Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve been replacing my iPhone with various compact 35mm film cameras. It felt good to snap photos on the go instead of getting alerts, emails, and spammy phone calls that add stress to an already hectic life.
So far, I took seven cameras with me to the gym, forests, parks, and around the block with my dog. I used them at home, in transit, and on my way to grocery stores. To suit the context and the budget, they had to be pocketable, with a good or great lens and cost less than $200.
This article is the living ledger of my ongoing experience with affordable, pocketable 35mm film cameras — my “iPhone replacements.” In fact, better than replacements: all of the cameras on this list are full-frame with the potential to take better-resolving images than the current 12MP iPhone camera.
Have a suggestion about another camera I should add here? Let me know!
Chinon Bellami, sometimes sold as Revue 35CC, comes with a 35mm 𝒇2.8 lens and an impressive top shutter speed of 1/1000s. It weighs 220g, has a unique barn-door lens cover and retractable bellows. The camera can comfortably fit in most practical pockets. It takes excellent, sharp photographs on a full 35mm film frame.
Bellami takes two LR44 batteries and requires you to zone focus (i.e. to guess the distance). It does not give any control over aperture or shutter speed though you can manually set your film ISO up to 400.
This camera sports a unique “barn door” lens cover, also found on Voigtländer Vitessa. Despite their delicate appearance, the doors are quite sturdy.
Read my in-depth Chinon Bellami camera review for more details on ergonomics and lens quality.
Below: A sample scan of Fujifilm Industrial 400 shot with Chinon Bellami.
Olympus Infinity Zoom 80.
Olympus Infinity Zoom 80 has gone up in price considerably since I first reviewed it last year. Still, the fairly-priced units can be bought for less than $200.
This is an ergonomically-designed camera that’s meant to be versatile and affordable. Fitted with a reasonably-sharp 𝑓4.5-8.9 zoom lens, it has a shutter that can fire up to 1/600s, a slide lens cover, and a built-in flash. Its viewfinder magnifies the scene together with the motorized lens. The controls are well-placed, though there is no changing its automated focus or exposure.
Infinity Zoom is a nice camera that’s easy to use though it does not remember your flash preferences between power cycles. Its design, though slick, isn’t as inspiring as some of the older cameras on this list.
Read my in-depth Olympus Infinity Zoom 80 camera review for more details on its lens quality and user experience.
Below: A sample scan of Fuji Industrial 100 shot with Olympus Infinity Zoom 80.
Pentax Espio 140V.
Pentax Espio 140V is one of the easiest cameras on this list to find in good condition. Most of the copies are shipped from Japan, but due to its excellent availability, you may be able to find a few in your country as well.
Espio is cutting a little close when it comes to the “pocketable” requirement. I found it rather thick; it certainly won’t fit in a jeans pocket — unless you’re going super baggy. It also tends to fire its flash more often than I’d like it to.
The camera comes with a nice lens, however. It’s a mix of glass and plastic elements with an aspherical component that makes its versatile 38-140mm zoom lens capable of taking sharp photos. But don’t expect much bokeh: its apertures are limited to 𝒇5.8 for wide-angles and 𝒇11.8 for zoom/long angles.
Read my in-depth Pentax Espio 140V camera review for more details on this camera’s usability, portability, and lens quality.
Below: A sample scan of Fujifilm Superia 200 shot with Pentax Espio 140V.
Pentax PC35AF is a stylish, fun-to-use point-and-shoot with premium features. This camera comes with autofocus and auto-exposure mechanisms, with some versions sporting a film winder motor.
I love this camera’s lens cover that snaps open with a loud crack and the focus distance indicator within the finder window. It has the ‘80s and ‘90s vibes written all over its well-designed black body.
35AF comes with a fast 35mm 𝒇2.8 lens capable of making sharp pictures in most lighting conditions and a built-in flash that’s easy to disable if needed.
Feature-wise, this camera should cost a lot more. However, there aren’t that many models floating around, mostly because it has a few weak plastic joints that tend to crack. Most notably, it’s AAA battery door that’s broken on roughly half of the copies out there.
Read my in-depth Pentax PC35AF camera review for more details on its operation, design, and lens quality.
Below: A sample scan of Lomochrome Metropolis shot with Pentax PC35AF.
Revue 35 XE .
Revue 35XE, more commonly sold as Voigtländer Vito C, is the most portable and one of the most pleasant cameras to handle on this list.
Weighing just 175g/6.17oz, 35XE feels lighter in the pocket than an iPhone. And, despite having an all-plastic body, it’s very well made. I also like that it has bright lines in the viewfinder with distance markings for ultimate convenience.
35XE sets its aperture between 𝒇2.8 and 𝒇16 automatically on its 38mm lens, along with the shutter speed up to 1/500s.
This is a zone-focus camera, meaning you will have to guess the distance and dial it on the lens.
The downsides of Revue 35XE are its rarity and a lens that’s a bit soft and prone to flaring.
Read my in-depth Revue 35 XE camera review for more details on its lens, form factor, and usability.
Below: A sample scan of Agfa Vista 200 shot with Revue 35 XE.
The low-end of the Rollei 35 series comes with the same compact form factor as its pricier siblings. But instead of a CCD light sensor, it has a less precise selenium cell that needs no batteries.
Despite the cheaper components and slightly more awkward top plate resulting from a different light meter setup, the camera can take reasonably sharp pictures.
Rollei 35B isn’t as portable as some other selections in this list though it can fit comfortably in a jacket pocket. Its advantages are the full manual operation and its classic appearance.
The camera sports a 40mm 𝒇3.5-22 Carl Zeiss Triotar lens with a shutter capable of firing between 1/30th and 1/500th of a second. However, like the rest of the ‘35s, it requires extra steps for operation. Like Chinon Bellami, this is a zone-focus camera, meaning you will have to guess the distance and dial it on the lens.
Read my in-depth Rollei 35B camera review for more details on how this camera works and more sample photos.
Below: A sample scan of Rollei CN 200 (expired) shot with Rollei 35B.
Rollei Prego 100WA.
Rollei Prego 100WA is one of the prettiest cameras on this list. Packed with a zoom lens and a flash, it’s capable of making good photos though the lens does come with a few drawbacks.
Camera looks matter to me, which is part of the reason I prefer to shoot film. There’s a lot more variety, shapes, and sizes in the analogue medium. But the image quality plays no little role in my preference either, which is why I had to let my Prego 100WA go. I won’t say that its 28-100mm 𝒇5.8-𝒇10.5 lens (with a macro mode!) is bad — it’s OK. The biggest issue is elsewhere.
The autofocus on Prego 100WA isn’t great. If there are no clear contrast lines on your subject or an object like the sky, the camera will default to a distance that can make everything look somewhat out of focus. If you know this and are expecting this issue, it’s possible to avoid it with an invinity focus override button. If you’re willing to deal with that and this camera’s looks strike your fancy, it could make a good shooter.
Read my in-depth Rollei Prego 100WA camera review for more details on usability, looks, ergonomics, and lens quality.
Below: A sample scan of Portra 400 shot with Rollei Prego 100WA.
What’s the best camera on this list?
Your “best” can be different from mine — depending on what you’re trying to accomplish and your tastes. For me, however, Chinon Bellami is a clear winner for its fast lens, sturdy construction, and brilliantly-fast shutter. A close second would be Pentax PC35AF for its great optics, autofocus, and design.
I hope this list was useful to you; I’m planning to update it periodically as I go through more cameras. Feel free to bookmark it and check once in a while for updates. And please let me know if you’d like me to review any other cameras that may be fitting here.
❤ By the way: Please consider making your film-related purchase using the links above so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!