Top 10 35mm SLRs for 2022

Top 10 35mm SLRs for 2022

Introduction

As 2022 approaches, we’ve been taking some time to look back over the past year. While it was a chaotic time for everyone, the film community saw impressive growth. More and more people are picking up old cameras, and more and more people are recognizing the need to keep these lovely machines in working order. That’s where we come in!

We have access to unique data regarding google searches, advertisement results, and other data sources that give us a rough estimate of how much people search for a specific model. We’ve crunched the numbers and are proud to present a number of Top 10 lists for you to ring in 2022!

I mention this so that it’s clear that this list is not the opinion of Kamerastore. It’s an amalgamation of data driven almost entirely by customers and film lovers like you! If a camera you love isn’t on the list, then spread the word and get it higher in search results! Or don’t, and enjoy a hidden gem. Up to you!

Let’s start with what was probably the first camera for many; a 35mm SLR. 35mm SLRs have been the dominant camera type since the late 1950s and are recognizable as “old cameras” by the majority of the population. We even use one for our logo!

Watch the video below, or keep scrolling to see the text version!

10. Canon FTb

  • Canon FD Mount
  • Shutter: 1s - 1/1000s + B
  • ISO range: 25 - 2000
  • Released in 1971.
  • Fully mechanical operation, PX625 mercury battery required only for light meter.
  • Allowed open-aperture metering with FD lenses and stop-down metering with FL lenses.

It’s a bit of a surprise to see the FTb on the list. It’s a solid, robust, reliable camera from the early 70s that doesn’t require a battery to operate the shutter. That’s lucky, since it requires an outdated mercury battery that is no longer available. 

Some of the FT & FTb models include Canon’s ingenious Quick Loading (QL) system. You can tell them apart by a QL badge on the front. This system makes loading much simpler, especially for new shooters.

If I could hazard a guess as to why this camera is on the list, it’s because people are searching for other Canon SLRs and are turned off by the price or battery dependence. The FTb is entirely mechanical and decidedly entry level in terms of price, so it’s an appealing alternative to other cameras on this list.

Alternatives: Konica Autoreflex T, Pentax KX, Nikon Nikkormat FTN, Minolta SR-T 101

9. Olympus OM-1

  • Olympus OM mount
  • Shutter: 1s - 1/1000s + B
  • ISO range: 25 - 1600
  • Released in 1972.
  • Fully mechanical operation, PX625 mercury battery required only for light meter.
  • Introduced the OM mount and made Olympus a major SLR player.

A personal favorite of mine, the OM-1 revolutionized the SLR market when it released in 1972. Since the release of the Nikon F 13 years before it, SLRs had been big, bulky things that many people couldn’t be asked to carry around. While Olympus had succeeded in capturing this market with cameras like the PEN series and Trip 35 during the 1960s, the company knew there was a missed opportunity here.

Enter Yoshihisa Maitani, famed designer of the Olympus PEN. With the same skill and creativity he demonstrated throughout his career, Maitani and his team crafted an SLR with the same capabilities as the professional offerings of the time at a much smaller size.

That’s the main draw of the Olympus OM-1. It’s small, mechanical, and built as well as anything from Canon or Nikon at the time. The design was so good, in fact, that all pro-grade OM SLRs basically used the same shell. 

Alternatives: Pentax MX, Nikon FM

 

8. Nikon FE2

  • Nikon F mount
  • Shutter: 8s - 1/4000s + B
  • ISO range: 12 - 4000
  • Released in 1983.
  • 2x LR44 battery required for shutter/light meter. Only 1/250s available without battery.
  • Increased maximum shutter speed and introduced a then-world-leading 1/250s flash sync speed.

The Nikon FE2 is one of Nikon’s  second generation of compact, pro-sumer level cameras, along with the FM2. The FE2 is electronically-controlled, requiring a battery for access to most shutter speeds and the light meter. This battery control allows the camera to use aperture-priority auto exposure, a welcome feature for photographers of all skill levels.

The FM2 and FE2 introduced an advanced shutter that could sync with a flash at 1/250s, which was incredibly impressive at the time. Most SLRs could only sync at around 1/60s or 1/90s.

The FE2 is on the list likely for its position as the FM2’s little brother. Many people likely search for the wildly-popular FM2 and, upon discovering the prices, find themselves looking at FE2s. Objectively speaking, the FE2 is a more capable camera by far.

