A few weeks ago I bumped into a photographer acquaintance who by chance was carrying the same model of camera that I had with me that day, a Nikon FM3A. That’s quite a coincidence as it’s not a commonly-seen camera.

Over coffee the conversation turned to cameras and he asked me what one film camera would I choose to keep if I could only have one …

I told him rather evasively that each of my cameras had been acquired for a particular purpose (not strictly true) and that making a choice would be tough.

The question though keeps coming back to me, and so I thought I should answer it for myself.

I have discussed my attitude to cameras in previous posts. My post ‘on simple cameras‘, extolled the virtues of simplicity in the design of a camera. ‘A journey of cameras‘, catalogued the cameras that I have used at different stages of my development as a photographer. Since writing that post I have acquired a few more cameras.

The answer to the question is determined by what criteria are chosen as important, and knowing this depends on considering the circumstances in which you see yourself taking phogtographs. I tend to have a camera with me pretty much all the time, so for me, limiting oneself to just one camera suggests that the camera should have the following attributes:

  • General purpose camera – It should be a generalist rather than a special purpose camera. So that would rule out, for example, my pinhole cameras.
  • Portability – It should be easily portable and capable of being a ‘background object’, rather than one that invites attention. So that rules out large format, heavy medium format such as Hasselblad, and for me, Leica, as it seems to draw so much attention.
  • Useable format – It should be a large enough format to enable 12×16 good quality prints. So that rules out my Pentax auto 110.
  • Good interchangeable lenses – That rules out my Mamiya-Six and other fixed lens cameras.
  • Capable of fully manual operation – It should be capable of taking photographs without the need of electronics or batteries. That rules out my ‘current work-horse’ camera, a Nikon F3.

That leaves me with four cameras: The Olympus OM1, the Voigtlander Bessa R2, the Nikon FM3A and the Nikon FM2n.

The build quality of the Bessa does not compare to the Nikons or Olympus. The lenses available to the Nikons are better than the Olympus. I also think the Nikons are more robust.

My final choice, if I could only have one camera: the Nikon FM3A. I would prefer it to the FM2n because it has the option of aperture priority metering, which can be very helpful, say in street photography. At the same time it does take pictures without the need of a battery. It is light, simple and quite robust. I think the Nikon FM2n is also wonderful, so I wouldn’t be disappointed in that.

Not much to choose between FM3A and FM2n.

Interestingly, based on my criteria my two ‘best, (i.e. most expensive!)’ 35mm cameras do not make the final: the Nikon F3 and my rangefinder Leica MA.

I really enjoy using the F3 – it always seems to be near-at-hand. As for the Leica MA, superb as it is, it doesn’t often go out these days. I don’t really know why that’s the case though. Perhaps it’s time it moved onto a new home.

Nikon F3 – never far away from my side
Leica MA – not getting out much these days

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