It’s been a funny summer for me, camera wise. And yes, I know we’re full on into fall, at least here as I write this in New England, but mentally, I feel connected to summer in my camera-brain. Both of my Hasselblads, my main body and my backup, have been acting up, and I’ve been forced to drill down to shooting just 35mm for the time being. A challenge for sure, but I always contend that the creative spirit thrives under strict parameters, so here’s hoping that stays true.
Shooting my friend David’s Olympus OM-1 has reminded me of the joys of these simple, unadorned 35mm cameras, and if you’re new to film photography, I thought I’d share some of my impressions of a couple “starter” cameras that can make the leap into film photography not only less daunting but also compelling and fun.
I’m quite enamored of this OM-1, a fully mechanical 35mm SLR camera. While it does have a battery to power the light meter, all of the functions are manual and there’s no way to view the settings once you’ve decided on them. Shutter speed and aperture are changed on the lens, not the camera body, but ASA/ISO (If you choose to use the in camera meter) can be changed with a knob on the camera’s body. The light meter, my favorite for rookie film shooters, is center-weighted and revealed by a simple needle in a bubble. Not a lot of futzing around with exposure values.
Perhaps most importantly, this camera just feels good in your hands. It’s compact yet sturdy, and the shutter is satisfying. Things like that are important to me!
For me, as always, simplicity wins out with the OM-1. It feels like a camera. Yes, the knobs and settings may be in a different place from your DSLR, but once you adapt to that change, it’s a pretty intuitive beast. Manual focusing, which is a major issue for me given my less-than-stellar eyesight, feels straightforward and relatively easy. Paired most often with a 50mm 1.8, you’ll have lots of latitude with light to play with, making those first forays into film photography feel relatively pain free,
I will never, never, never not love the Pentax K1000. Much as I’ve fallen for this OM-1, the K1000 was my first love, and you never really get over your first love, right? If the OM-1 is simple, the K1000 takes that simplicity to a whole new level. The dials feel even more basic, the meter even more straightforward.
The K1000 feels even more basic and compact than the OM-1, and while not quite like a toy camera, you can’t help feeling like it comes almost close to being somewhere between real and play as far as cameras go. Again, in my book, the simplicity is the charm. It’s really hard to mess up with these guys. All manual, from focusing to metering, the dials force you to think about your settings and think about your shots. It’s no wonder that this camera was found in in student darkrooms in schools across the country.
If I have one complaint about the K1000, it’s that for me, the focusing can be a bit tricky (curses these old eyes). Between the two, I’ve found the OM-1 slightly easier to focus, but that’s me; your experience may be different. Regardless, the simple dials, the simple metering (a needle in a bubble, like with the OM-1) and the solid compact nature of the camera make it another great choice for someone who’s starting out in film photography.
Whether you’re a digital shooter already or just coming to photography and choosing film as your medium, there’s a lot to be said for simplifying your gear and focusing on other aspects of your craft. Keep the bells and whistles out of it while you really learn the craft. The simpler your camera, the more time you can spend on the important stuff like light and exploring how film reacts to it. Working with a simple framework pushes us creatively, and that’s never a bad thing