Alternatives: Olympus OM-2, Pentax ME Super, Minolta XD-7, Minolta X-500

7. Nikon F2

  • Nikon F mount
  • Shutter:  1s - 1/2000s + B
  • ISO range: 6 - 6400
  • Released in 1971.
  • Fully mechanical operation, 2x LR44 battery required only for light meter.
  • Improved upon the formula of the revolutionary F and cemented Nikon as the professional’s SLR choice.

To many, the Nikon F2 is the pinnacle of mechanical SLR design. It’s a professional camera by any metric, with excellent build quality and access to a truly massive system of accessories, prisms, focusing screens, and lenses. 

The F2 earned its reputation as the professional’s choice by being put through its paces in numerous wars and conflicts during the 1970s. Images of war photographers with 3 Nikon F2s strapped to their backs furthered the legend of Nikon F cameras being robust, well-built, and reliable.

It improved upon the F’s design by moving the shutter button to a more sensible forward position, rounding off some sharp edges, and improving the fastest shutter speed to 1/2000s. There were also many smaller changes, such as improving the mirror lock-up function for long exposures.

Alternatives: Canon F-1, Minolta XK

6. Nikon F

  • Nikon F mount
  • Shutter: 1s - 1/1000s + B
  • ISO range: 6 - 6400
  • Released in 1959.
  • Fully mechanical operation, PX625 battery required only for light meter.
  • Made SLRs the dominant camera type, overtaking rangefinders.

The F is an iconic camera that deserves to be on any list of important 35mm SLRs, but it’s impossible to ignore that the camera shares a name with the lens mount. Anyone looking for Nikon F lenses or accessories will unknowingly contribute to the F being on the list.

That being said, the Nikon F is one of the most important, if not THE most important SLR ever made. While companies like Pentax, Exakta, and Contax had been making SLRs for decades before it, none had been able to wrestle control of the professional market away from rangefinders.

That is, until the F. Only 6 years after the Leica M3 turned the rangefinder world on its head, the Nikon F pulled the rug out from under it and became the dominant professional camera.

The F wasn’t the most innovative camera on its own, it managed to combine the popular features of SLRs to create an excellent package. It also had an ergonomic design and a suite of excellent Nikkor lenses to go with it.

As an interesting side story, Nikon built the F, and toppled rangefinder supremacy, on the same platform as their SP rangefinder. Pretty neat.

Alternatives: Topcon RE Super, Miranda F

5. Canon A-1

  • Canon FD mount
  • Shutter: 30s - 1/1000s + B
  • ISO range: 6 - 12800
  • Released in 1978
  • 4SR44 battery required for all shutter speeds and light meter control.
  • First SLR to feature fully programmed auto-exposure.

The A-1 is a bit of a surprise to make the list as well. It has always lived in the shadow of the much more popular AE-1 Program, but the AE-1P can thank the A-1 for introducing its main feature: programmed auto-exposure.

Before the A-1, no 35mm SLR could select both shutter speed and aperture for the photographer. Others, like the Minolta XD-7, could be used in either shutter or aperture priority modes, the user still had to pick one setting.

Then the Canon A-1 came, and programmed SLR exposure became a reality. The photographer could simply focus and fire, and the camera would select an appropriate shutter speed and aperture for the scene. 

In its time, this pro-sumer Canon never saw massive sales numbers. It took until the AE-1 Program for this technology to reach the mainstream, at which point it exploded in popularity. The A-1 has regained some popularity with online influencers who recognized that it’s a more capable camera than its more-popular, and often more expensive, cousin.

Alternatives: Minolta X-700, Nikon FA, Minolta XD-7, Nikon FG

4. Pentax K1000

  • Pentax K mount
  • Shutter: 1s - 1/1000s + B
  • ISO range: 20 - 3200
  • Released in 1976
  • Fully mechanical operation, LR44 battery required only for light meter.
  • Iconic student camera produced for multiple decades.

The Pentax K1000 is an easy choice for this list simply for its longevity. Pentax recognized the simplicity of the K1000’s production and decided to keep it going for over 20 years (1976 - 1997). During this time they made over 3 million copies and marketed the K1000 to students and people looking to learn photography.

Due to availability and marketing, the K1000 was many people’s first camera. It’s a simple camera that offers everything a new photographer needs and nothing they don’t. The K1000 comes with fully manual exposure, a microprism for focusing, and a match-needle exposure system.

