To:  Students planning to be in a photography class that works with film and chemical printing in the darkroom at Goshen College. Cameras.htm
From:  Marvin Bartel, Art Department, Goshen College - updated January, 2002

Students are required to provide their own camera in order to take the class.  This page is intended help you find a suitable camera.  After reading this page, feel free to write, or e-mail me if you still have questions.  e-mail:  Write: Bartel, Art, Goshen College, Goshen IN 46526

Index of Contents (click on your choice and use your back key to get to here again)
Buying a camera before you take the course can be very confusing. If you grew up using only automatic cameras, the long lists of features on single lens reflex cameras can make it very hard to decide what you need.  No matter what you buy, at the end of the course, you will probably wish you had a different camera or lens. You can expect to spend from $150 for a good basic used camera to several $1,000 for a feature filled new camera with only one lens. If you have limited finances, it makes most sense to buy an inexpensive basic new or used camera that you can sell again when you are more advanced. At the end of the first term, you will know what kind of camera you wish you had. Then when you have the funds, you can sell this one and buy the one of your dreams. You need these five features for your class camera.

1.  It should be a single lens reflex (SLR) design for 35 mm film.  This design uses the same lens for the view finder and the film.  The view finder is a hump on the top center.  The lens is removable.  Point-and-shot automatic cameras are NOT used in the class.  Advanced Photo System (APS) cameras are NOT used in the class.  The APS film is smaller, so enlargements are not as sharp.  Many film types are not available for Advanced Photo System camera.  It does not fit our processing equipment and our negative holders. If you already own a good quality 35 mm range finder camera with the four features below, you may use it.

2.  You should be able to focus manually.  If it has auto focus, be sure you can also focus manually.

3.  You should be able to set the exposure (aperture size and shutter speed) manually.  If it has automatic exposure control be sure it can also be set manually.  If it is an older model, be sure it has a functioning light meter in it or with it.

4.  You should be able to set the film speed (ASA) or (ISO) manually.  If it has automatic DX coding for film speed, be sure it can also be set manually.  We will bulk load film in cassettes.  If you require coded film cassettes, you will have some disadvantages.  At this time we can only load 100 and 400 ASA film cassettes.

5.  The camera should have at least a normal (about 50 mm) lens.  If you want more than one lens you might consider a wide angle (24, 28 or 35mm) or a telephoto (85, 135, 180 or 200 mm).  Zoom lenses are only recommended if you can get a second lens, but some are less sharp and they require more light than fixed focal length lenses of the same price.  If you have only one lens, do NOT select a zoom lens. If you buy a zoom lens, be careful about quality. Some off brands sold in price promotions produce only blurry images when you make enlargements.

Any of the following brands are good:  Leica, Nikon, Minolta, Pentax, Olympus, Ricoh, Vivitar or Canon.  The following are also good, but have fewer lenses available in case you want to add some in the future: Chinon, Fuji, Yashica, or Konica.  Nearly every brand has a different lens mount which makes the lenses for one brand useless on other brands.  The Ricoh camera also uses Pentax K-mount lenses.  The new Vivitar camera can also uses a Minolta lens.  All these companies also make "point and shoot" 35 mm cameras, but they are not adaptable enough for our class.  We need to have a single lens reflex (SLR) camera for class use.

Good brand names for lenses include the camera's own brand or one of the following: Vivitar, Kiron, Soligor, Sigma, Konica, Tokina, or Tamron.  Accept no others unless you can find an independent evaluation of the lens published in a reputable journal.  Some of the lens "knock offs" have brand names that are spelled almost like the above names.  Inferior lenses take pictures that look okay as 3 x 5 prints, but when you enlarge them, the pictures start to look like you forgot to focus. Some of them give inferior tonal discrimination and contrast. 

If you are selecting a new camera, do NOT buy a zoom lens as your only lens.  Have at least one brand name 50 mm normal lens for the camera so you can take high quality sharp negatives.  Beware of inferior zoom lenses often combined with good cameras for special price promotions.  Discount promotions which include lenses with strange names sold by Sears and others are not sharp enough for good enlargements.  Additionally, the view finder is darker when using most zoom lenses.  Zoom by walking closer using a bright single focal length lens. You can fill the frame and the brighter viewfinder makes it easier to get a properly focused and well framed higher quality negative.

The following items are also used for some assignments.  We will have this equipment available to you on a overnight check out basis for you to use when you need it.  However, it will be more convenient to have your own.

