All Manual 35mm Cameras
Total Control Is In Your Hands

After more than a decade of technological innovation, the multimode SLR cameras now dominate just about every brand on the market. Packed with a full array of capabilities, their "intelligent" exposure meters, multiple Programs, "fuzzy logic" computers, and predictive AF systems offer valuable advantages. And yet, the fully manual SLR and rangefinder cameras continue to hold their own in even in this high tech era.

That's because some photographers reject the automation, insisting on exercising control over the entire process. Then there are those who prefer the simplicity of old-style cameras which allow anyone to shoot intuitively without a steep learning curve. Others are looking for a rugged body as a backup to more sensitive multimode SLRs--in sub-zero conditions, or in electronics-frying temperatures. In addition, many photography teachers recommend all-manual rangefinder or SLRs as the best way to learn about exposure and focusing effects. Thus schools and photo courses are great homes for new and used manual SLRs.

Whenever the photographer strays far from the nearest source of batteries, one of the models with a fully mechanical shutter will make for a suitable companion. Naturally, metering will cease to function without power. Yet there are several options for accurate exposure: the Sunny f/16 Rule, the tips packed with film, an accessory light meter, or simply relying on experience as your guide.

My survey of the market revealed a surprising number of all-manual, interchangeable lens cameras, some with fully mechanical shutters. This means that the shutter is cocked by advancing the film mechanism. The following range from the inexpensive starter SLRs to the more pricey models with high prestige value, for those who can afford superior craftsmanship and materials. None of the cameras surveyed include any automatic features. Note that some do include TTL flash metering capability with dedicated units, while several feature a PC cord socket; the latter will be appreciated by those who use studio flash systems.

Best Of Both Worlds
Combining a Carl Zeiss pedigree with Kyocera engineering, the Contax S2 and S2b benefit from the expertise of both partners. Identical in all other respects, the S2 incorporates spot metering while the S2b offers center-weighted metering. Operating either beauty is an exercise in simplicity, true to its developers' mandate: "Choose mechanical over electronic mechanisms where these will heighten precision, reliability, and durability." Even so, the conventional S2 models have a couple of "modern" amenities as noted in our Technical Specifications.

The shutter is mechanical and the classy aluminum alloy and titanium body is constructed with remarkable dedication to quality control; offering extraordinary structural integrity. The S2/S2b is extensively sealed against dust and moisture, while shock absorbing precautions safeguard internal mechanisms. Contax offers nearly three dozen T* lenses but few accessories for the S2/S2b, dedicated to a "simple is best" principle. Whether this limits your options, or encourages a return to the fundamentals of photography, depends entirely on your own perspective.

The Leica Essentials
The latest of the M-series rangefinders, the M6TTL, gained TTL flash metering but otherwise maintains the Leica philosophy of concentrating on the essentials of photography. There is a second model, the "M6TTL 0.85," which offers greater range/view finder magnification: 0.85x vs. the standard 0.72x. Its viewfinder includes frame lines for lenses 35-135mm (instead of 28-135mm) plus a 20 percent larger viewing area and a larger distance measuring field. Hence, it's most useful with longer lenses and in low light or low contrast conditions.

These are all-manual, mechanical cameras with TTL ambient light metering of the central image area. Other features include a die-cast metal body, plated with black or silver chrome; extreme ruggedness; high shock resistance; and a design intended for flawless operation even in extreme temperatures. New amenities include a larger, knurled shutter speed dial for greater ease of adjustments, automatic transmission of ISO data, greater shutter speed accuracy, and a "power off" setting to conserve the battery. The improved metering guidance signals and new "Flash Ready" and "Flash Exposure OK" signals in the viewfinder also make the new cameras even more desirable than the previous M6.

This is a small but hefty camera of high-grade zinc, aluminum, and brass. Superior craftsmanship, perfect finish, and technical excellence matching its lofty price distinguish this Leica SLR. All controls provide silky smooth operation. Assuring the loyalty of Leicaphiles, over three dozen lenses include superlative optics and mechanisms.

The Traditionalist's Nikons
Although Nikon designers are masters of advanced technology, they recognize a continuing demand for a fully mechanical SLR. In arctic conditions when batteries fail, and LCD panels fade, the rugged FM2N is just what the doctor ordered. The epitome of reliability, its shutter will keep operating at all speeds, while the other mechanisms should remain up to the challenge as well.

The FM2N is a suitable backup to an autofocus Nikon SLR as it accepts AF and conventional Nikkor lenses. Of course you won't get autofocusing or the benefits of D-type Nikkor lenses, but Nikon F-mount consistency is a major plus. Housed in the die-cast alloy body (or titanium in the FM2T) are several meaningful capabilities, all simple to access.

Flash control is manual and non-TTL, as with most of the models surveyed. Use an accessory flash meter for the most precise control of flash exposure or a Speedlite with external sensor when you want some automatic assist. Since this type measures distance instead of reflectance, accurate results are possible even with ultra-bright, or backlit, subjects.

