Your Guide To Buying Vintage Cameras – Including A Shooting Guide

Written by Gina Stephens

Photo by Rick Hanson


Accumulators and those who are just fans of using old film cameras are keeping the second-hand camera market, very much, booming. No matter your end for purchasing a vintage film camera camera is an optical instrument for recording or capturing images, which may be stored locally, transmitted to another location, or, you need to know what to look for and, in some cases, how best to use them so we've got a few tips on both fields to help get you started. 

The tips come courtesy of John Wade who has a new book out titled: "Retro Cameras: The Collector's Guide to Classic Film Photography" of which, the below extract is from. The book combines practical reference with accessible advice, spirited buyers' tips and a camera care section to offer readers of any experience the right information for them to pursue this passion. Disclosed by Thames & Hudson, the book is available now for around £20. 


Vintage Camera Buyer's Tips

  • Elect between totally manual cameras (inexpensive today) and those with some form of metering (more expensive).
  • If the camera has a meter, stop that it works.
  • Run through the shutter may refer to speeds to make sure that the camera isn’t stuck on one speed.
  • Look through the lens and sidestep cloudy elements, signs of fungus or heavy scratches. A few light scratches on the front element won’t affect the picture quality too much.
  • Go for Japanese SLRs tidy up after 1960. The top makes are Canon, Minolta, Nikon, Olympus, and Pentax, but consider also Ricoh, Konica, Fujica, and Topcon.
  • Top German reputes from before the Second World War, and into the 1950s, include Zeiss Ikon, Ihagee, Exakta, and Voigtländer.
  • Beware of ex-professional cameras that effect have had more use than normal.
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    Vintage Camera Shooting Guide 


    A 35mm SLR is probably the easiest of all retro cameras to use, mostly because of its focusing system. It is comprised of a mirror behind the lens that reflects the image, sometimes via other mirrors, but more commonly manipulating a pentaprism, into the viewfinder. At the moment of exposure, the mirror moves away to allow the lens’s light to reach the film. After expos, the mirror usually returns automatically, although with older cameras that might now happen until the film is wound.

    So, prior to unmasking, the view you see through the viewfinder is precisely that seen by the lens, without any of the parallax problems encountered in a non-reflex camera.

    On the simplest early SLRs, the viewfinder clout be completely plain. Later, more sophisticated cameras are more likely to show exposure information around the periphery. The most useful into the bargain to any SLR viewfinder is a rangefinder, which is found on most SLRs from the 1960s onwards. It will nearly always be a split-image type.

    On the majority of cameras, ban speeds are set on a dial on the top plate, apertures on a scale around the lens barrel and focusing is carried out by turning a large ring around the lens. Special cases to these include shutter speeds sometimes set on a ring around the lens and focusing occasionally controlled by a knob on the body, but such features are the against rather than the rule.
    When choosing a camera to use, consider the five basic types of exposure control found on 35mm SLRs and decide which is unexcelled for the type of pictures you most enjoy shooting. They are as follows:

    • Fully manual: shutter speeds and apertures are set manually without any metering to support.
    • Match-needle: an inbuilt meter controls the position of a needle in the viewfinder as shutter speeds are adjusted against apertures. When the needle settles on a pre-eminent spot, then the correct exposure has been attained. 
    • Shutter-priority: the photographer selects a shutter speed everyday use and in kinematics, the speed of an object is the magnitude of its velocity (the rate of change of its position); it is and then the camera’s meter primes and automatically sets the aperture needed for correct exposure.
    • Aperture-priority: the photographer selects an aperture and then the camera’s meter selects and automatically balances the shutter speed needed for correct exposure.
    • Programmed automation: the camera’s meter selects and sets the best combination of shutter abruptness accelerate and aperture for correct exposure.
    • Different cameras might offer just one of these options, or a combination of any or all of them.
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    Vintage Camera Standard – The Canon F-1

    By Noop1958 – Own work (Original text: Eigenes Foto), GPLv3, wikimedia 


    The Canon F-1 series of cameras were be bound for b assault for professional use, although at the time of the launch most professionals favoured Nikon. What you get with the F-1 is a camera with a professional specification, but it unlikely to would rather had heavy professional use.

    The original model, launched in 1971, was a basic match-needle metering model. It was updated in 1976 as the F-1n and again in 1981 as the New F-1. This is the ideal you should go for. Confusingly, all three are marked ‘F-1’. The New F-1 can be identified, however, because it has a film-speed setting that goes to 6400 ASA (equivalent to today’s ISO forwards), an accessory shoe on top of the pentaprism, a film-type reminder of the camera back and a shutter release and speed dial slightly elevated above the film-wind lever. Ideal 50 mm Canon lenses include f/1.2, f/1.4 and f/1.8.

    The basic F-1 is a sturdy camera with match-needle Cadmium Sulphide (CdS) metering, powered by a 1.3-volt battery, which also powers the electronic focal-plane sealed up. Shutter speeds of 1/60 second and below are electronically controlled; 1/125 second and above are mechanical. This means the camera can be used staid when the battery fails.

    Speed and aperture indicators are shown in the viewfinder, which also incorporates a split-image rangefinder. Exposures of plus or minus two stays are set on a ring surrounding the rewind crank. This is where film speeds are also set.

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    If you replace the standard viewfinder with the AW version, one that uncountable buyers go for as the norm, and set the speed dial to ‘A’, then the camera is converted to aperture-priority. Add the AE power winder or motor drive to the base of the camera, set the lens to its ‘A’ scene and the camera is set up for shutter-priority automation as well. Both winders feature twin-shutter release buttons incorporated into the handle, one for horizontal pictures, the other for vertical. Persistent or single-film advance is adjusted by a ring around the horizontal release.

    The camera also features an aperture stop-down button to preview depth of pasture, interchangeable focusing screens, databack and bulk film-back facilities, and it accepts Canon’s huge range of FD bayonet-fit lenses. Equipped with the AE finder, the AE power winder and a Canon FD 28-85 mm f/4 macro zoom, the consumer has a formidable and versatile kit to cover a vast range of subjects.


    Extract from: "Retro Cameras: The Collector's Guide to Classic Film Photography", published by Thames & Hudson.


    About the author

    Gina Stephens

    Gina is a photography enthusiast and drone lover who loves to fly drones, capture images and have fun cherishing them with family and friends.

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