So, you have decided to get a film camera and are searching for 'cheap good film cameras' or 'best film cameras for beginners or 'best affordable 35mm film cameras' or '35mm vintage film cameras for sale near me?'
Let us share with you what we believe you ought to consider when buying a film camera, and we will also share with you what to stay away from. Of course, if you are a pro at film camera photography, none of this may apply to you.
The cost of the camera is just a tiny part of your overall film photography journey. What do we mean by that?
Let’s say you spend $250 on the camera. Now, each color roll with recent price hikes is ~$14. If you have champagne taste or follow a friend’s advice or a YouTuber, you are likely to buy the pro films such as Kodak Portra 400 or 800 ~$16-$20. Now add to that the cost of developing + scanning. At the minimum, you will be spending $20 per roll. So, now you are up to ~$30-~34 per roll. Now, imagine you bought a cheap camera that you thought you got a killer deal on, and half the pictures don’t come out or don’t come out at all. What is the added cost of the disappointment? After you have waited 10-15 days to receive the roll back from developing (we do it in 4-days if you bring your film to us by 1p on a Monday). So, was the cheap deal worth it?
Somehow, the concept of Value-Added Services is lost upon folks
There is more to selling a piece of equipment beyond the equipment itself. A seller who invests in learning about various camera systems and film emulsions and developing and takes the time to understand your film photography journey and goals needs to be compensated for their efforts, beyond the profit on the sale of the equipment. You can get price (low price on Amazon, eBay, etc.) but, not value-added services such as being able to talk to someone live who will answer your questions or point you in the right direction if they don't know the answers.
We want to learn about your goals. We offer our suggestions based on ongoing research and learning. We invest steadily (and heavily $$$) into old catalogs and books for the brands we carry. When you have a question we don’t know the answer to, they are available as our resources.
The ‘Price Police’ (see section below on 'Price Police') is also quick to point out that Facebook Groups and Forums can answer your questions. Right. Ever ask a question and have folks go off on a tangent in response to your question? Or start telling you a long story about how they - 30 years ago - did something that is vaguely related to your question. Or treat you like an idiot? Or, worst yet, tell you to ‘Google’ it! Or, that you should use the group search feature as the question has already been asked - ok, that one we agree with.
And, of course, there is no accountability. Anyone can say to you to take specific actions to resolve your issue in a group or a forum online, but, hey, if it doesn’t work or damages something else, not their problem.
So, Here are the 8 Things to Consider When Buying a Film Camera
Is it Film Tested? Does the listing show the pictures taken with the camera?
Most of our camera listings include pictures taken with the camera to see what the photos taken with it look like.
WATCH OUT - Folks that claim that they didn't have a battery so couldn't test it or that they didn't have a film so they couldn't test it but that they fired the shutter and it sounded accurate are likely to be dubious.
30-day Warranty included? Will you be able to call the seller if you have problems?
A reputable seller that claims the camera to be in fine working condition will have no qualms about providing a 30-day warranty on the camera. We are available Mo-Fr, 11-7p, CT over the phone, in-person (by appointment). Text us (956) 492-7140 to get a callback as it helps minimize spam.
You get what you pay for. You buy cheap or get a killer deal, it is unlikely to include any warranty. Hell, you won't get a hold of the seller once the transaction is done. Or, they will be selling it to you 'as is.' We have had Customers who bring their faulty cameras to us - that they had just received from their online purchase - and we ask them to contact the seller,, and they tell us that they cannot get a hold of the seller. What they once thought was a 'killer' or 'cheap deal' turns out to be an expensive paperweight.
Light Seals replaced ($75+)?
Most vintage (20 years or older) cameras have light seals that need replacement. Over time, the seals disintegrate due to the temperature and the nature of the foam or material used in keeping the light out of the film chamber. Yes, they can add some cool effects to your image. But, worst is the problem they create from the disintegrated bits making their way into the camera’s mechanism, the viewfinder, showing up on film, your shots, etc.
