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Which 35 SLRs to USE? This page is biased from a USER standpoint, i.e. the ability to relatively easily assemble a shooting outfit and keep it in reasonable repair. Note this bias is the OPPOSITE of collecting, where rarity is often very desirable. While many cameras are NOT recommended here as users, they may well be great collectibles.
Another assumption is starting your kit with an empty camera bag. If you already have a nice shooting kit with a not recommended shooter, this stupid list is not meant to talk you into getting rid of an outfit you are happy with.
This page is written for the beginning photographer, hopefully to keep them from investing heavily into a shooting system which will be difficult to complete and keep repaired. As this is written in 2003, major manufacture manual focus SLR system such as Nikon, Canon, Pentax, and Minolta are selling at all time lows due to many people switching to Auto Focus and Digital. If you like these cameras, get the best bargains ever available!
Canon FL and FD System: one of the best SLR systems ever. My favorites with this mount are the FTb, EF, F1 and T90. The professional F1 is the only FD series to offer interchangeable finders and a 250 exposure film back. The F1 also has a great action finder of unique design -- with a very useful rotating eyepiece. All manual focus FD Canons are discontinued, replaced by the EOS system. This line is the most adaptable of any modern SLR line. With standard Canon adapters you can mount Exakta, Pentax screw mount, or Nikon F lenses on your Canon FL or FD body with infinity focus (using stop down metering and manual diaphragm control).
Canon EOS: probably the best selling AF system at the present time. Personally, I like the lenses more than I like the bodies -- which just feel too lightweight and plastic in my hands. Nevertheless, it is clearly one of the best three AF systems. Generally I personally found I did not care much for the EOS bodies -- they just didn't feel right in my hands or to my eye. That changed with the EOS 3. It's a very nice camera body with the next generation of TTL flashes -- a winner. The IS Image Stabilization lenses are an important and useful new Canon feature, too bad all SLRs do not have them. Another nice feature of EOS is the ability to use Nikon and Leica R glass with the proper non Canon adapter -- though with no lens to body linkage.
Contax/Yashica SLRs: Japanese made with wonderful Zeiss lenses. My favorite cameras in this mount are the RTS III because of its a vacuum pressure plate to keep the film flat (the only production 35s I know of to do this), the ST because of its special ceramic pressure plate to keep film flat, and the RTS because in the used market it's a very inexpensive way to get into this lens line with a professional quality camera. In my opinion, avoid the AX -- that is not the way to make an AF SLR. Despite the Zeiss lenses, I don't like the control setup on most Contax SLRs. It bugs me Contax put the ASA dial where the shutter speed dial should be, and vice versa. Likewise many Contax finders place the f/stop display and shutter speed display on different edges of the viewfinder screen -- not next to each other where they would be easier to see. The other side of the coin is that Contax is not nearly so popular in the US as Canon or Nikon, so used Contax often can often be found at big discounts.
Leica R System: Many consider these optics the best made in 35mm. The SL-2 is overpriced by collectors. The original Leicaflex, SL, R3, and R4 offer inexpensive used bodies to take advantage of this great lens line. The lineup is obviously limited by the lack of AF and the comparatively small base of R users. I believe Leica would do much better sales wise if they made their R lenses available in Canon, Nikon, Minolta, and Pentax mounts.
Minolta MD System: My favorite MD camera are the various SRT 100 and 200 series, MD-11, XE-7, and X-700. Still in reduced production. Not that popular in the US, this system offers much value for the dollar in the used market.
Minolta Maxxum: An excellent AF system. At one time Maxxum owned about 60% of the SLR sales in the US, with its overwhelming initial Maxxum 7000 success in 1985. Apparently there was some sort of copyright AF infringement with Honeywell, and Minolta paid to the tune of millions. After that Minolta went through some growing pains with weird "new" features which proved not so popular. Among these were optional cards which would add new features to the camera, power zooming lenses, and the weirdest, a camera which would do its own initial framing. They have put that behind them, and 1999 saw some great new Minoltas, headed up by the Maxxum 9. For the first time in its entire history, Minolta finally has a pro camera which really can go head to head with the best from Canon and Nikon.
Olympus System: My favorite cameras with this mount are the OM1, OM2, OM3, OM4. Avoid the OM-2s and autofocus OM77 / OM88. All but discontinued, Olympus got rich with point and shoot sales and abandoned the OM line. Many exotic OM lenses and accessories are getting harder and more expensive to find due to the often dedicated users.
