You’ll Want to Read This If You’re Planning on Buying a Vintage Camera

If you’re in the market for a vintage camera, our latest infographic covers everything to look for before taking the plunge.

While we cover the latest and greatest cameras on The Phoblographer, some of our favorites actually happen to be vintage cameras. Although vintage cameras lack most of the advancements we enjoy in today’s cameras, they offer a different shooting experience. They are products from a bygone era, more akin to mechanical tools rather than the full-fledged computers that cameras are today. The shooting experience with a vintage camera is often much more tactile and evokes a sense of nostalgia. If you’re planning on purchasing a vintage camera of your own, here are the things you should be on the look out for.

Electronic or Mechanical?

While many vintage cameras are completely mechanical, some of the best examples we’ve seen in the past combine both mechanical and electronic elements. If a vintage camera features electronics built-in, it will need batteries in order to operate. Ensure that the battery compartment is free of any corrosion. Sometimes dead batteries are accidentally left inside vintage cameras, and the lead acid will leak out overtime. This will lead to the battery terminals becoming corroded. While they can sometimes be cleaned, it’s best to try and find vintage cameras that are corrosion free.

The View

Just like with used vehicles, vintage cameras will need some TLC as well. Since you weren’t the original owner, you’ll want to give a vintage camera a once-over in the form of a CLA. CLA stands for Clean, Lube, Adjustment, and you’ll want to do this regardless of whether the vintage camera is a rangefinder or SLR. It’s essentially a tune up to ensure that everything works like new. You’ll also want to check the viewfinder to make sure there isn’t any debris, dust, or fungus.

Shutter Speeds

Time takes a toll on all things, and vintage cameras are no different. It’s possible for certain shutter speeds on your vintage camera to not work as reliably as others. As the components within vintage cameras age, you may experience misfires or malfunctions when shooting at certain shutter speeds. Consider burning a sacrificial roll of film to test out the various shutter speeds available on your vintage camera. Listen to the sound of the shutter at each available shutter speed. They should sound differently.

Film Advancement

A vintage camera without a functioning film advance is as good as a paperweight: you’ll want to ensure that the film advance is functioning properly. You can check this on most vintage cameras by opening up the back of the camera, pressing the shutter, and then engaging the film advance lever. You’ll also want to ensure other items such as the film release and the film rewind are functioning properly. It’s never a bad idea to do some research on the particular camera model you’re looking to purchase. Some vintage cameras have notorious build quality issues and parts that are prone to failure. Caveat emptor.

Metal or Plastic?

Speaking of build quality, not all vintage cameras were created equal. Although some vintage cameras were made out of metal components and feel positively tank-like, that’s not always the case. Certain vintage cameras were made using plastics. While this makes them lighter and more portable, they’re also less durable. In fact, older plastic cameras can sometimes be pretty fragile. This is worth considering if you’re an accident prone photographer.

Places to Buy

There are plenty of reputable sellers on eBay and Etsy that specialize in vintage cameras. Be sure to check their reviews. Alternatively, you can also find vintage cameras listed on Craigslist and in Facebook Groups by private sellers as well. The drawback is that vetting these private sellers can sometimes be challenging. Consider checking out the used department at reputable camera stores as well. This requires doing some leg work, but some camera stores will actually meet or beat prices that you find online. One thing of note is that the used department at most major camera stores tend to be their most profitable. It’s common practice for them to buy vintage cameras from private sellers at undervalued prices and then reselling them at much more inflated price points.