There are almost no new film cameras on the market. Sure, you could shell out $5,500 for a new Leica body, but most people are looking to pay less than $200 for their film thrills.
If that’s you, you’re in the right place. There are many different ways to buy film cameras online, and in this article, we’re going to go over all the positives and negatives of each solution.
I’ve bought a number of film cameras from all of these places, and have come away with as many gems as I have shelf ornaments.
Here’s what I’ve found. In order to have a good experience buying cameras, the store must meet these conditions:
- Accurate description of items
- The ability to return or repair items if it’s in bad condition
- No high-pressure sales
- The opportunity to leave feedback
- Take credit card payments
The worst place to buy a used film camera: flea markets
When you think of all the whimsical and charismatic shops that would have old film cameras for sale, the flea market might be the first place that comes to mind.
But flea markets fail every one of those conditions. The sellers these days all know and charge the mint condition value for every camera on their shelf — even if the shutter is failing, or it hasn’t had a CLA since Watergate.
What ends up happening is you’ll pay the full eBay price without any possibility of returning the camera if it’s junk. There’s no reputation, barely any ability to haggle, and a high-pressure sales environment that hardly allows you to check the camera before buying.
I’ve fallen for this in the past, and ended up paying full eBay value for a Yashica Lynx 14 with a serious fungus issue. That wouldn’t happen online, as sellers have a reputation to uphold if they want to keep selling.
The second worst place to buy a film camera: Kijiji, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace
If there’s one ubiquitous truth, it’s that everyone overvalues their junk. Mix in sentimentality with a piece of rusty metal that’s been on a smoker’s shelf for 10 years, and you know you’re not coming away with a discount (or a refund if it fails).
The used marketplaces fail 4 out of 5 of the conditions above.
- Items are described poorly
- Cannot guarantee return or repair items if they’re not working
- The sales are high-pressure
- Some services allow you to leave feedback for the seller
- Deals are made with cash
Of course, every seller is different. There are professionals and reasonable people selling on the used marketplace who will offer a refund if something goes wrong. But more often than not, it’s buyer beware.
A prime example is my Hasselblad 500c camera, which I purchased on Facebook Marketplace. The camera looked amazing on the outside, which meant it was in pristine condition, and the seller sold it mint.
But I quickly discovered that the lens wasn’t firing every shot, and the auxiliary shutter on the camera body was jamming. All in all, I took it to the repairman 5 times and handed over an extra $600 in repair fees.
It was worth it for that camera, but if you were going for something cheaper, it would end up on the shelf instead of in your camera bag (because you’re definitely not getting your money back).
If I bought that camera on eBay or at a camera store I’d be able to either return it or have the seller pay the fees to have it fixed. Worst case, you can dispute the transaction with your credit card (after going through all the steps and documenting the process), and leave a bad review.
Buying a camera at a shop
The place where you’ll spend the most money on a used film camera is at a professional camera store.
But with that cost comes many benefits, like being able to leave feedback, having a return policy, and relatively low-pressure sales. Camera stores live and die by their reputation, and getting credit card disputes is a quick way to lose money and the item they sold. So stores have to operate in a moral fashion.
The items on a physical store’s shelf are often going to be the ones that are in the best condition as well because they don’t want to take a risk on a bad camera. These shop owners are professionals at sourcing good cameras — they’re not going to sell cheap junk or cameras they wouldn’t want to shoot with themselves.
The only problem is that you will have limited selection, and will have higher prices overall. But a good customer experience can make the cost well worth it.
The best place to buy film cameras: eBay
eBay is my favorite place to buy film cameras. Not only do they have the best selection, but they tick all the boxes for me:
- pay with credit cards
- Accurate descriptions
- Stores live or die on reputation
- Low-pressure sales
- Guaranteed returns.
eBay used to be the flea market of the online world, but they’ve been working for years to clean up their image and give buyers assurance that it’s not all “buyer beware.” Because eBay takes a strong stance for the buyers, you can be guaranteed that you’ll get your money back if the item is not as described.
The sellers also have to compete with stores across the world, which they usually do based on quality of items and the description itself. Prices, on the other hand, only seem to rise on eBay even in the face of great competition.
I’ve bought many of my favorite cameras on eBay, and will continue to shop there because of the guarantees that the service offers. And, if for some reason I can’t get the return, I can always open a dispute with my credit card.
What about KEH?
KEH ticks all the same boxes and more than eBay. They offer a guaranteed 90-day return window and have appraisers on staff who check the item and give it the best possible description.
Usually, items are in better condition than advertised. The reason I don’t have KEH higher on the list is because they don’t ever have anything in stock. I’ve checked many times, hoping for something good there, but have yet to even see a film camera I want in stock.
I also tried selling my cameras to them, but have often found that they offer 35-50% of the eBay value. If I can get more than twice as much money selling on the used marketplace, there’s no way I’d be giving items to KEH — and I’m sure most others see it exactly the same way.
So if you can find your item on KEH, I would absolutely recommend using their service. The 90-day, hassle-free return policy and dedicated appraisal team is second to none. But don’t hold your breath.
Another excellent online shop worth checking out: Analog.cafe
If you’re part of the film community, you’ve likely read an article or two by Dmitri from Analog Cafe. He’s a film photography enthusiast who also runs a shop that stocks some awesome cameras for new photographers, including a number of point and shoot cameras.
All of them are film tested and described very accurately.
Dmitri’s Analog.Cafe shop is absolutely worth checking out — you may just find the perfect camera for you there, and help keep the film photography community alive in the process!
Please note: this is not sponsored — Dmitri is a good friend of mine and is posting some of the most in-depth, user-friendly articles and film photography tools on his https://www.analog.cafe site.
The best place to get your film camera: your parent’s and grandparent’s basements
If there is one place where you’re guaranteed to find the biggest treasure trove of film cameras and accessories, it’s in your parents or grandparents basements.
People really took care of their stuff back in the day. Cameras were the kind of item that people cared about keeping in the best condition — so they actually read the camera manuals, took out the batteries, did maintenance, and generally made sure these would last generations.
If you’re even slightly interested in buying a film camera, go ask your parents if there’s one laying around first. It’ll likely serve you way better.
One of the best cameras that I got came from my grandmother’s basement. It came in a hand-made wooden box with lenses, filters, light meters, accessories, and everything you could ever want that would end up costing way more than just the camera on eBay. It’s still in pristine condition, and one that I continue to use to this day.
If you’re looking to buy your first film camera, always ask the family first. They are the best resource for these cameras, and you’ll likely get it in the best possible condition.
After that, check eBay before going onto the used marketplace. It may be more expensive, but you’ll come away with a better camera, or at least the assurance that you can return it or get it repaired for free if something goes wrong.
Have you found any awesome film cameras? Or have any great pieces of advice for where to find one? Let me know down in the comments below! I’d love to hear what you’ve found.
Daren is a journalist and wedding photographer based in Vancouver, B.C. He’s been taking personal and professional photos on film since 2017 and began developing and printing his own photos after wanting more control than what local labs could offer. Discover his newest publications at Soft Grain Books, or check out the print shop.