2020 has been an interesting year, to say the least. With the world in near-constant flux for months, we’d like to take a moment at the precipice of 2021 to explore our industry and talk about the models people mention as the best film cameras.
We’ve been producing Top 10 videos and articles for certain brands over the past few months with Nico from Nico’s Photography Show. We created these lists of the best film cameras using over 10 million Google search results to determine how often people are searching for specific camera models.
We cross-referenced with Google Trends and used common sense to make the lists readable and understandable. "Canon AE-1" and "Canon AE1", for example, are the same camera but two different search results. So we've cleaned things up a bit.
These numbers give us an insight into which cameras people are interested in. Of course, there's no way to accurately define the "best film cameras". That's subjective, and the best tool for the job is going to depend on who's shooting, and what they're shooting with it.
While there is imperfection in any dataset, we think it’s worthwhile to examine search results from our advertising campaigns in an effort to keep tabs on the analog community’s interests. And for fun purposes, too.
With that in mind, let’s talk about what your search history says are the best film cameras and brands, as well as the data behind that claim.
Canon’s list was dominated by FD mount SLRs, but that’s not much of a story. Canon’s prevalence in this time is unquestionable, and cameras like the AE-1 were best-sellers for multiple years. What is surprising is how dominant one particular body was.
The difference between the #1 camera and the rest of the pack was far larger in the Canon list than any other list we have, so the top camera really outperformed all the others. For more information, check out our articles on the Canon FD system and the Canon EF system.
Biggest Surprise: Canon T70
The T70 is a surprise because of how bare-bones it is. This FD mount 35mm SLR has no creative controls at all, instead relying on full program auto exposure and automated advance/rewinding. It loses a lot of the “feel” of a vintage SLR that many people seem to love.
I suppose, though, that the shooting experience is easy and simple, almost like a point & shoot with much, much better lenses.
Sleeper: Canon EOS-1N
It’s a bit ironic to describe Canon’s flagship EF camera as a sleeper, but considering the feature:price ratio here it’s hard not to. The EOS-1N is far and away the most capable camera on the Canon list, yet it rounds out the bottom.
Is it because it looks like a digital camera? Is it because of its name being similar to a few other cameras? Who knows, but the EOS-1N, and other professional SLRs of the time, are fantastic deals if you’re looking for a film camera that can handle any situation.
Notable Omission: Canon EF
The EF was never going to make this list. It’s a shame that Canon decided to name their autofocus lens mount the same as this pro-sumer mechanical/electronic 35mm SLR. We’ve been singing the EF’s praises on Instagram for months, but it still retains a relative amount of anonymity because of that name.
The EF deserves attention, though. Its dual electronic/mechanical shutter is quite cool and technically impressive. It’s a bit like the Nikon FA, with some high-end technology that wasn’t appreciated at the time. It deserves to show up on lists of the best film cameras.
See the full list here: TOP 10 CANON FILM CAMERAS OF 2020
Pentax’s versatility in SLR design is on display, with multiple film formats and SLR styles being represented in their list. Unlike Canon, however, Pentax’s list was the closest we had. The #2 camera on the Pentax list was over 3x closer to the #1 camera than the same two on Canon’s list.
It’s clear, looking at Pentax’s list, where their specialties lied. Despite a variety of formats and designs, the Pentax list of best film cameras is almost entirely dominated by SLRs. Pentax did make other cameras, but they didn’t make the same impact as SLR cameras like the K1000 and Spotmatic.
Click here to read our overview of SLR cameras. You can learn some history and fun facts!
Biggest Surprise: Pentax Auto 110
The Pentax Auto 110 is a curious camera indeed. There were other SLRs made for Kodak’s diminutive 110 format, but no others offered interchangeable, multi-coated lenses. Minolta’s 110 Zoom is probably the only other camera in this format that offers the same capabilities.
The Auto 110, though, is about half the size. And it has prime lenses. Hard to argue with that. Still, though, the obscurity of the 110 format makes this middling pick surprising.
Sleeper: Pentax P30
The P30 is relatively high on the list, but it still doesn’t receive as much adulation as other Pentax SLRs. Objectively speaking, the P30 is a better camera than the K1000, any of the Spotmatics, and even the ME or ME Super. If we're thinking objectively, the camera deserves to be higher on a list of the best film cameras.
It’s lighter due to its plastic design, and has access to fully programmed auto exposure, which is much nicer than a match-needle. If you don’t mind losing the clout that comes with a big, heavy, metal SLR, the P30 comes at a nice price while still retaining much of the handling of more “classic” cameras.
Notable Omission: Pentax MX
The MX is many peoples’ personal favorite Pentax. Coming from the M line, the MX shares a body with the ME and ME Super, two cameras that did very well on our list. That being said, the MX is a very different camera than these two.
