My favorite camera is a basic old school film camera, a Minolta XG1, circa 1979.
This baby came from my mother-in-law, who pulled it out of her storage closet for me. The camera takes 35 mm film (the common film you can buy at any drug store) and is a SLR (single lens reflex, meaning what you see through the viewfinder is exactly what will show up in the photo). I use a 45 mm 1:2 lens. This means the frame is about what the human eye sees (45 mm) and the aperture (1:2) can be set to show a good depth of field and work well in low-light situations. I can swap out the lens for another lens to get different effects (zoom, wide angle, etc). However, for now I have only this one lens, which is perfect for most of my shooting. A flash unit can be attached on top, but I rarely use flash.
The camera is fully manual. Manual cameras can be intimidating because they require knowledge of basic photography concepts. Don’t let this hold you back! The process and results are much more rewarding with full creative control, so I encourage shooting manually. Once you break the process down, it’s really quite simple.
Step 1: Load film.
Step 2: Choose correct ISO (based on the number on your film roll)
Step 3: Choose desired shutter speed
Step 4: Choose desired aperture
Step 5: Focus
Step 6: Wind film and press shutter release button
Viola! For each subsequent frame, simply focus and change the exposure (shutter speed + aperture) as desired. This camera has a light meter that shows when your exposure is balanced, but it runs on weird batteries that go dead quickly, so most of the time I wing it based on educated guessing. The results have great tone and depth, an almost palpable feel that cannot be obtained with digital.
Minolta no longer makes cameras, but a Minolta XG can be purchased from eBay at very reasonable prices, between $50 and $100, including a lens and other accessories. Compared to the cost of equal-quality digital cameras, that is a steal. Other similar cameras that have stellar reputations and are easily attainable on eBay are the Canon AE and Pentax K100.
Are you considering buying an old school film camera? If you already have one, tell me about it!