Use of the term ‘ugly’ for a camera may not be appropriate for a product that is not bought for its looks, but for functionality. Nevertheless, sometimes you look at a camera and wonder who designed it and for how longer did he / she last in the company. A well documented case is General Electric’s consumer product division in the 70’s, where engineers designed the products for sake of functionality. Think that this killed this division, as products looked as they were made in Frankenstein’s lab out of recycling bin finds.
The camera world has more than a few odd looking, strange designs. Some even had a sequel, which makes it even stranger.
The Fotron, also known as the ‘con camera’, was sold door to door in the west coast in the 60’s. It can be best described as a match between a tee kettle, steam iron and a Stairmaster. All that with a lens and electric cord. It was huge even at the old days’ terms, with a 3 lbs heft. It was sold for as much the buyers would pay, from $100 to $500. A real fortune at the time. Adding to that the processing had to be done by manufacturers only, so it rightfully earned it’s ‘con’ or ‘scam’ definition.
This atrocity had a sequel, Fotron III. Not sure what happened to the II version, maybe the designer ran for asylum in El Salvador.
The Fotron is not to be confused with Bell & Howell’s Foton, a true post war classic.
The Konica Aiborg makes you wonder what did the designer smoke. It looks as an annoyed and constipated boy puffing his cheeks. It defeated its purpose as a family camera, as if you train this camera at a toddler we would get a panic attack. Some find it to resemble Darth Vader, no offense meant to Mr. Vader.
A stand alone design, with no offspring’s, it had ground braking technology. It didn’t add much to save Konica from its slow death – from merger with Minolta to divesting the photography trade to Sony.
A silly camera that comes to mind is Charley the Tuna. It can be summed up in one word: why?
A honorary mention is to the Polaroid line. The camera was probably expensive at the time, so they might have made it ugly on purpose, so no potential thief will touch it lest he will be seen with it in public and ruin his dating carrier. When Kodak introduced its instant camera line, they assumed that design had to match and followed suit. This could be the one cardinal sin that that caused Kodak demise.
As a swan song, just before they’d gone, Polaroid offered neat and cleanly designed cameras
Genetics affects people in many way, physically and mentally. Some are refined and others rough, some are thin and others heavyset. Some could beautifully draw, while others swim as dolphins. Some need incessant company and do not shut up, where others are happy to be left alone. Some cannot do much so write 3000 words about cleaning camera bags.
Here we deal with a specific gene – the one responsible to addictions. Not addiction to substance or gambling, but a harmless – collecting. Our forefathers being hunters / gatherers are not to be blamed, as collecting has nothing to do with survival, it is mere nuisance. Save for collecting high ticket items – artwork, or unique vintage cameras – no collection carries a real value, let alone appreciating.
Collection subjects vary. Some collect spoons or matchboxes, postal stamps or die cast cars, wine, dead insects, old books, LP’s and 45’s. Others collect money, which society approve by calling it saving. You name an object and there are so many to line up and collect it. Often collectors venture into several avenues, remotely associated with each other. The sad part is that collectors’ interest is personal, and when he / she has to move on, to seniors’ home or more permanent location, their lifelong praised collection becomes a liability to the family. Rarely it carries a tangible value, and even if so it takes efforts and costs to have it materialize. Furthermore, collecting is egoistical. Save for the satisfaction of having it, there is no benefit to self or others.
The collecting alter ego is hoarding. Hoarding is a fear of loosing an object that may come to a good use or be needed later. And from these sad notes we begin.
Old cameras come in as bare bones, but every now and then as a camera bag full of goodies – lenses, light meters, timers, manuals and so on as a bonus. The bags themselves could be plain, cheap junk or leather masterpieces, with anything in between. So, a new camera to my collection gets the welcome treatment, quick cleaning, and set aside for further attention. The camera case, if clean, neat and intact stays with the camera. If neither, it gets tagged and goes to a large plastic bin. When it fills up, to a second large plastic bin, and to a third, and so on.
Nobody collects camera bags, at least that I am aware of; neither am I. But, as noted above, the hoarding gene kicks in. So more large plastic bins are called for duty. All pile up at a corner, hidden behind more important items till time will come, meaning never.
Than it stinks. Literally. Camera cases and bags come with sweat, grime and whatnot absorbed into it, so all became one happy stinky family.
It does not smell like a chemistry class or a bad egg. It is slight offending stench, like stepping out from a plain in a tropical country. Mix of organic rot with sweat and old cloths. I dealt with the smell in a most manly fashion – just ignored it. When it didn’t go away, opened a window which was fine in spring, but with summer heat the central AC delivered the scent all over the house. At this stage lady of the house asked if I have noticed any odd smell, which I categorically denied. It was time to get proactive, so I added a can of air freshener. Now the room smelled liked a perfumed wet dog. So, I went high-tech and bought a $400 Oreck XL Professional air purifier, nothing but the best. It has four positions: off, I & II, which do nothing, and III that makes a hell of a racket and spreads the air evenly all-over the room. The odour, however, seemed to be hard of hearing and undeterred by the noise, kept lingering on.
So time had come to attend to the camera bags and cases.
The stage of weeding out the really bad bags was easy. I wasn’t sure why I kept some of them to begin with, guess genetics. Separated the synthetics away from the leather which sounds easy, but is not. Some leather looks as artificial as plastic, while nice vinyl bags look leathery to a fault. When all failed I asked the lady of the house for help. Women are (genetically?) programmed to define between fake and real at a glance. Men will never understand this.
First I loaded the washing machine with the small synthetic bags. Gentle cycle is all to it. Which was what I thought. Lo and behold, one bag had crumbled, and filled the tub with lint and fluff, as if a dawn pillow had exploded. Now I was in trouble, had tidy up the crime scene before the authorities arrive. It became like the Hydra; the more I cleaned, more lint appeared. I think I ended with a vacuum canister full of fluff. Flufffull. Same fluff attached itself to the other camera cases, and stubbornly stayed there even after drying up. Vacuum didn’t do much, so lint roll removed the rest.
Next were larger syntactic camera cases, trusting it will be trouble free. It wasn’t. Plan was to set shop at back yard, using a brush and household detergent to scrub the dirt away, rinse with a garden hose and let it dry. Brushes proved to be unsuitable, coarse brush ripped through the inner lining, and a soft one had no effect. So I retorted with a damp rag that was perfect for the job.
Till I got to the East German and Soviet camera cases.
Back in East Germany, the Trabant was the pride of the motorcar industry. The car was once described as the worse ever made, not the least of which attributed to the body material – cotton waste held together with glue. I am not making it up. I wonder what glue had they used, but if anything close to the glue used for their camera bags, it was sure a sorry motorcar.
The communist camera bags were glued with a spit and a prayer, that stood no chance against my capitalist garden hose. All came apart even before drying. It was well stitched, where the stitches just dissipated. Moreover, I learned too late that some of the camera cases were made of cardboard core sandwiched between two thin vinyl layers, and cardboard swells when wet, and disintegrates upon drying. So much for the Soviet industrial might.
This were the camera cases. Now the synthetic camera bags, made different types of vinyl. Judging by the contents of the bags I had gone through, it seems that users intended to leave time capsules behind. One expects to find there some filters, lenses, cleaning material, some flash bulbs and a roll of film. Found more than that. From old maps to personal notes, coins of various origins, cigarettes and lighters, receipts for purchases dated back to the 50’s, to name just a few.
