Best film cameras

Picture perfect: The best 35mm film cameras

30 May 2024 | |By Hitanshi Kamdar

From practical classics to easy point-and-shoots, these film cameras will transform your photographs

All products are chosen independently by our editors. Luxury London may earn commission on items purchased.

When it comes to capturing special moments, it’s easy to turn to convenience: smartphone cameras for a quick shot or fancier DSLRs for events. But there’s little pleasure to be found in a photograph that’s perfectly taken and edited but lacking in authenticity. Happily, as they say, everything old eventually becomes new again, and film cameras, with their charming analogue photographs, have officially made a comeback.

Call it a backlash to the fake flawlessness of social media or simply a nod to nostalgia but one of the biggest reasons to turn to analogue photography is that every image is unique and special – even if high-quality results aren’t guaranteed every time. After all, flipping through old photo albums is vastly more appealing than scrolling through digital galleries.

While instant cameras produce physical photographs, well, instantly, the images produced by film cameras, with their slightly grainy finish, retro colour palette and occasional light leaks, are difficult to duplicate. Plus, if you consider yourself the artistic type, they also offer the opportunity to learn about aperture, shutter speeds and a whole host of photography technicalities. If it’s that emotionally engaging quality you’re after, here’s the lowdown on the best 35mm film cameras in the business to get you started.

What are 35mm film cameras?

35mm is the most commonly used film format. It refers to the shape and size of the image sensor format. Due to its smaller frame size, 35mm film results in a slightly lower and grainier resolution, which means it nails the vintage quality most film photographers are after. These cameras are also smaller and more portable than larger format film cameras.

What to consider before buying a film camera

While automatic modes are a godsend, to take your photography up a notch, you’ll reap huge rewards by learning a few basics about your film camera. Known as ‘the exposure triangle’ the three main settings to focus on are aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

Aperture refers to the size of the opening that lets light into the camera and controls the exposure of your images. Shutter speed describes how long the shutter remains open and dictates how much light reaches the film. Fast speeds help freeze objects in motion while slower speeds capture motion blurs. Understanding your film’s sensitivity to light, or ISO, will help you capture images under different lighting conditions: lower ISO is great for clear images in brighter spaces while higher ISO is best for darker conditions.

If that all sounds a bit confusing, don’t worry, you can figure out what works best for you by playing around with the settings on your camera to find your favourite film aesthetic. 

Another caveat to consider is that, while interest in film cameras is on the rise, many manufacturers don’t seem to have caught on quite yet. Most of the big boys, including Canon and Nikon, stopped producing film cameras in the early 2000s so you’re going to have to be prepared to buy second hand. The good news is, there are plenty of reputable resellers and specialist camera shops that can be trusted to maintain and service your new toy.

The best 35mm film cameras

Nikon FE

Originally released in 1978, the Nikon FE is a classic film camera despite only being produced until 1983. This vintage film camera boasts a sturdy aluminium-copper build with faux leather cladding but, beyond its retro aesthetic, is also packed with handy features including manual and automatic shooting modes. Advanced photographers will enjoy experimenting with a vast ISO range from 12 to 3200 and shutter speeds ranging from 1/1000 to a maximum of 8 seconds. While Nikon doesn’t make the model anymore, you can pick up a refurbished Nikon FE from a number of trusted sellers.

Buy Now

Canon AE-1

The Canon AE-1 is one of the most well-known 35mm film cameras of all time – it was the first camera to ever sell a million units and even inspired the iPhone camera’s shutter sound effect. Among the many reasons for its unprecedented popularity? It was the first camera that was built from both plastic and aluminium with a cloth focal shutter, making it lightweight and easily portable. It has both manual and shutter priority automatic modes and shoots up to 1/1000 sec. The camera’s user-friendly design is equipped with intuitive controls, making it a reliable option for beginners.

Buy Now

Leica M6

Unlike the other cameras on this list, the Leica M6 is a rangefinder camera, which can be trickier to master. But if used right, it can produce stunning ultra-focused imagery. With a compact brass body clad in leather and scratch-resistant lacquer, it is portable and stylish featuring, of course, the instantly recognisable red Leica logo. As with all Leica models, the M6 produces sharp images with the uniquely vibrant and tonal ‘Leica look’ which boasts a cult following among filmmakers and photographers. Plus, with Leica being one of the only camera makers that never turned its back on film, you’ll benefit from the most modern advancements in the business.

Buy Now

Kodak Ektar H35

Perfect for beginners, the Kodak Ektar H35 is a simple point-and-shoot option. This is a half-frame camera, meaning it can shoot twice the number of pictures on a single roll of film. Cost-cutting benefits of saved film aside, this results in stunning split frame diptychs that can be used to immortalise matching moments creatively: a family portrait over breakfast followed by a close-up of said breakfast, or a sweeping landscape at both sunrise and sunset. Small and lightweight, the portable camera comes with a built-in flash for easy shooting anywhere and anytime. As well as being easy to use, the Kodak Ektar H35 is also easy on the eyes – its retro textured build is available in black, brown, sage and sand hues, while the metallic variation is offered in pink, orange, green, blue and silver.

Buy Now

Dubblefilm Show 35mm film camera

Dubblefilm’s brightly coloured cameras are easily the most fun option on this list making it perfect if there’s a budding photographer among your brood. The small plastic film camera is a simple point-and-shoot device that comes with a fixed 32mm lens and 1/123 shutter speed, meaning you can’t experiment with varied shots. It does come with a flash, so you can use it at night, as well as indoors and outdoors. The Dubblefilm Show camera is compatible with both colour and black and white film, while options are available in black and turquoise, along with a special pink, white and yellow edition named Keiko after the orca in Free Willy.

Buy Now

Read more: Nursery interior design: Five ways to spruce up a child’s room