Nikon's entry-level FM10 is a highly affordable model used by many students. This model includes depth of field preview and multiple exposure control. It's generally sold in a kit with a Nikkor 35-70mm f/3.5-4.8 zoom but accepts the vast range of Nikkor manual and AF lenses. This camera is compact and lightweight and features an attractive black and champagne colored exterior.

Olympus Duo
A classic OM camera in refined form, the OM-3Ti is renowned for the rigid, corrosion and impact-resistant aluminum alloy chassis with elegant titanium top and bottom cover. The shutter is mechanically controlled in this compact, precise instrument which combines time-tested features with some technical advances.

Serious photographers will appreciate the Highlight and Shadow control that automatically compensates for ultra-bright or very dark-toned scenes. Or use multi spot metering, taking precise measurements of two to eight segments of a scene; the OM3-Ti will average the readings, displaying each, plus the cumulative value, on a bar graph in the finder. More importantly perhaps, there's the ability to synchronize with flash at shutter speeds to 1/2000 sec when used with accessory flash F280. At the higher speeds, its distance range diminishes markedly, calling for faster film, wider aperture, or moving closer to the subject. Still, this versatility will be appreciated: for depth of field control in bright light and in extreme close-up photography. Over two dozen Zuiko lenses plus an extensive line of accessories are available.

As a low-priced alternative, consider the all-manual OM 2000, a compact SLR that is highly versatile, with center-weighted and narrow-area metering for greater exposure control. Olympus lenses include a stop-down lever for full depth of field preview. This model has a rugged die-cast aluminum chassis and alloy top and bottom covers plus a fully mechanical shutter. The OM 2000 targets the student of photography and others looking for an affordable SLR.

The Student's Phoenix
There are two Phoenix models, including the all-manual P1 with its mechanical shutter and K-mount to accept many brands of lenses. A polycarbonate body makes this a lightweight but rugged model available in black or titanium finish. Although he mentioned the lack of depth of field preview in his review of this camera, Tom Fuller offered the following positive comments (Shutterbug, May 2000): "The Phoenix P1 represents one of the best values today€design, construction, and engineering are quite impressive€ this may become the new 'syllabus camera' for students worldwide."

Classic Voigtlnder
Photographers who want something unique should check out the new Voigtlnder cameras from THK Photo Products Inc. Substantially similar, the fully manual Bessa-L and Bessa-R feature a 39mm L-screwmount system and are made with a die-cast aluminum chassis plus some polycarbonate parts. The Bessa-L is a scale-focusing model while the Bessa-R has a coupled optical rangefinder for precise focusing with longer lenses. The viewfinder of the latter includes parallax adjusted frame lines for 35mm, 50mm, 75mm, and 90mm lenses, changed with a switch on top of the camera. The Voigtlnder 25mm and 15mm lenses are not rangefinder-coupled, so use the separate shoe-mount finder (included).

TTL center-weighted light metering is standard on both models, but cannot be used with lenses that have extremely short back-focus. The Bessa-L sports LED exposure signals on the camera back, while the LED lights of the Bessa-R are visible in the viewfinder. A mechanical metal shutter is used, with a double-bladed design that prevents stray light from reaching the film. Both cameras are available in silver or black. The new Voigtlnder lenses offer exceptional resolution and contrast. In his review of the Bessa-R (Shutterbug, July 2000), Roger W. Hicks wrote that the camera is "a joy to use" and he found physical operation became "almost instinctive" quite soon.

Affordable Alternatives
Vivitar offers the V4000 all-manual camera. Sold in a kit with a 35-70mm zoom, this model's K-mount will accept a multitude of lenses from various manufacturers. Vivitar chose not to employ a mechanical shutter, specifying an electronic mechanism instead, for greater long-term accuracy.

Another similar model recently came to my attention, the Kalimar KX-5000. (Kalimar is now a division of the Tiffen Companies.) As indicated in our specs, this too is a back-to-basics model, sold in a kit with a lens. This camera employs the Pentax K-mount too, so you'll be able to find numerous lenses from various manufacturers, either new, or used. Tiffen's other new company, Kodak Gear, now sells some K-mount lenses as well.

Because they are not available everywhere, our specs do not include the Ukrainian and Russian made cameras. For information, check the Kiev/USA and Russian Camera Exchange ads in Shutterbug, or visit and on the web. Bob Shell indicates that the Kiev 19--with polycarbonate body and Nikon AI mount--is an "old-fashioned" camera with metal bladed focal plane shutter. It's "solidly made with accurate TTL exposure metering (manual) and a nice and bright viewfinder image" plus depth of field preview control, PC cord socket, and hot shoe for non-TTL flash.

The Fed 5C (Kiev/USA) is a Russian Leica-inspired camera that accepts screwmount lenses made for Zenit and Zorki. Its cloth focal-plane shutter offers speeds from 1 to 1/500 sec with 1/30 sec flash synch; the built-in meter does not require batteries and parallax compensation marks are provided in the finder. The metric focusing scale gets down to one meter. The Zenit 122K features the popular K-mount, TTL metering, hot shoe, PC cord socket, and LED signals in the viewfinder. It's sold with a 58mm f/2 preset lens. Other Zenit models are also available.

