Well, I'm a Nikon bigot. But the truth is that there are so many brands of SLR camera because not one of them was enough better than the others to drive them out of the marketplace. They all have good lenses.
Originally Posted by nzeeman
I've shot, one time or another, a variety of "old" 35 mm SLRs. Various Nikons, Canons, Minoltas, Olympus, Yashicas. Some felt good in my hand and against my face, others didn't. When you're in the market, try out as many as you can to find out which fits your hand and face well enough. Example, my paws are too big for me to be comfortable with, say, a Pentax ME.
Don't think you have to buy a camera at the show. Show vendors can be hard to track down, don't always give warranties. Use the show to learn what fits you, then to to KEH (www.keh.com) to buy. They grade conservatively, stand behind their wares. And their prices are pretty competitive, especially when you factor in the warranty.
Don't forget the first law of flea markets: If you don't know the goods and prices, don't buy.
Cameras to avoid? I began with a Nikkormat, have fond memories of it, but variable resistors for the meter are now unobtainable. Nikon Fs are very fine, but again the metered prisms can't always be repaired. If you're going to use a hand-held meter, no problem, otherwise not such a good idea. Anything but, in alphabetical order, Canon; Minolta; Nikon; Olympus OM; and Pentax, preferably K mount. Nothing else is remotely as well-supported. Don't even think about getting anything from the former USSR or either Germany.
On the whole I like SatinSnow's suggestion. Minolta SRTs are solid, lenses to fit them are good. If I hadn't gone Nikon back when, I might have gone that way.
Good luck, have fun,
Also be aware that many older SLRs cameras were designed to use 1.35v mercury batteries that are no longer available. These include many fine SLRs including the Minolta SRT series, Pentax Spotmatics, and Nikormats (FT2 and earlier). There are effective workarounds, but you should be aware of, and comfortable with, what needs to be done.
Among used gear, condition is at least as important as the brand, at least in terms of reliability and likelihood of encountering problems. I'd rather have a Zenit in perfect condition than a Nikon that's falling apart. If you're going to a camera show or used (real-world) marketplace, that means you can handle the cameras. Look for things like loose parts, sticky shutters, a bad "feel" to actions like advancing the film, or anything that doesn't work the way you expect it to work. Be sure you can return the camera, and run a roll of film through it ASAP. Test all shutter speeds and features in this roll.
You should also decide on what features you want -- all-manual vs. auto-exposure, manual- vs. auto-focus, depth-of-field preview, power winder, shutter speed range, self-timer, etc. Despite my earlier comment, the camera brand can come into play here if you want a particular type of lens mount. The main reason you'd want a particular type of mount is because you've got existing lenses or you want to use a particular lens that's available in only one mount. M42 screw mounts are an exception, because they're harder to mount and unmount, but OTOH they're available used at bargain prices today, so an M42 camera can be a good way to build up a lens collection inexpensively. Lots of manufacturers made M42 cameras, but AFAIK nobody does any more (the Russian Zenit was the last holdout, but they recently stopped production of SLRs). Most bayonet mounts are unique to one manufacturer, with an occasional licensing deal or clone. Pentax's K-mount has been used by several manufacturers, though. It's probably best to stick with one of the more common mounts, such as Minolta, Nikon, Canon, K-mount, or M42. That'll increase your choice in lenses in the future. (New M42 production is limited, though.) Some of these come in several variants, some of which aren't entirely compatible, which can be confusing.
Good Evening, nzeeman,
As you can tell from the responses you have received, there is no obvious single answer to your question. I'll just add my vote to those who have found the Olympus OM cameras excellent. There is only one real drawback: Once I encountered an individual who was a large person with correspondingly large hands; the compact size of the OM and the small size of of some of its controls, which I favor, he found difficult to work with.
Actually, believe it or not, Cosina has come out with the Voigtlander Bessaflex which uses the M42 mount. Not too expensive at $289, either.
Originally Posted by srs5694
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Take a look at KEH.com - they have a lot of very good used gear. And they guarantee that it works - you have 10 days to return for a full refund. I've purchased a lot of gear from them and I only had one problem - a Maiya back was balky so they swapped it out. THey are very good.
Regardless of brand, one thing I always look for is a full information viewfinder and full manual control. If it's an automatic exposure body, I want aperture, shutter speed, and the recommended manual setting for whichever the camera normally sets automatically. E.g. for an aperture priority auto body, I want to see aperture, the recommended shutter setting, and the manually chosen shutter setting.
Another (rare) feature I really like is a frame counter on the camera back (as opposed to the top). I often work with tripods at eye level, and seeing everything in the viewfinder or on the camera back without tilting it is something I really like, and it's faster handheld as well.
As others have mentioned, look for a body that takes current batteries or reasonable currently available substitutes. And make sure that its functions and operation seem "right" to you personally, or that you feel that you can adapt well to the way the camera does function.
BTW, the new Bessaflex models mentioned by Paul Sorenson take a full line of current C-V accessories, including a trigger winder that fits their rangefinders. They were introduced by the owner of Cosina because he loves his old M42 cameras, like the Topcon D that one of the body versions is styled after.
How about a Minolta SRT 102 with a couple of Rokkor lenses. Those old Rokkor lenses are exceptionally nice. An old timer once told me- "While the world was buying Nikons, the Japanese were buying Minoltas".
"A certain amount of contempt for the material employed to express an idea is indispensable to the purest realization of this idea." Man Ray
Originally Posted by Konical
As both a big person with big hands and a dedicated Olympus user/collector/nut I would just say I find the OMs to be easy to use. I originally started using them because I had a significant other with small hands. She is no longer in the picture, however the OMs remain. A wonderful 35mm system, which can be had at reasonable prices and should be on the radar screen for those who are looking for a "new" old 35mm system with which to get started. There is a very active users group for this camera system. The OM will not disappoint. Over the years I've owned and used a number of other 35mm cameras, including Nikon, Canon, Pentax and others and the Olympus is still the system I'd select if I were starting over today. Bill Barber
You've probably made your decision by now but in addition to all the excellent suggestions, one of the cheapest quality options is the Konica range of shutter priority SLR's. They seem to be under-valued so tend to go very cheaply, particularly on ebay. Also the Fuji range are well regarded and very cheap.