Film: recording moments. Moments that have passed, even as the shutter clicks. It’s no wonder photography is bound so deeply to nostalgia, sending us down memory lane to simpler times. But the hobby — the art — is deeper still; the equipment you use says just as much about your craft as your subjects or the developed, framed end product. For many, that sense of history is best captured and enjoyed through a vintage cameracontax, and believe us, there’s no shortage of those on the market. So here’s our help: a list of 22 cult vintage shooters that’ll help you find your creative eye, set you apart from the shutterbug crowd and still produce photos that’ll make your (less talented) friends and family envious.
Additional reporting by AJ Powell.
Plaubel Makina W67
The Plaubel Makina W67 is regarded as one of the best medium format rangefinders ever made. It shoots photos in a 6 x 7 format (hence the “67”) and is equipped with a fixed 55mm Nikkor lens, which is considered one of the best lenses in all of analog photography. It offers a wide field of view that’s roughly equivalent to a 23mm lens on 135 format.
Yashica Mat 124G
Compared to other twin-lens cameras like the Rolleiflex, the Yashica Mat 124G is a steal. It’s a great beginner medium format camera that’s available in two lens formats, a 75mm and an 80mm. The 75mm 3.5 Lumaxar taking lens is said to have been made in West Germany, and is of the Tessar type, making the optics and quality nearly identical to that of the Rollei.
Studio and wedding photographers should look no further than the Mamiya RZ67. While it’s not very portable (with the 110mm lens it weighs over five pounds), it offers convenience and excellent quality. Its changeable film backs can be preloaded with color or black-and-white film. And the backs also rotate to allow you to switch between landscape and portrait orientation without moving the camera or tripod.
Zenza Bronica ETRS
Think of the ETRS as the little brother to the RZ67. They boast many of the same features, but the ETRS is considerably smaller and lighter. It works great as a studio camera, but can easily make the transition to on-the-go street-style photography. It comes in a variety of lens configurations, all of which feature leaf shutters. Be careful when buying lenses, as the leaves are prone to jamming up from oils or fungus.
Also known as the “Hasselbladski,” the Kiev 88 is essentially a knock-off Hasselblad 1600 F. The camera was produced in the Arsenal Factory in Kiev, Ukraine, and is an excellent alternative to the more expensive Hasselblads (though some models are believed to have been poorly produced during certain years). The Kiev 88 is also compatible with one of the best fisheye lenses available, the Arsat 30mm f/3.5, which can be found for around $200, making for a rig that’s worth its quirks.
If you’re looking to get into large format studio photography, a Horseman 4×5 is an excellent choice. There’s a host of lenses available (some of the best examples are made by Schneider) that mount onto lens boards sized specifically for your camera. The Horseman 4×5 also allows for the lens to be moved independently of the film back; this means that you can get some really funky planes of focus, which some might know as “tilt shift.” (Yep, before it was a tool on Instagram it was a physical process used to obtain an interesting field of view.)
Vintage Cameras 101
Helpful links and resources for your shiny new old vintage camera.
WHERE TO BUY
1. Do your research. Read this post, where our camera boffin has done the legwork for you. Read other sites. Read forums. Make sure you find some common prices before taking the plunge.
2. Skip the pawn shops. And Craigslist, unless you’re a pro. Which you’re probably not.
3. Film, duh. You’re going to need some film, so make sure you know which one to purchase. Support your local camera shop if you can. If you walk in with an earnest interest in vintage cameras and a desire to shoot on film, they’re going to want to help you.
4. What to look for: Typical problems areas that you’ll want to make sure are working: light meter, shutter, film advance, viewfinder, light seals (though imperfect ones might make for interesting shots), controls, lens.
For a 35mm camera, it doesn’t get much better than the Nikon F2. It features interchangeable viewfinders, so if it breaks, it’s a simple fix. This F2 also works with almost any Nikon lens (we recommend checking compatibility here first) because Nikon has never changed its lens mount. Pair the F2 with a Nikkor 50mm 1.4 lens, and you have a street-photography setup ready to take on cities around the globe.
Rollei 35 S
The Rollei 35 S is, to this day, one of the smallest 35mm cameras on the market. Kitted with a Zeiss Sonnar 40mm 2.8, the tiny viewfinder camera packs a serious punch. It is small enough to easily fit in a pocket, making it easy to transport and great for capturing candid snapshots.
Pentacon Six TL
The Pentacon Six is a German-produced SLR-style camera built to shoot 120 film. It’s modeled after the convenience of 35mm cameras, with a similar layout and function. The TL in its name designates a metered prism viewfinder, though non-metered versions are also available. While the Pentacon Six is quite a bit larger than a standard 35mm camera, it’s still comfortable to wear around your neck.
If the Mamiya 7 II is too far out of your price range, get this. The Fuji GW690II is a rangefinder-style camera, just like the Mamiya, but offers slightly lower-grade optics and a greatly reduced price. It is known as the “Texas Leica” because of its hefty build quality and size. The other thing that the Fuji has going for it over the Mamiya is its massive 6 x 9 negatives. This giant negative size translates to higher-quality images and the ability to print them larger if that’s your jam.
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