1982. Michael Jackson releases Thriller, E.T. hits the movie theatres and Cats opens on Broadway. It was a great time to be a fan of movies, music, and theater. But it was also an amazing time to be a photographer — there were innovations with every release and more around every corner.
A couple of things I want to mention about this top 10 before we get started. I constructed this list with a few parameters in mind. First, I used Modern Photography magazine’s “Top Cameras for ‘83” but since all these cameras were available in 1982, and this issue was released in December, I’m calling this list hottest for ’82.
Next, I boiled this list down from thirty cameras to ten, by selecting the ones that were still most relevant today. The higher number of Google results, the higher it appears on the list.
After that, I limited each manufacturer to two spots on the list max. If I hadn’t, there would be four spots by one camera manufacturer, and three by another, making this a pretty boring list.
The final thing to mention is this isn’t a list of cameras released in 1982 as much as it is a list of top-selling cameras of 1982. Some of the choices here had been out for a number of years. This was a time when cameras lasted longer than six months on the shelf.
With all that being said, let’s get started.
10. Minolta CLE
At the number 10 spot is the Minolta CLE. A TTL-metered, aperture-priority 35mm rangefinder with Leica’s M mount for superior lenses and a max shutter speed of 1/1000.
The CLE resembles the Leica CL, and it should, as it was the end result of a signed agreement between Minolta and Leica in 1972 to band together and create the Leica CL. While the Leica CL would be discontinued by this time, the Minolta CLE was released in 1981.
Priced at $784, or $2,218 in 2021 money, the CLE came equipped with a Minolta M-Rokkor 40mm f/2.
This ad released in 1981 explains to the reader: “For many professionals, the classic 35mm rangefinder camera has never been surpassed for quietness, compactness, and fast focusing. To bring all this to today’s most demanding photographers, Minolta has created the remarkable new CLE.”
Minolta brags about their patented aperture priority, auto exposure system that actually measures off the film plane itself, bright viewfinder, 2 stop override, and solid-state self-timer.
Through the Lab Report by Steve Pollock, released by Popular Photography in September 1981, we learn a bit more about the rangefinder, and its limitations.
The camera has outlines for 28mm, 40mm, and 90mm lenses, and a flash sync speed of 1/60. What is also interesting is that the light meter will function on aperture priority, but not manual.
“Two inconvenient alternatives are 1) to make readings on automatic then transfer them manually, or 2) to use a separate handheld meter.”
Regardless of some minor shortcomings, the CLE still sells for as much today on eBay as it did in 1982 at your local Minolta dealer.
9. Pentax LX
At number nine is the Pentax LX. A 35mm SLR with interchangeable viewfinders. It was promoted as a whole interchangeable system. Viewfinders, flashes, grips, screens, and data backs — there was a lot of customizability with the LX.
Buying one in 1982 came standard with the 50mm f/2, the 50mm f/1.7, or the 50mm f/1.2 lens as well as an FA-1 eye lever viewfinder. This would set you back between $1,085 to $1,212.50 in ’82 money, or about $3,000 to $3,400 today.
Their advertising said, “Sixty Years of research and human engineering have given rise to a remarkable new photographic instrument.”
It promised to “exhilarate you. In your work and in your art.”
Touted are its max shutter speed of 1/2000 and max flash sync of 1/75, plus a stepless light meter that can change during exposure if the light changes.
Described as rugged yet light, the LX has automatic settings but will operate in manual without a battery. One of the things I found interesting was the four strap lugs, two of which can also be used to attach a grip.
While the LX doesn’t sell for three grand today, it still comes in at a respectable $300 to $500.
8. Leica R4
Sliding in at number eight is the Leica R4. An SLR by Leica you ask? Yes. If you’re new to film photography or don’t know that much about Leica, they don’t just produce rangefinders, but also SLRs and even point and shoots.
The R4 comes standard with a 50mm f/2 Summicron-R lens, made right here in Canada, and would set you back $2,175 in 1982 or just over $6,100 in 2021 cash. That is… exceptionally expensive.
The R4 offered aperture and shutter priority, as well as a full program mode.
Modern Photography states that the Leica R4 “is easy to use because of its well-engineered controls and readouts, and smaller, lighter body. And of the R4’s chief attractions remains the superb quality of the Leitz lenses that fit it, distinctive characteristics any photographer would be eager to own.”
