5 Vintage (Film) Camera Gift Ideas

🎁 for Photographers of All Levels, $100-$700

8 min read by

Film photography is making a comeback. Film is still sold by the old familiar brands — Kodak, Fujifilm, and Polaroid — and a ton of smaller shops. Some new film cameras are made today as well, but the best ones were built in the 1950s-1990s. And so, if you’d like to impress and delight someone who enjoys photography, use this guide to find the best vintage film camera gift.

In this guide, I focus on cameras that are no longer manufactured — but don’t worry; I’ll walk you through the buying process. The advice in this article will help you find a beautiful piece of history that, in many ways, works just as well as a modern digital camera.

In the five years as a writer on this blog, I’ve tested 40+ vintage film cameras in the field and researched many more. None of those cameras are available on Amazon or at a typical big box store; they were all purchased from individuals or small shops.

I’ve picked the five film cameras that would make great gifts for this article: Rollei 35 S, Konica Big Mini BM-302, Minox 35 GT, Canon’s Canonet QL 17 GIII, and Olympus Mju I.

Many more cameras are reviewed on this blog; the ones above are chosen for their build quality, ease of use, lens quality, availability, and accessibility. I will explain further below.

🚨 Shop in advance! Shipping can take two days to two months for the cameras listed in this article — depending on the person or the shop selling them.

Rollei 35 S in black.

#1. Rollei 35 S ($400-$700).

Rollei 35 S is my favourite model of the popular compact cameras that was in production for an impressive 49 years! It’s the smallest fully-manual 35mm film camera ever made.

Any photographer who shoots film would appreciate a camera like that. This camera’s control layout is unique (although somewhat cumbersome), and its shape is instantly recognizable. Queen Elizabeth (amongst many other celebrities) used it.

The S version of this camera boasts the most powerful lens of all Rollei 35 variants. The one pictured above is the black version; however, many more silver variants of this camera were made.

This camera does not need batteries to work; however, I recommend you get the optional Wein MRB625 Zinc-Air Battery which will make using it a little easier for beginner photographers.

For more details about this camera and to see sample images taken with it, read the Rollei 35 S camera review.

A cheaper Rollei 35 exists. If the S doesn’t fit the budget, Rollei 35B can be found for $100-$300. More details about this camera are in this review.

Scroll down to learn how and where to buy a good, working copy of the above cameras.

Konica Big Mini BM-302 in black.

#2. Big Mini BM-302 ($300-$400).

Konica Big Mini BM-302 and BM-301 are some of the best Japanese point-and-shoot cameras I’ve ever tried. They come with modern features such as autofocus, auto close-up, autoexposure, flash — and more. Of course, their image quality is impeccable and the required battery (CR-123) is easily available at most electronics and drug stores. Two colours were made: black and silver.

Its only substantial downside is the old buttons that can sometimes be hard to press. I suggest you buy cameras that are sold as “tested, working” and double-check with the seller about the buttons.

For sample photos taken with this camera and further details, check out this review of Big Mini BM-301/302 cameras.

A slightly cheaper (earlier) version of Big Mini cameras is BM-201/202 — I like the way it looks better; however, its motor is rather noisy. More details about these cameras are in this review.

Scroll down to learn how and where to buy a good, working copy of the above cameras.

Minox 35 GT.

#3. Minox 35 GT ($100-$300).

Minox 35 GT was the smallest full-frame 35mm film camera ever made. This little beast can fit most pockets without sacrificing the image quality or comfort of operation.

Minox 35 GT is smaller and lighter than Rollei 35 — although it does not have a fully manual mode. Whoever’s using the camera will need to get four LR44 (button) batteries, usually available at most electronics and drugstores.

For sample photos taken with this camera and further details about it, check out this review of Minox 35 GT.

GT is the most popular variant of the Minx 35 series, although there are many others. I review the earlier EL variant here.

Scroll down to learn how and where to buy a good, working copy of the above cameras.

Canon Canonet QL 17 GIII in black.

#4. Canonet QL 17 GIII ($150-$300).

Canon’s Canonet QL 17 GIII is very fun to use. It works brilliantly in manual mode without a battery. It’s fairly small and comes in two colours: silver and black.

QL 17 is Canon’s famed series of rangefinder cameras that make focusing easy and precise with a modern film chamber so that loading film is as easy as on a modern point-and-shoot. Though not as small and sought-after as the Rollei’s, GIII is one of the best-known beginner and intermediate film cameras on the market.

The camera can also work in aperture-priority mode, giving some assistance to the photographer when measuring light, although that would require the optional 1.35V M20 Battery.

An in-depth review of this camera can be found here.

Scroll down to learn how and where to buy a good, working copy of the above cameras.

Olympus Mju Infinity Stylus cameras.

#5. Olympus Mju I ($200-$400).

Olympus Mju Infinity Stylus is one of the most popular point-and-shoot film cameras sold today. There were tons of them made back in the ‘90s and they work surprisingly well. It certainly helps to have them fit in a pocket, too.

There were lots of these cameras made with minimal differences; some spell ∞ Stylus on the front, others say μ[mju:]-1. Earlier models were made in Japan, and later ones in Hong Kong and China. Some feature gold font and a date stamp feature. There’s no discernable difference in quality.

These cameras have a fantastic flash unit and are super-quick and easy to operate. Their only significant flaw is the autofocus which may get confused by reflections.

These cameras require one CR-123 to work.

For sample photos taken with this camera and further details about it, check out this review of Minox 35 GT.

Alternatively, you may check out Olympus Mju II Stylus Epic, which is a little pricier ($350-$600) but feature a larger lens and weatherproofing. Review here.

Scroll down to learn how and where to buy a good, working copy of the above cameras.

Above: A few of the cameras from my collection, including the ones mentioned in this article, plus Minolta TC-1, Chinon Bellami, Revue 35 XE, and Olympus XA.

How to shop vintage film cameras.

Film cameras can be remarkably resilient against time. I’ve taken some that are over sixty years old on many international trips with no issues. But they don’t all survive the test of time the same.

Presuming that you want to get a working copy, knowing what to look for is important. Start by checking your seller’s reviews and ratings — particularly if you shop on eBay and Etsy.

Sellers with a good reputation can usually be trusted to mention everything that’s wrong with their cameras in the description — and you should read it in its entirety. So if you see “film-tested” or “fully working” in the title, that’s usually a good sign. Film-tested listings should have at least one sample picture attached, taken with the camera.

Without getting too technical, you should also examine all the photos provided. Watch out for large dents on the lens barrel, large cracks and fungus on the glass (looks like spider webs) and missing pieces.

Most shops on eBay and many on Etsy allow returns — although that should be your last resort. Your local physical shop may be a good alternative as you can get your questions answered quickly. I think it’s fair to check the prices of the items they have in stock against eBay and to expect to pay more for the service and convenience of not having to deal with shipping.

If you like, you can also visit FilmBase — a small shop I started in 2019 that sells film-tested cameras from my personal collection.

The camera recommendations above were chosen based on build quality, relative ease of use, ergonomics, accessibility (which is why they all shoot 35mm film — the easiest film to find), their looks, and the amount of fun I had while using them.

I also limited my list to cameras with no interchangeable lenses (fewer components to worry about) and weighing less than 1kg/2lb (cheaper shipping, more versatile).

By the way: Please consider making your film camera purchase using this link  (or any of the links above) so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!