How did I fall upon my film camera for life? A photography whim, a Craigslist search, a bit of lens research, and $130. The used body was $30, and the new "plastic fantastic" 50mm fixed lens was $99. Absolute best combination for the amateur film photographer, IMHO. I recommend this to all of my interested friends. The Canon Rebel G was released in the late 90's, and is an entry-level, all-plastic model. Sure, you can read Ken Rockwell all day long, but at the end of the day, those are only the detailed opinions of one man, and you have to go with what feels best in your hands. I'm sticking to this because I don't agree with high camera rental prices, and I also shy away from spending wads of cash on trying out tons of cameras. You're not going to get a lighter or more compact setup in the DSLR world. (If you want digital, I highly recommend going Micro 4/3, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1. The image quality is spectacular, and you also get DoF.)
I don't claim to be a pro at shooting, as I educated myself on the basics of photography, and then let my equipment do most of the tough work for me. The only film I use is Kodak Gold 100, for minimal grain and those warm, deep film tones that are glaringly absent from digital photos. The lens is really fantastic and adequate for most shooting. The 1.8 f-stop means that the lens opening is wide enough for all but the duskiest shots. An upgrade to to f1.4 will cost you ~$300. I've taken this camera everywhere for the past two years. I set it to autofocus and aperture priority and I can capture each shot with ease and minimal fiddling. And as with most on-camera flash, don't use it.
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$ Check your local Craigslist $