Quote Originally Posted by David H. Bebbington
There has certainly been some information overload here, but the fact remains that making high-quality sharp prints with good tonality from 35 mm at sizes larger than 8x10" is one of the hardest and technically most demanding tasks in photography and that some cameras are better tools to this end than others. Simple test - take any of the "great" pictures that you have taken with a cheap camera and make a 5x7" print. A neg from almost any 35 will look great enlarged to this size. Then make a 12x16" and look at the two prints SIDE BY SIDE. There will inevitably be some sharpness loss and also a rise in contrast due to reciprocity law failure of the printing paper. Ask yourself - can I live with this quality? The simple fact is that the answer is more likely to be "no" if you used a Zenith or Praktika or a worn-out example of any other make.
I don't question your knowledge or expertise - and I am sure that on a pretty elevated technical level what you are saying is dead on the money. But, I don't think what you describe is the aim of this exercise. You have to learn a lot before you have the knowledge necessary to say what it is you like, dislike and how to fix it. By then, you will have shot a lot of film and learned a great deal, and probably laugh at all the unknowns that you faced in the start.
Also, I think that the aboslute technical perfection does not a great image make. There is a lot more to it, in my humble view - and it all begins with taking the photo in the first place. Not with second guessing your abilities and those of your gear. Its a mute point that better gear is... well... better. But the worst pictures are those you never got around to taking - especially when you consider the learning aspect of it all.
And one more thing. Simple, limited, etc. does not mean BAD. My Zenit happens to get the film behind the lens, and the lens is actually of a pretty decent quality - no bells and whistles, a woefully inaccurate meter - but really not bad at all as long as you realize its limitations and work within them. Its semi-retired now, but I can always count on its simple, mechanical nature to give me an image no matter where and when I ask for it.
Again, the wisest bit of advice here is to just get out there and start. Its hard to make a bad choice, and as Shawn said, you really can't go that wrong with a simple SLR and a 50mm prime. And although he makes an excellent point about the perils of buying used, there are many ways of doing it that are very, very reputable and a safe bet.
I am going to try to stay away from this thread now... I know I am just enjoying the discussion and not helping that much