Camera Kit: 35mm SLRs, the M42 mount


35mm film is a tricky one to recommend to people wanting to transition form digital photography. Modern digital sensors cover this film size and the files can be modified to simulate the look of film, with all the convenience that digital offers. If you were to dive into the world of film, I would recommend either medium format or large format for the main reason that they have no digital equivalent (digital medium format is still not as large as even a small traditional medium format - I wrote more about that in a previous post). That said, there are still a few compelling reasons to shoot 35mm film...


What is it good for?

  • A very cheap way to shoot film. Actually, it might be the cheapest way to shoot 'full frame' 35mm photos period, given that a good digital camera costs so much up front (cheapest "full-frame" is a Canon 6d1 for $1100 refurbished at time of writing). Used film cameras can be found online or in thrift stores for $20-40 and black and white film can be found for $5. Developing at home reduces costs significantly. 
  • It is familiar. 35mm is a modern standard from which we reference other formats (e.g. crop factors, focal length equivelents). There is almost no learning curve when transitioning from digital, assuming you have knowledge about exposure.
  • Easily available. When 35mm became affordable to the masses, they were sold in great quantities. The result is that there are many used/vintage.antique cameras available for very low prices today. 
  • Inter-compatibility. In the large format days, you could use any manufacturer's lens on any other manufacturer's body. Medium format brought with it propriety lens mounts and this is still the case with 35mm. However, one mount slipped through the net - M42 screw mount. It wasn't completely universal, but was used by more than one brand including Praktica, Pentax and Zenit.
  • Lenses can be adapted to modern cameras. Nikon's film 35mm lenses can still be used on many of their digital bodies today. Canon's FD mount and M42 lenses can be adapted for use on Canon DSLRs and many mirror-less cameras because their mirror boxes are shorter than the lens' native mounts. 

What's the compromise?

  • Digital 35mm cameras exist. And they can replicate the film look very well. But that takes a lot of post-processing. If you want to commit to the film look, shooting film makes life easier.
  • The cameras are heavy. They might look smaller than modern digital cameras, but they are often all-metal and hefty. The lenses are built so well they have a weight penalty, too.

What's in my camera bag?

  • Cameras: Praktica MTL 3, Pentax Spotmatic SPII, Ricoh Singlex TLS
  • Lenses: Super-Takumar 35mm f3.5, Pentacon 50mm f1.8, Industar 50-2 50mm f3.5, Helios 44-2 58mm f2.0, Sears 135mm f2.8,
  • Accessories: Macro tubes, tele-converter, cable release