A 1981 ad featuring the R4 and a slide projector had this to say about the camera.
“Consider the Leica R4. The Camera that’s so automatic, so responsive, it can do everything, simply. It’s the only camera in the world with two independent light meter systems. You can select either full area (averaging) or selective (spot) metering with a touch of the controls. And you have multi-mode automation working with the two metering systems. Again truly unique.”
A Leica R4 is surprisingly inexpensive these days. The body is just a couple hundred dollars. The lenses are why you buy a Leica though, and a 50mm f/2 SUMMICRON-R will still set you back about $500.
Still, a far cry from six grand.
7. Minolta X-700
At number 7, the Minolta X-700 makes this list to the surprise of few film photography enthusiasts. Alongside the Pentax K1000 it is today still considered one of the best learning tools for beginner photographers while also being a camera that packs enough punch for the most advanced users.
If you wanted an X-700 in 1982, you’d be looking at a $500 investment, or $1,400 by today’s standards, which would include the 50mm f/1.7. If you want one today, you can expect to pay much less, about one to two hundred dollars.
An ad appearing in November 1982 encouraged you to “Take Command of a Whole New Imaging System”. This was Minolta’s new flagship, and their pride showed in their advertising.
“Camera as Robot…at your remote control,” the ad read. “You can fire your motor-driven X-700 from more than 60 yards away by infra-red ray. You can fit it with a power winder, nine different focusing screens, choose from nearly fifty lenses. Now grip it, work the shutter, feel the quality. No wonder Minolta has the longest combined camera/lens warranty of any major camera manufacturer. Sense the thrill of owning the new X-700.”
I did a full history of the X-700 on my segment This Old Camera, and I highly recommend checking that out for more information. While this deceptively simple SLR would be in its prime in 1982, it would outlast many other advanced cameras until it was finally discontinued sometime at the turn of the millennia.
6. Leica M4-P
The number six spot belongs to the Leica M4-P, a 35mm rangefinder that was about two years old by ’82 but still made the list. Often paired with the 50mm f/1.4 Summilux or 50mm f/2 Summicron the M4-P featured a mechanically controlled cloth shutter capable of speeds up to 1/1000, viewfinder frame lines that automatically positioned when the correlating lens was mounted, and of course, the bragging rights of owning a Leica.
No light meter for this bad boy, so bring along a handheld or calculate from sunny 16. But what it does have is parallax-free framing for many focal lengths between 28mm and 135mm.
Modern Photography called it remarkably similar to the M3, released in 1954 showing the dedication to consistency.
Adjusting for inflation, buying one with a 50mm f/1.4 would set you back nearly seven thousand dollars, making this the most expensive camera on today’s list.
5. Pentax MX
Squeezing in at number five is the incredibly small but powerful Pentax MX.
I did a first-impressions video of this camera fairly recently and while I loved its small form factor, the light metering system was a strange choice. But I can see why it made the list in 1982. As Modern Photography puts it, “There is no matched-needle. Instead, within the extremely bright and large finder, to the right, is a transparent dial indicating shutter speeds settings. Adjacent to the dial are five light-emitting diodes which turn on with slight pressure on the shutter release.”
If the Pentax K1000 had a little brother, it would be the MX.
By 1982 it was a seasoned camera but still a top camera. This ad from 1978 calls it an “engineering miracle” and encourages you to “Put your money on a winner.”
Another ad from ’79 showcases its versatility by displaying its accessories. Data Backs, screens, compact lenses….mostly, and more.
With the 50mm f/1.7, you’d be looking at $402 1982 dollars, or $1,100 2021 dollars.
4. Nikon FM2
At number four, is the Nikon FM2. Five years after the highly successful Nikon FM in 1977, the FM2 makes its début in 1982.
The FM2 was essentially an all manual version of the FE. It was no slouch though, boasting a meter with an ASA range up to 6400, and a max shutter speed of a blinding, at least at the time, 1/4000 of a second. That max shutter speed would be the center point to a two-page ad released in ’82 titled: “Faster than a Speeding Bullet”, calling the FM2 “The world’s fastest 35mm SLR.”
“To create a shutter light enough yet strong enough to operate at 1/4000, Nikon engineers used ultra-thin titanium, gave it a patented chemical treatment, then etched it with a honeycomb pattern for extra strength and rigidity. This major advance in shutter technology not only makes the FM2 the world’s fastest 35mm SLR; but one that’s more accurate at slower speeds, too.”