The bags I saved were really nice and well kept, only not too clean. Decades of dust, dirt and grime had accumulated in and out. At first tried to vacuum inside the bags, to no avail. So, at the same session with the camera bags, using diluted cleaning solution and a rag, I gave it the garden hose treatment. This ended even worse. Apparently, similar to vinyl camera cases, most vinyl bags were made of thick cardboard core, that expanded to biblical proportions, snapping at the seams. Once dried it was a caricature of its early glory. Sort of a slim actor wearing fat suit.
I was determined so salvage some, just about face. So the few least damaged bags, with least bloated cardboard, were in for a treatment. First I shaved away some of the cardboard using a long blade box cutter, then injected glue into it – good liquid household glue is just fine; and clamped it along the opening with spring clamps. The next day it looked decent, some did.
The camera bags that gave the least trouble were the newer, woven type, what Samsonite calls Ballistic material – probably for the price. After been washed and well rinsed, these bags came out in flying colours. Only if I had a use for them.
Time for leather bags. Thought leather by any other name would be leather – there is more to it. There is real leather, which is the lowliest of the family, then corrected leather and split leather. Thereafter comes top grain leather, followed by full grain leather. To add to that there are patent, nobuk, napa, chrome and so many other finishes. Which is which and which is best – much depends on whom you ask. I couldn’t tell the difference till researching it. What I learned from the cleaning affair, in an organised manner:
If leather is dead, which is clearly seen, there is now way to being it back.
Dry leather is very brittle, will crack at slight mishandling.
Leather does not play well with water.
Use of leather cleaning wipes made for furniture or car seats is futile. Wipes are good only for legacy dirt, meaning generated by self. Global dirt, meaning dirt by others, such as the type we deal with here, requires tough cleaner.
Tough cleaner is no good for leather.
If it is badly soiled throw it away.
Using domestic detergent, diluted or otherwise, won’t do.
Using mink oil in paste form is a waste of time.
Get saddle soap and liquid mink oil. You may get it at your shoemaker, hardware store, tack shop or online. I didn’t know what tack shop is, till I learned there is one within ten minutes’ drive. Alternatively, you could use neatsfoot oil. Both oils are made of dead animal’s body parts. If you are a vegan and prefer synthetic conditioner, there are equivalents but cost five times more. Also, I paid $13 for liquid mink oil bottle at the shoemaker, where I later found exactly the same at the tack shop for $4. See Fiebing for available material, trust there are other as good.
For badly soiled leather, if you haven’t thrown it away as yet, begin with wiping away the dirt with a damp cloth. Remove as much grime as you can and now throw it away. Don’t use steam gun – you’ll risk a burn and will damage the leather even further. If it is badly soiled it is hopeless.
For modest dirt, use cloth soaked with saddle soap, rub the leather and than wipe it off with damp cloth. Do small areas at a time so the dirt will not dry up. Do inside and outside, repeat as needed. You may find stretches of leather and vinyl stitched together, as well as cloth for the lining. For vinyl use mild detergent. For lining, best I found is foaming car carpet aerosol cleaner. The detergent, not the car. It is fastest, easiest and most efficient. Spray inside, once it foams remove it with a damp cloth and it is done.
Now to the messy part. Using a small sponge cut-off, about 1.5” x 1.5”, generously apply mink oil or neatsfoot oil everywhere there is exposed leather, in and out. If leather absorbs it immediately add more. Caution – some leather types will get darker. Could not tell which will darken and which won’t till I applied it. Assume it depends on the mode the leather is processed. The synthetic conditioner is said to darken it less, so you may try either. At any event, I believe that clean and supple darker leather beats light coloured but stiff.
Let it stay for a day or two, till it is dry on touch. If needed apply a second coat. Leave it in a ventilated place for a week or so else it will acquire a new stench.
If the leather is very dry and feels like burnt toast, saturate it with mink oil, warm (not heat) it with hairdryer and let it sit for 24 hours. If it gets some life give it a second and third rounds. Else discard it, it’s a goner.
You will be left with detached lining patches. Get cloth glue at a craft store, apply and gently set in place. Cloth glue is said not to shrink the cloth. Do not use fingers press to press it in– it will leave blotches where you touched. Best to position it in place and cover with a soft bag of marbles. If it is inside the camera case, just fill it with marbles. Marbles will follow the areas shape and apply even pressure. If you wish to get better and even spread, use steel air gun pellets.
To differentiate between leather and vinyl – rub it with some oil and wait couple of hours. If the oil is absorbed, it is leather.
before throwing camera bags away, remove the nameplates, buckles, grommets and bottom mounting screws, as well as other metal parts. Either for hoarding’s sake, or it may be handy later.
The oil process is messy, so get a shallow pale to hold the cases while cleaning. I use a cat litter box – cheap, large enough and shallow.
To give all a fancy touch, lightly spray the lining and untreated leather with Fabreeze or other deodorizer.
Now we have nice an clean camera cases and bags. Trust the vinyl ones are all intact, as you’ve thrown away the torn. With the leather bags and cases, you kept some that need a touch of glue or stitch here and there, or redoing the lining. More on that to come.
For over hundred and fifty years the photography world saw hardware evolving from simple wood and brass hardware to ultra-small sophisticated mechanical cameras. From brass sheets to celluloid, from pinhole to space age optics. And ten, almost overnight, till all was made redundant by the digital camera technology. Old and established manufacturers vanished, and new players came from fields far remote from photography.
Same happened in all avenues of life and industry. Here is what happened to communications.
On a bright Saturday morning in May 1844, a fifty-three old accomplished painter sat by a desk in the US Capitol building at Washington D.C. and single handedly changed the face of communication. The painter tapped a lever attached to an odd-looking clockwork apparatus.
Some 40 miles to the north-east, in Pennsylvania station at Baltimore DC, sat Alfred Vail, tensely watching a similar apparatus. At 11AM, his machine woke up, humming and clicking, spitting out a 1” wide strip of paper. At a closer look one could notice series of indentations on the tape; some short and others longer. Than the machine came to rest. Vail cautiously snapped the paper off the machine’s jaws, and sat to compare the notches to a typed matrix; carefully marking each set of notches with a single letter. Once done, he copied the letters to a clean sheet of paper. The letters came to a sentence: ‘What Hath God Wrought’.
Using the same matrix, Vail turned to the back side on the machine, and tapped a series of clicks.
Back in D.C., a small crowd of dignitaries in attendance cheered in amazement, watching as the machine at their side was rolling out the tape.
The man was Samuel Morse, and he had just created the communication technology.
This was the first time for a written message to be transmitted and instantaneously read. Until then written long distance communication were capped by speed of human or pony. Messages were sent and replies returned in matter of days or weeks. The newly formed technology – telegraph, enabled wars and commerce, gambling and media, banking and diplomacy. The railway that shrank America could have hardly been imagined without real time two-way communication, being the harbinger of a shrinking globe and merging trade and culture. Pony Express, the leading US East-West communication company was to cease business in several years.
A young railway telegraph operator stationed in Stratford, rural Ontario, became fascinated with the emerging technology. At 19, being promoted to a post at Accessioned Press in Louisville, KY. Being bored with clicking and dead time in between, he began experimenting with electricity and conductors. This eventually got him to lose his job. Finding refuge at a friend’s basement, Thomas Alva Edison set his mind on improving the telegraph efficiency, where he developed equipment allowing four different telegraph messages sent at once. From there the road was short to recognition and fame. Edison set shop at Menlo Park, NJ, gathering bright and eager troop of scientists, just as an early Silicon Valley. The labs under Edison’s guidance produced a flow of breakthrough inventions and further improvements to existing technologies, all of which Edison registered to his personal name, depriving the real inventors of glory and wealth.