We examine and replace the light seals on our cameras unless we determine that they have been recently replaced and do not disintegrate upon gently rubbing them. Depending on the camera models, replacing the seals can run from $75 and up.
The cost of the material is negligible. It is the labor involved in removing the old seals properly, ensuring that the tiny parts don't make their way into the interior of the camera's mechanism, that is time-consuming.
Lastly, replacing replacing your light seals are only good if we film test your camera after replacing them. So, there is the added cost of shooting a roll of film and developing + scanning it to ensure that it works without light leaks. That is why it costs $75 and up for us to replace your light seals. Most folks that do this for cheap - ask them if they film tested the camera after they replaced the light seals? If they did, they couldn't afford to replace the seals for cheap.
WATCH OUT - Ask the seller when was the last time the light seals were replaced, and they say, ‘oh, they don’t need replacing; they look good’ or they tell you that you can buy the material at Hobby Lobby and do it yourself.
Mirror Foam replaced ($10-25)?
Mirror foam cushions the mirror in a Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras when you fire the shutter. So, if you are firing the shutter at 1/1,000th of a second, that is how fast the mirror is slapping up against the top of the camera. If the foam has disintegrated, it is a matter of time before the mirror will crack (a more expensive fix) or damage other components. So, we take the same approach for the light seals above and ensure that any camera shipped to our Customer has that issue proactively addressed.
WATCH OUT - Ask the seller when was the last time the mirror was replaced, and they say ‘oh, they don’t need replacing, they look good’ or that you can buy the material at Hobby Lobby and do it yourself. Or, worst yet, they don’t know what you are talking about.
Lens has Protective Filter & Cap ($15-30)?
It is not a question of if you will ever drop your camera or hit the lens against the door frame; it is a question of when. Without a protective filter and cap, you would be breaking the expensive lens instead of a $15-25 clear filter or a $5-10 lens cap.
WATCH OUT - Sellers say that you can pick up those items for a few bucks, no big deal. Yes, it is a big deal because anyone that takes good care of their equipment will use a protective filter or a lens cap or a lens hood and a case. Not all older cameras have clear filters available for them due to the small size of the filters but, any SLR like Canon, Pentax, Nikon, Olympus should have them.
Wash Over - User Condition
WATCH OUT - Anytime you see a listing where the seller casually states a defect in the camera with something like ‘this a common problem’ of the era or that particular model, etc, it is a red flag. While that may be true, the professional level clean, lubrication and overhaul (CLA) should address the problem or the pricing needs to be lowered to match that defect.
A growing trend is to describe the condition of the item with the words "User Condition." Move on to another listing. That is code speak for 'the camera sucks.'
Phone & DM support included?
We view you as more than a transaction. We want to earn your business. We want your film photography journey to be a successful one. As a newbie, we know that, you will need some hand-holding in the initial phases of your journey just like we needed. So, we make ourselves available to you. We are available Mo-Sa, 11-7p, CT over the phone, in-person (by appointment). Text us (956) 492-7140 to get a callback as it helps minimize spam. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WATCH OUT - Sellers on Craigslist or Mercari or other platforms where the likelihood of reaching them after the sale is slim to none. To them, you are a cheap deal, a quickie. If that is what you want and you know your way around a film camera, nothing wrong with that.
In-person support included?
Granted this doesn’t apply to everyone. We would love to have you visit us if you are in the area. This is more for our regional Customers that are in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV). When you buy online and need help, you cannot meet with the seller in person for assistance. With Covid-19, we have learned to take proper precautions - masking, sanitizing, etc. We have built some friendships due to visiting with our Customers in person. We are here for you to visit us Mo-Fr, 11-7p, CT by appointment. Just text us (956) 492-7140 or DM us, and we will set an appointment for you to stop by with your questions.
Film Photography is an expensive hobby or pursuit to start with. Don’t let anyone make you believe otherwise. Over time, you can make it quite affordable by developing your own film and scanning it yourself. Yes, you need a scanner and a computer to be able to do that along with some applications.
