The best retro cameras provide a shooting experience like no other. Blending the best of old and new, they take bodies with the classically cool look and feel of the film SLRs and rangefinders from years gone by, and pack them full of cutting-edge tech and many of the conveniences modern photographers have come to expect.
And this isn't just the hobby horse of a few niche weirdos, like us. It's big business – retro cameras are really popular. Fujifilm basically turned its fortunes around as a company in the early 2010s by introducing the retro-styles X-series of compacts and mirrorless cameras, and other companies like Olympus and Panasonic have since hopped on the bandwagon.
Then there's also Leica, who have been producing cameras that blend digital technology and old-school handling for years. If you want to use a modern rangefinder, Leica is pretty much the only game in town.
Retro cameras can be defined in a number of ways. Our own Rod Lawton came up with a neat categorisation system for retro cameras (opens in new tab), which I'll borrow and tweak slightly for this guide. The ten entries on this list have been split into two types:
• 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, though you don't quite get that 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.
We should note before we start that we're dealing with retro digital camera exclusively here. If you want to go all the way and use a film camera for that analogue touch, our guide to the best film cameras (opens in new tab) is a good place to start. We also have a guide to the best instant cameras (opens in new tab) if your retro leanings are towards the knockabout fun of a Polaroid.
So, let's get started with the best retro cameras you can buy.
Best retro cameras in 2022
Best retro cameras: Cheap and simple(opens in new tab)
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. But we're not sure you'd want to – in oru Nikon Z fc review, we found the dial-based controls a joy to operate, making the camera fun to use, with few compromises made for its bags of style. 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
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.
In our Olympus PEN E-P7 review we were particularly impressed by the IBIS (in-body image stabilization), which is something of an Olympus speciality, and makes the camera especially good for video. Indeed, with with 4K 30p video, this one is definitely pitched towards vloggers – pure stills shooters may bemoan the lack of a viewfinder.
• Read more: Olympus PEN E-P7 review (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
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 when we reviewed the Lumix GX9, we found that operating it relies quite a lot on navigating its menus. It's got retro looks, but not so much that retro feel – 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 (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
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? This is the fourth entry in the E-M10 series, and while it doesn't reinvent any wheels, it makes a number of incremental improvements that had our reviewer hugely impressed.
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 (opens in new tab)
Best retro cameras: Real deal retro(opens in new tab)
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. In our review we found the X-Pro3 to be an absolute delight to use – but of course, we're camera enthusiasts, we were always going to. You basically have to be willing to play the way the X-Pro3 wants you to.
There isn’t a lot else 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 (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
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. In our review we appreciated the new, sharper lens that makes images from the X100V even better, as well as the improved autofocus that makes it really feel like a modern camera, without losing that retro shooting approach.
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 (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
Leica M cameras are unlike any other digital camera you’ve used (opens in new tab). 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. As we noted in our Leica M-10R review, there's really no word for the optical experience other than retro – it's for those who a really committed to the shooting experience of yesteryear.
If you want to be even more of a purist, there's also the M10-D, which 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 (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
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 (opens in new tab) into a much smaller and more pocketable camera, with a classic rangefinder-style design that should win over retro fans.
In our Fujifilm X-E4 review we appreciate the camera's diminutive size, which is great for crafting a slimline setup with a small lens. It does get a little unbalanced if you’re using longer, telephoto lenses though, which is why for street shooting and wide-angle work, this camera is at its best. 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 (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
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, we've reviewed the Leica Q2 Monochrom, and can tell you that 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.
Leica has since come out with a new special edition in this family, the Leica Q2 Reporter, with subtle green styling. However, for purely retro purposes, we're sticking with the monochrome version.
• Read more: Leica Q2 Monochrom review (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
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.
When we reviewed the Hasselblad 907X 50C, we were genuinely excited by what it represents: the first step in a hugely hugely flexible modular system. 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.
How we test cameras
When we test cameras, we do so both in real-world shooting scenarios and in carefully controlled lab conditions. We use our lab tests to measure resolution, dynamic range and signal to noise ratio, providing a peerlessly accurate representation of what the sensor can do. We measure resolution using ISO resolution charts and track dynamic range using DxO Analyzer test equipment, which we also use for noise analysis throughout the camera's ISO range. We test in the real world to get a sense of how a camera feels to use, how it handles, and how enjoyable it is to shoot with. This is extra important with retro cameras, where that old-school feel is just as important as the old-school looks!