Among his lab inventions was the early microphone, converting sound vibration into variable electric pulses. This led to several attempts worldwide to harness this technology towards distant verbal communication. The first to come with a viable solution was Alexander Graham Bell of Boston University. Born in Scotland and brought up in Brantford, Ontario (later Wayne Gretzky’s home town), Bell researched ways to assist the deaf to communicate. His first working telephone was presented on 1872. The telephone was made of modules based on the early microphone – one end converting sound into electric pulses, and the other the opposite.
Initially based on existing telegraph infrastructure, the telephone network grew in leaps and bounds. By early 1900 telephones furthered ease of communication, freeing it from the hold of the railways and communication companies.
Here we reached the continental divide. Till this time discoveries and inventions were made by renaissance men (hold your pencils, the term ‘renaissance person’ was never used) who saw the need, had the vision, the knowledge to research the solution, mastered the skill to build and test the equipment, had access to funds to enable all that, and had the ear of decision makers.
Today, with knowledge specialization, these are called big corporations or Steve Jobs.
Meanwhile, use of written communication has expanded to all walks of commerce, banking, media and government. The early crude machines had evolved to faster and easier to use, producing readable text output. The growing need yielded more machines and friendlier operation. The telegraph network run over stagnant dedicated wire network, while the telephone network reached every corner. So, engineers in several countries searched for a solution to match – a way to use the telephone wires to convey written messages.
The claims as to which country came with the first viable machine vary, and are as many as the industrial nations at the time. There were German, American, Italian and French versions, all able to transmit and receive readable text. I am sure there was Russian claim somewhere as well but haven’t found one. Systems were named Telex, Teletype and Teleprinter, amongst others. Same as the railway gauges changed in width as it crossed borders, none of the newly developed systems were compatible with others. Efforts to unify the coding were carried well into the late 40’s. By the second half of last century telex machines were the backbone of global communication. Having been linked to the ever expanding telephone wiring network enabled hundreds of thousands of offices, large and small, to have easy and efficient in-house communication. Estimated 350,000 machines were in the US and about twice as much in the rest of the world.
Further, in the developing world where the telephone system was at its infancy, over-loaded or abused, the telex was the only available and reliable link to the rest of the world.
The telex apparatus looked like a typewriter on steroids. It had a telephone dial and a paper tape dispenser equipped with a nine pin punch, and a feeder / reader for same.
To communicate a message, one had to input it via a clunky keyboard. It was printed on a three ply paper, and simultaneously a paper tape rolled out. The tape was punched with series of patterns, each representing a single character. For a long message the paper tape could roll all over the room, followed with stark warnings of the operator not to touch, let alone bend or tear it.
Once message had been typed, the paper strip edge was fed into the reader. The remote
number was dialed. There was a pause, followed by series of clicks and clanks, being remote unit answering with its hard-coded name and number. The operator then flipped a lever for the tape reader to feed the paper tape, and the message was sent. Reasons for not transmitting in-situ messages were two: long distance calls were expensive, and machine-read transmission was faster than manually typed. Further, the paper punch supplied constant flow of tiny paper confetti, which were diligently used by the office nerds to throw on each other.
Walking past a telex was perilous – many a coffee was spilled once the machine had suddenly erupted. By defaults, the machine produced the punched tape for all incoming messages, lest messages need outgoing re-transmitting. A morning in a busy international office looked like an abandoned paper mill, having endless tape for all messages received the night before.
Typing long messages was slow, which led to use of abbreviation and telex lingo. Long before the texting crowd used the LOL, BFN or CU. Though not sure about the LOL.
With technology advances, memory and monitors replaced the paper tape, and the machines became quieter, almost bearable. An attempt was made to hook a telex to a personal computer. There was a box the size of a toaster hooked to the PC via serial port. The written message was to be converted into ASCII, and thereafter it was left to the PC gods – it either worked, or most likely didn’t.
At the early 2000’s, although fax and email services were long in use, some telex services were still in place.
The media moguls needed a way to communicate images together for printed news. Attempts to transmit such messages were made as from the late 1880’s, none were transformed into commercial use. As with the telex, developments of such had been made in several countries, each claimed to be first. In the 1920’s several systems were used by the news agencies. All were based on similar concept, where an image was converted into conductive / non-conducive areas, where the black was conductive and vice versa. The image was attached to a rotating drum, where a moving stylus scanned the image. An eclectic circuit was closed where the stylus reached conductive point. At the remote end a blank paper mounted over a same size drum rotating at the same rate had a pen hovering over it, touching the paper where the circuit was closed to produce a back and white image, with some emulated gray-scale.
As with the early telegraph that were installed at rail stations, the telepictures were first installed at media offices. Further, systems developed by AT&T, Western Union, RCA and AP were incompatible, and there was no exchange system to convey messages outside the legacy systems. All that in the US. In Europe more incompatible systems added to the confusion. A news agency supporting several media offices needed a farm of telepicture equipment.
World war II saw advanced image transmitting equipment with the American forces, but scope and complexity, let alone costs, were yet far from allowing it to be commonly used.
Again, corporations around the globe researched, designed and built telefax systems, yet none reached maturity. At last, Xerox, the copier manufacturer, presented an equipment to handle distance image transmission. In essence this were two copiers subscribing to a connecting protocol over telephone wires. In 1964, when the Telecopier was presented, a typical copier was about the size of a washing machine, and weighed accordingly. A single page was sent at a whopping eight minutes. The ease of communication, allowing operation by a lay person, sending and receiving any scribble within minutes, made this a must-have requisite for any size office. An evidence to the new fax mania was its obligatory appearance in many era movies. With any office scene there was a fax at the background. It played special roll in crime movies where there was always a picture of the culprit slowly sliding out of a fax machine.
From own experience: in the early 80’s I was posted to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, which in turn is in East Africa. My head office was in Amsterdam. On a visit I was introduced to the new wonder, so I ordered one. It was shipped to Lusaka and duly placed in the office. It was Panasonic big as a suitcase, with a nice dotted display and array of buttons. All duly labeled. In Dutch. I say placed, as it was yet to be connected to the phone line. To explain, the telephone network was under government control, and in the post-colonial days’ communication was sort of stagnant. We employed some 500 people, and had to make do with two phone lines. Not even hunting.
In reality, there was no real need for more lines. Almost anyone you’d needed talk to was around the downtown core so you could meet for lunch. That, or you’ll see them after hours in the golf club or in one of the few restaurants frequented by expat. And anyway, what’s the rush – what’s wrong with a letter? So we applied for an extra line, reason being: fax. The officials didn’t really understand what and why. Furthermore, you were not allowed to hook anything your heart desires to the network, it required a ‘type approval’ from the concerned ministry. Until that time only telephones were approved, meaning that if you brought a phone from home it required a permit to plug it in. I am not making this up. So, a team of officials and engineers showed up in my office, carefully taking notes. After much research (?) done, we got a type approval “to connect the following equipment: Fax”.
However, an additional line we didn’t get. So we retorted to plan B, connecting to an existing line. Here we faced a hindrance, the machine spoke Dutch. Although working for a Dutch company, my Dutch vocabulary was limited to goedemorgen and bedankt. We had staff speaking Nyanja and Bemba, Hindi and Tamil, even one Polish speaker, but no Dutch. So I had do summon a friend from the Dutch embassy, who came and translated the prompts to civilized terms.