1.  Cable release.  These are under $10 and a cable shutter release is essential for time exposures and certain other special effects.

2.  Flash.  Any flash that you may have is useful.  If you are buying one, try to get one with bounce capabilities and a guide number of at least 100.  Also see specific recommendations below if you are buying one.

3.  Tripod.  Any tripod is useful.  The heavier and more expensive ones are more stable and durable but heavier to carry.

Where to get a NEW camera (also see "Buying a USED camera")
1.  Buy new or used equipment from a store.  Check Gene’s in Goshen or South Bend.  Gene's is at 118 South Main St., in Goshen (219-533-3816). In Elkhart, check Elkhart Camera Center, phone: (219)295-1040.  In other cities, check the yellow pages.  Tell them you are a student and list the five camera capabilities listed earlier in this page.

2.  In Chicago, Central Camera, 230 S. Wabash, 1-800-421-1899,  is only a few blocks from the Chicago Art Institute.  It is a favorite supply source for Chicago photography students.

3.  Mail order from Popular Photography (from newsstands or Goshen College library) or Shutterbug magazine ads.  It is cheaper than local dealers if you know what you want and don't mind dealing with rude order takers on the phone.  Unfortunately, the order takers hate to describe the features of the equipment.  Also, local dealers hate to spend much time with people who are planning to order by mail.  If you mail-order from a magazine ad, do the following before giving them your credit card number:  I have had dishonest experiences with some companies who assure me that they have my item in inventory, but when the order fails to arrive three weeks later, they admit that it is out-of-stock. Check this site for some hints on ordering by phone. I have always had honest representation, good service, and fairly good prices from B & H Photo. I have ordered photographic paper, but not cameras, from Freestyle in California (800-292-6137). The supplies were sent promptly.

 a.  Only order if they check to be sure they have the item in stock and can send it immediately.  Otherwise, they may use your money while you wait without a camera.

 b.  Ask them to tell you the current price as well as the shipping and handling charges on your order.

 c.  With the economies of Asian countries changing rapidly there may be some very good bargains.  So long as you buy from the brands listed above, it does not matter greatly whether the camera or lens is assembled in Japan, Malasia, China, or some other country.  The quality control is the responsibility of the brand-name parent company.  The actual country of manufacture is often determined by the labor market.

NOTE:  "Better deals" or "substitutions" offered by order takers over the phone are often cheap and inferior products.  I never accept the “good deal” being pushed by the order taker.  They are often low quality zoom telephoto lenses that make blurry pictures lacking contrast, particularly if enlarged.

When you get your camera, study the book carefully.  Try out every feature without film.  Then use a roll of film using every feature and get it processed as soon as possible to make sure everything works.

6.  Shop the Internet. Use a search engine like and type in what you want. Lots of companies are selling new and used cameras. Use cautions when ordering on the Internet similar to the cautions mentioned above for magazine ads. I have generally had good service from companies doing business on the web, however some list items they do not have in stock, so be sure to follow up to see when the item is shipped. The good sites allow you to use your browser to track the order and see when it is shipped.  With a bit of research on the Internet you can find comments from former customers about almost retailer.  I avoid companies who have a high number of former customer complaints. Ebay has a huge number of both new and used cameras for sale.

Buying or borrowing a USED camera
A used camera, if it has had careful use, can often be sold again for as much as it costs you.  Repairs, however, often cost $100 or more.  Therefore, only buy used cameras that look and function like new.  Be sure to ask for the instruction book.  Companies that buy and sell used cameras by phone or on the Internet generally have a grading system. Here is a grading system example. Study the grading system used by the source you are ordering from.

Places to check for used cameras:

1.  Family members. Borrow a camera until you know what you really want.

2.  A friend may be willing to rent it to you.  Know the value of it.  Agree on compensation if it gets damaged, lost or stolen.  Is it insured?  Who pays for repairs while you are renting it? Expect to buy some new batteries yourself.

3.  Watch the classified ads in the newspaper.  Ask around.  Be sure you can get a refund if something doesn't work.  Don't pay more than a camera store would charge for a similar used camera. Be sure to ask for the instruction book.  Careful owners keep the book and know where to find it.  If a mint condition camera has a low price without a book, check the Internet to see if you can find somebody willing to sell a copy of an instruction book.

