor does the same exact thing that my fat, heavy 17-35mm AF-S does. You won't see any differences in the pictures you can make with them, honest. I'm discussing very subtle effects when I discuss these lenses in my reviews. Even I rarely see these effects in real photography. See my Nikon lens suggestions here.

Do you really want to have to carry around a heavy F100 or F5? Don't buy an expensive camera unless you can write down some very important reasons that you need something you can't do on the less expensive cameras.

If you want to spend enough to buy the fancy Nikon, Canon or Leica equipment you could get significantly better results by spending the same money on larger format equipment. With small formats like Nikon or Leica or Canon you are trading convenience for poor image quality. more about formats here.

For instance, for the same $1,500 you have to spend to get a Nikkor 17-35mm AF-S lens alone you could instead buy both a 4x5 camera and a superwide lens for it, or a good used complete Hasselblad!

Let me restate this: Spending more money on fancier equipment in the same format does not yield any better photos, but spending that same money on a larger format system will make obvious technical improvements in your images.

The best Nikon, Leica and Canon camera systems costing $5,000 give poorer results than an old used 120 medium format Yashica MAT 124G worth about $200. A medium format Hasselblad costing about $3,000 gives poorer results than and old 4x5 Graflex worth about $250. I have the film to prove this.

Where to buy your Camera

You can get these just about everywhere at retail. I prefer ordering over the Internet from Adorama or Amazon.com not just for convenience and price, but also because you can return them for your money back if you don't like the results. Camera stores rarely give you that flexibility. Avoid eBay, since you don't want to buy any of these inexpensive cameras used (unlike $1,000 cameras these will wear out if used a lot by a professional), and you'll get the same prices and better service by buying directly from Adorama or Amazon.com and not having the seller have to pay eBay's listing fees.

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