A Guide to Buying Your First Vintage Camera
There’s something about vintage cameras that digital just can’t replicate. It has a character lost on the high-tech equipment of today. The wear-and-tear only adds value, and the older the camera, the more sought after it is.
Film photography has been revived in recent years as the younger generations are discovering the magic of analog. Film has a way of making people slow down from the fast-paced digital experience, forcing you to become thoughtful, patient, and nostalgic in your photography.
Because these cameras use film, there are only a limited number of chances to get a photo right, making each shot more valuable. The intimacy of the process makes photographers infinitely more connected to their cameras and photos. You don’t have to be an expert to love film photography—you just have to know the basics.
But rookie photographers need to make sure that their first vintage camera is the perfect fit for them. They might look cool, but remember—vintage cameras take a lot of work. They need to be cleaned and looked after, and printing your film pictures is an entirely different undertaking. Each type of old vintage camera comes with its pros and cons, so you’ll need to find the one that fits your lifestyle and preference the most.
To help you find the vintage camera you’re looking for, make sure to ask yourself the following questions:
1| Are you willing to shell out money?
Vintage cameras might be cheaper than DSLRs, but as their popularity grows, so does their price. Don’t be fooled by how they look: Some old cameras, like Seagulls, will put a dent in your pocket.
However, an old camera still has a higher value (in terms of history and character) than new gear, so old is the way to go. Vintage cameras that are being sold at suspiciously low prices should tell you to err on the side of caution. Be willing to shell out enough cash to purchase a vintage camera that’s in good condition.
Don’t be cheap, because the best vintage cameras won’t be.
2| What vintage camera suits your personality?
Once you’ve committed a budget for a vintage camera, now you need to ask yourself which one you need. Ask yourself what you want in terms of affordability, usability, and photo quality. Cameras have as much of a personality as photographers, so it’s important that your lifestyle will fit the camera you get. Those who are looking for more advanced level cameras that can take professional photos might go for single lens reflex (SLR) cameras or twin lens reflex (TLR) cameras. Meanwhile, those prioritizing aesthetic appeal might want a simple lomography camera.
Here’s a list of the type of vintage cameras that might suit your style:
Single Lens Reflex (SLR) – The ancestor of the DSLR, the SLR has the same functions, only it’s completely manual. This is a bulky camera that needs a pretty skilled photographer that knows how to fix the aperture and shutter speed without digital help. If you’re up to the task, this is a great durable camera to have.
Twin-Lens Reflex (TLR) – This is one of the more aesthetic looking cameras you probably first learned about during the days of Tumblr. It’s composed of two lenses: the first is for viewing (and acts like your viewfinder) while the other captures the actual photos. Unlike other cameras, you can view the photo as it’s being taken via the first lens. But don’t be fooled—it might look like an incredible relic, but this camera is not for the faint of heart
Compact camera – These are the classic ‘90s cameras that most of us grew up with. It’s a simple point-and-shoot camera that has limited customizable settings, unlike SLRs. What you see is what you get with compact cameras, but the quality of the photos will satisfy that ‘90s aesthetic.
Rangefinder – A rangefinder is like a mix of a compact camera and an SLR. The build is more similar to an SLR, but it acts more like a compact camera. With an SLR, you can look through the lens itself. With a compact camera, you look through the viewfinder. The rangefinder is the same in this regard as you can only look through the viewfinder instead of the lens. However, rangefinders are notable for calculating distance through triangulation for accurate focusing, which is where it gets its name. These are probably the most popular film cameras right now because of the way they look, but remember: Just because the camera looks nice doesn’t mean it takes nice photos.
Instant camera – Fujifilm’s Instax and the Polaroid fall in this category. Instant cameras are your standard point-shoot-and-print cameras. These are the best fit for those who are looking to capture memories rather than producing top-caliber photos.
Toy camera – If the name doesn’t already make it clear, these are the easiest vintage cameras to use. Even kids can use it. Despite its ease of use, toy cameras are known for producing beautifully nostalgic photos. This is the category where Lomography cameras fall under, like the popular Diana and Fisheye toy cameras. Toy cameras are the best bet for those looking to make beautiful photos but don’t have the time to learn the technicalities of SLRs and rangefinders.
Pinhole – Pinhole cameras are best known for creating gorgeous long exposure photos. Unlike other cameras, pinhole cameras don’t have lenses. They’re literally just a box and a hole relying on the magic of science. They’re not as technically complicated as SLRs, but it will be challenging for newbie photographers. On the bright side, pinhole cameras are a good way to appreciate the very basics of photography.
Other advanced level cameras include: stereo cameras that look like human binoculars and create a 3D effect; panoramic cameras that made panoramic photos before the smartphone was even born; and folding cameras which use an accordion-like material as the lens. There are a little complicated for even the most skilled vintage camera photographer, but they are beauties to collect.
3| Are you willing to hustle?
Once you’ve settled on the type of camera you want to get, it’s time to hustle. Get out there and canvass for the camera you want. There are a number of shops in places like Makati Cinema Square and Hidalgo that sell vintage film cameras. There are also online communities like Lomomanila Marketplace and Rangefinder Philippines where photography aficionados sell vintage cameras as well as film. If you’re really into this, and willing to spend the money, try Japan Camera Hunter, one of the best vintage camera collectors and sellers in all of Asia.
We made an entire article about where to find vintage cameras in the Philippines here:
Before you buy a camera, make sure to lower your expectations. This is a pre-loved piece that has most certainly been damaged in the past. Don’t expect it to be in mint condition, just working condition.
Be a responsible buyer and know what to look for: Check the shutter, aperture, body, lens, viewfinder, and spoon. Twist and turn every knob to make sure everything is working. Check that there’s no damage to the light seal as this could seriously affect the outcome of your photos. Know what batteries the camera needs. And last, confirm with the seller that the camera he is selling is actually functional because a lot of vintage cameras are sold merely as relics.
We won’t lie: The quest for a quality vintage camera will require a little luck. But if you know your stuff and are committed to finding a vintage camera that’ll be used for more than just for a post on your IG feed, the camera gods will bless you with something worthwhile.