Even today, the K1000 is a great choice for new photographers and people looking to learn the rules of exposure. The wide availability of spare K1000 bodies means repair is possible, and the plethora of K mount lenses means there are many creative options for the K1000 photographer.

Alternatives: Canon FTb, Minolta SR-T 101, Nikon Nikkormat FTn, Pentax Spotmatic ESII

3. Nikon FM2

  • Nikon F mount
  • Shutter: 1s - 1/4000s + B
  • ISO range: 12 - 6400
  • Released in 1982
  • Fully mechanical operation, 2x LR44 battery required only for light meter.
  • Had the fastest mechanical shutter of any 35mm SLR at the time of release.

The Nikon FM2 is a pro-sumer grade mechanical SLR released by Nikon after selling their compact FM for 5 years. It improved on the FM mainly with the introduction of a Nikon-designed shutter that was capable of 1/4000s max speed. This was the fastest shutter of the time, even including professional cameras.

Other than the shutter, the FM2 also introduced a class-leading flash sync speed of 1/250s. The FM2 was sold until 2001 when it was supplanted by the ultra-niche FM3a. Its high quality design and mechanical build have led it to be one of the best received SLRs over time, even if it didn’t sell as well as others when it was released.

The modern shooter may even appreciate the FM2 more than the public at the time, since the modern film community values build quality, reliability, and mechanical (battery-less) operation. In the early 1980s, battery-powered SLRs with advanced electronic modes (like the Canon A-1 from earlier) were the norm, so Nikon’s fully mechanical FM2 wasn’t as popular as some other models despite being a remarkable technical achievement.

Alternatives: Olympus OM-1, Pentax MX, Nikon FE2

2. Nikon F3

  • Nikon F mount
  • Shutter: 8s - 1/2000s
  • ISO range: 12 - 6400
  • Released in 1980
  • 2x LR44 battery required for all shutter speeds and light meter control. 1/80s emergency shutter release.
  • First Nikon professional camera to be battery-dependent, featured aperture-priority auto exposure.

The Nikon F3 was the successor to the F2 we saw earlier, which many people would describe as the best mechanical 35mm SLR of all time. So how did Nikon follow up this masterpiece? With an electronic SLR, of course!

Despite some hesitance in the beginning, professionals who adopted the F3 quickly realized just how incredible a camera it was. Its shutter is just as reliable as the mechanical Fs, and its build quality has only improved over previous models.

With a full suite of focusing screens, accessories, prisms, etc., the F3 is a true system camera able to be tailored to any kind of shooting. Its aperture-priority auto exposure made it a bit faster to fire in some situations than a fully-manual camera.

It’s also more widely available than a lot of other professional offerings and bridges the gap between older mechanical cameras and newer, plasticky autofocus ones. For many, this Nikon is the ideal blend of features, technology, and handling.

Arguably only the #1 entry on this list better combines the features of both eras.

Alternatives: Pentax LX, Olympus OM-4, Canon New F-1, Minolta XD-7, Nikon F4

1. Canon AE-1 (Program)

  • Canon FD mount
  • Shutter: 2s - 1/1000s
  • ISO range: 25 - 3200
  • Released in 1981
  • 4LR44 battery required for all shutter speeds and light meter control.
  • First consumer 35mm SLR to feature fully programmed exposure. First 35mm SLR to feature a microprocessor for exposure calculation.

It wouldn’t be a list of 35mm SLRs without mentioning the Canon AE-1 & AE-1 Program. The AE-1 Program released 5 years after the original AE-1 and added fully-programmed exposure. This means that the AE-1P can fire in manual, program, and shutter priority modes.

The original AE-1, released in 1976, was the first 35mm SLR to feature a microprocessor for calculating exposure. It also had a low price point and intense marketing campaign which led to it selling 5.7 million units. To this day, it’s one of the best selling 35mm SLRs of all time.

For its part, the Canon AE-1 Program brought fully-programmed exposure to the masses. By taking away the need to know the rules of exposure, the AE-1 Program allowed anyone to get into photography and take SLR quality photos. Because of this, many people had their first “real camera” experience with an AE-1 Program.

We list these two cameras together because it’s impossible to separate search results. People searching for Canon AE-1 Programs will inevitably see AE-1 cameras, and vice versa. While this contributes to it being #1 on the list, the AE-1/AE-1P have done enough on their own to take the top spot without this caveat.