Our suggestion before you dive deep into it is to evaluate whether it is really for you or just a passing phase. How can you do that? Buy a disposable camera, shoot with it, get it developed at Walgreens or Walmart or CVS. You won’t get the negatives back but, for less than $20 you will get prints and a CD with your scanned images.
Why do we recommend going to CVS or Walmart or Walgreens to get your film developed when we offer the service? Because, as newbies, we recognize that you may be on a limited budget. Our film processing (developing, scanning, printing) services cost more because the processing is done at professional labs using the finest chemicals and scanners. We are amongst the leading photo printers. More importantly, when we process your film, we are happy to review each image or print with you and share our feedback to help you improve or keep doing what you are doing right. Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, and, other online places don't offer that interactive experience. Again, if price is important to you, go to them. If value-added services are important to you, come to us.
If you like the experience, the look, then, invest in a beginner 35mm film camera such as the Canon AE-1 or the Pentax K1000 (fully mechanical). We sell both of those and the Olympus series - OM1, OM2. Additionally, we sell 120 Medium Format Film Cameras such as the Mamiya 645, Mamiya RB67, Rolleiflex TLRs 6x6, Hasselblad. For high-end 35mm film cameras, we sell Leica M3. Our existing Customers trust us with buying a camera. We purchase it, test it, get it CLAd when necessary and test it again and then deliver it to them with a 30-day warranty. Yes, it is more expensive than them just buying it online. And, they gladly pay for the Peace of Mind.
Beware of The Price Police
Newbies, the first thing to beware of is folks in Facebook groups or forums that pride themselves in being the ‘Price Police.’
They are the ones to label others as ‘price gougers' quickly. They are typically quite knowledgeable about film photography but lack business sense. Typically, the ‘Price Police’ are not in touch with the reality of supply and demand. They are fixated on what they believe the profit or the price of an item should be and nothing is going to convince them otherwise.
When the ‘Price Police’ occasionally sell a thing or two, they profit from it. They are not selling it at cost or below cost - at this point their love for the Film Community evaporates. But, who exactly is to determine when the price is considered to be a gouging price? Some folks believe in eBay ‘sold’ listing prices as being a good reference. Others consider eBay to be ‘flea bay.’ The truth is that pricing anything vintage is highly subjective. It all depends on supply and demand and how well the item has been preserved, whether it has been professionally kept in good repair. Not to the ‘Price Police.’ They have their own system of determining what ought to be the right price.
‘Price Police’ are usually looking for a punching bag to make up for lost self-esteem in other areas of their lives. So, post after post, you will see such folks going after what they consider to be high-priced items. They don’t undertake a business enterprise selling film photography-related products or services. They mostly know to take shots at the efforts of others. Perhaps, at one point in time they did engage in business and feel that makes them the pundits. They are out of touch with the reality of slim profit margins and the expenses associated with doing business in today’s highly competitive ecommerce environment where multiple levels of fees are involved - everything from website hosting, ecommerce, payment platforms, channel (eBay, FB, Etsy, etc). So, take anything they say with a good measure of skepticism. Just like this article. See what your experience tells you.
Most importantly, know that the ‘Price Police’ don’t have anything better to do in their lives. They seem to have infinite time on their hands to tear apart the efforts of others - they will often claim to be price policing to ‘protect’ the Film Community. Quite insulting towards you. They feel that you are incapable of doing a price search and doing your homework before deciding to pay what they consider gouging price. They truly think you are pretty stupid.
- There is an old saying “there is a cure in poison.” What we mean is that don’t completely discount or write-off the ‘Price Police.’ As we said above, typically, these are knowledgeable folks. So, often times, if you know how to look past their sullen and fatalistic and mightier than god attitude, you will find wisdom and a thing or two you could learn from them. Remember, it is their impotence and emasculation in other walks of life that makes them bitter and hateful and the online environment provides a perfect outlet for their misery. Learn what you can from them and ignore the rest. Stay away from their toxicity and enjoy your film journey.