The best retro cameras have a charm that’s impossible to replicate. Styled after the film SLRs and rangefinders of decades past, but on the inside filled with cutting-edge imaging technology.
You might think that retro cameras are something of a niche interest, but they’re actually big business. Some manufacturers, most notably Fujifilm and Olympus, make retro-styled cameras more or less exclusively. There are also the big names like Leica, who plough serious money into crafting digital cameras that look and feel like its 20th-century rangefinder shooters.
We’ve been thinking about retro cameras a lot lately, and they can be separated into two main types, which we’ve used for this buying guide.
• Cheap and simple: these are cameras that look retro, but handle more like modern digital mirrorless cameras in terms of their controls. This is the most affordable way to get the retro look, but you don’t get the retro feel.
• Real-deal retro: these cameras use physical dial-based controls that feel much more like a classic film camera. They’re often built to discourage excessive use of the rear screen (“chimping”), some making the screen harder to access mid-shoot and others doing away with it entirely! These cameras tend to be more expensive, as some are designed for professional photographers, but you also get a larger sensor and generally better features.
A quick note – in this article we’re counting off the best retro cameras that are digital – all of the models on here were released in the last few years. If you want a genuinely analogue retro experience, then our guide to the best film cameras is a fantastic place to start.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for the singular lo-fi retro experience of instant film – the Polaroid look – then our guide to the best instant cameras is where you want to be.
Best retro cameras in 2021
Best retro cameras: Cheap and simple
Nikon had a good go at a retro digital camera in 2013 in the form of the Nikon Df – a DSLR now discontinued. While it had its fans, it strained its full retro concept by virtue of the fact that most of its lenses had no aperture rings, and it came at a chunky premium price.
Fast forward eight years and we’re trying again with the Nikon Z fc, a retro camera that sensibly targets a more entry- to mid-level market. It’s the second APS-C camera for Z mount, and comes with dial-based retro controls – though if you prefer not to use them, you can capture shots in a much more digital way by tapping the touchscreen. Images look great, and the 4K UHD video is no slouch either.
If you don’t care about its stylish retro looks, the Nikon Z50 is basically the same camera for less money – though given that you’re reading a guide to the best retro cameras, we’ll assume you do.
• Read more: Nikon Z fc review
The Olympus Pen series of fashionable, retro-styled mirrorless cameras had lost its way somewhat in previous years, but came back with a bang with the Olympus Pen E-P7. Using the same Micro Four Thirds sensor as the E-M10 Mark IV, replacing the aging 16MP model on previous Pen cameras and giving you 20MP to play with.
It’s packed with filters and auto-powered Picture Modes that make it easier for new users to create images with stylish looks and effects. Classic modes like Mono 2 basically simulate the distinctive looks of popular film stocks like Kodak Tri-X, allowing you to give your images a true retro feel. With 4K 30p video and in-body image stabilisation, this one is definitely pitched towards vloggers – pure stills shooters may bemoan the lack of a viewfinder.
• Read more: Olympus PEN E-P7 review
As you can see, the Panasonic Lumix GX9 absolutely looks the part for a retro camera, resembling an older rangefinder-style camera. In practice though, it operates much more like a digital camera, and operating it relies quite a lot on navigating its menus – so if that doesn’t appeal, best look elsewhere.
It’s a really strong street photography camera though, with snappy autofocus and decent burst modes – though if you really want to make sure you don’t miss the moment, the 4K Photo modes allow you to extract sharp, high-res stills from 4K footage. Having the MFT lens mount means there are plenty of lenses to choose from, and the electronic viewfinder is hugely impressive for a camera at this price point. The GX9 may not tick all retro boxes, but it ticks plenty of its own.
• Read more: Panasonic Lumix GX9 review
We don’t mind admitting we’re big fans of the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV. It brings the superb quality of the OM-D series into a beginner-friendly – and, crucially, affordable – camera body, and does it all with retro style. What’s there not to like about that?
