A Complete Beginner’s Guide to Collecting Vintage Cameras
Congratulations, you’ve decided to start your very own collection of vintage cameras! Maybe a relative gave you their childhood Kodak Brownie or you just rediscovered the Pentax K1000 you bought for that one high school photography class. Maybe you found an old Polaroid Land Camera at the thrift store and want to pick up yet another new hobby. It doesn’t really matter how you got to this point but what’s important is that you know how to continue from here.
Plan your collection
If you can, try and figure out what kind of cameras you want to collect. Do you want to focus on rangefinders? German cameras? Minoltas? How about World’s Fair branded box cameras? Determining what cameras you want to specialize in can end up saving you some time and money but it’s not a big deal if you can’t make up your mind right now. It’s perfectly OK to just get a bit of everything and decide later.
Set a budget
It’s a good idea to make a budget for yourself. Set aside a certain amount of money per month specifically for purchasing cameras and take care not to go over that amount or you could end up spending more money than you realize. If you do go over that amount, make sure that you take the difference out of the next month’s budget. Be careful and remember to keep control of your hobbies so that they don’t end up controlling you.
Talk to other collectors
Ask other camera collectors for tips, especially if they’re local to you. They may have valuable information about the best places to look or which sellers to avoid as well as sage advice concerning the joys and pitfalls of camera collecting. Who knows, they may even have a camera or two they’d be willing to sell to you!
Where to look
Flea markets, thrift stores, garage sales, antique malls, auctions, estate sales, classified ads, and online auction websites like eBay are great places to look for vintage cameras although prices may vary dramatically depending on where you go.
Negotiate the price
If appropriate, try haggling. One easy way to try and lower the price is to compare the stated price with current market values as it’s hard to argue against. You can also try bundling several cameras together to try and get money taken off the total. Many people will be okay with giving you a discount, especially if you’re buying multiple items. Lastly, don’t be afraid to personally check each camera because cosmetic and/or mechanical issues can lower the price even more if you still want to buy it (click here to read more about what to look for when examining cameras).
Do your research
Do your research before you buy if possible. This is much more difficult to do if you’re not sure what you’ll be buying, but very easy to do if you have a specific model in mind. Look up pictures online and familiarize yourself with how it looks so that when you inspect a possible purchase, you can easily identify missing or broken parts and know where all the controls are. Try and find a manual or read a review so that you know how to properly test the camera’s functionality when the time comes (you can read more about this here).
Make sure you check out the current eBay price range for specific cameras that you want as it can be a useful indicator of price in the context of demand versus availability. Knowing ballpark prices can let you know if you’re getting a good deal or if the seller is overpricing the camera.
Where to get your collection appraised
While there are many places to get your cameras appraised online, it’s recommended that you find someone local that you can meet with in person. Condition and functionality can be extremely difficult to evaluate remotely no matter how many photos and videos you provide so it’s always better to go to someone who can handle the camera and test it out for themselves. You may end up paying a little bit more for an in-person appraisal but the accuracy of the result is well worth the added cost.
How to display your collection
The best way to display your collection is probably to mimic what museums do, put it behind glass. Placing your cameras in a cabinet or bookcase with glass doors keeps it relatively dust-free and also allows you to easily take your cameras out for a spin. Putting them on a shelf or open bookcase is fine too as long as you’re okay with dusting them regularly.
How to clean your cameras
Not everyone takes good care of their things so it’s not uncommon to buy cameras that are a little grimy and need cleaning. If you want to do it yourself, the following tools are recommended:
- isopropyl alcohol
- cotton pads and/or cotton swabs
- dust blower (compressed air canisters are not recommended as they may leak propellant when used)
- a toothbrush with soft bristles
Use the toothbrush to gently brush away any dust and other large dry particles. Then use the alcohol with cotton pads to clean surfaces. For hard to reach places, try cotton swabs. Once the alcohol evaporates, use the dust blower to get rid of any cotton fibers that may have been left behind. If your camera needs a bit more cleaning than can be done by yourself at home, take it to a professional.
How to repair your cameras
Unless you have the experience and the tools, it’s highly recommended that you go to a professional to have your camera repaired. It’s almost certain that your treasured camera is no longer in production and by taking it apart on your own, you risk possibly ruining it even more.
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