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Category: Best Photographic Equipment to Buy : Film-Based Camera Equipment : 35mm Cameras : Comparing Camera Brands

Photography Question 
Susan Snedeker

Beginner's 35mm SLR Camera - What to Buy

I want purchase a 35mm SLR camera and I am a beginner. What would you reccommed? I would like to start off with a camera that offers various lens choices, i.e. wide angle, etc. The camera does not have to be new. I would prefer to purchase used. What should I look for when buying used?

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8/19/2001 1:30:05 PM

Matt Marsh   Susan,

Probably the most recommended beginners camera by instructors is the Pentax K-1000. It is a totally manual camera body with match needle manual metering. There is a huge availability of all kinds of lenses. Because this camera uses any standard K-mount Pentax lens, it is capable of the same quality photos as any top of the line 35mm SLR, and is revered by beginners and pros alike. If you truly want to learn photography, stick to a manual camera body or at least one that has totally manual capability. Check out E-Bay, there is always several used K-1000 bodies and packages for sale there.

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8/19/2001 6:29:12 PM

Susan Snedeker   Thanks for getting back with me Matt. If you do not mind, I would like to ask you a couple other questions. Can you please check out this Pentax K-1000 at eBay and tell me what you think of that camera? 2nd, can you tell me what you think of the Canon Elan 7 for beginners?

Thank you for your time. :)


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8/19/2001 11:29:09 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  The K-1000 is a workhorse. A pro friend of mine uses the system. Pentax also made other K-mount bodies: K-1000SE, K2, KM, KX, ME, and MX. Some of these have variants compatible with motor drives made for the system.

Other workhorse systems along the same lines Matt mentioned:

Nikon FM-2 and FE-2 bodies with Nikkor AIS lenses. The FM-2 is mechanical with manual exposure. The FE-2 is electronic with aperture priority auto exposure.

Olympus OM-1n and OM-2n with Zuiko OM mount lenses. The OM-1n is similar to the FM-2 and the OM-2n is simlar to the FE-2.

Basic lenses and other common accessories for all these systems are relatively plentiful. Overall, the OEM lenses made for them are excellent. They are hardy and reliable if reasonably cared for.

Be very cautious about buying used gear. Some good buys can be had on eBay but there's some junk out there too. Same applies to the used section in camera stores. Cameras and lenses are precision devices; even the hardiest do not survive the abuse some owners can dish out to them. Have someone experienced in buying used gear that you trust help you! You want a "right of return" within a reasonable time if something is wrong with it. One of the used equipment sources with a stellar repuation is KEH camera brokers in Atlanta ( They were mail order with a "dead tree" catalog long before the world wide web was around (and they still publish the catalog).

-- John L.

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8/20/2001 12:02:51 AM

Jim Miotke
BetterPhoto Member
Owner,, Inc.
Photography: The Next Step  
  Hi Susan,

That eBay Pentax looks okay but the price will probably get up too high over the next four days. The lenses that come with it look pretty bad; therefore, I would consider it as the purchase of a camera body with a bunch of extras. I would not pay more that $125-$150 for the whole thing, myself.

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8/20/2001 12:19:16 AM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  You asked about the Canon Elan 7. Let's drop back a step and ask what you want to do with your photography.

The Pentax, Olympus and Nikon would be geared for someone wanting to study photography and understand it thoroughly. (There are Canon equivalents to these that use Canon's FD mount lenses.) They tend to force the user to make decisions and very easily allow total manual control over everything. The control aspect is one of the reasons many pros still use them.

OTOH the current AF bodies with program modes are probably better for beginners who intend to do casual photography and want something with greater flexibility under varying or unusual conditions than a P&S. With many of them it's harder to take total control and make all the decisions. The Elan 7 is a decent AF Program mode camera body and certainly capable. If you go with an Elan 7 (or Nikon equivalent) I do recommend buying the body alone, getting a better lens than the 28-80mm or 28-90mm they are bundled with new, and getting a more powerful external flash.

Which direction I would recommend to a beginner, an older manual focus system or newer AF system with program modes, depends on what you want to do with your photography. There is no right answer, only the one you have for yourself.

-- John L.

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8/20/2001 2:56:53 AM

Debbie Groff   I too, purchased a Canon Elan 7. My very first real camera:) I'm just having a slight problem with focusing. Well, actually, a BIG problem with focusing. Probably just a personal lack of knowledge. I was reading the comment about the 28-90mm lens, I have that one and the 100-300mm zoom. What is the problem with these lenses? As they are my first lenses and I have no experience with any other kind, so don't know what I'm missing? Just wondering what would be the problem with these lenses?

