The great thing about film photography is the huge number of old film cameras out there. They’re usually cheap, most still work, they’re fun to use, and they look great. I love having a bunch of camera choices when I go out to shoot because each one offers different challenges and rewards.
Buying cameras for yourself is one way to grow your collection, but you can also do it without spending a penny. Tell everybody you know about your attraction to film cameras and film photography. It’s kind of a quirky hobby and people will think of you when they see an old camera.
Here are a few ways you can get your hands on some “new” gear. Be aware that this post contains affiliate links designated by “find on eBay”.
Ask Family for Their Old Cameras
Family members (and friends) should be the first place you start looking. A lot of people have old cameras packed away somewhere, particularly the older folks. For one reason or another, almost all of my grandparents have managed to dig up a few nearly forgotten film cameras.
Unless that family member was seriously into photography, you might turn up some consumer level cameras. Brownies, Instamatics, Polaroids, cheaper SLRs, etc. Regardless, it’s a free camera, so don’t be too picky about it.
Tell People to Keep an Eye Out for You
Even if they don’t have old cameras collecting dust in boxes, you can still ask friends and family to watch for things of interest. Film cameras can be found at garage sales, swap meets, antique stores, and all sorts of other places. I’ve had several family members buy me cheap old cameras while they were out shopping for other things.
Again, unless your friends and family are into photography, they won’t really know what to buy and what to leave. Doesn’t matter though — free is free, and cheap is cheap. Take what you get and make the best of it.
You Get a Camera, Now What?
Without researching a camera before acquiring it, you’ll be up against a few things. The first is whether or not it takes a film currently produced. A quick search on the web or a trip to Camerapedia should clear that up. A lot of cameras take either 35mm or 120 format films, but there are a lot of dead formats out there — 620, 127, 116, 616, 110 roll, 126, a whole bunch of Polaroid films, plus a bunch more. But don’t be too disheartened if your camera uses a dead film… there may be ways around it.
If you do have a camera that takes a non-extinct film, your next challenge will be functionality of the camera itself. Check for light leaks, sticky shutters, frozen focus rings, and other signs of a non-functional camera. Sometimes all it takes is a little cleaning or fixing to get the camera going again… just make sure you have some really small screwdrivers on hand. If you think the camera works, go ahead and run a roll through it to see what happens.
If you can’t get past either of those things, at least you have a new camera to put on the shelf for decoration. I have more than one camera that doesn’t work and probably never will. If you really want to get a camera working again, you can always send it in for repair and see if the experts can get it going.
Here’s an Example…
Just in the last 5 or 6 months, I’ve managed to pick up a bunch of film, cameras, and darkroom equipment at zero cost. Of course, I’ll be returning the favor for a few of the folks in the list… one of these days. I’m too lazy to take photos of this stuff right now, so you get a lot of text and links.
First, Tom (from this very blog) sent me a bunch of film and a bulk loader (also with film in it). We trade little things back and forth every once in a while — he always manages to find really interesting emulsions that barely exist on the open market.
My grandfather sends me his old cameras every once in a while. Most recently, he sent a Vivitar XV-10 (find on eBay) and an Olympus OM-1 (find on eBay) — and both came in some great old camera bags with extra lenses and accessories. That Vivitar is a compact little SLR and I’m thinking that my son, Rex, will be adopting it before too long.
My aunt picked up a couple of neat old cameras at a garage sale or swap meet. She had no idea if they worked or if they could ever be used, but for $3 each, she bought them and sent them to me anyway. I picked up a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash Model (find on eBay) and an Adox 6×9 folding camera (find on eBay) — I think mine is a Sport or Start model. The Brownie needed a little cleaning and a quick shutter repair, but it appears to be working now. I even figured out how to make 120 film work in it. The Adox needs more work — the shutter won’t click and some of the folding mechanism is bent.
Then my wife picks up a Kodak Instamatic X-45 (find on eBay), complete with the box, instructions, and some flash cubes. It’s in really good shape and she got it for just a few dollars at a thrift store. Really clever little camera.
And finally… I scored big. My friend’s dad caught wind that I was into film and he offered up a bunch of darkroom equipment. I picked up a nice cabinet, a Beseler 23C Series II enlarger (find on eBay), a TON of extra stuff, a ferrotyping plate, and too many other things to list. He also tossed in an Agfa Billy Record 6×9 folding camera (find on eBay) and a Yashica 44 TLR (find on eBay)! I ran a roll through the Agfa, but not the Yashica — both are in near perfect condition.
Asking friends and family for their old cameras and reminding them to be on the lookout for new-old cameras might not get you a huge return in a short amount of time, but it can’t hurt to ask. Everybody I know is well aware of my addiction and I get a few nice surprises every once in a while!