Despite having four more SLRs than pictured here, these are my latest incarnation of the core kit I love and need.
I’m tired of having more, and always switching batteries, straps and lenses around.
Here’s why I love these five, and plan to keep them and sell the rest –
As fierce as it is handsome, it does all I possibly need from an SLR, efficiently and seamlessly.
This is the one I reach for if I need a wide ISO and shutter speed range (ISO6-6400 and 1/4000s to 16s respectively), exposure compensation (+/- 2 in 1/3 stops), exposure bracketing (+/- 0.5 or 1 stop), continuous shooting and automated wind on.
It also has the purest viewfinder (VF) of any camera, pure matte, bar the simple central circle.
Though I don’t yet have a Zeiss lens with MM modes, the 167MT supports these so offers shutter priority and three program modes, as well as the fully Manual (M) and Aperture Priority (Av) modes that can be used with an C/Y lens. With the M42 > C/Y adapter I can use any lens I have (I now only have M42 and C/Y lenses!) on the one camera.
Also, this is the only camera here I don’t have any “if onlys” about. It has everything.
Contax 139 Quartz
My favourite SLR I have ever used.
Simpler than the awesome 167MT, but with that comes smaller size, lighter weight and a more straightforward, arguably more immersive experience.
Excellent VF, Av and M modes, and the smoothest wind on and shutter button I’ve yet experienced in any SLR, make it an absolute delight to use.
With the aperture read out as well as shutter speed in the VF (that remain easy to see, yet don’t obstruct the main composition), plus a depth of field (DOF) preview button, it has all I need for 95% of my photography.
I might argue the button on the front for exposure check is less instinctive to use than a half press of the shutter button, but the 159MM has that, as well as a wider range of capabilities, yet somehow I don’t like that model as much as the 139 Quartz or the 167MT.
Canon EOS 500
This still feels a very strange choice for me, and a real oddball in that it’s relatively modern (1993-96), very plasticky, not made by Contax or Pentax, plus I have no native lenses for it.
But despite my long reluctance – disdain even, at even picking up an EOS, I finally succumbed when this came along and still left me change from a fiver.
For the money it’s an incredibly useful, versatile and easy to use camera.
The ergonomics are surprisingly good, it’s very light, and in many ways is even more capable than the 167MT, equalling the ISO6-6400 range of film speeds, plus whilst the top shutter speed is a stop slower at 1/2000s, the max is an impressive 30s!
The VF, if not a revelation compared with the Contax cameras, is really very good for a camera designed purely with AF lenses in mind.
Talking of which, with a native EF lens you have the option of auto or manual focus, Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Program modes, as well as further portrait, landscape, macro and sports modes, and a very fancy A-DEP (Automatic Depth of Field) setting which apparently lets you choose two points between which you want everything to be in focus, then the camera chooses the right aperture to do this. Wow!
I’m very tempted to pick up a 50/1.8 EF lens to explore these modes, and then I’d have an SLR that covers every mode from fully manual (ISO, focus, aperture, shutter speed) to fully auto and everything in between.
Oh and the exposure system is excellent, I’ve been delighted with the shots I’ve got with the EOS and my M42 lenses so far. As well as the M42 > EOS adapter I have a C/Y to EOS adapter so again like the Contax bodies I can use any lens I have on this camera.
Asahi Pentax Spotmatic F
The most classic, most endearing, best built and smoothest to use M42 SLR I’ve tried. Indeed it’s the best mechanical camera I’ve used full stop. Just a joy, especially with the Takumar lenses.
Whilst the meter does work in mine, I just use it Sunny 16 (Sunny 11 in the UK!) and get along fine.
The camera I reach for when I want battery-less old school simplicity, elegance and fine mechanical engineering.
Contax 139 Quartz
Same as the other one, just this one has been re-covered. Aside from that they’re equally delicious to handle and use, and it’s the only camera I love so much I feel I need a back up!
Writing about these five has been enlightening.
It’s compounded the fact that the three Contax and the Spotmatic are absolute keepers and cameras I adore owning and using.
But surprisingly, more than that, it’s reminded me how versatile the little EOS is, and how it’s the lightest and arguable most versatile body of all here. An AutoFocus EF lens (50/1.8 or maybe 35/2) seems very tempting, which would extend its versatility much further still.
Which is almost unbelievable, especially given it cost me about a tenth of what the other four here did!
The conclusion, to my own shock as much as anyone, seems to be that for those who want a light, adaptable, capable and super affordable film SLR, get an EOS and an M42 adapter!
What are your favourite SLRs? Have you had any of the above, or similar? Let us know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.