A Beginner’s Guide to Shooting Manual Film Cameras

Learn How to Use Mechanical SLRs, TLRs, and Rangefinders

27 min read by Dmitri, with image(s) by Daren.
Published on . Updated on .

I love point-and-shoot cameras❤️‍🔥.

They’re quick to operate, they can fit in a pocket, and they need no light meter or an eye for Sunny 16.

But unfortunately, like all modern technology, they break. As their numbers diminish along with the growing ranks of new film photographers, the prices increase.

Lucky for us, film photography has been around for nearly two hundred years; the manual SLRs, TLRs, and rangefinders made by billions are durable, plentiful, and varied.

You can still find a century-old camera in good working condition for under $100. It may not set the focus or exposure for you automatically, and it likely won’t fit in a pocket. But vintage mechanical cameras are cheaper, easier to fix, and they may give better results than pricier point-and-shoots.

And if that’s not enough, mechanical film cameras will give you more creative control over your blur and brightness, they often need no batteries, they will readily accept films with no DX-code (like the new Lomochrome Color’92), and they will make special effects like double-exposure possible.

In this guide, you will learn:

How to take advantage of the great wealth of working, serviceable film cameras by mastering exposure and manual focus.

Having read this article, you’ll be able to pick up and shoot any 35mm or medium format film camera from any time period.

While your point-and-shoot will rarely have you thinking of exposure values, older manual cameras need a more thoughtful approach. Each scene is to be measured; your decision about how to interpret those measurements and your film and camera’s capabilities will influence your photograph greatly.

You don’t need years of experience or a college degree in photography to start shooting manual film cameras today. If you’ve got a camera, this article will guide you through the entire process of using it well.

👋 Wait! You should at least know how to load film into your camera before reading any further. I also recommend you check out a short article explaining what exposure is and how it can be measured.

Free printable PDF book download.

This guide will take about 20-30 minutes to get through. A free PDF download is available if you’d like to print it or read it offline:

➜ Free Download: A Beginner’s Guide to Shooting Manual Film Cameras (PDF)

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