But the fax had a sense of humor. Once Alphonse left, it present fresh prompts that were never seen before. So we asked him back, and managed to replicate some of the prompts, and some new ones.
Finally, we deciphered all the machine vocabulary, and were ready to dial, which we did. Once, and twice, and more, till the cows came home. To sum it up – I’d last seen this fax in 1988, and yet not sure if it ever shook hands with another.
Fax machines found their way to small offices and homes. By the dawn of the third millennia there were about 50,000,000 fax machines in use worldwide. The question ‘do you have a fax’ made way to ‘what is your fax number’. With more demand prices dropped to a consumable level.
Now the communications world was all roses, riding into the sunset. For the spoken word there was a telephone (still on the desk). For a written word the fax.
And then, one day clouds covered the sky. When the gods of finally blew it way, all was gone.
Finding a collector’s camera, vintage camera, or old camera by any other name is simple. They are out there, just decide if you want this or that, and pay the price.
Pay the price? What price? Is it a value price, bargain price, decent price, or you are being hosed?
On the flip side, you have a camera. You want to sell it. How much is the right asking? eBay suggests a small fortune for the very same model you have, but the fish won’t bite. You’ve being offered a mere fraction of eBay prices.
You need a point of reference. Luckily, prices are there to be found. Some are readily available, some need digging for, and some are not worth the trouble.
No matter where you source the camera price from, actual prices largely vary by the camera condition and the seller’s eagerness. Moreover, there is a wide gap between selling and buying prices. Same as when you thought your car is worth so much, as it is ‘advertised everywhere’, but the dealer pays just a half of it; just to sell it the next day for the full ‘advertised everywhere’ price.
So, how much is a suit for an orphan?
As you are already here, lets begin with the obvious. When this is written, this website contains tried and verified camera prices for over 15,000 27,000 different models, and growing. Prices are monitored daily through freely available sources. All it takes to get it together is time and a bit of lunacy. While lunacy we have in ample supply, time invested here is so vast, just assume it is measured by years.
But don’t take our word for it. Look further.
Run an online search on camera price, and on top of Google you’ll find Collectiblend.
It is huge undertaking, offering both cameras and lenses through two different sections. It was here since before we began the ClasCam Project, is easy and fast to search, and with each brand and model it offers almost as much specifics as we do. Copy is short, just the bare facts. We have no knowledge of how and when prices are / were collected, but nevertheless it is a prime source of good information.
Before the ClasCam Project came alive, we had used Collectiblend as a prime source to price vintage cameras. But we needed a control group.
The Bible of the used camera trade is the book known as the McKeown’s, by Grand Priests James and Joan McKeown. The best analogy to it could be the love child of the London Telephone Book with War and Peace. It has the magnitude of both combined. Throw in some cynicism to spice it up, and you’ll get the idea. It holds some 40,000 entries, volumes of photographs, and reasonably decent index.
It also has two general disadvantages and one personal peeve:
It costs a good amount of money, and used late additions are hard to find. Moreover. the latest edition is a good ten years old.
Our take on it – for some models it goes on and on, while others are barely mentioned. Further, the indexing system is not persistence and there are some duplication within the same brand entry. Or, we might be wrong and simply don’t get the indexing.
Another source is the Hove International Blue Book. Not sure if Hove is an international company or it is the world-wide blue book, but that’s besides the point. It is a modest
undertaking compared to both above. The current edition is the 14th, printed in 2003. Seems it belongs to a family of guide books, photography and otherwise. Could not find much as hovebooks.com returns a suspended domain.
There are several issues with this book, apart from the creative pricing system. There are fewer brands mentioned, and in these brands contain even fewer entries. There is more information in its appendices, but nothing that is not available on line.
The maxim of this book is future value, and recommendations as to which cameras are worth collecting. It is a tall order, as it borders with guessing on one hand and wishful thinking at the other. So we decided to test its suggested current and future future prices, against the Bible.
Doing so, we also compared Collectiblend prices, and while at that, ours too, using the Bible prices as a yardstick.
Please see the graph below, comparing 800 models from Hove’s, picked at random:
The ‘X’ axis is the number of camera models at the given variation from McKeown’s, and the ‘Y’ is the deviation from McKeown’s. 100% is same as McKeown’s suggested price, and the rest are the deviations percentage either up or down. Not the actual camera price, but how much it differs from McKeown’s.
Next, see same with Collectiblend values:
Looking at the visualization, what comes to mind is that Hove’s and Collectiblend prices nicely match McKeown’s, where about 90 brands out of 800 precisely match McKeown’s’ figures. Moreover, as marked by the orange rectangle, Hove’s suggests 420 camera models to be within three columns right and left of McKeown’s prices, and at Collectiblend 460 models are there.
About half of the 800 cameras sampled are very close to McKeown’s and to each other.
However, while Collectiblend curve flows neatly and naturally, Hove’s is less so. Hove’s Deviations are all-over the place. What it means is that the editor did not excel in researching the facts, or that he/she might have smoked something potent.
Now, looking at our prices compared to McKeown’s:
Note that we are completely out. The bulk of our models – 577 out of 800, are far left to McKeown’s prices, presenting much lower values.
Not sure where come the deviation from. Our prices were derived from over 60,000 95,000 actual sales transactions, so we can vouch for the quality of our figures. You may draw your own conclusion from the information contained here.
For good measure, please see the combined deviations graph:
To take it further, we dumped Hove’s as a reference point, and analyzed same factors with a sample of 3,000 different camera models selected at random. Here are the results, where as before, the baseline represents McKeown’s values, and the entries are deviations from it, not camera prices.
What is immediately noticed, is that Collectiblend curve is erratic, while our curve is relaxed. Values peak at different zones, both in deviation and quantity. Please draw your own conclusions.
Other collector’s camera price sources
There is one more book we looked at, and elected to ignore it altogether: McBrooms Camera Bluebook. This book is somewhere between disgrace and pathetic, looks and presented like a science project of 3rd graders. Don’t bother.
Other books are available, but for pricing purposes neither is of any good use.
Sources above, as well as this site, are dedicated to old camera pricing. All offer some basic additional information, just quick facts. There are other sites where you can get prices as off-label benefit. None will be as comprehensive and easy to retrieve as any of the above, but may give you a further price indication.
eBay – search for a product, and than tick the ‘Sold listing’ check-box under ‘Show only’.
This will return actual sales, but likely only for popular models, and only for the immediate past few months. This is one of our sources, where we continuously and religiously gather data over several years.
David Nosek camera price directory shows brands and models galore, but prices are few. A searchable CD is available for 50 Euro .
KEH Camera – drill-down forms offer prices on most popular and some less so models. Same is suggested for the price they would buy for.
Pacific Rim Camera offer tons of cameras for sale, and do a superb job in the description. You may find suggested prices on their current offering, so you may need to revisit the site if you can not find the model you’re looking for. Their website is Byzantine, but serves the purpose. Not sure about the name, as they are in Oregon.
Above two prices are offer current prices, not reflecting actual past transaction, but both a good grip on market prices.
Auctions houses, such as Westlicht, Photographica-auctionen or Live Auctioneers present results of past auctions in an easily searchable format. You may need to register to access the realized prices. They tend to deal with rare and high-end cameras, no Mirandas or Minoltas there.
Above auction houses’ sites are pleasure to go through. Well presented, accurate and meticulously organized. There are others, such as Antique Reporter, down under in Oz that require a fee to view past auctions; and Special Auction Services that could be better organized and watch the spellchecker more often.
