Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras, like the Canon AE-1 or Pentax K1000, are some of the most popular film cameras out there. Their simple, familiar operation and classic silhouette make them many photographers’ first choice for a film camera. But SLRs, and 35mm film cameras in general, are getting more expensive as we speak.
As the months and years pass, our little hobby becomes more and more appreciated around the world. It’s a great thing in general, even if some people wish for the return of pricing from 10 years ago. Higher demand and a dwindling supply of working cameras means they will be more expensive.
So how is a new photographer supposed to get into this hobby? Are they expected to pay hundreds of dollars more than people who started shooting just two or three years ago?
Let’s talk about shopping for cheap SLR cameras. What are they? Where can we find them? Why would I want one over a more expensive model? What can I get from Kamerastore for 100$?
By the way, I'll use dollars throughout this article even though we're a European store. Right now, the dollar and Euro are almost the same value, so the cameras will cost virtually the same in Europe as in the US. With that out of the way, let's begin!
Click the video below or keep scrolling for the text version:
What is an SLR?
SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex, and it means any camera with one lens and a mirror inside. This mirror reflects light up from the lens into the eye of the photographer, and it moves out of the way when the shutter is fired.
Usually SLRs will have interchangeable lenses, making them very versatile cameras capable of adapting to different shooting scenarios. SLRs became the dominant camera type in the late 1950s because of this flexibility compared to other camera types. Being able to see directly through whatever lens you were using is a big advantage.
Over the years, many SLRs have been produced by equally many different brands and the SLR silhouette became common knowledge as what a camera looks like. SLRs will have a bump in the middle for the mirror and viewfinder.
With this knowledge, let’s get to work finding a cheap SLR camera.
Where are the Cheap Film Cameras?
Film cameras can be found all over the place. There’s probably a point & shoot hiding in your parents’ house and at least one in a local secondhand store. There are also thousands of them online, at various stores, or on eBay.
You can buy a film camera from your mom’s friend on Facebook Marketplace that “worked last time she used it”, buy one from eBay that’s “Excellent ++++”, or find one in a secondhand store buried underneath speakers and other electronics. The reality is that the vast majority of camera sellers do not test their cameras properly. Many don’t test them at all!
For some, this is an exciting adventure. Will the camera work, or is it broken? If you’re handy, maybe you can figure out what’s wrong and fix it. Or maybe the photos turn out fine and the camera seems to work properly. Color film is very flexible these days, allowing cameras to take usable photos even if they’re not technically working correctly. These issues, though, will only get worse with time, and it can be an expensive guessing game to find a working camera this way.
With the industry the way it is today, finding a reliable source for cameras, lenses, and film you can trust can be difficult, expensive, or both.
Take our store, for example. We offer world-class testing, checking, & repair services with period-appropriate tools and machinery, but our cameras are decidedly more expensive than the market average because of it.
That being said, you can still find SLR camera kits on our site for under 100$ that will take lovely photos and come with the peace of mind that comes from a camera that's really been tested.
When looking for cheap SLRs, there are a few tips I can give you. You can look for third party cameras, consider smaller manufacturers, and/or try an autofocus camera. All of these will allow you to shoot film without paying the “hype tax” people on Instagram keep talking about.
Let’s go through each of these and talk about our options. I’ve even assembled some sample kits to demonstrate what 100$ can get you on Kamerastore.com.
Third Party Cameras
What does third party mean? Well, it means they’re companies that are borrowing technology (in this case, a lens mount) from a larger manufacturer. Companies like Chinon, Cosina, and Vivitar made some excellent cameras using Pentax’s K mount and the M42 universal mount as well.
When they were new, these cameras and lenses were budget alternatives to the bigger brands. Today, they’re.. Well, still budget alternatives to the bigger brands.
While these cameras don’t come with the prestige of owning a Canon, Nikon, or Leica, they’re often quite well-built for their price point with many lenses available. Plus, they can deliver image quality that easily matches the more well-known models. Plus plus, you can always get lenses from the more expensive brands and increase your image quality even further!
To prove it, I took one of my sample kits out to the Helsinki Botanical Gardens with a roll of Kodak Portra 160. Here are some shots.
