Pentax K1000
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Pentax K1000

History: The Pentax K1000 first debuted in 1976 (same year as the Canon AE-1) and was manufactured continuously for just over two decades. The body is made mostly of metal and the camera is fully mechanical in operation (there is no auto mode). The K1000 has a built-in light meter that runs on generic drugstore camera batteries. Just remember to put the lens cap on to avoid draining the charge!

Why we like it: The K1000 represents a very different approach to the amateur SLR market than the Canon AE-1. Both are great cameras with redeeming qualities, but we really appreciate the Pentax's mechanical design, which means it can be operated without batteries (unlike the Canon). And due to its metal build, K1000's tend to stand the test of time quite well. In short, these cameras have a reputation for being simple, but reliable – great for beginners or purists. And there is also a ton of great glass to be had for the system.

'We really appreciate the Pentax's mechanical design, which means it can be operated without batteries.'

Buy one: Not only are these cameras built to last, they were made non-stop for 21 years! So it comes as no surprise that they are easy to find used. Expect to pay between $50-$175 for one on eBay, depending on the condition. Snagging a deal that includes the body and some Pentax glass is not super likely, but also not impossible. Some collectors claim the bodies with "Asahi" on the prism are more reliable - as they are older and supposedly use fewer plastic components internally - something to keep in mind.

Photo credit: John Kratz