It’s fully mechanical, and offers no aperture priority auto exposure. Some people may prefer the simplicity of auto exposure, but if you want a truly compact SLR with full manual capabilities, it’s between the Pentax MX and the Olympus OM-1. The MX is smaller, though.
See the full list here: TOP 10 PENTAX FILM CAMERAS OF 2020
The Red Dot receives quite a lot of attention from the community, and its cameras grow more popular by the day as new people begin shooting. Eventually, these people want to shoot to the top of the “best film cameras” list. Leica will be there waiting for them.
While they may not be for everyone, it’s hard to argue that the Leica is the best tool for the job in certain situations. The Leica list was predictably very close. As I wrote in the article, Leica cameras can be very similar, only having different viewfinders, rewind knobs, etc. .
This difference, or lack thereof, is most apparent when comparing the M cameras that make up the majority of this list. These cameras are purpose-built, and the different variations of the M camera make it possible to find exactly the Leica you’re looking for. That’s why the top 5 of this list all ranked pretty similarly.
Biggest Surprise: Leica IIIa
The Leica IIIa is a great camera, there’s no doubt. It’s compact, built well, and offers a unique, slow-paced shooting experience that’s hard to replicate. Plus, the rangefinders are surprisingly usable considering they’re separate from the viewfinder.
The reason why the IIIa’s inclusion on the list is surprising is the abundance of other Leica III models. The IIIa is one of the earliest variations, and the iterative design process of the Barnack Leicas means that newer models are normally better. To have a specific, earlier model rank on the list is a bit out of left field.
Sleeper: Leica M7
Putting “sleeper” next to a Leica M feels wrong, but I think the M7 deserves a bit more affection. Being the only Leica M to offer auto exposure is no small feat considering how slowly Leica has tended to embrace new technology.
Yes, it’s comparatively annoying that the M7 isn’t mechanical, but being able to trust the camera for proper exposure undoubtedly speeds up the photographic process. No matter how effective you are at metering by eye, it’s nice to have a camera that can do it for you sometimes.
Notable Omission: Leica M5
The M5 is, without question, the black sheep of the Leica family. It’s the M body that strays the furthest from the original design, and features aesthetics that are.. Polarizing, to say the least. Although recent years have seen the M5 become a cult favorite, there’s an argument to be made that it almost bankrupted the Red Dot.
Of course, it’s more complicated than that. The compact, feature-laden, and inexpensive CL was siphoning sales away from the normal M bodies, not to mention SLRs like the Nikon F2, which released the same year as the M5. Sure, the M5 was not a commercial success, but there were other factors that drove Leica to abandon their hand-assembled early M bodies and move to Canada.
See the full list: TOP 10 LEICA FILM CAMERAS OF 2020
The Olympus list is probably the most varied, with rangefinders, SLRs, and point & shoots all having good representation. Olympus has achieved a bit of cult status as a brand, and it seems that, for at least a few decades, they really made only good cameras.
While they may not have had the massive success of other manufacturers, the impact of Olympus’ designs on the camera community cannot be understated. From the compact OM-1 to the clamshell-ed XA, Olympus set the design standard in the post-Nikon F 60s and 70s. Check out our article on the OM system for more information.
In terms of data, Olympus had two cameras that really stuck out, but one stood quite tall above the rest. Some Olympus cameras have achieved cult status, but only one has truly become a phenomenon.
Biggest Surprise: Olympus Trip 35
There’s no denying that the Trip 35 is a good camera. If you can find one with a working selenium cell, it’s honestly impressive how the Trip is able to create good exposures in most situations. The camera only has 2 shutter speeds!
What’s surprising is how high the Trip 35 was on the list. While it’s a good camera, with a nice lens and simple design, it ranks above much more capable alternatives. It’s hard to say why or how the Trip 35 was so highly searched. Olympus did sell 10 million of them, so maybe they’re just super common in some parts of the world.
Sleeper: Olympus AF-1 Super / Infinity
The world of compact, flash-enabled, clamshell-clad, prime-lens-equipped Olympus point & shoots is surprisingly well-populated. Cult classics like the XA and Mju series dominate public opinion, leaving cameras like the Olympus AF-1 to sit a bit lower in price despite offering just as much.
While it’s not as compact as the original Mju, the AF-1 offers the same weather-sealing that makes the Mju-II an “all weather” camera. It also has that 35mm f2.8 lens that seems to be the hottest thing in film photography right now. It’s basically a chunkier Mju-II.
Notable Omission: Olympus PEN F
I was shocked to see that the PEN F did not make an appearance on the list. No PEN camera made enough of an impact to be featured. Is it because of the niche nature of half-frame cameras? That’s the only explanation I can think of.
For starters, the PEN F is one of the most beautiful cameras ever designed. The entire PEN line is outstanding, but the F’s uneven leatherette and direct lines really make it stand out. It also stands out by being the only half frame SLR aside from the plasticky, obtuse Yashica Samurai.