Directories such as Photographica-world, offer kind of pricing in a list format. Format could have made more sense and easier in the eye.
A note about this site – the ClasCam Project came into being as we could not fully trust any of the sources above. Any price stated there could be good at a certain point of time, not dynamic as we wanted it.
While working on it, we decided to offer our data to the public. There are several ways to retrieve data, as shown on our home page. We believe this structure is the friendliest, but if you have a different view or suggestion will be glad to hear it. You may look at the help page for clarifications.
Moreover, you have probably noticed that elsewhere prices are suggested as a range, rather than one value. For example – others suggest range of say $150 – $200, while we suggest a plain $180. It takes exactly a minute to get our database to churn out such variations, but as prices are offered as indication only it really makes no difference.
You’ve got a camera in your hand. Found in a yard sale or in your grandfather’s closet. It is old, looks the part of a hidden treasure. Grandpa remembers he used it on a trip to Cuba just after the war. Sure it is worth a fortune.
But don’t book your cruise tickets as yet. Most likely it is not worth much, if at all.
Let’s look at the facts.
As at the day it is written, we have on our database
Most mid last century camera users were occasional photographers, introduced to it just before WWII, and further continuing after. Popular cameras at that era were basic and cheap, as to facilitate the new hobby that was at it’s infancy. Prior to that photo taking was a family affair, where the entire family posed in their Sunday’s fineries at the photographer’s studio.
After WWII camera prices were low and quantities were high as the market was receptive to the novelty of taking a ‘Kodak Moment’. Today same cameras are still aplenty and still cheap. You may come across an old box or folding camera which is worth a mere $10, provided you’ll find a buyer.
Time Magazine cover, 1953.
Quality cameras dated from same period were few, both in models and in quantity made, used by professionals or true enthusiasts. You, or your seller, would have known that the camera was used for such. It is most likely that the owner would have heard about grandpa’s prized camera, along with his war stories.
Today, most collector’s cameras that come to market are European and American made dating from the 50’s to the 70’s, where thereafter the Japanese-made cameras overtook the world. There were Japanese cameras made at the 50’s, but quality was questionable. They were made in relatively small batches, so some do randomly surface, bud scarcity doesn’t make them valuable. This is not to say that all post-war American and European cameras were perfect, far from that. Most were mass produced low-end cameras.
Prices for vintage or plain old cameras are more or less known, with deviation only for a mint exemplar. Unless you’ll find a buyer who needs, really needs the Duaflex you have, the price will be same as all the hundreds sold earlier. It is much like the automotive trade price list, that guides the seller and the buyer as to the car’s value. Only thing is that car trade is daily affair and people understand the concept. A person foreign to used camera trade may not know / understand / accept this concept.
The market is limited. There are only so many collectors who are ready to fork out hard earned cash to buy a classic camera. I don’t think of it as along term investment, although in the extreme it could be. If it is a rare, and known to be rare camera, its value may appreciate. With that, your chances of finding a prewar Leica in a yard sale are on par with getting hit by a lightning while trekking the Outback. So to lay hands on a true gem you’ll spend to spend.
Nobody is going to take pictures with this old camera. You’ve indeed heard about photography students or avid photographers still using film. They have gone the way of the unicorn. Just think of a single reason to use film, save for the reason of using film. The old camera has ended its productive life and on its way to camera’s seniors home.
Don’t believe eBay’s hype. It is a flee market on steroids, yet a flee market. Only a few transactions quoting reserve price – ‘buy it now’ – mature. If ‘buy it now’ offer made sense, it would be bought in a flash. If you see it a day later, it is overpriced. Remember that only one of seven cameras listed on eBay would sell, while the rest go on an endless merry-go-round.
Same applies to ‘rare’. Rare is rare, not what the seller declares it to be. I’ve seen many a ‘rare’ Lubitels advertised, which are as rare as the backyard squirrel. True, when I first saw a squirrel some forty years ago I did snap a lot of pictures of it, but by now I know it is a pest. Like squirrels, Lubitels are aplenty In Russia, but scarce in Skoki, IL, yet rare they are not.
Let’s look into real figures:
When is is written, our database lists 24,620 models. Sure there could be more, and sure there are duplications galore. Yet it is a good place to begin.
Of the above, we have proven value for 21,306 camera models. ‘Proven’ means that we’d registered actual sales transactions for each. This is bases on over 80,000 actual sales transactions that took place in the past several years, since this project had been commissioned. Note that actual number of cameras that changed hand is much bigger than 80,00, but once we get to 20 transactions of a model we slow down on it. For example, if will record each AE1 and K1000 sold, will need a much larger hard drive,
Lets break this figure for tangible sectors. Out of the 21,306 cameras, 11,793 (we are sticklers for numbers) are less than $100, making 55% of the lot. In theory, chances are 1:2 to bounce into something worth over $100, which is not. The cheap, low end cameras were made in hundreds of thousands, each model. The more advanced = expensive the camera was, the less exemplars were made. At the top end some camera models only few are known to exist, and are all accounted for, definitely not offered in a yard sale.
What it means, is that most cameras you stumble upon would be part of the 55%, and as there are still thousands of them out and about, it would be almost certain that you met a cheapy.
To demonstrate, please see the chart below. Note how the number of models made drop, as the value increases.
Now, you may say, $100 is not bad for a find. Lets look at the $10-$100 value distribution:
First, please note that the $10 value assigned is for courtesy only, in reality the have no value. Furthermore, the cheap camera sold, I would guess anything less than $60, carry some added value. It could be immaculate condition, additional accessories, box or manuals or some other attribute that makes it collectible. Else, most cameras at that category would go tho that dust bin.
This narrows your margin of luck. There are tens of thousands of vintage cameras to surface, but you may as well buy a lottery ticket.
A word about the pests of camera world – Kodak and Polaroid. pest meaning they are everywhere. If a martian will go through camera listing on eBay he / she / it would be sure that the Polaroids are religious – they are so ugly and yet so many of them.
We have 427 Polaroid entries. Out of which 270 are less than $25. There are few of the traditional looking Polaroid cameras that are worth some, and the SX-70 are visually different looking. So, a garden variety Polaroid may be worth little, if ad all. And its also ugly to boot, which I already said. You may feel my sentiment.
Kodak cameras were made in endless quantities, it’s pity that such a trail blazing company fell from glory. We list 860 models. Official Kodak figure is 1,200 models, but a large number of this are slight variations, which we ignore.
Out of the 860, 314 models are at the $10 bracket. As above, it is just a polite way to say it’s worth nothing. Further 380 models are under $100, and the rest carry some value. Only 66 models are over $500, which are rare or accounted for.
As earlier mentioned, the low-end products ere made in vast quantities, so they are everywhere.
The European and the Japanese made cheap and basic cameras as well, but in the home photography boom period – after WWII, they had other pressing issue to deal with. A honorary mention – the East German SLR cameras – they are a lot of them, re-branded or originally named, but are not worth much.
For the budding collector any film camera is of importance. Once collection grows differences and nuances surface. Camera generations could be divided into the following periods:
The wood and brass are scarce, and rarely found in decent condition. The bellows / folders, the mechanical made before and after WWII, and some of thee early electronic are worth collecting.
The fully electronic, the point-and-shoot and the dull cameras as shown here are not collectible, at least to my opinion.