4.  Photo magazines like Shutterbug and the Internet have large selections of used cameras and lenses for sale. Here is a directory of used camera sellers

5.  The Internet is a huge market place.  Using a search engine like google or goto.  Type used camera, click search, and it will finds lots of sources.  Or, try typing the brand and model number of a camera you want, and see what you find.  Ebay has a huge number of used cameras for sale.  Here is a directory of used camera sellerstop of page

Recommended Cameras
 Freestyle in Los Angeles sends a free catalog and they ship free.  You can call 800-292-6137 for a new catalog.  Or visit their web page at

Any newsstand has Popular Photography or Shutterbug.  Here are a few prices from a recent issue.

As of August, 1999, a used Pentax K1000 without a lens is $160 (works okay) to $200 (works and looks like new). A 50 mm f/2 Pentax lens is $40 or $50. Add shipping.  A 50 mm f/1.7 Pentax lens costs a bit more, but is faster and it is a better lens.  Either lens will be fine as a basic all purpose lens.  The K1000 has been discontinued by Pentax, but there are still quite a few being sold.  It is a well made camera ideally suited for learning.  It keeps its value very well.  The new model replacing the K1000 is the Pentax KX-M.  It is about the same price as the K1000.

A Minolta X-370, or X-700 is also a very good choice.  Prices will be similar to Pentax.  The X-700 have more features and cost a bit more.  A Canon AE-1 is another excellent choice that has the features we want and one of best rated lenses.

There are many other choices.  Be sure it has the five camera capabilities mentioned at the top of this page.

NOTE about lenses:  Most cameras require lenses which are specifically designed for each camera brand.  For example, a Nikon lens will not work on a Minolta camera.  The exception is that a few of the smaller companies use lenses that are interchangeable with Pentax.  Ricoh is an example.  Pentax K-mount lenses fit on several other small camera companies.  Vivitar cameras can  use Minolta lenses.

We supply overnight checkout of Vivitar 283 and Vivitar 285 flash attachments.  These are widely used by photojournalists.  If you want to  purchase your own, they are listed in the Freestyle catalog.  They are automatic and can be bounced, but they are not dedicated to specific cameras, so they work on all cameras.  They have good power with a guide number of 120.  Do not buy a flash with a guide number below 100 for class use.  The 283 is about $70 and the 285 is about $90.  They are the same power, but the 285 has a few more features.

If you use one of cameras with more features, like the Minolta X-700, you may want a dedicated flash metered through the lens of the camera, but the cost for a flash unit of the same power will be higher.  I use a Vivitar 1 Series flash which has dedicated connectors for 3 different camera brands.  Some models can be purchased with a dedicated module to match your camera.  This is only helpful if the camera is a model that can take advantage of through the lens flash metering.  The cheaper cameras like the Pentax K1000, Minolta X-370, Ricoh KR-5, and the VivitarV50 can not take advantage of the dedicated flash's metering circuitry, so the Vivitar 283 or 285 is the most cost effective for the quality and power.

I hope this has been helpful.  If you know persons who have had the course they can answer your questions.  Whatever you get, use it with care and guard it from theft.  It will be a good investment which can help you produce countless fine photographs for many years.  You can always trade it for something with more features.  Call if you have questions.  Best wishes.  See you in class.

Things to do now
Visit galleries and museums to see photo shows in your area.  Browse photo magazines and photo books in local libraries?  Stay curious.  Ask yourself these questions: 
  • What do I see first in this photograph?  Why? 
  • What else do I think is important? Why? 
  • What secrets can I find in this photograph?
  • Why might the photographer included something partially hidden?
  • What is unique and original about this photograph? 
  • What do I think this photograph means?
  • Why do I suppose this photograph made? 
  • If I would have taken this photograph, what would I have changed about it? 
  • What makes one photograph more important than another? 
  • What photographs have I seen that help make the world a better place? 
  • Why? How? 
Practice selecting the best newspaper photo in your paper.  Good photographs generally have captivating images.  Great photos also have effective composition that leads the eye through the work and draws one into the picture in subtle ways.  Sometimes very good photographs have no one obvious attention getter, but it is packed with content.  Sometimes things are virtually hidden, but very rewarding to those of us who take the time and care to really study the image.

If don't carry a camera with you, start using your hands to make a small view finder.  Use this view finder to frame compositions that you think would be good photographs.  Cultivate your photographer's eye by seeing all your surroundings as potential photographs.

text and photos by  ©  Marvin Bartel, all rights reserved. 
You are invited to link this page to your page. For permission to reproduce or place this page on your site or to make printed copies, e-mail:
      Marvin Bartel, Ed.D., Professor of Art
      Goshen College, 1700 South Main St., Goshen IN 46526
      fax: 574-535-7660