Scenes from the American Sign Museum

HoJo’s
Pentax ME
50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M
Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400

Could this have been my favorite sign in the American Sign Museum?

50mm was too confining a focal length in the museum’s tight spaces. I couldn’t back up far enough to get most scenes in. So I had to work within the constraint, using strategic framing and finding dramatic angles.

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Photography, Road trips

single frame: HoJo’s

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Cameras, Photography

Where do you buy old cameras?

When you get into the film-photography or old-camera-collecting hobby, you can buy gear in a whole bunch of ways.

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Gearpallooza: a typical scene on my desk at home

It’s a remarkable time, really, for film shooters and collectors. Before the Internet, options were limited. Prime used gear could be had at camera shops. Lesser gear could be found at garage sales and antique shops. That’s how I bought cameras when I started collecting in the 1970s. I put hundreds and hundreds of miles on my bicycle visiting sales all over my hometown. I amassed a collection of more than a hundred cameras this way.

But that was so time consuming. Fortunately, so many more options are available today, many of them online.

A word about risk, because buying used gear always carries some. The more expensive the gear, the less risk you obviously want of experiencing some undisclosed problem. It matters little when you’re buying a 35mm point-and-shoot camera for $5 and a lot when you’re buying a Leica IIIf for $500. If I’m shopping online I’d buy that point and shoot but I wouldn’t buy the Leica without questioning the seller extensively. Or I’d just buy it from from a camera shop or a trusted seller — but then it might cost $750 instead of $500.

Here are the options I know about. What options do you know about, especially those of you outside the United States?

Online

The selection online is huge, but you can’t examine a camera before you buy it. So you risk getting broken gear. Some of these sellers accept returns and some don’t. Read my advice for buying cameras on eBay for tips to help you minimize your risk.

eBay. Could this be the ultimate old-camera marketplace? It’s where I buy most of my cameras. You can easily browse among available cameras, looking for just the ones you want or just trolling for bargains. Start with the Film Cameras and Vintage Cameras categories

shopgoodwill.com. Many Goodwill locations in the US participate in this clunky and feature-poor auction site. I assume it lets especially valuable donations fetch the best price. They offer a lot of cameras (see their Film Cameras and Vintage Cameras categories), and my experience has been that prices are slightly under eBay’s.

But your risk of broken gear is high here because the selling Goodwill never knows anything about the cameras and can’t answer any questions about them. After a few painful experiences, I now buy here only when the price is so low I won’t care much if the gear is broken.

Etsy. This site isn’t just handmade goods anymore. Type “film camera” in the site’s Search box and a reasonable selection of old gear will appear. Etsy offers some protection against items not being as described, which should protect you against broken gear.

Used-camera sites. Several companies deal in used gear online, mostly 35mm SLRs and higher-end medium-format cameras. You’ll pay much more than on eBay et al, but these sites generally guarantee their gear for 90 days. My favorite is UsedPhotoPro.com, largely because they’re in my city. But the granddaddy of them all is probably KEH.com. I’ve bought from both and have never regretted it. Other sites, which I haven’t bought from (yet), include Green Mountain Camera, Cameta Camera, Jack’s Camera Shop, Midwest Photo, Unique Photo, and Igor’s Camera Exchange. B&H and Adorama also sell a little used gear, too. If you know of others, let me know in the comments!

I’d like to specially mention Pacific Rim Camera, which is possibly the biggest dumping grounds of old gear ever. Their Web site is straight outta 1997 but they evaluate each camera and tell you it’s exact condition, including any faults. You know exactly what you’re getting. I’ve bought from them a few times and the camera is always exactly as described, warts and all.

Trusted sellers. Some people specialize in selling used cameras, especially of a certain type. Frequently these same people restore the cameras so what you buy is as good as new. I’m thinking specifically about Chris Sherlock, who restores and sells Kodak Retinas, and a fellow named Jurgen (better known as “Certo6”) who restores and sells old folders, and well-known Nikon F2 restorer Sover Wong who sometimes sells F2s on eBay. You might even build trust relationships with sellers via the other channels I list here.

Craigslist. This is only sort of online as you make purchases in person. And you can scoop up bargains here as sellers sometimes don’t know their gear’s value. But after you arrange the meeting and drive out to look at the gear, what if you don’t want it? What a waste of time. And who hasn’t heard a horror story about a Craigslist seller? (I’ve bought and sold stuff on Craigslist and have always had good experiences.) There’s no cameras-for-sale category, so search for “film camera.”

In person

When you shop in person you can examine the gear and be sure of what you’re getting. I wrote a short series of posts on how to do that: part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Camera shops. If your town has a camera shop it likely sells used gear. The camera shop in my town does, and offers a no-hassle 90-day return policy. It’s just fun to go see what they have and lay hands on it. You’ll pay more here than on eBay, but zero risk can be worth it.

