The 10 Most Important Things You Should Be Looking For When Buying a Classic Camera (Or How Not to Get Ripped Off)

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Pictured above: Canon 7 Black w/50mm f1.2 screw mount. Shot by Bellamy Hunt


Eric’s Note: For this blog post I am excited to present this article written by Bellamy Hunt (aka Japancamerahunter). Not only is he a skilled street photographer, but he is a professional camera hunter. If you are looking for a vintage or classic camera, he is your man. Knowing nothing about classic cameras myself, I asked him some tips that you may need to know when looking to buy one. Read what he has to say below!

So, you have decided to take the plunge and buy a classic camera, well hold on to your horses, this is something that you shouldn’t run headlong into with wild abandon.
Obviously if you are buying a $20 camera most of this will be completely irrelevant to you, but if you are thinking of getting something a bit nicer, then there are a few things you should consider.

First up, and perhaps most importantly, know what you are looking for. Don’t have a vague idea that you want a film camera and just buy the first one you see; you will just be disappointed.

Here is a little list of things that you should be looking for when you are buying a classic camera.

1. What sort of camera do you want? A rangefinder? An SLR? A large format aerial camera?

Give this some thought. The internet is your friend, go and do some research and find out what you think you would like. Perhaps you have a friend who has a camera you like, if so, blag it off them and try it out.

2. How much money do you want to spend?

Be realistic about this, these things can get expensive. Just because it is old does not mean it is worth less than the new gear. Research prices online, set yourself a budget and you will find something. Don’t be cheap though, you are not going to get that Leica for $400. Not. Ever.

3. Research. Research. Research.

I cannot stress this enough, I am super serial. No really, the amount of people that have bought a $2000 camera from me and then asked me how it works simply staggers me. Download a manual, read forums, stalk photographers, whatever it takes.

4. Don’t be fooled.

If you are looking to buy a classic camera and you find one for an amazing bargain, there is always a reason why….always. Be skeptical of cheap prices or super wonderful deals. Is there a problem with the camera? Or worse, is it stolen? Be careful.

5. Check the functions.

Ok, so you have found the camera, the price is right, it looks pretty enough, but does it work? Check the shutter speeds, all of them. How does 1 second sound? Like 3 seconds? Skip it. Check the power, the film door, the meter (if it has one), check everything.

6. Mold is your worst enemy.

Check the inside of the camera, is there any mold anywhere? If there is, just walk away. Unless, of course, you like throwing your money away. Same goes for lenses.

7. What battery does it use?

This may sound silly, but some cameras (Leica M5 being a shining example) only use mercury cells, which are now outlawed in many places. Make sure you can get the batteries for your new toy. Some cameras now take adapters, so you can bypass this, but not all of them do.

8. What sort of condition is it in?

This may sound obvious, but if it says mint, then it really should be mint. How was it stored? One careful lady owner? Lovely, I shall take it. In a bucket full of spiders? No thanks.

9. Where is it?

Again, may sound silly, but it you are having it sent to you, you have to factor in the postage and if is from abroad, the import taxes. Trust me, most people forget this, but it can be a fair chunk of your budget.

10. Where are you going to keep it?

Really, where? On the shelf next to your mother’s heirlooms, gathering dust? Be sensible, if you are buying something expensive make sure you have somewhere to store it. A humidity cabinet is best, but expensive. Get a plastic storage box with a whole load of silica gel packets and you would do yourself a favor.

So, that should cover it. Obviously if you are buying from the internet then you cannot physically check over the camera yourself, which is where the trust thing comes into play. Check your sellers, see if they have a good reputation, see what people are saying about them and you should be grand.

Most of all, good luck, with the right amount of research you should end up with something really cool.



Looking for a classic camera from Japan? Contact Bellamy and have him help you find one:




Do you have any vintage/classic camera questions for Bellamy? If so, write your question below and he will try his best to answer all of them! And let me know your thoughts about having a weekly “Ask Bellamy” column where you can ask him all your gear-related questions!

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  • Zeno Watson

    Fantastic Article!

    Thanks for posting!


  • Mark

    That Canon 7 is a rather handsome fellow!

  • Ricardo Porto

    very interesting article, very good porn.

  • Jorge Ledesma

    Good to see the good ole Canon F1 + 50mm, it was my 1st camera back in 1995, excellent post.

  • Corylum

    great post eric. thanks bellamy too ! mahalo !