As mentioned above, there is almost firm price for each camera model known to mankind, however, variations exist:
Condition – needless to say that a mint exemplar attracts much more than a well used or a miserable camera. A mint camera price could be ten folds and more over the stated value, while a tired one would be worth hardly anything.
Location – there is a school of thought that geography is a factor in collector’s camera prices. It could and may well be correct at the low end. I assume that a Pony may fetch more in Russia, same as a Smena may cost more in the US. This would apply where shipping costs are a meaningful factor in the camera price. Where camera is expensive and shipping cost is negligible it makes little difference where the camera is, as UPS would carry it overnight from one part of the globe to the other These days, where eBay presents you with global search results at a touch of the button, location is redundant.
Attachments – a classic camera alone carries a price tag. Same offered with matching paraphernalia such as original documents – bill of sale or so, light meters, timers, matching flash gun and bulbs, will sure carry a premium.
Specifics – as with other collectibles, an item may carry a higher price tag if its initial owner is a public figure. Elvis’ pink Cadillac will fetch much more than a same age car driven by a mortal. Alberto Kordas’s Leica used to shoot Che Guevara iconic image is now up for sale, sure will fetch more than a humble Leica.
Trends – after the movie Sideways Merlot sales rose. After Harry Potter series the C3 became popular. Prices could be influenced by factors that make little sense.
The dog has nothing to do with the content. used it for comping and it looked just in place.
To easily navigate through the tens of thousands of entries contained here, we had to divert from the common camera classifying model.
To demonstrate, conventional camera classifying method uses ‘SLR’ term to include large Hasselblads, compact Canon SLRs and early Simplex Ernoflex.
Further, we have a ‘search by image’ module. To dump all images at random order in one pile makes little sense. For a meaningful browsing and human eye search it needs to be sorted in some order. Alphabetical order means nothing, as well as format or other common factors. The only meaningful way is to sort the cameras by their style, be it the looks, use or type.
Here is the camera lingo used in this websites. Note that they are used only to describe the camera style for easy reference. There might be leakage at the seams a camera could be defined in more than one way. Any ideas are welcomed.
As the name suggests. Most cases early aviation equipment, WWI to WWII.
Early camera for the masses, portable and simple to use, easy media loading.
Class the was common from the late 60’s to late 70’s.
Motion pictures cameras, for which there is little information here.
For lack of other description, a plain rangefinder or viewfinder with some settings. Term used to describe a step up from the point and shoot, and below the smarter cameras.
The very first photography process, used in the 1800’s. More in Daguerreobase
A box type camera, used in the early 1900’s as a portable.
A style short lived, introduced by Kodak in early 80’s. Made by several manufacturers. The Idea of having a small and flat camera was neat; but costs, specialty development and image quality killed it.
Essentially film with lens. May puzzle the smartphone generation.
Eye level direct
Much like a box camera without the boxy style. A simple camera with little or no controls, where you just look through the viewfinder. The harbinger of the point and shoot cameras.
Portable view camera, actually luggable. Here used to describe the early 1900’s cameras.
Camera without a viewer. Either used for special purposes when attach to a another instrument, or accepts a detachable viewer.
Bellows type camera, where the controls and the viewer are on the front-end lens assembly.
Point and shoot camera, in most cases automatic and autofocus.
A thumb size Japanese camera class, 17.5mm film, was popular in Japan after WW II.
Immediate gratification picture taking. Earlier cameras were large and boxy, then got smaller till completely disappeared.
Professional style SLR’s, medium size format, as made famous by Hasselblad.
Style popular in France, binocular shaped camera.
Here used to classify a folder camera, where some of the controls or the viewer are on the camera body, not on the extended lens end. From the German Klapp – Folding.
Knock-off the classic 35mm Leica. Here used also to classify the original. See more in our Leica clones page.
Small size cameras, between compact and sub-miniature. Latter models were 35mm, while earlier could be other formats.
Large or medium format studio cameras, mounted on a metal bar for easy handling.
Specialty cameras, made or modified to a specific use. Could be medical. Military or other.
Anything that would not fit elsewhere, yet is included here.
Used to take wide images, either via wide lens or rotating lens. In many cases also stereo.
Camera Obscura – a pin hole in lieu of lens.
Here used to describe a small, square, cigar like simple camera, 110 film.
To be grouped with the folder or the klapp cameras, but where the front or the lens assembly pops straight out like Jack In The Box. in German Scheren – scissors.
Technical camera used for colour separation.
Large handheld camera class using different formats and media at different era.
A boxy, simple camera using quick load cartridges, either Kodak Instamatic 126 cartridge or the European equivalent.
More advanced cameras with integral optical range finder.
Older wood hardware, where wood box slid into another instead of using bellows.
Here used to classify a compact single lens reflex camera.
Was popular at photography early days, requires a matching viewer to see image in 3D.
In early ages large cameras used in studio.
Tiny cameras made by different manufacturers, affectionately called ‘spy cameras’. Most used proprietary formats.
Older wood cameras where focusing was done via moving the back board.
Twin lens reflex – camera with a viewer lens and a imaging lens, both synchronized. Most configured with top and bottom lenses, while some are with side by side lenses
Either toy, advertising premium or just cheap camera. Yet, in some cases could be valuable.
Early large and boxy single lens reflex cameras, where the image is reflected to a viewer concealed within an enclosed area. The ‘U’ just represents an unused letter.
A step above compact cameras, similar style but with controlled shutter speed and aperture.
Early studio, field or other camera, where the image projects on a glass at the back of the body.
Similar to twin lens reflex, but where the viewer lens is either fixes or independent from the imaging lens. Again, the X represents an unused letter.
Sometimes called ‘Bridge Cameras’. Was fashionable for a short period – later 80’s to mid 90’s. A hybrid between fixed lens SLR and a viewfinder.
Classic film cameras are a reminder of an era where technology and art came together to produce a household product at a cost affordable for all. From the early luggable wood objets d’art, to the last of all-mechanical cameras of the 80’s, there were thousands of models made, where most of them you may still get dirt cheap or at a moderate investment. To have a rewarding collection you may want at first to skip the Leicas and the Rollies, and to look instead at the vast selection of other, down to earth, classic cameras.
As with any collections, you may decide what direction to follow. Be it style, brand, country, era, or any other theme. There are many possibilities and endless combinations. However, most collectors begin with anything they can lay their hands on and with time focus on specifics.
There were only so many cameras made, antique, vintage or plain old. Most ended at the garbage heap when new technology overshadowed them. The rest are either at collectors’ and traders’ hands, and the last ones are slowly coming out of their owner’s homes. If there is ever a turning point as to when to get into collecting camera, it is now. After this round, a decade or so, all vintage cameras will be out, at much higher prices.
To begin with, collecting means acquiring. There are many sources to approach, and if you’ve deep pockets you may as well just begin at the top. Normally, most collectors come to be interested in a subject at a certain epiphany, where it builds up from there. Assuming this is the case, please see below where to look for the foundation of your camera collection.
Just a friendly note: avoid the Polaroids and cheap Kodaks. So many were made so even if your great grand children will follow with your hobby, these cameras will not be considered collectible. Same apply for cine cameras, although some are considered classics and carry some value.
Needless to say that if you are seasoned camera collector and already gone this path, we would love to have your notes.
A general note
You can buy the camera seen or unseen. Seen, there are many website that will explain at length how to check a camera, so we won’t go there. Unseen, it takes a trained eye to evaluate the purchase.
Descreption – the more detailed it is the better your chances do land a decent camera. No reference to body or functions may get you a dud. ‘Untested’ should ring an alarm bell.