With highly effective continuous autofocusing, the E-M10 IV is a great little camera for capturing the action around you – one of the many reasons it’s so good for travel. The dials crowding the top plate of the camera provide that authentic manual shooting feel we love – it almost could have gone in our real-deal retro, but it’s affordable enough that most users can be tempted by it. The 20MP sensor produces images that are sharp, detailed and vivid.
• Read more: Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV review
Best retro cameras: Real deal retro
The “hidden” LCD of the Fujifilm X-Pro3 caused quite a stir upon release – it’s essentially a tilting LCD that’s upside-down, so you can’t easily check it while you’re shooting. This is designed to stop “chimping” (excessive checking of the screen between shots) and provide a purer, retro-style shooting experience. This, paired with Fujifilm’s sublime image quality thanks to its X-Trans sensors, makes for an immensely satisfying camera to use. If you can live with this uncompromising control system – indeed, if you suspect you might prefer it – then the X-Pro3 handles like a dream.
There isn’t a lot to criticise here. The X-Pro3 does have pretty limited 4K recording times, but if you are planning to buy a camera with a hidden LCD screen as your main video shooter, may we politely suggest not doing that. Otherwise, it’s just the fact that it’s pretty expensive.
• Read more: Fujifilm X-Pro3 review
The X100 series was what started the Fujifilm X retro revolution, and these prime-lens compacts have been enduringly popular for more than a decade. The X100V is the latest evolution of the winning combination of an APS-C sensor and a sharp 35mm equivalent prime lens, which has been the foundation of the series since its beginnings. With dial-led controls, superb images straight out of camera, and new extra features like optional converters for altering the lens’s field of view, the X100V is the best version of this camera yet. It comes at a luxury price, but try one out and you’ll see why so many photographers have fallen for an X100’s charms.
• Read more: Fujifilm X100V review
Leica M cameras are unlike any other digital camera you’ve used. They’re digital versions of rangefinder-style cameras, which were already starting to look outdated when film SLRs arrived. They’re expensive, difficult to learn and harder still to master. So why do people use Leica M cameras? Because once you get the hang of a rangefinder, it’s a sublime experience, reliant on reflexes and feel rather than knowledge of tech specs. The 40MP Leica M-10R is capable of producing images unlike any other full-frame camera, and does so in a way that is unashamedly, unabashedly retro.
If you want an even purer retro-shooting experience, the M10-D does away with an LCD screen altogether! However, this camera is getting harder to find, so we’re sticking with the M10-R as our pick for this guide.
• Read more: Leica M10-R review
Some thought the Fujifilm X-E series abandoned, but these rumours proved to be greatly exaggerated! With the X-E4, the firm puts the power of the X-T4 into a much smaller and more pocketable camera, with a classic rangefinder-style design that should win over retro fans. The diminutive size is great for most photographers, unless you’re planning on using longer, telephoto lenses, which make the setup pretty unbalanced. For street shooting and wide-angle work, it’s sublime. We love the old-school shutter speed dial, and the fact that so many of the excellent X-mount lenses have an aperture ring. It all adds up to a great retro experience!
• Read more: Fujifilm X-E4 review
Leica has made a few monochrome-only cameras, but this might be the best. The Leica Q2 Monochrom is a compact camera that comes equipped with an electronic viewfinder and a high-resolution full-frame sensor with no colour filter array – it’s completely incapable of capturing images in colour. So why would you want one? Well, its monochrome images are nothing short of astonishing, full of detail and with great dynamic range – Leica claims up to 13EV. It’s also incredible in low light, with an ISO ceiling of 100,000. If you’re interested in black and white stills, and you have the money to afford its considerable price tag, there’s no reason not to get the Leica Q2 Monochrom. It is beautiful.
• Read more: Leica Q2 Monochrom review
A new frontier in medium format photography, the Hasselblad 907X 50C is a terrific camera in its own right, but is also more than that. It can be used as a digital back for Hasselblad V-system cameras that date back to 1957, potentially breathing life into shelves of dusty, untouched cameras. It’s a genuine bridge between old and new, in a way that a lot of other retro cameras only pretend to be. If you crave digital medium format, a Fujifilm GFX camera offers a lot more bang for your buck, but this Hasselblad creation is something completely unique.
Read more: Hasselblad 907X 50C review