Pentax Screw Mount (aka 42mm screw mount aka Universal mount aka Zeiss Screw Mount). The various Pentax Spotmatics are well made classic cameras. The later Fujica 801, 901 and Cosina CE-3 are more technologically advanced. Mamiya-Sekor 1000 was the first SLR with dual average and spot metering. Many different manufacturers made 42mm screw mount cameras, all are discontinued but lenses and accessories are plentiful. New 42mm screw mount lenses still available from independent manufacturers. 42mm screw mount lenses also offer the advantage of being comparatively inexpensive while being the most versatile (with lens mount converters) of any fixed lens mount. For example I use Fujica's excellent 16/2.8 fisheye, 85/4 Soft Focus, and 600/5.6 on my Canon T90 with the Canon P adapter.
Pentax K Mount: My favorite cameras with this mount are the MX and LX. Still in production. The newer K AF mount lineup is great, but not as expansive as the current Canon EOS, Nikon, or Minolta lineups. Many other manufacturers make cameras in K mount as well. Often a very good value on the used market. A friend of mine swears most Pentax K lenses are as sharp or sharper than Nikon, while often costing much less.
Nikon F mount SLRs: one of the best SLR systems ever, choices are profiled here. Great for manual focus or AF, one of the best three AF systems. Most AF lenses usable on the older manual focus cameras, most older manual focus lenses usable on the new AF cameras.
ANY leaf shutter 35 SLR: All have a limited hard to find lens lineup and are very difficult to get repaired. This includes Retina SLRs, Kowa, Voigtlander Bessamatics and Ultramatics, Topcon Auto 100 and Unirex, Nikkorex 35, and Zeiss Contaflex. They do, however, offer full flash sync up to 1/500th which may outweigh their disadvantages for some shooters in specialized situations. My favorite of this group is the Voigtlander Bessamatic (more reliable than the Ultramatic). 2nd choice would be the Contaflex. Retina leaf shutter SLRs are difficult and expensive to repair -- and bad prisms are not a too uncommon problem. Both Kowa and Topcon leaf shutter 35 SLRs have a very poor reputation so far as reliability.
Another class to avoid are small volume manufacturers with unique lens mounts. History has shown small camera makes are not likely to survive, and that used cameras, lenses, and repairs will be hard to find. All of the SLRs in the above class also fall into this category (what a surprise). So do most of the cameras listed below. The Sigma SLR is a nice design, but its really too bad they did not use the easily available Pentax K mount.
Most NON TTL (thru-the-lens) metering bodies are probably best to the collectors rather than the shooters. Notable exceptions are the Nikon F and F2 with standard prism finders and the original Leicaflex.
Alpa: a sought after collectible, but awkwardly designed with hard to find lenses. Extremely difficult and expensive to get repaired.
Asahiflex: these precursors to the Pentax have limited lens choices and often need a shutter overhaul.
Canonflex: these earlier Canon SLRs predate the Canon FL and FD series. Their mount is the same, but their lenses have use a different diaphragm mechanism and are not compatible with the later cameras. Canonflex lenses also seem to have more than their share of problems.
Exakta and Exa: great collectibles but not a good choice as shooter, too hard to find lenses
Fujica bayonet mount cameras: too hard to find lenses and repairs
Petri: a bad choice even when they were new
Konica: hard to find lenses and accessories, discontinued mid 1980's, but first rate lens reputation.
Mamiya bayonet mount cameras: too hard to find lenses and repairs
Miranda: too hard to find lenses and repairs
Minolta SR-2, SR-1, SR-3, SR-7: these non TTL metering bodies are not nearly so convenient as the later cameras.
Rollei SLRs: great hard to find optics, very poor reputation for reliability
Praktina: too hard to find lenses and repairs
Praktica: poor reputation for reliability
Topcon: great optics but hard to find lenses and repairs
Voigtlander 35 SLRs, bayonet mount, re-badged Rollei with hard to find lenses and repairs. This does not apply to a rumored new Voigtlander SLR made by Cosina using Pentax K mount.
Zeiss Contax and Pentacon 42mm screw mount cameras: early 1950's cameras best left to the collectors.
Zeiss Contarex and bayonet mount Icarex: great collectibles but difficult to get repaired, hard to find lenses and accessories.
Zenit along with all other Russian made SLRs: mediocre fit and finish, reliability problems.
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Revised: November 26, 2003 . Copyright © 1998-2002 Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved. This means you may NOT copy and re-use the text or the pictures in ANY other internet or printed publication of ANY kind. Information in this document is subject to change without notice. Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.