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8/20/2001 8:49:03 AM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
There is no serious reliability problem I'm aware of with the 28-80 or 28-90 lenses bundled with bodies like the Canon's Rebel or Elan, or Nikon's N-65 or N-80. They are better than some found on consumer zoom P&S's. They are bundled with these bodies to provide a complete camera with a "starter" lens that can play "out of the box." However, they are at the bottom end of performance in their respective EOS and Nikkor lens lines.

Over a half-dozen factors are used to rate lens optical performance including resolution, contrast, aberrations, distortions, flare control, vignetting, bokeh, etc. (If you don't understand all these terms, just ask.) Some of these are not noticed as easily with 4x6 prints from fast film as they are with well made large prints or projected slides from slower films. Other aspects are noticeable regardless of print size or film used. IMO the lens and its optical qualities are the most important part of a camera; it's what puts light on the film when the shutter opens. I freely admit I'm very demanding of lens optical quality because of what I photograph, the slow extremely fine grain slide films used, and the large prints made from the slides.

Since Susan asked about used equipment and used camera bodies are usually sold by dealers without lenses. It's an opportunity for her to select a better "first lens" to go with it, and not break the bank doing it.

For your focusing problems, if you provide a few more details about the conditions under which they occur (light levels, distances, subject material, etc.), someone may be able to help you work through it.

-- John L.

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8/20/2001 9:23:00 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  Oooh . . . might be a factor in your focusing problems . . . is your body an Elan 7 or Elan 7e?

-- John L.

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8/20/2001 9:25:17 PM

Debbie Groff   My camera is an Elan 7. I do have a lot of questions about outdoor lighting, focusing, apertures, shutter speeds, as I am quite new to photography. Have been browsing through different categories and just purchased a 70-210 macro made by Canon, so... I found this site a few months ago and really enjoyed the time I spent here. Just got my computer then, and my first time on internet... got to looking around here and there, internet surfing, I think it's called :) And for some reason never got back. I feel now is the time to seriously start finding out answers to my questions. Just know this is the site to learn from. Thanks for your quick response back. You'll probably be hearing from me a lot...

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8/21/2001 8:53:35 AM

Tom W. Hauber   Hi Susan, I have used a K-1000 for about 14 years, it was my first camera, and I still use it today more than my Canon EOS Rebel 2. The K-1000 is a very rugged outfit; mine has been wet, dusty, hot, cold - you name it - and it still takes great photos. I use Vivitar lenses and have taken wildlife and outdoor shots by the thousands. They always look great. You will not be sorry you bought a K-1000.

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8/24/2001 5:56:29 PM

George Blades   A long time ago a friend gave me a tip which was the best advice I ever got! Nowadays it seems so logical though, but as a raw beginner, I didn't really appreciate the value of that advice. Simply put it was this....
"Think lenses!" I bought myself a Canon F-1 (yes, that long ago!), and it cost me an arm and a leg, and I paid for the best quality lenses I could afford. Needless to say, I had the lenses to thank for the beautiful photos I took ever since! I had a period where I gave up on cameras and photography for music and guitars, but I made the mistake of selling all my gear! Then around 1991, I bought a cheapo Canon EOS 1000F, but I still remembered the 'tip' and bought a good set of lenses. Matched to this cheap body, I wondered how the photos would look, but to my amazement, the results were spectacular! I still have this camera and my 10 yeat old son uses it, but loves the 'scene' modes as well as experimenting in Manual mode and using the 'PIC' modes as well. When I was 'robbed' of this camera by him, I bought a Canon EOS 3000 around 1999 and the old feelings returned! I found my passion for photography re-kindled and am now in competition with my son! We often 'talk cameras' and I am forever amazed at how he can take a photo using the 'scene' modes and then just jump right into full manual mode with the greatest of ease! He is totally convinced that he has learned how to take great photos by trying to 'emulate' in-camera what the scene modes do and he certainly has done a good job if it. Why am I telling you this? Well, when I started out, my camera was a manual one and the idea of having anything 'pre-programmed' into it would have been regarded as 'cheating', but I can see now that it does have more uses than simply allowing you to use the camera as a P&S job! The scene modes help you when you feel unsure about your ability in particular situations, and you have the freedom of full manual control when your confidence is high! Above all though, the body is not all that important, so remember that tip and "think lenese!".
Bodies will come and go, but the lenses you buy now will last forever! I wish you all the best with your camera, whatever it may be!

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5/29/2004 4:30:00 PM

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