Tuesday, August 9, 2016

10 Pretty Good Five-Dollar Cameras

Your iPhone or Android might take pretty good photos. For $500+, it ought to take photos Annie Leibovitz would buy.

But it doesn't. It's more like the world's most overpriced point-and-shoot camera. 

Compact 35mm film cameras from the 1970s-1990s are my Kryptonite. I find most of them in thrift stores, next to audio devices with old 30-pin iPod docks. Those film cameras have better lenses than a smart phone. Flashes that actually light up a scene. They make me think about composing a picture that tells a story. And if I drop a camera I bought at a Godwill or Salvation Army, I'm out a whole $5 -- not $500 plus a pricey screen replacement.

I can live with that. 

Here's a brief guide to real 35mm cameras worth looking for when you're garage-sailing or cruising thrift stores. You can go retro for just a few dollars, and see if you remember how to compose a photo with a real viewfinder pressed against your brow.

10. Olympus Infinity Twin - a somewhat boxy but weatherproof camera that avoids zoom-lens failure via a clever mirror system that switches from 35mm to 70mm just by pressing a small button. One downside: it uses two CR123A lithium batteries, which often cost more than the camera itself.

9. Yashica Microtec AF Super - a semi-stylish camera with a wide-ish 32mm lens. Uses AA--size batteries, available everywhere.

8. Olympus Stylus Zoom 80 - small, sleek, and affordable. I'm not a fan of zoom point-and-shoots, which have slower lens optics. A 2X zoom like this, however, is okay. They made a bazillion of them, and $3.99 is a good deal.

7. Any Pentax IQ Zoom. Overly complicated, but usually tank-like construction. Not quiet.

6. Nikon One Touch 100 - features an f3.5, four-element glass lens, dual self-timers, and it'll use one lithium or two AA-alkaline batteries. Mine cost $1 at Goodwill. A disposable camera costs five times as much.

5. Kodak Cameo Zoom (below) - Kodak made few memorable 35mm cameras in the 1990s. But the Cameo zoom had a very wide-angle 25mm lens that doubled to 50mm. Plus the patented "cobra" flash that really cut down on red eye -- and served as a lens cover. Mine set me back $2.

4. Canon Canonet 28. The less-pricey brother of the hard to find Canonet GIII QL17, but still indestructible and retro-looking. Buy a cheap pack of hearing aid batteries and you're in business. Use a neck strap, and look like you're posing for a Burberry's ad.

3. Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim. A simple plastic camera with a unique 22mm wide-angle lens. No battery needed. Pay no more than $3 for this cutie. Be sure the spring-loaded shutter and thumbwheel film advance work. And prepare to be amazed.

2. Canon Sure Shot Supreme - features a coated, four-element, f2.8 glass lens. Must use a small plug on the neck strap to block the light-sensor so the flash fires in tricky lighting. Bring a jeweler's screwdriver to change the battery. At $4, a steal.

And the best of the bunch?

1. Olympus Stylus (mju I) - 35mm lens, true pocket size, all but bulletproof. Zoom with your feet. At $5, it's less costly than its successor, and many include a date-imprint function. 

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