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Which Film Camera to buy for beginners ?

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Which Film Camera to buy for beginners ?

So many film cameras in the market, which one should you buy ? Here are some tips for those who is starting out :

1. Keep it simple - The simpler film camera is , the less likely the camera will fail. Even if it fails, it would be easier and cheaper to repair. One have to consider the age of these film cameras could be as old as your parents A Leica M3 would probably be around 65 years old by now. I would suggest to get a camera with full mechanical function which does not rely on battery to operate.

2. Work within your budget - There is a huge range of film cameras in the market and their price varies from USD 40 all the way to USD 40k depending on the brand , rarity and condition. The Nikon FM or FE2 , Canon Canonet, Olympus 35SP, Yashica 124G, Minolta Autocord and Asahi Pentax are pretty affordable for newbies.

3. Type of cameras, Rangefinder or SLR - This depends on your shooting style. I would suggest rangefinder style camera if you love to shoot streets, travel and journalistic as rangefinder is more suited for the wide to mid range zoom lenses. The size is compact , less obtrusive and usually very light. Go for SLR if you love doing portrait , macro, sports or wildlife. What about TLRs you may asked ...well I wouldn't recommend it as your first camera as the number of shots per roll is a lot less as it is a medium format camera. You will only get 12 exposures for roll of film hence make your learning curve a lot more expensive.

3. Keep it small - There is a saying ' The best camera is the one with you ! '. I would suggest to start out with a camera which is small and portable so you would use it more. We understand that huge and bulky cameras such as the Hasselblad  500cm and Mamiya RZ67 looks uber cool but it require quite a bit of muscle to lug it around. It certainly not an everyday camera for you to learn. First the number of exposures are greatly reduced ( the Hassie 500cm only clocks 12 shots ) , the processing fee is pretty much the same hence the cost per shot is a lot higher !

4. Availability of film format and place to process the negatives - Through out the years many film format has already been discontinued. Hence if you found a camera with the below format kindly avoid them at all cost unless it plan to keep the camera as a paper weight or a display item - 220 ( discontinued ) , large format 4 x 5 and 8 x 10

5. BATTERY type - Many of the older film cameras out there uses mercury battery which is no longer in production. Always check if there is a replacement / substitute battery which you could use. If not it would be pointless to own a camera which you can't operate unless you are a camera collector.

 

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Leica M3 Review

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The Leica M3 is one amazing camera and I absolutely love it to the max. I had this camera for almost 2 years now right after I bought my Leica M2. I have always loved the design and built  of the film Leica cameras particularly those made in the  early 50’s till early 70’s.The built quality and use of materials are impeccable which explains why it still look pretty darn good after 50 over years. The finish is flawless even till today and it has the smoothest film advance I have ever come upon on a film camera. It feels like it’s running on a layer of butter !

The M3 is the first M series ever produced by Leica in Solms, Germany back in 1954. Equipped with a bright 0.92x viewfinder, 3 frames lines ( 50, 90 and 135 ), a self timer and 1/1000th sec shutter speed is all the features there is in this camera. Pure simplicity and only the essentials. What I love most about this camera ( besides it’s look ) is the viewfinder. It has the clearest and highest magnification viewfinder among all the M series and best of all it’s flare resistant ! The newer M6 classic, M6 TTL and M7 are prone to flare which makes focusing really difficult when shooting against strong lights. Only the recent Leica MP has flare proof RF like the M3. As I love shooting against back light , this is a truly a blessing. 

The 50mm frame is permanently visible, with broad white lines and rounded corners.
The 90 and 135mm frames pop up when the corresponding lens is inserted. Very clever and first in it's class back in that era. 

If there is a need to use 35mm or wider lenses, the M3 with its basically 50mm viewfinder is handicapped and it’s almost impossible to guess the exact frame lines. The only way would be to use the Leica 35mm with auxiliary reducing goggles or an additional 35mm view finder attached to the camera hot shoe. Easy fix indeed.  