Cambridge Camera Exchange responds with the Cambron TTL with screw thread mount, internal CdS meter that does not require batteries, and an all-metal ("airplane alloy") body. Apparently, "the gears are machined and set in Rheslum bushings like the best Swiss watches." It's sold in a kit with 58mm f/2 lens. (See their Shutterbug ad or

The Rangefinder Camera
Although the Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera is most common in the 35mm format today, several rangefinder cameras also accept interchangeable lenses. Instead of allowing you to view the scene through the single lens that will record the image (like an SLR) these cameras use a rangefinder: a viewing system above or beside the lens. With the current models, the view is quite accurate. You do see what will be recorded on film thanks to a sophisticated viewfinder that adjusts to the lens focal length and the focused distance. With telephoto lenses (usually as long as 90mm or 135mm, depending on the brand) you may need to check lines in the finder for the correct angle of view. Also, for accurate framing in any extreme close-up photography, you may need to check the parallax compensation marks in the finder.

Rangefinder cameras are certainly worth considering. With one of these models, you can see the subject at all times, as the view does not black out when the image is being taken. The cameras (and lenses) are usually smaller, less conspicuous, and virtually silent in operation. Most models are elegant, offering a prestigious look and feel plus fine mechanical components and optics are a bonus. In comparison to SLR systems, there are a few drawbacks: generally less automation, higher price with some brands, fewer accessories and lenses (usually from ultra-wide to short telephoto) plus a view that is not quite as clear with telephoto lenses, or as accurate in close-ups.

Nonetheless, we are seeing more and more rangefinder cameras on the market. Most of the benefits mentioned earlier are appreciated when working with people, when capturing the right gesture or the "decisive moment" is important. Hence, it's no surprise that rangefinders are the preferred cameras of many photojournalists as well as travel photographers. While most rangefinder owners also have a full SLR system--often including longer telephoto lenses and high-speed motor drives--few would ever switch entirely.

Tech Specs: All-Manual Cameras

Contax S2 and S2b: Mechanical shutter; 1 to 1/4000 sec; flash synch to 1/250 sec; non-TTL flash metering; PC cord socket; S2: 5mm spot meter; S2b: center-weighted; depth of field preview; multiple exposure; 20 oz.

Kalimar KX-5000: 1 to 1/1000 sec shutter; flash synch to 1/60 sec; center-weighted meter; Minolta MD mount; non-TTL flash metering; sold in kit with 50mm or 35-70mm lens; 15.2 oz.

Leica M6TTL: Mechanical shutter; 1 to 1/1000 sec; flash synch to 1/50 sec; TTL flash metering and balanced fill flash; PC cord socket; selective area (23 percent) meter; auto parallax compensation frame lines (from 28-135mm) in finder; 19 oz.

Nikon FM2N: Mechanical shutter; 1 to 1/4000 sec; flash synch to 1/250 sec; non-TTL flash metering; PC cord socket; center-weighted meter; depth of field preview; multiple exposure; 19 oz.

Nikon FM10: Electronic shutter; 1 to 1/2000 sec; flash synch to 1/125 sec; non-TTL flash metering; center-weighted meter; multiple exposure; depth of field preview; 14.7 oz.

Olympus OM-3Ti: Electronic shutter; 1 to 1/2000 sec; mechanical release (without batteries) at 1/60 sec and "Bulb"; flash synch to 1/60 sec; synch at all shutter speeds with F280 flash unit; TTL/OTF flash metering; PC cord socket; center-weighted, 2 percent spot and multi spot meter; dioptric correction; depth of field preview on lenses; 18 oz.

Olympus OM 2000: Mechanical shutter; 1 to 1/2000 sec; flash synch to 1/125 sec; non-TTL flash metering; center-weighted and spot meter; multiple exposure; depth of field preview on lenses; 15.2 oz.

Phoenix P1: Mechanical shutter; 1 to 1/2000 sec; flash synch to 1/125 sec; non-TTL flash metering; PC cord socket; center-weighted meter; 13.5 oz.

Vivitar V4000: Electronic shutter; 1 to 1/2000 sec; flash synch to 1/125 sec; non-TTL flash metering; PC cord socket; center-weighted meter; 15 oz.

Contax Division of Kyocera Optics Inc.
(800) 526-0266

Leica Camera Inc./Minox
(201) 767-7500
fax: (201) 767-8666

Nikon Inc.
(516) 547-4200
fax: (516) 547-8518

Olympus America Inc.
(800) 347-4027
(516) 844-5262

Phoenix Corporation of America
(516) 764-5890
fax: (516) 764-5970

THK Photo Products Inc. (Voigtlnder)
(562) 494-9575
fax: (562) 494-3375

The Tiffen Co. (Kalimar)

Vivitar Corporation
(805) 498-7008
fax: (805) 498-5086