It’s true, the Chinon CP-7m isn’t the nicest looking camera. I happen to enjoy its chunky 80s aesthetic, but I know I’m in the minority. What everyone can enjoy, though, is its access to all four PSAM modes and different metering modes! This camera packs a lot of features into a plastic body while still giving you control of focus. Plus, the whole kit cost under 100$!
The lenses have minor defects that won’t affect my photos, like small amounts of internal dust or haze. I certainly didn’t notice the effects in the photos, at least.
But okay, big deal. I found one cheap kit and got lucky, right? Well, no. There are plenty of options out there.
Let’s say you’re attached to the classic, manual style of cameras like the Nikon F3 or Pentax K1000. You want to pull that manual advance lever and calculate exposure on your own, with tangible dials. Can we find a camera like that for under 100$?
Yes! Allow me to introduce the Vivitar XV-1 with a Ricoh 50mm f2.2 Riconar. This body cost 59$ and pairs well with the 39$ Ricoh lens. Again, this Ricoh lens has minor internal dust, but nothing that you’ll notice in photos.
This camera is fully manual and mechanical, meaning it only needs batteries to power the light meter. It takes a bit of practice to be able to take photos in manual mode because the photographer needs to select both shutter speed and aperture on top of focusing.
That being said, even at this slightly more advanced level you can find a usable camera for cheap! Third party cameras and lenses can provide classic style and handling as well as excellent image quality for under 100$. They are, and have always been, great alternatives to expensive and popular cameras from larger manufacturers.
What’s the difference between smaller manufacturers and third party manufacturers? In this context third party manufacturers use someone else’s lens mount and create cameras/lenses for it. This allows the cameras use of tons of different lenses and keeps things flexible.
Smaller manufacturers, though, have their own lens mounts. Often, finding third party lenses can be more difficult because the systems are smaller. Back in the day, third party companies would make lenses for the biggest, most popular systems only. Canon, Nikon, and Pentax received tons of support, while owners of Konica and Yashica cameras were left with their first-party lenses.
This isn’t a bad thing, as many of those companies made excellent lenses, but it means there aren’t as many lenses and bodies available for a given system. Just something to make note of!
Speaking of Konica and Yashica, each of them contributed a camera to our sub-100$ collection! Both of these should scratch the “classic camera” itch without breaking the bank, and could be great options for beginner film photographers.
The Konica Autoreflex TC is one of the last mechanical SLRs Konica made, so it will work entirely without batteries. Although this one has a light meter that’s slightly off, that’s easy to compensate for and won’t affect images very much. This camera also has shutter priority auto exposure, meaning it can pick an aperture for you based on your chosen shutter speed! All for 69$!
The lens is a bit of a compromise here, to be honest. We had a number of great Konica lenses around the 35-50$ mark, but that would put us over 100$ and eliminate the TC from this article! Instead, I found a 29$ Konica 52mm f1.8 with some minor scratching. Not something that will show up in photos, but something that will lower the price. It’s an older model, so it may be a bit soft or lacking contrast, but it will have that vintage look that you’re looking for when shooting film!
Another great option is the Yashica FR-II (59$). The frame counter in this particular camera doesn’t work, but that’s far from a dealbreaker. Otherwise, it works well and oozes classic charm. Finding a silver metal SLR that works properly at this price point is possible if you know where to look!
For the lens, again if we had about 10$ more we could have had a 50mm standard lens. Instead, though, we have a 42-75mm f3.5-4.5. This is a standard zoom lens with a relatively fast aperture that will cover most general photography and give you great images!
This would be a great kit for an entry level photographer because it works in aperture priority mode. This means you select the aperture and the camera picks a shutter speed for you. Because it allows you to control depth of field, aperture is normally more important than shutter speed for creative decisions. This makes aperture priority generally preferable to shutter priority, and helps make this Yashica FRII a great option!
I will say that in the Contax/Yashica mount we had some cheaper 50mm options, but they were much older and single-coated lenses. I decided to go with the newer, multi-coated 42-75mm lens because I think it would suit a new photographer better. Usually I would recommend the standard 50mm lens to beginners, though. That’s the lens that would come with the camera if you bought it new!
Smaller manufacturers have some quirks of their own, but can deliver high build quality and unique features that the bigger companies didn’t try. Plus, their smaller names help their cameras stay under the radar. They’re perfect for people trying film photography for the first time, or for those looking for a good deal on a cheap film SLR.