Today, the AE-1 & AE-1P are widely recognized as one of the most plentiful and iconic 35mm SLRs out there, and are commonly recommended to beginners. 

Alternatives: Nikon FG, Pentax ME Super, Minolta X-500, Olympus OM-40

Thoughts/Alternatives

Looking at the list, it's clear that the era of "classic SLRs" lasted from around 1960 to around 1980, with a bit of a high point in the 1970s. This makes sense, basically spanning the time between the release of the Nikon F and the invention of autofocus.

While they may not be as popular, I'd be remissed if I didn't recommend some later models too. These models can include autofocus, super-advanced technology, and lightweight construction. perhaps most importantly, though, they can often be found for a lower price.

I did include some alternatives in the list above, but tried to keep the functions/era of the cameras roughly the same. Now I'd like to take the time to discuss some general SLR alternatives and cameras I think deserve more attention.

1. Minolta Dynax 5/7/9

This goes for almost all Minolta Dynax bodies (and most AF SLRs in general), but the 5, 7, and 9 specifically are excellent choices. These are the final generation of Minolta's autofocus SLR line, and the final line of film cameras using the Minolta AF / Sony A mount.

Minolta's 7000 AF was the first consumer-oriented, mass-produced autofocus SLR, but Minolta's AF mount did not see much success. While they pioneered the technology, Canon's all-electronic EF mount (released in 1987) proved the superior technology and other manufacturers were not far behind.

While Minolta made excellent strides with flash technology, their AF cameras never captured the magic of earlier cameras like the X-700 or SR-T 101. That is, until the release of the 9.

With their backs against the wall, Minolta pulled out all the stops to release an excellent line of cameras headlined by the pro-spec 9. The Dynax 9 features a world-beating mechanical shutter speed of 1/12000s. To this day, no other SLR can match that.

Aside from the shutter, the Dynax 9 had incredible build quality, intelligent metering, and a plethora of other features befitting of a professional camera.

Dynax cameras (and lenses) can be found extremely cheaply and will not let you down. Grab one today before even the AF cameras start going up in price!

2. Nikon FG

I mentioned the FG under a few cameras from the list, but wanted to give it some space to shine. This 1983-released Nikon camera is essentially their equivalent of the Canon AE-1 Program, with aperture-priority and fully-programmed auto exposure. And yet, it receives very little love online.

People say it's plasticky, but the AE-1/AE-1P are also made of plastic. Maybe the build quality doesn't match the excellent FM2, but neither does the price. The feature-list alone makes the FG more capable than the FM2 and FE2, and yet the price is significantly lower.

The FG might not be the most exciting camera out there, but it's a great choice for new photographers or those looking for a lightweight Nikon body. Just pair it with a Series E 50mm and you have a near-pocketable kit!

3. Canon EOS 300V

The EOS 300V is one of the smallest, if not THE smallest AF SLR ever made. With a subtle and creative grip, it fits the hands much better than bigger cameras and still has room for a huge and useful LCD screen on the back.

One of the big advantages of a newer SLR over a vintage one is lighter weight, and the 300V takes this to a logical extreme by just being so small!

The 300V is one of the more popular Canon EOS cameras for this exact reason. Paired with the 40mm f2.8 STM lens it's an excellent, tiny kit.

4. Topcon RE Super

The Topcon RE Super is not common, old, and not cheap (if you can find one in working order). For a time, though, Topcon rivaled only Nikon in terms of reliability and build quality.

The RE Super checks off all the boxes of the original F and is arguably even more flexible. With the Topcon/Exakta mount, it's able to use lenses made back into the 1930s.

Just like the F, this camera featured professional build quality, access to a variety of interchangeable prisms, focusing screens, and accessories, and could do open-aperture TTL metering. At the time very few cameras could claim this list of features.

The RE Super impressed so much that the United States Navy actually chose it over the Nikon as their 35mm SLR of choice.

Conclusions

The field of 35mm SLRs is crowded with popular, iconic options. They were the dominant form of camera for over 50 years, so there were bound to be some standout options.

This list highlights some of the most popular models as chosen by you all, but there's always room for hidden gems to sneak through the cracks. There are a few alternatives here, but many more exist.

If you're looking for a first camera, you don't need to pick one of the top 10. Any working SLR will serve you well and teach you the basics of photography.

If you're still searching, check out our film camera collection to see all the cameras we have in stock!

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