There are many variants of M3 in the market due to it's long production life , hence the serial number is the easiest way to gauge which version you are having. Older M3’s adopted the continental shutter speeds (1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/250) and later ones the international range (1/30, 1/60 etc.). The first version of the M3 has a smaller viewfinder frame , require double stroke to wind film ( cock twice instead of one time ) and lower ISO / ASA range on the indicator. Later models have subtle upgrades on all these parts. 

Film loading on the M3 is slightly conventional where one needs to remove the spool from the camera. It is indeed a little slower then the M6 quick load style but at least it is the most reliable and fool proof loading method. There are a few times where the film leader wasn’t securely fasten to the take up spool chamber on the M6. I know this is more like a user problem …but the M3 loading method does not have such room for errors. I heard that the quick load kit work wonders by converting the M3 conventional style to more modern M6 style but I was told that the film counter will not reset itself. I can live with it hence not a biggie for me.

I use this camera mainly for black and white photos. I love pairing it with the 50mm f2 dual range Summicron or the 5cm f2 collapsible cron with yellow filters for that classic black and white look. For metering, I’ll either use the sunny 16 rules when I’m outdoor or my trusty light meter apps on my iphone for more tricky lighting condition. Works great for so far and really enjoy using this camera a lot and I am a big fan of 50mm lenses. 

If you ever plan to get one , I would suggest hunt around for a serial number above 950,000 as most likely will have one with all the subtle upgrades implemented. Do check the rangefinder mirror too for signs of desilvering as repair would be costly. Comparing to the M2 , M5 , M6 classic , M6 ttl which I have, the M3 is still one of my all time favourite . 

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Yashica 124G Camera Review


Yashica is a huge manufacturer  of 'affordable' TLRS in Japan and the 124G is one of the latest in the production line. The 124 and 124G is basically an identical camera with just a different outlook. All dressed in tuxido black even down to the metal trims and the contact point is supposed to be gold plated to enhance conductivity. I really love the look of this retro MIB sort of camera but comparing it with it's elder Yashica siblings, I could see corners been cut here and there and introduction of plastic parts to lower down production cost. What a shame ! I have the privilege to test out the older model 124 and the winding crank is a lot more smoother and silent. The 124G winding crank sounds like a moving ratchet with loud clicking sound which turns me off totally. It feels like I'm using motorized pencil sharpener.


All of the Yashica TLRs  come with either the Yashikor lenes for older models or the Yashinon lenses on the newer ones. The Yashinon is a Zeiss Tessar copy with 4 elements glass. Image produced from this lens is lower in contrast and saturation as compared to the Minolta Autocord which I have just recently reviewed. For this lens, the center sharpness is decent enough for shooting wide open but corner is a little soft. It doesn't have the bite like the Autocord but it's a whole different look. Color seems more subtle and so is the contrast. Overall the lens is pretty good but there is a catch, it is prone to fogging hence becareful when you are purchasing one. I have a friend who has gotten one which is foggy and it's impossible to clean even by the professionals. Hence BEWARE to check it thoroughly !

The metering on my particular unit is already dead as I got it as a bargain hence I can't comment how accurate it would be. I shoot with the external light meter or sunny 16 anyway hence it's no biggie. The waist level finder is pretty bright and clear but it's a little dimmer as compared to the Autocord or Rolleflex.

The camera layout on the 124G is pretty much like all of the TLRs with focus knob on the left hand side while the winding crank on the right with both the camera setting dials situated right in between the taking and viewing lens. Not much worth mentioning there as it's the standard layout for most TLR camera out there in the market.  It can't match Rolleiflex in term of optics and built quality, in fact it's not intended to do so but it does serve it's purpose.

 

Summary

Pros : Reasonable price around RM 800 to 1k ish on ebay, a good entry level TLR with built in light meter.

Cons : The winding mechanism is a little rough and the ratchet sound is rather annoying sometimes. The lens is prone to fogging, suspect is the internal lubricants breaking down after many years. Apart from that there is not much complains for a camera at this price range.

Buying tips : Be sure to check thoroughly specially on the taking lens to ensure no fogging. The built in light meter may or may not work but of course if you could find a working unit that is an added bonus. Apart from that the camera is pretty well built and almost problem free.

 

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