As bizarre as it sounds, adding autofocus actually makes the price of a camera go down. Cameras with autofocus tend to have laundry lists of features that dwarf anything I’ve mentioned above.
While the Yashica FRII had aperture priority auto exposure and the Chinon CP-7m had multiple program modes, something like the Minolta Dynax 505si makes them look like stone age tools. Autofocus, automatic advance, LED focus confirmation, burst mode, matrix metering, and more are packed into this lightweight plastic camera.
The craziest part? The Minolta Dynax 505si costs 20$. Other Dynax cameras are priced similarly low, to the point that we can easily get two lenses in our under-100$ kit. The 35-80mm lens cost 29$ and the 100-200mm f4.5 cost 45$. That’s 94$ for a film camera and lenses covering everything from 35mm to 200mm! Anything beyond that is either niche wide angle or telephoto work!
Of course, there are some reasons why you wouldn’t want a Minolta Dynax, or any other autofocus camera for that matter. For some people, these cameras are too modern. What’s the point of going retro to shoot film if you’re going to use a camera from 2004?
I get that. It’s a valid point. But for people who don’t have photography experience before becoming a film photographer, an autofocus camera can save you time and again with its smart metering and modern technologies. It can also save your wallet!
In the autofocus world, your options really open up. You can go for bigger brands like Canon or Nikon and even use modern lenses on them! If you’re a digital photographer shooting on Canon EF or Nikon F DSLRs, these film bodies are incredibly cheap and will handle almost the same as your current camera! Why not try?
Take this Nikon F55, for example. It can use lenses made all the way until 2000. Other cheap Nikon SLRs can use lenses made today! It has all the modes you could ask for and handling that’s more or less exactly the same as a modern DSLR. How much is it? 49$.
Add in the cost of the excellent 35-70mm f3.3-4.5 (35$) and we’re at 84$! You could go get coffee twice, or buy avocado toast or something. Ha ha, millennial joke. But really, it’s hard to not see the value of these plastic fantastics.
We have one more for you! It’s a Pentax SF-10 (39$) with a Tamron 35-90mm f4-5.6 (40$). This kit will cover all kinds of general photography for under 100$! If you can get over its large size and chunky appearance, the SF-10 was a high-end camera in its day and can give you great photos!
Autofocus cameras, although they may not be as stylish as older models, have incredible features and are easy to use. They’re also drastically cheaper than older, metal, manual cameras. For a new photographer or someone looking for a cheap film SLR, looking at autofocus options should be a no-brainer.
Thoughts / Conclusions
I’ve mentioned a lot of cameras in this piece. I’ve named prices and built kits with specific items from Kamerastore.com. I want it to be clear that the point was not to recommend these specific models and say they’re the best deals. These are merely examples and suggestions of different ways to spend your money.
The truth is that there are many sub-100$ options under each of these archetypes if you know what to look for. By scouring different brand pages and doing research, you can get past the most popular models and find the excellent deals still waiting for you in film photography.
As the industry grows, cameras like these may no longer be under 100$. Even today, I was close to going overbudget with almost every kit I made. In most situations, I’d probably recommend spending a little bit more to get a nicer lens as well.
So one takeaway here is that if you want to get into 35mm SLR photography and you want a camera you can trust, you should expect to spend at least 100$.
If this is too much money, there are other camera types out there, like point & shoots, that range in price and have built-in lenses. SLRs give you a lot more flexibility and creative control, so that’s why we’ve been talking about them here. You can also take your chances with untested cameras, although you can easily spend more than 100$ trying to find a camera that works properly. Buyer beware, as they say.
At the end of the day, not everyone needs a Nikon FM2 or Pentax K1000. Even though your favorite YouTuber may use a Canon A-1, your photos will still look great coming out of a Chinon CP-7m if you find beautiful things and learn how photography works.
Your camera won’t make your photos better, but using a camera will. We’re proud here to offer world-leading testing, checking, and repair protocols to all our cameras, regardless of price. We work day in and day out to make sure you know exactly what’s going on with your Chinon in the same way we do with Nikons and Leicas.
We’re also proud to say, though, that this doesn’t mean you can’t find an affordable camera on our site. As we’ve shown, there are tons of options out there if you know where to look. So get looking, and feel free to send us a message if you want some help! That’s what we’re here for!