Now, choosing our first camera can be a daunting and troubling thing to do. Most people choosing their first film camera will be coming from a digital world. How do you pick up that first film camera? I mean... Digital is easy... just set to "A" and off you go, right?
Well, not really.. You can, but you lose the creative control that you should always strive to have when shooting.
Now I'm not going to talk about being a complete novice to photography. In this idea of picking your first film camera I shall assume that you have at least some experience shooting with a digital camera and have some working knowledge of how exposure works.
You know, how ISO, Aperture and shutter speed play in with each other. So lets go into the world of your first film camera....
What system do you currently own? Nikon? Pentax? Sony/Minolta? Canon? Or do you shoot Leica? It doesn't really matter, actually. One thing that can help you, though, is that if you are shooting any of the above SLRs (Leica is a Rangefinder, relax I know!) you can actually use the modern lenses on their older film bodies. BUT not all the lenses are made the same, nor will they all work.
Modern Nikon lenses most likely will not work on the film bodies, while the older film lenses should mount and work on the modern Nikon Digitals. I cannot truly speak for sure here, as I do not have a Nikon body I can test that theory out. HOWEVER I have used a more modern Sigma (Nikon AF D mount) lens on my Nikkormat and my Nikon F90. It worked flawlessly, so I know that some lenses are backward compatible. Same goes with Sony, Pentax and Canon. HOWEVER... you cannot use mirrorless lenses on any film body... Period.. The Sony SLR lenses (provided it isn't a crop sensor lens) will mount just fine to a Minolta Autofocus camera and work. Same goes with Pentax and Canon. Any and all canon EF (Not EF-S or EF-M) will mount and work on a Canon EOS Film SLR.
All this can easily help play into your first Film Camera.
The next thing is to inspect your camera. One thing that you have to inspect on film cameras that you won't find on a digital are light seals. See, the film door has a foam or felt seal around the edge of the back. The prevents light from entering the back of the camera and exposing the film.
Also on older cameras the mirror bumper (a piece of foam) will also degrade over time and can dissolve onto the mirror itself.
This should also be checked and replaced if necessary.
Next are the shutter curtains themselves. On newer model they are usually a vertical travel focal plane shutter, usually made of a high grade plastic/compositite. The light seals around those CAN possibly degrade and create a sticky mess on them. This should be checked and cleaned (GENTLY) if possible. If not, sent out for a CLA (CLEAN LUBE ADJUST) to clean that up.
Now onto Rangefinder cameras. Rangefinders are another camera that has its own share of things to check for. So lets gets started..
Light seals are one of the first things to check. The film door, just like on SLRs, will have foam or felt seals that prevent light from entering and exposing the film. This is very important to check. If they are degraded they will need replacing.
Next is the mirror in the rangefinder. Are you getting a bright and contrasty double image? Or is it faded? If it is faded the beam splitter could be fading or the silver on the mirror could be fading. That will need replacing and fixing.
Check the alignments. The horizontal and vertical alignments of the rangefinder. This will tell you if the focus is properly culminated to the lens. If you find that the horizontal alignment is off it will entirely throw off your focus. First is to go all the way to INFINITY and see if the image lines up in both your viewfinder/rangefinder and the mark on the lens. If you find that the item at INFINITY (at least 100 to 200 feet away) is not lining up (getting a double image) you need to adjust the rangefinder culmination to make sure you don't mess up the focus.
Next is the vertical. Not as critical as the horizontal as it won't cause you to miss your focus, but can if the alignment is too far off. Adjusting the alignments of the rangefinder can be as simple as turning a couple screws... Or as complicated as a disassembly of the entire top of the camera... or more..
The Argus C3 Brick is one of the simplest rangefinders to adjust, where as the Canon 7 is extremely complicated.
Okay, so everything so far has checked out pretty good. Light seals are in decent shape, or can be easily replaced.. Shutter curtains are good, mirror is clean... All in all the camera you chose, rangefinder or SLR, is in good working order... Or is it?
Does it require batteries? Oh crap, it does. CR2... 2CR5.. CR123... AAA... AA.. PX625... LR44.. So big deal.. Pop the batteries in and... What the heck is that green stuff all over the place!?
This is the one thing you have to watch out for with batteries.. Corrosion! Yes how lovely.. But do not despair.. All is not lost. In fact, corrosion is fairly simply to clean up. Just some white vinegar and some Q-Tips. Wait?! Vinegar?
Yes, absolutely! Vinegar is actually a fairly strong acid. In fact, you can get 3% vinegar, which is basically just Acetic acid. Using a small amount applied to your cotton swab you can clean out pretty much all the corrosion, which is alkaline based. The Vinegar will cause it to foam and melt away. Once that is done, you can take a small metal file to brush against the spring contacts to clean them up and add a bit of abrasion to clear off the metal to make a good contact against your battery.
However some battery housings might be more difficult to clean than others.
So everything is good now. Camera is 100% functional... Now what?
That is up to you... Does the camera feel good in your hand? Do you like it?
Ask the owner to let you hold it in your hand for a while... Or is it in a store? Ask if you can walk around with it in the store for a bit.. Maybe they have a lens you can try on it. See how it feels after 10 minutes pretending to snap a photo or three with it.
Still feel good? Great!
So it looks like things are good.
Remember, picking your first film camera shouldn't be a chore. It should be an inexpensive first purchase. One that you can learn the ins and outs of film photography with.
Another thing that was mentioned to me by fellow photography +Bill Smith is that a consideration should be about the availability of batteries, or about the possibility of a camera repair technician to fix the camera should something ultimately go wrong. Very good ideas and valuable knowledge to have.
Until next time, keep those shutters firing!