For me, 35mm is about portability. I'd find a small Minolta body and give it a go. All the manufacturers make decent bodies and lenses. You have Minolta glass so you might as well start there. The F5 is a pretty large body and I'd personally stay away from it.
If you can live without autofocus and you are starting from scratch, consider one of the smaller bodies (e.g. Nikon FM series, Olympus OM, most Pentax) and go from there. If you can go to someplace that has used cameras, it would be great to hold them in your hands and go over the functions before deciding.
When using digital I shoot Canon EOS which is a logical progression from my use of EOS film gear prior to using digital. I happen to have an EOS 1vHS which I think is one of the all time greatest cameras ever made, film or digital. I also happen to be returning to film to some degree but interestingly the 1vHS is not my first choice of film bodies. The Canon F-1 is with my Minolta SR-T 102 not far behind. I just bought a Nikon FE2 which is a beautiful camera and may become one of my most-used cameras. What an amazing machine! Don't rule out the older, more mechanical SLRs too quickly...they're a joy to use.
I just do not like autofocus SLRs. I have Nikon F bodies and Konica T3s. Focus is the photographer's choice, not the cameras. This is an individual preference, I know.
Wow all great replies, thanks so much.
Well the F5 being so big and heavy seemed to pop up quite abit, but I must admit this is one of the reasons this camera appeals to me, I am a fan of heavy well made machinery it just has "that feel" to it, although I realize it may not be as practical as a lighter body.
About the Minolta 9, I have been looking at this camera for a while now and it seems people dont have many bad things to say about it, and of course owning Minolta glass it would seem to make sense for me to buy one. But I feel I might be abit limited for possible future purchases with only Minolta glass, and the 9 being the top of line camera from Minolta's A mount history leaves me little room for possible future upgrades.
Moving to Canon or Nikon just feels like a safer move with more bodies and lenses available etc.
There are plenty of used camera around here, I live just outside Tokyo there is a few really nice shops quite close to me (where I buy most of my a mount glass) with a very nice selection of 35mm gear (all there a-9's allready have the SSM upgrade too!)
Someone asked me what I shoot. My real passion is buildings: abandoned/rundown houses, factories, schools, hospitals etc.
But I shoot most things, mainly landscape and portrait I very rarely shoot sport/anything moving fast and although not essential it would be a nice extra to have something capable to do so.
At the risk of sounding stupid(er) could someone please enlighten me on medium format?
The large negatives have a quite different tonal response than 35mm. That and the amazing detail available from commonly available films.
Originally Posted by FruitRevolver
The cameras are bigger. It is harder to get the film developed and printed. It is really expensive to get a SLR in MF. A Hasselblad is much more pricey than a Nikon F2, for example. I am shooting 120 in TLR cameras because it is such a large negative and can capture incredible detail. I will live with the limit of just using a 'normal' lens to get the inexpensive, lightweight cameras with the large negatives.
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Since you have an A100 and A350, you already have Alpha glass. Is it all for crop-sensors or is some of it full-frame? If the latter, you can get a Minolta SLR that will fit your lenses. As a starter, I would recommend the 5 - it has most of what you need (SSM and wireless HSS flash) but no MLU or FEC. If you want something fancier with features similar to a DSLR, get a 7. If you want an indestructible tank, get a 9; as for it being the top-of-the-line camera with no upgrade path, you'd be in basically the same position if you bought an F5 or F6 which isn't really a better camera anyway. See mhohner's film-bodies reference for specifications. The advantage of staying with the Alpha mount is that when you buy good glass for your film body, you can also use it on your digital bodies; see also dyxum for a bucketload more Alpha information.
That said, since your subjects are pretty static, I would also suggest looking at an MF SLR. Hasselblads sure are expensive, but a good Mamiya RZ or RB is not expensive at all - you can have a basic working RZ kit for $500ish and the lenses cost in about the same range ($100-1000) as Minolta AF lenses. RB is even cheaper but a bit heavier and with less automation. RZ lenses (warning, religious flamewar ahead) are on a par with the Hasselblads for quality.