    Great article, thanks :)


    Great article, thanks :)

  • Julia Hargreaves

    Humidity cabinets are not very expensive. Not compared to the gear. And they are much nicer than having to keep stuff hidden in a box. Mine cost about the same as the typical amount I spend on a lens (50,000¥). Also if you make sure you do not get too large a cabinet then it stops you buying too much stuff! I live in Kamakura, Japan, a very humid place. I bought the cabinet after one of my friends who lives in a drier part of town (!) got lens mould in his Nikon 135, DC lens :(

  • Anonymous

    Ohhh well.. since I have a few cameras [33 currently] and the majority of them are old cameras I thought I’d put in my two cents. 20$ or 200$ the methodology is the same. It doesn’t have to be expensive to be a nice camera, or to work. Sometimes it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time. This by the way pertains to “field shopping”. I am very fond of estate sales, flea markets and antique shops but have also patronized ebay and private sellers. Anyways, back to the field tests.

    When I look.. I want:

    1. A cosmetically attractive piece. This is an eye thing, easy to decide if you like how it looks. Don’t get so excited over finding something that you disregard it’s cosmetic condition unless of course you just don’t care. Usually, if there is one, there will be others- another time.

    2. Functional. I literally stand there and fire it, take the lens off if possible, if not I look through it on bulb to check for clarity and to rule out fungus. Sometimes you have to open the camera back to see through a fixed lens. Try the timer if there is one. Check the light meter [selenium cell] if there is one. Yes, sometimes they still do work and you can see a needle move if there is one. Make sure to turn the aperture rings too, sometimes they are frozen up due to dried out lube. Agfa/Ansco are famous for the green glue of death.

    3. I open the camera up, look for corrosion or water damage/rust, check the light seals, integrity of curtain shutters, in tact pressure plate, make sure if a take-up roll is needed that it is there etc.. *Sometimes I stumble on a half used roll of film doing this and better, it was already rewound. Of course you develop it, this is part of the cameras history.

    4. I prefer mechanical cameras but if it needs batteries for a light meter I do a nice little search on my smart phone to see if there are substitutes before I buy or sometimes I actually have this knowledge before hand. I have a fair idea of what I “still” want to acquire. I also will check camera prices on my phone if I am uncertain.. to make sure I’m not being ripped off.

    5. I check the table/shelf, etc.. to find any accessories that belong with the camera because often in venues where people forage, things get separated. The case might be a foot away and not catch your eye unless you think to look. The original box. Lens hood, filters, light meter, flash bulbs etc. These items can sweeten a deal that doesn’t seem so great based on the camera alone.

    6. Unless I think the price asked for is reasonable, I counter offer. I do have my limit in mind when I do this and I do stick to it because at this point I have researched and know what the item is worth and have an idea of availability as well. I have walked away over five dollars. Why? Because it will always be “just five dollars more”.. [echo echo] And.. 90% of the time they do call me back and say okay when they see me walk away.

    7. After purchasing.. I clean it up. More intricate/expensive cameras I trust to a professional however the modest ones I have become quite adept at dismantling, cleaning, lubing and reassembling. As for storage, like mentioned above, find a good place. I have to revamp my camera storage as they are now in boxes under my desk and need a better, roomier place.

    8. All that is left is that first roll of test film. Test it all out, see what your new baby can do and share!

    Hope this has helped any of you impulse/field buyers.

    • Eric Kim

      Wow great comment Kristen! You should write an article for my blog as well ;)

      • Anonymous

        LOL was going to write one on mine. When I do you can either link it, if you want, or repost it.

  • John Kim

    If one buys classic camera from Internet, it is always good to buy a CLA’d camera recently. Since it is basically impossible to check functionality and cosmetic condition clearly, it is also good to communicate clearly with a seller and make sure that one can return it to the seller back for sure if a camera is not working properly.

  • Claire

    extremely insightful. really enjoyed this post.

  • Claire

    extremely insightful. really enjoyed this post.

  • Claire

    extremely insightful. really enjoyed this post.

  • Japancamerahunter

    Thanks a lot guys. I am glad people are enjoying it. I have a ton more info up here in my head that I am happy to share with you. I shall keep it coming.

  • Michael

    4. Don’t be fooled!
    This happened to me when I bought the Hassy from a Art student who told me it was an excellent condition, but had shutter problem costing a load to get it fixed and CLA’d. By the way his name is Andrew G Salama from Pasadena Art Center watch out when you want to buy anything from him. It was an expansive lesson learned, now I know it’s important to rely on reputable dealers or private sellers like Bellamy.

  • SteveSFO

    Try to find a camera dealer who you trust to fnd the camera of your dreams. Although you will pay more for athe vintage or used camera. Normally they will have tested the camera and if they are good, the dealer will offer some sort of warranty. I’ve bought tons of used equipment and if you do things right (excellent article by the way),you can save a lot of money.

    Recently I acquired a Nikon F3hp for a couple of hnndred bucks in near mint condition. Consider that this same camera once sold for $1500 new in the 1980’s, it was a good buy and no fear of being taken.

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