With the resurgence of film photography, there’s a lot of interest from would-be analog shooters in getting into shooting film. Either those that have shot film in the past but moved on to digital, or those that want to get into analog for the very first time.
Since I run a YouTube channel with a vintage cameras theme, you can imagine that I get a lot of questions from this demographic. Of the questions I do get, one of the most common is; “where can I get my hands on a film camera?”. Well, I can share with you where my collection came from.
This is the first and obvious place to look. If you’re old enough to have shot film in your earlier years, then it is likely that the beloved camera of your youth is still alive and well – especially if you had something made in the built-to-last era. Somewhere in the loft, cellar, basement, garage, storage unit or the back of the cupboards, may be looming that vintage, well-preserved camera.
I found mine at the bottom of a bag full of old clothes and was very happily reunited with it. It is a mass-market high street store branded fully automatic point and shoot called the Boots 500AF. Boots being a pharmaceutical brand in the United Kingdom.
“Home” also includes family and friends. If you’re too young to have been around when the only photograph medium was film, then you could ask older members of your family. Once the word gets around that you’re into these old things, you could be surprised what comes out of the woodwork. I inherited a Kiev 4 (Soviet Era Camera) from my father, while uncles and aunts sent me dozens of cameras some of which are notably good.
Thrift Shop / Charity Shop
Thrift shops (in America) or charity shops (in Britain) would be my next stop to find cameras. There are almost always cameras there every time I look. Having said that, there have been fewer cameras of late, probably due to the current increase in popularity of analog photography. It seems people are now holding on to vintage cameras because of the perceived increase in their value. This perception has also affected the pricing of the cameras that are making it to the shops, as the retailers are getting more knowledgeable and looking up prices on the Internet.
My biggest score from a charity shop was an Olympus OM-1 which I got for the price of a cup of tea. They are fewer and farther between, but I still do occasionally spot amazing cameras in these shops for a good deal. You just have to be lucky, or not have a vintage camera connoisseur in your neighbourhood who gets to the cameras before you do.
This is perhaps the first place people look nowadays to score a vintage camera. Sites like Etsy, eBay, Craigslist, and Gumtree are some of the places with the largest choice of film cameras. With online sites though, you really need to be careful. While most sellers really try to be as honest as possible, there are many people looking to scam you. There are also sellers that simply don’t know enough about cameras to write a good enough description, or don’t know what to check to ensure the camera is functioning correctly.
I have only ever bought a camera from eBay twice. The first time, I wasn’t so lucky, but the second time, I scored what is now my favourite camera – the Olympus 35 RC.
Some of the more modern film cameras from the well-known brands such as Nikon or Canon can be found on Amazon, sold used by 3rd party sellers. This is probably a more reliable source than a random website, besides, Amazon has a robust returns policy. Also, some companies like KEH actually guarantee that you’re getting a working camera because they have engineers refurbish the cameras before they put them up for sale. The price you will be paying for the Amazon and KEH peace of mind is, well, the price – cameras usually cost more on those sites.
Auction House / Car Boot Sale
A somewhat well-kept secret of camera collectors is Auctions. You can really bag a deal in an auction, especially if there aren’t that many people there to bid against you. I once spotted a vintage Leica lurking amongst a tray of kitchen silverware. As fortune would have it, the only other person bidding against me wasn’t willing to pay ‘that much’ for knives and forks and some old camera. On another occasion, there was a special edition Leica M3 on display which I was willing to overpay for, but was forced to throw in the towel due to too many connoisseurs that apparently showed up specifically to bag that Leica. It sold for 3 times what I was willing to pay.
Yard sales or Car boot sales are less confrontational. Usually, the first person to get to the good stuff bags the best deals. I’d be careful to ask the right questions and know what to look for to ensure I’m not buying a dead camera.
My best score at a car boot sale to date was a Yashica Electro 35 GTN.
New From the Manufacturer
Nikon, Leica, Fujifilm, Polaroid, and Lomography are some of the companies that still sell brand new film cameras, even today. If it is within your budget, this is the best way to go in terms of reliability and warranty issues. The choice is however limited to one or two cameras per brand, as opposed to the virtually infinite choice on the used and vintage market.
On the very high end of things, we have Leica who still manufacture cameras that are way beyond most users’ budgets. What you get though, is a camera that doubles and an investment because of its capacity to hold its value. It is something you use for a lifetime and pass down to your offsprings.
On the budget end of things, you have Lomography and Fujifilm. Their cameras are centred more around fun and amateur photography and the reliability and resale value of the cameras reflect that fact.
The only camera I’ve purchased new from any of these companies is the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90
So there you have it, my five picks of where to source a film camera. The route you go along all depends on what you want to use the camera for, and how much you’re willing to spend.
We all have different circumstances when it comes to reason, and budget. Also, educating yourself about the type of camera first is the antidote to being scammed or wasting your money.
More Info On Film Photography For You To Peruse
- Advantages And Disadvantages Of Film And Digital Cameras – the Spruce has a piece on the pros and cons of film vs digital
- 5 Reasons I Love Film Photography – see our own Jason Little on why he digs film
- 10 Facts You Need To Know About Film Photography – Frederico Alegria gives us a great overview here at Light Stalking
- A New Manual 35mm SLR System? Meet the Reflex I Camera – Kehl Bayern has a news piece on the new Reflex I
- Film Photography Handbook – and if you are interested in an offline option, this book is a great intro to film