Images, the more the better. if possible, compare the images to other of the same camera model. This way you may find if a limb is missing, which happens a lot with badly kept old cameras. You may also see the body condition.
Asking before purchase is not always possible, but if it is you better verify concerns beforehand. There is no use badmouthing a seller if a question beforehand could have eliminated the disappointment, and you will not get stuck with a sorry camera.
Comes to mind first as a quick and handy market place – flea market on steroids. As with any other purchase on eBay offers need to be well vetted. Read the description, and try to decipher it. There are many articles written about buying on eBay, where a good place to begin is Gisle Hannemyr’s article ‘Learn how to read eBay item descriptions’.
We may add to that:
You get what you pay for. If it is offered for little and no takers, there is a reason you may not be aware of.
Buyers often shun first time sellers. It is indeed a risk, but while others shy away you may get a bargain. The seller may want to build up positive sales trail, even at a cost of low selling prices.
Watch pictures carefully. A side the camera that is not shown may have a blemish.
Statements as ‘we are no camera experts’ and ‘not sure if working’ should draw your attention. It could be DOA.
Avoid ‘buy it now’. Real bargains are snapped within minutes. Anything post older than an hour is not a bargain.
eBay ads are shown worldwide. It is rare to find a bargain there. But if you are ready to pay the ‘right’ price it is a good place to buy.
eBay sellers are there for a gain. A reserved – starting price not always represent the real value. Look for charity sellers, even at other countries. Camera prices there start very low, as any unsold camera becomes a liability for them.
Dot be misled by high asking prices. eBay.com sees about 4,500 cameras posted daily in the film cameras and vintage cameras categories together. From there, only about 700 meet a buyer. What it means is that most cameras – six out of seven – remain unsold. Not sure what happen to them, either drop off the system or being relisted at better rate. What it really means is that rush could be costly.
As a side note – I believe that the merging film cameras and vintage cameras categories is long overdue, as there are hardly any new film cameras made. Both film and vintage should be classified as analogue cameras, as it is done in Europe; or simply lumped together under ‘film and vintage’.
I have seen buyers paying tens of thousands for a camera offered on eBay. With buying an automobile one could rely on a third party inspection services. If the seller is other than an established and well respected camera dealer, I would have taken such sales with a grain of salt.
You may use eBay alert service advise on a new listing, but it reports once daily. Alternatively, there are other online services, free or otherwise, that will alert you in close to real time so you could catch that ‘buy it now’ gem.
An honorary mention: You may find unrealistic high prices in ads from the former Soviet Union, Eastern Bloc and Japan. Sellers from the former East Bloc perceive the westerners to be awash with greenbacks, so quote prices accordingly.
In Japan prices for anything are higher than elsewhere, so they quote straight conversion of their prices.
Note similar cameras offered on eBay, the last one from Poland out to lunch.
What will you find there – anything and everything, from the bottom to mid-range, and any Polaroid ever made.
Craig’s list, Kijiji, Kleinanzeigen, Gumtree, dba, Qukr, or whatever name online classified boards go by around the globe. Much like eBay, but at your immediate locale to just haggle your way through. notes to consider:
The aging boomers need to rid their lifelong acquisitions, so here is user-friendly and low cost outlet.
Do not expect sellers or buyers to behave at your standards, or any acceptable at that. There are a lot of crazies out there, and crooks to boot. Common sense is paramount.
A personal case: some years ago we had a pickup truck rigged in a certain way, that didn’t fit us anymore. We ordered a new set of racks, and advertised for the old one on an online classified board. A polite person called and asked where can the truck be seen, which we told him. The very same night the racks were stolen.
Online classified prices tend to be cheaper than eBay. There is no costs to eBay, so seller gets a better return. At one-on-one transaction cash changes hands, so no tax, if any. There are no shipping and clearing / customs charges if applicable, so buyer pays the amount agreed only.
As with eBay, real bargains are snapped at no time. If you feel a camera is offered at an attractive price, act immediately – the seller expects it. Tomorrow may be too late.
If not immediately snapped, you may hold for couple of days and then counteroffer, when the seller is more likely to compromise.
Bargaining in way of counter-offer is a common practice, save for cases where the asking price is decent. Just pay the price and go home happy.
Look at what else the seller offers and get an idea of his price expectations. For a low-end seller, a buyer who is ready to shell substantial amount for vintage camera is a black hole, so you may press hard for a better deal. At the other end, a high end vendor will simply ignore low offers.
Look at item’s variety – a scavenger seller offers anything he / she can lay hands on, and will aim to offload it fast.
A seller who knows his / her trade will most likely quote a price within reason. A two-bit merchant will throw any figure at you. Do your research ahead of time.
The most annoying ads are the overpriced items and the ’please contact for price’. It’s either the seller is unaware of the market value, or is in search for the sucker on call.
Save for common sense, there is no rule as to how to buy at online classified. Seen cases where an elderly seller asked $500 for a Canon AE1, reasoning that’s what he paid for it decades ago, hence its current value. At the same time, found an immaculate Contessa 35 for $20, the seller just wanted to get rid of it. No haggling needed.
If you happen to find a nice expensive camera and suggested meeting place is at a street corner, it might be prudent to check serial number in advance lest it fell off a truck. An online search my help in finding hot serial numbers.
Once you travel the countryside, a good practice is to look for such ads off the beaten track. A remote location will have only a few buyers and be priced as such.
If you are proactive, a ‘want’ ad may dig out some passive sellers.
As with eBay, the boards will alert you for a new listing, once a day. There are online utilities that may do same in real time.
Unless you live in Andorra, Murphy has it that any nice antique camera that you may want is at least two hours’ drive away.
Minolta SRT 10 advertised for $500. Actual worth about 10% of this.
Another example – a $10 Pony offered at $90.
Olympus OM10 offered at $400. In a mint condition worth about a quarter of this.
What will you find there – a lot of Canons, Kodaks and Minoltas, dated from the 70’s onwards which are nice to begin your collection with, and a lot of point and shoot cameras that you may want to skip.
Thrift or second hand stores come in different names and support different causes. Either for profit on not. Homeowners donate anything and everything, if just to avoid dumping fee. Interesting observation – there are more charity thrift stores in the better-off parts of town than in the poorer, which shows that such stores are there for the donors.
Some stores aim to recycle their inventory fast. Here the old camera is just an item that uses shelf space, the faster it goes the better. Other stores hold it in high regard, asking for silly prices. Bargaining always work, don’t be shy. Some thrift stores hold a senior’s discount policy for certain day of the week, so one may recruit a silver haired friend for that. Ask for when they carry a special sales day – if the camera will not be snapped by others you will save.
How they price the old cameras is beyond comprehension. Seems that anything with bellows or a Nikon tag is marked up twice the lowly cameras. Common sense suggests that cameras should be cheaply marked and be sold fast – after all their direct cost is zero, save for overhead.
On the other hand, in many cases the camera comes with it’s owners bag, which is too much trouble for the store to throw away. You may find more than what you’ve bargained for – lenses, light meters, rolls of film and whatnot. There are fables about finding high value cameras on the shelf, never happened to anyone I know.
I suspect that the stores are in cahoots with camera or antique dealers, so the cream is removed and does not see the shelf. You may try and arrange such terms with the attendants.
What will you find there – Canons and Minoltas, with some added 70’s – 80’ European cameras and plenty Polaroids.
