artist · photographer · designer
SHOPPING TIPS FOR PURCHASING A USED FILM CAMERA

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One of the many things I love hunting for at second-hand stores and yard sales are film cameras and camera gear. You can find some amazing brands for a very low cost. When a camera catches my eye my heart starts pounding and I get crazy excited over what I just found!

But, do you know what to look for once you spot that vintage/used film camera?

Here are some of the things I consider before purchasing a used film camera:

FUNCTIONALITY:

  • Hold, open, and inspect the camera to see if it functions properly.
  • Open the back of the camera and look through the lens as you press the shutter button. Did you see the shutter open and close? Did it seem to stick or have issues?
  • Repeat the steps above with each aperture setting and shutter speed setting. Any problems?
  • Does the camera’s rewind and advance knobs work properly?
  • Do all the parts seem to be there? I always check for spools in vintage medium format cameras! Check the surrounding area where you found the camera. People often move things and takes things out and leave it sitting. There could also be accessories for you camera nearby!
  • Does the camera seem to be “light tight” when it is closed?
  • Is the film size of the camera available and/or affordable for your budget?
  • Does the camera run on batteries? If so, are they standard size or will you need to purchase specialized ones, or can it be converted?

CONDITION:

  • Take an overall assecment of the camera.
  • Is there battery corrosion?
  • Are there visible scratches or clouding on the lens? If so, this will affect your photographs.
  • As a general rule, at least for me, if a camera looks like it is in pretty rough shape with large scratches and dents, then chances are this camera was not well taken care of by its previous owner and it is more of a risky purchase. Use your best judgement.

CLEANLINESS:

  • How clean/dirty is the camera?
  • If it is dirty, sticky, and icky do you have the cleaner to take care of the problem without causing damage? ie lens cleaner, goo remover ect.
  • Is it a piece worth taking the time to clean?
  • Does the camera look easy enough for you to take apart and put back together again?

PRICE:

  • Is the price resonable for what you will be getting?
  • Is the price still reasonable if you have to put in some extra efforts with cleaning, or maybe going in search of a missing part?
  • Consider costs of film also. As mentioned above, is your film readily available, or will it need to be special ordered?

LAST WORDS

  • Don’t let your emotions take over and purchase something that may not be usable (unless you are just a collector and could care less if the camera actually takes a good photograph)! Take your time inspecting before you purchase the camera. The last thing you want is to use up a roll of film in a camera that did not work.
  • DO SOME RESEARCH! Learn about how cameras actually work and the realm of possibilities will be endless. The great thing about older film cameras is they function by basic mechanics, not digital technology. This makes the camera easier to clean, change, and alter yourself WITHOUT BATTERIES! Also learning about different film sizes and which are still on the market is helpful.
  • You can usually find manuals for many cameras on the internet, but if you know how cameras work, I doubt you will need one!

Some people may be skeptical about buying used photo equipment from a place that does not specialize in camera gear, but if you take your time and pay attention to the little things, you may find a great deal!