Top Mistakes When Purchasing a Film Camera

I recently read Ebay’s “Common Mistakes When Buying a Film Camera”.

After reading, I was scratching my head wondering, “Did the author ever buy a used camera?”. I’ve purchased at least 15 (and sold many as well). So I figured I would write my own list.

1) Trusting that that old light meter works.

The Canonet is a cute lil bugger. It’s a small rangefinder with a fixed 40mm F1.7 lens (depending on the model). Even the name is nice; Canon with a feminine suffix. Apparently over two million were sold. Other manufacturers produced very similar cameras. Ebay is filled to the brim with them and they are less than $100. What’s not to love?

The fatal flaw! It’s aperture-priority only*. This means that for the camera to work and take photos, the light meter must work. No light meter, no camera. And guess what? These old light meters simply don’t last. I bought one with glee… only to find… a brick.

Just buy a fully manual camera! My recommendation is the Nikon FM with 50mm lens.

2) Not expecting a learning curve.

This isn’t so much an issue with a camera as it is with a person. Everyone should just understand that each camera will have a different learning curve. Medium Format cameras will be a different experience than 35mm ones (as will large format). If you’re a novice, start with a simple and inexpensive 35mm SLR. Then work your way up (if you want to).

3) Purchasing from a seller with questionable feedback.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Most of the transactions I’ve had have been smooth. But trust the feedback and stick to someone who has good feedback to avoid hassles.

4) Buying a Holga.

I’ve no inherent problem with the Holgas. I mean, I’m glad they are bringing back so much interest in film. But for the same price of that plastic thing, you can get a real engineering marvel along with some seriously nice glass. The Japanese made some great cameras from the 70s that can go for a song. Why not get serious with these before the Holga?

5) Buying Wide Wide Wide.

It used to be a look that I went for. Wide angle and shooting close up. There’s something about that look… Well, nowadays, that “look” is everywhere. Wide angle lenses are everywhere. It’s getting boring! Why is everyone shooting so much wide angle?

How about a change? I shot a whole trip on a 135mm lens from Nikon along with my Nikon FM and I loved how the photos came out.

I suppose the real mistake is just copying the look everyone else has.

6) Not shooting Black and White. Not Developing yourself.

One of the advantages of film is the tonality and dynamic range of black and white film. Also, it’s cheap. Film is expensive in general so you should start with cheap black and white film (I recommend the cheapest film – Arista from Freestyle Photo). Developing yourself is also easy and makes the experience more intimate and cheaper. Highly recommended.

Let me know if there are mistakes you’ve had that others should know about.

4 thoughts on “Top Mistakes When Purchasing a Film Camera

  1. You’re so right about light meters. If the camera is at a bargain price sometimes I’ll bite anyway, but if I”m spending real money I want to know the meter is good.

    I try to avoid buying cameras from resellers, the people who say “I got this at an estate sale and know nothing about cameras.” They don’t know enough to accurately describe the camera. Only time I break this rule is if I’m getting a real bargain and I won’t be out too much money if the thing is a brick.

    I’ve been shooting film for years and years but still send mine out to be processed. I’m just not at a phase of life where I can make time for processing and scanning my own. My kids are about grown, so maybe in the next couple years I’ll have more time and will start.

    1. Thanks Jim. Yea, I made the mistake with a Canonet. I only bought it for $30 I think but the seller said everything was working. He refunded my money but didn’t want to pay for shipping, so he told me to keep it! It’s on the shelf now, but it still looks nice!

      I think the thing with developing is that it’s much* cheaper than having it processed. Color processing in New York is $6 per roll and few labs will do BnW. It can be a time suck, but if you get a large tank, you could theoretically develop 8 rolls in one sitting (which would take 40 minutes). I only shoot 120mm, so my largest tank holds 4 reels. Also, when you do it, it changes the process a bit and makes the whole thing more visceral. More like you are “making” the photos which is nice. Have your kids help you :-).

  2. Get a Nikon FM3a and get the best of both worlds. Great camera, not least because even if the meter dies or the battery goes dead, it’ll still function on manual.

    Love your blog’s photos and text, but hate the needless apostrophes.

    1. Wow, I never realized I used so many apostrophes. I found a few examples where they were blatantly needless and removed them… thanks for pointing that out for me.

      And thanks for the kind words. I’d like to update the site more often.

      Re: the FM3a, that looks like a great camera and fun to use. I never used one. But! Those are in another league in terms of cost. The FM is a $100 camera whereas the FM3a is something like $300-400. Another noteworthy example is the F2. I’d also mention the F3 (which I own), but the shutter will die without batteries except for a reserve 1/60 shutter speed.

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