While is thought to be a good source for cheap finds, I don’t believe so. All decent old cameras, if any, are bought at daybreak. It takes an early start and sieving through a lot of junk, not metaphoric junk, to get lucky, if at all. Some are addicted to garage sales, so you may ask such a devotee to look on your behalf.
What will you find there – nothing of substance. Some old plastic cameras that were cheap at their time and are now worthless .
Local estate and downsizing online auctions
Following the ‘online everything’, there is a new online tool for estate clearance and senior’s downsizing. Local online auctioneers offer short term auctions, where bargains can be found. In theory prices should be better in such auctions, but not always so.
In most cases you are required to pick up the loot in person at a given date and time. For an out of town auctions you may hire a local shipper to collect, pack and ship to you, which adds to costs. Watch for auctioneer’s commission and local taxes. Maxsold is such an upstart. Look for similar ventures in your area, they are everywhere.
Same as with charity thrift stores, you may get bags full of goodies as a bonus.
Note for auctions: at eBay or major auctions houses you bid against the clock, so unless you bid really high you will lose to sniping. Some smaller auctioneers use soft closing, where in the last few minutes each bid resets the closing clock by another minute. This for sure eliminates sniping, but leads to annoying bidding war.
A Leica M3 auctioned on Maxsold. Caught in a bidding war, sold for some 20% over its value.
What will you find there – there are diamonds in the rough. Most stuff is whatever was bought on the cheap and yet was not discarded. With patience there are high end cameras to be found, not bargains though.
Rummage and charity sales
Good place to visit. You may find old cameras that otherwise would end up at charity stores or a garage sale, but several on one venue instead of running around.
Homeowner who will not be caught dead having a garage sale will gladly donate an antique camera to a charity sale. As with a garage sale, early start would help.
What will you find there – here you may score well. You are one-on-one with a seller – the charity – who is most likely unaware about what they offer.
‘Antique’, consignment and home decor stores
One thing is common to all – unreasonable / dumb asking prices. When an old Brownie bullet carries a $70 tag, and asking for a plain Agfa Ventura $250 (real cases), it’s clearly not the place to buy. Here sellers are used to converting worthless goods into glorified decor, at profit margins taken from the stratosphere. What is beyond me – an innocent buyer will not buy such ‘antique’ camera to begin with. A collector will not pay an exorbitant price. Go figure. What annoys me – the way the seller looks into your eyes and convinces you that his price is right.
What will you find there – a lot of box cameras, everything bellows, and the compulsory Polaroids. All that at prices that include the date and the street number. Don’t waste your time.
Depends which and where. Established – permanent – city flea market will always have a seller specializing with old cameras. It is more a tourist attraction or pastime place, rather than a place to buy anything of interest. You may pick up a cheap pair of jeans or fake perfume, but not a bargain camera.
On the other hand, a true flea market, such as at a remote rural area or in a small village in Kazakhstan, could be a place for good finds. Pity that camera collectors hardly get there.
In a flea market it is often an impulse buy, but subject to examination and the obligatory haggling – one could get a nice camera; though not something you ever thought of having.
Late addition to above – if you find yourself in Western New York, it may be worth your while to visit the Antique World and Flee Market in Clarence, just shy of Buffalo NY. It has two distinct seasons. Throughout the year, there are five large, barn size buildings, each divided into alleys of booths and displays where you may find an occasional nice camera. Prices are decent and there is a room to haggle.
In summer, May to October, the place lights up. There are dozens upon dozens of self-storage lockers, all full to the rim, which you can explore all day long. Moreover, on the first Sunday and third Saturday of the summer, the place becomes even busier, with many more ‘day traders’ setting up tables.
Although place is open six days a week year-round, closed Wednesday, it is best to visit on a weekend.
What will you find there – mostly the basics, entry level cameras with the occasional surprise. Sellers tend to know the value of their wares.
Today even toothpaste is sold online, so camera shows had lost their panache. Shows are less attended by sellers and buyers alike. In the past, a camera show was a busy event where today it is only shadow of that. Seems that same sellers are displaying the same wares, year after year. Prices are higher than market so unless you’re looking for specifics you may want to look elsewhere. The only advantage here that you can touch and test the camera. All that is if the show is in your neighborhood. It is really not worth the travel anymore. Search for your local camera show and subscribe to their mailing list. See Photorama for dates in the US.
What will you find there – everything, save for bargains.
Most communities still have the local weekly newspaper with local news and ads, where you may find a good butcher or handyman. Nobody reads that paper save for the old folks – head on your target market. Seniors who are not internet savvy still use local papers for sell and want ads. As earlier mentioned, you my insert a ‘want’ ad and something will for sure come up.
What will you find there – family heirlooms in search for a family. Prices would be in line with the sentimental value rather than the real one.
No bargains here. The best way to find the camera you are looking for is visiting a specialized store. Be it in a brick and mortar or virtual; the selection, quality and expertise make the difference. While on the wane, there are ‘real’ stores in most large cities. Else, a reputable online store would be as good, save for being unable to caress your new acquisition before money changes hands. The most aggressive are Pacific Rim or KEH, among others. Most camera stores have a presence on eBay. Here you may get a honest description and valuation of the camera offered, warts and all.
For specific cameras there are online fan clubs that buy and sell cameras within that brand. See our links page for more.
What will you find there – everything, if you know what you look for, and are willing to pay the price.
Online specialized camera auctions
This is from the toddlers to the big boys sandbox. High-end auction houses carry camera auctions several times a year. The Royalty of the auction universe are Westlicht Auctions, Photographica Auction and Auction Team Breker, where offerings are immaculately detailed, followed by excellent images and condition report upon request. Products offered here are not thrift store type cameras, but rare, expensive, most likely both.
Further, most countries have local auctioneers selling collectibles and antiques, where cameras fit both categories. Catawiki Auctions offers ongoing auctions of low end cameras and accessories.
At the low end there are many – never counted them – local auction houses that sell estates, collections and just everything. Best is to subscribe to consolidators such as Invaluable, The Salesroom or Live Auctioneers. Bidding through them will cost you some extra points, but it is well worth the service. Here you will be advised about new entries and could partake in a real time auction via their online link. if the auction is other than online only, the present bidders will have advantage on you in seeing ans assessing the camera.
Note that above services will present you with worldwide sellers. So if you are in Oz and the seller in the US, you may need to either stay up late or rise early to participate.
Also, pay attention to house’ commission and local taxes, both could by high. If in another country allow for exchange rate and clearing / customs charges. Further, you’ll need it packed and shipped, which could be costly.
In the high end auction houses hammer price on collectors’ cameras could be ten folds higher than same camera at other sources, as exemplars offered could be in immaculate conditions or other special attributes. At the low end auctioneers it is a crap-shoot, you may get lucky, or not.
It is wise to register for bidding in good time before the auction, as at the auction time sellers will be too busy to accommodate latecomers.
What will you find there – whatever you want, if you could afford it.
Word of mouth
Same as most farms have a car in a barn waiting to be rediscovered, every boomer family has a vintage camera. Just mention it at any opportunity to anybody who lends you an ear. Camera collecting is uncommon, and most people will be happy to add their old camera to your collection, very likely for free.
Buying an expensive collector’s camera has some perils attached. There are fakes galore as well as cameras of suspicions origins. As stated earlier, it would be prudent to have the serial number beforehand and confirm that it is clean and true. There are specialized websites that deal with such information.
We do not endorse nor recommend any of the businesses mentioned here. All should be used for demonstration purposes only without recourse to us.