The FM2 also had a very quick flash sync speed for its time as well, at 1/200.
Popular Photography said that “In these days of electronic bells and whistles, the Nikon FM2 is a refreshingly mechanical, no-nonsense, professional-grade camera that can take the abuse of everyday use.”
While the FM2 took batteries, this was only to power the light meter.
The FM2 came standard with a 50mm f/1.4 or f/1.8 lens at a reasonable ticket price of $598 or $523 respectively. Or about $1,600 today and while inflation rose over the years it seems that the FM2 stayed at around the same price of $500, if you want to grab a used one online.
3. Canon A-1
Grabbing the bronze medal for today’s list, at number three is the powerhouse that is the Canon A-1.
Even after five years on the market with autofocus systems starting to pop up, the Canon A-1 remained a top choice for amateur and professional photographers.
If you’re a fan of FD lenses, then the A-1 is about as much camera as you can get wrapped into one model. A look at the top panel reveals a multitude of features, like aperture, shutter, program and manual modes, exposure compensation, two self-timer settings, and the ability to create multiple exposures.
This ad here, published in ’78 gives a visual to its exposure modes letting the reader know that “Technology this advanced deserves its own word” That word being Hexa-photo-cybernetic.
For a camera of the late 70s/early 80s, the A-1 was an amazing piece of tech and remains today a top choice for analog shooters.
If you were to buy one in 1982 with 2021 money, you’d be looking at an investment of about $2,100. Today though, you can grab one used for two to three hundred.
I did a history on the Canon A-1 — be sure and check that out.
2. Canon AE-1 Program
Obtaining silver on today’s top ten is the incredibly overhyped Canon AE-1 Program.
Out of every camera on this list, the AE-1 Program is probably one everyone has heard of. It’s not that the AE-1 and AE-1 Program remains one of the best choices for a 35mm SLR, it’s that they made so many of them. With a price point of $481 in 1982, or $1,360 in 2021, it’s likely the least expensive camera on today’s list. Not at all shocking, this was the top-selling SLR of its kind even a year after production started.
An ad released in the summer of 1981 claims that “Nobody has been able to improve upon the AE-1. Until Now.” Those improvements would include a Program mode, rather than just shutter priority in the original AE-1 and a new viewfinder. Other slight cosmetic improvements as well, and amazingly, a little lighter.
On television in the west as well as the east, it was still heavily promoted as a sports camera due to the shutter priority. Winders, data backs, and flashes were all available for it as well, giving you a complete system.
To say the AE-1 and AE-1 Program had an impact on photography today is an understatement.
1. Nikon F3 HP
Getting the top spot for today’s list, the gold medal, the hottest 35mm film camera you could buy in 1982, and one that is still widely used by film photographers today, is Nikon’s flagship of the time, the Nikon F3. Specifically the F3 HP, or high eyepoint.
According to Modern Photography: “The Nikon F3 High-Eyepoint camera is identical to the regular F3 except that it incorporates the new DE-3 finder system, which allows the user to see the entire finder with his eye as far away as one inch from the finder. This provides far more convenience, especially for eyeglass wearers.”
You may ask how good the Nikon F3 really is, and the answer is good enough for NASA.
This March 1981 Ad says “The New Nikon F3. Performance so extraordinary it was selected to make history aboard the U.S. Space Shuttle.”
“To be selected by NASA for use in space, a camera must meet truly awesome requirements for precision, performance, and reliability. Because Nikon can fulfill those requirements, NASA has chosen Nikon for every manned space mission since Apollo 15, including Skylab and Apollo Soyuz.”
While it doesn’t have as many features as the A-1, it has something the A-1 does not: interchangeable viewfinders, giving this SLR a bunch of versatility. If you’re a waist-level shooter you’re in luck.
Those who still shoot with the F3 today swear by it. Nikon’s flagship didn’t come cheap though, at $1,229 in 1982 money. Or about $3,500 in 2021, when paired with the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4.
I gave my first impressions on the Nikon F3 in one of my videos.
About the author: Azriel Knight is a photographer and YouTuber based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find Knight’s photos and videos on his website, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
Sources: Camerapedia, Popular Photography, Modern Photography, KenRockwell.com, infoplease.com, eBay