Thrift/charity shops. Most thrift/charity shops I’ve visited will have a smattering of junk cameras and occasionally something good. I find that I have to keep going back and have good luck to buy anything interesting at them. I don’t have that kind of time. Prices vary wildly, too.

Antique shops. The selection is much as in thrift shops except the gear tends to be older, and prices are almost always negotiable.

Garage/yard/boot sales. This remains a hit-or-miss way to find gear, but sometimes you can stumble upon something amazing at a fraction of its value.

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Blogosphere

Recommended reading

Blah blah blah blog posts from this week.

No prejudice is ever the “last acceptable prejudice,” because no prejudice is acceptable. So argues, and argues well, Emily Sullivan SanfordRead Never Call Something The Last Acceptable Prejudice

David Heinemeier Hansson (writing for Signal v. Noise) has an axe to grind about typical corporate America and its inherent paranoia. It’s really a way of promoting the way he runs his software company, Basecamp, as what he calls a “calm company.” Read Paranoia won’t save you in the end

This week’s film camera reviews:

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Cameras, Photography

Time to send my Pentax ME out for CLA

My much-loved Pentax ME has developed a light leak. Much sadness.

Cincinnati Zoo

Bodies go for so cheap on eBay that I considered for a minute just buying another one. But I’m on my third body already — all three wound up with some minor problem. (Should that be telling me something?) Rather than try the camera lottery again, I’m just going to send this one to Eric Hendrickson for CLA (clean, lube, and adjustment) and new seals.

Cincinnati Zoo

I first saw the leak earlier this year when I had some black-and-white film in it. I immediately went into denial. The roll I shot at the zoo came back from the processor’s with so many affected images that I couldn’t avoid reality any longer.

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This also solves a mystery. You might remember a couple shots I shared several weeks ago where I couldn’t remember which camera I used to shoot them. Well, the light leak in the corner of this shot from that roll tells the story. And I had to be shooting my 80-200mm f/4.5 SMC Pentax-M Zoom lens on it to get shots like this one.

Eastern Star

While my ME is out of commission, I’ll just have to fall back on my delightful and pristine Pentax KM when I want to shoot from my collection of Pentax lenses. Life is good.

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Scenes from the American Sign Museum

Neonpallooza
Pentax ME
50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M
Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400

The neon was out in force at the American Sign Museum!

Photography, Road trips

single frame: Neonpallooza

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Photography

Shooting the 80-200mm f/4.5 SMC Pentax-M Zoom lens

Owning Pentax film gear appeals deeply to my inner tightwad. Bodies and lenses usually go for less, and often for far less, than their Canon and Nikon equivalents. And the lenses are (usually) so good. As a result, I own more Pentax gear than any other kind.

So I reach for my Pentax gear most often when I have a specific shooting need, such as low light or distance or macro. So it was in Cincinnati recently. I took my 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M lens for the available light of the American Sign Museum, and my 80-200mm f/4.5 SMC Pentax-M Zoom lens for the Cincinnati Zoo.

80-200mm f/4.5 SMC Pentax-M Zoom

The tl;dr, especially for those of you poised to pooh-pooh this lens for not being a prime, is that it’s a pretty good performer. Would primes along this zoom’s range perform better? I’m sure they would. But in each shot it took me only a second to push or pull the zoom ring to the right focal length. Try that with a bag full of primes.

Cincinnati Zoo

At 5 3/4 inches from mount to tip, and a half-inch or so longer when focused to infinity, this is a lot of lens to mount to a body as compact as my Pentax ME. It’s not terribly heavy at about 20 ounces, but it made the camera front-heavy just the same. It’s solidly built of all metal (with a rubber zoom grip). The zoom ring has great heft as you push and pull it. It feels like quality. My only beef with the lens’s build quality is that the aperture ring feels thin and tinny inside as you twist it through the crisp detents.

This lens is adequately sharp. The forums say it’s a little soft wide open, but I never saw any of that. What I do know is that all the images on this roll of Fujicolor 200 ran uncharacteristically cold, and I had to warm them up in Photoshop. And a couple of my images show a wisp of purple fringing.

Cincinnati Zoo

It was a chilly but bright early-spring afternoon and many of the animals were not out. Those that were just wanted to lounge quietly in the sun.

Cincinnati Zoo

It made for easy, if not terribly interesting, photography: zoom in, frame, and click. Little animal motion to contend with.

Cincinnati Zoo

You might remember this photo from a few weeks ago, and that I couldn’t remember which camera and lens I used to shoot it. I’ve figured it out: the Pentax ME and this zoom.

Kitchen window

Yep, this zoom delivered this lovely swirly bokeh. (On expired Kodak Gold 400, no less.)

Victoria at Northgate

So this lens is a keeper. I’ll probably use it once every blue moon, but when I need it I’ll be very glad I still have it.

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