Where the Samurai is chunky and large to accommodate its SLR design, the Olympus is refined and creative with its application of a mirror. By housing the mirror sideways, the PEN F is able to maintain its sleek, compact design without sacrificing anything at all. The PEN F undoubtedly would make any list of the best film cameras.
See the full list: TOP 10 OLYMPUS FILM CAMERAS OF 2020
Nikon’s reputation for creating reliable, simple, well-designed cameras is one earned over decades. Their F line, and lens mount, changed the entire camera world by making SLRs the dominant form of professional photography. From the original F to the FM3a, Nikon has made some of the best film cameras in history.
You can read our article on the Nikon F system for more information.
Nikon’s perfection of the film SLR has led them to a similar situation as Leica, where the differences between models grow less and less dramatic. Patterns start to emerge in a Nikon-centric list of the best film cameras. There is no one winner.
Instead, finding the right Nikon requires introspection, and a careful assessment of needs. Thus, Nikon’s search results were quite close as well. The top 5 or 6 cameras all received quite a large number of searches.
Biggest Surprise: Nikon F50
The F50 is a strange entry to the list. There are many plasticky Nikon consumer cameras, but the F50 was decidedly consumer-oriented. It has a slightly-frustrating button layout that does not inspire confidence in manual settings.
There’s literally a switch labeled “simple/advanced” on the camera that switches between standard PSAM and biased program modes with picture icons. But none of this is too surprising, Nikon made SLRs for everyone. It’s why this one specifically showed up above all others.
The F50 is overall an unremarkable camera when compared to its peers, although its featureset still dwarfs even the most expensive cameras from a decade before.
Sleeper: Nikon FG
Think Canon AE-1 Program, but with Nikon lenses. That’s the FG. Nikon was a bit late to get into the advanced-electronic compact SLR market, but the FG is as full-featured as any of its contemporaries, like the AE-1 P, Pentax ME Super, or Olympus OM-2.
If anything, the FG had too many features for its intended audience, and the FG-20 that succeeded it took away quite a few things in order to cut costs down. So if you can, find an FG rather than an FG-20, as it will be a more versatile camera.
Having full program in an SLR that small is a blessing, basically turning it into a point & shoot with incredible lenses.
Notable Omission: Nikon FA
I feel like we don’t shut up about the FA. For many people, it’s the pinnacle of manual focus SLR design and technology. This pro-sumer model is overshadowed by the F3 it released alongside, but featured a more advanced shutter and metering system.
Giving up interchangeable prisms for matrix metering is a price worth paying, especially when you consider the prevalence of evaluative metering. The FA pioneered this, and receives very little affection for it. Unfortunately, that tends to be the fate of innovators, whether they deserve it or not.
See the full list: TOP 10 NIKON FILM CAMERAS OF 2020
The analog community grew substantially in 2020 despite coronavirus and its restrictions dampening our spirits. It was a chance for reflection and creativity that many people seized. We’re lucky to be able to facilitate that creativity by providing reliable, trustworthy photographic tools.
It’s clear that certain models from each brand have gained cult status among the community. These models shot above the rest in our search results, and have the top spots on the lists above. I’d like to take a second to reiterate that, for certain brands, the top spot truly dominated all others.
For brands like Canon and Olympus, despite their well-rounded portfolio of cameras, the top camera was about five times as likely to be searched as the second most popular option. With brands like Leica and Nikon, however, the numbers get a lot closer. Pentax sat sort of in the middle, with the top camera being searched about 2.5-3x as often as the next models.
So what does this say about the community? Well, that word of mouth is a strong influence. When a photographer you trust says a camera is fantastic, and shows you great photos taken with it, you’re bound to have a higher opinion of that camera.
In this age of Instagram and YouTube, one influencer championing a camera can be enough to make it a cult classic.
But that sword has two edges, and some models receive less attention than they deserve. With the community so focused on a few models, prices remain low on others. There are still bargains to be found in film cameras, and that’s unlikely to change.
Even with prices rising across the board, it’s important to remember that professional cameras like the Nikon F2 and Canon F-1 sold for the equivalent of thousands of Dollars or Euro. It’s true, having to pay a few hundred may seem like a lot if you remember finding SLRs five years ago for less than 50 Euro.
The growth in the industry, from film processing and development to new products entirely to a bevvy of new photographers with fresh minds more than justifies the rising costs. It lets companies like us exist and keep the lights on in an office full of camera nerds who care about the future of the analog community.
So 2020 has been a year of growth for our industry. We’re glad to see all the fresh faces, and a lot of familiar ones, using analog photography to create permanent, tangible memories of the world around them.
We hope you enjoyed this list of search results and the discussion surrounding it. The most wonderful thing about the analog community is that it is a community. There’s always vibrant discussion, recommendations, advice, and expertise to be shared. Please continue to share cameras, knowledge, Instagram comments, and everything else. That’s how this industry thrives.
Here’s hoping for a good 2021.