MF in general... you use 120 size film not 135. It's 60mm wide, giving an image width of about 56mm. Depending on the camera, you will either get 42x56mm (645) images, 55x55mm (6x6) images, 56x69mm (6x7) images or larger (6x9, 6x12 and 6x17cm). The larger the image, the fewer you get on a roll - 16 for 645, 12 for 6x6 and 10 for 6x7. One 120 roll has the same basic film area as a 135-36 roll, so with 6x7 you're getting negatives with 4x more area (2x as much linear resolution if your lenses are up to it) per frame. B&W films in 120 can be developed at home as easily and cheaply as they can for 35mm but if you want colour, the easiest option is to use a lab and that's not a cheap option. Medium format film scanners are more costly than 35mm ones but you can use a flatbed with more passable results than on 35mm. You need a bigger enlarger if you want to do traditional printing (highly recommend it), but 6x7 enlargers are not expensive at all - one box of paper can cost more.
If you've never shot film, I'd stick to 35mm for now to get started. It is easier to get processed and mistakes cost less.
If you want something that feels like reliable piece of machinery and has a good line of lenses, you'd be happy with an Olympus OM-series camera or a Nikon FM2. The OM1 uses obsolete batteries so you'd need to deal with that (convert it to modern batteries or use zinc-air) so you may prefer an OM2 or 4 camera if you go with Olympus. Both the Nikon and Olympus are completely manual cameras. If you really want to learn about photography (film or otherwise), a manual camera is the way to go. I've used the same OM1 for 31 years. It could use an overhaul at this point, but it has been absolutely reliable.
A machine doesn't have to be the heaviest in its class to be well-made. The F5 is extra big and heavy because it was meant for folks like traveling photojournalists and sports photographers who were rough on their gear and needed plenty of speed and power, both in the mechanical and electrical sense. If you're mostly going to be shooting static subjects in your local urban environs, then the F5 is going to be more durability and batteries than your needs strictly require. Nothing wrong with using one for such things of course, but if any part of you can be discouraged by the weight of your gear, lighter options are worth looking at.
I shoot medium format and while it's pretty kick-ass, I will take a contrary viewpoint to other posters and gently suggest you don't try to jump right into it as your freshman film experience. While it's no more difficult to actually shoot medium format cameras than 35mm, there's a host of practical considerations which most neophyte film shooters would be happier to be free from while they get their feet wet.
With a 35mm camera, you're dealing with the film format that's synonymous with film in the public mind. A shop that sells film with sell 35mm, a shop that processes film with process 35mm and the film comes in tidy, hardshelled cassettes that are easy to handle. You can talk about "film" and people will assume the majority of the time that you mean 35mm.
When you get into medium format, you're dealing with a completely different film product, the 120 format roll film. It's much less common in retail channels, most frequently only available from pro/specialty shops, costs much more per frame, and processing service is also much harder to find. If you're searching for sales and service related to medium format, you must be specific about what format you're talking about. Just saying "film" when you actually mean "medium format film" is going to net you a lot of disappointments. Also, 120 film is more fiddly simply to handle. It doesn't come in a hard shell cassette, but rather wound openly around a plastic spool with black backing paper to protect it from light. If you're not careful handling it at the start and finish, it's possible for the roll to loosen and get exposed to light as its safety relies upon remaining tightly wound and being taped.
I recommend sticking with your current plan and starting in 35mm. It's the king of convenience in film. You can always move up to a medium format camera later.
I'll backup what Polyglot has said. Start with a minolta (I'd personally go the 7, as it has the SSM capabilities. which will basically future proof any new lens purchases). Give it a try and after a while you feel like you need to change, you would probably still get your money back. Nothing wrong with Minolta cameras and lenses. Yes, there are holes in their lineup, but there is still plenty of good lens coverage.
I am a Canon guy for the most part, but also have collected most of the upper tier film cameras from Nikon, Minolta and Pentax as well. They are all excellent cameras and each has its own ergonomics and special features. For you however, it seems that the best choice would to do what Hoffy and Polyglot suggest and get a Minolta 7 or 9. I have both and they are every bit as good as the equivalent Canons or Nikons. If you decide you want to switch brands after you have familiarized yourself with shooting film you should be able to sell the body for about what you paid for it. Why switch to a different system necessitating buying a body and lenses before you are sure you want to use film extensively?
Just my 2cents worth.