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Your Guide To Buying Vintage Cameras - Including A Shooting Guide

If you want to purchase a vintage film camera, here's a guide to what you should be looking for.

| Second Hand

Your Guide To Buying Vintage Cameras - Including A Shooting Guide : Zenit


Your Guide To Buying Vintage Cameras - Including A Shooting Guide : Collectors and those who are just fans of using old film cameras are keeping the second-hand camera market, very much, booming. No matter your reason for purchasing a vintage film camera, 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 subjects 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 Vintage Film Photography" of which, the below extract is from. The book combines practical reference with accessible advice, quick buyers' tips and a camera care section to offer readers of any experience the right information for them to pursue this passion. Published by Thames & Hudson, the book is available now for around £20. 


Vintage Camera Buyer's Tips

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


Vintage Camera Shooting Guide 

Your Guide To Buying Vintage Cameras - Including A Shooting Guide : Canon AE-1


A 35mm SLR is probably the easiest of all retro cameras to use, primarily 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 using 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 exposure, the mirror usually returns automatically, although with older cameras that might now happen until the film is wound.

So, prior to exposure, 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 might be completely plain. Later, more sophisticated cameras are more likely to show exposure information around the periphery. The most useful addition 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, shutter 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. Exceptions 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 exception 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 best 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 help.
  • 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 central spot, then the correct exposure has been attained. 
  • Shutter-priority: the photographer selects a shutter speed and then the camera’s meter selects 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 sets the shutter speed needed for correct exposure.
  • Programmed automation: the camera’s meter selects and sets the best combination of shutter speed and aperture for correct exposure.
  • Different cameras might offer just one of these options, or a combination of any or all of them.


Vintage Camera Example - The Canon F-1

Your Guide To Buying Vintage Cameras - Including A Shooting Guide :

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


The Canon F-1 series of cameras were made 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 have 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 model 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 speeds), 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. Standard 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 shutter. 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 even 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 stops are set on a ring surrounding the rewind crank. This is where film speeds are also set.

If you replace the standard viewfinder with the AW version, one that many 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’ setting 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. Continuous 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 field, 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 user has a formidable and versatile kit to cover a vast range of subjects.


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

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Just Jas Plus
21 26.4k 1 England
27 Feb 2018 3:01PM
The Zenit EM was my second SLR camera, the first being the Praktina II. I bought the Zenith for £39 round about 1974, because I was having trouble finding lenses for the Praktina breach lock mount. Also they were quite expensive, whilst the 42mm thread mount lenses were more abundant and less costly.

I had great fun with the Zenit(h). I looked at several Zenits before making my choice. Some were somewhat rough in their operation whilst a few were much smoother. The one that I finally bought was quite a joy to operate.

The Praktina I later part exchanged for a Yashicaflex TLR. This I still have.
MrScott 10 United Kingdom
27 Feb 2018 8:30PM
My Canon AE-1 Program is still used, and is a pleasure to shoot with. There is a lot to be said for the process of taking an analogue image!

Also still use Canon SureShot Ace ( fixed 35mm lens) and Olympus Trip.
randomrubble 18 3.1k 12 United Kingdom
28 Feb 2018 10:40PM
Seems odd that the writer didn’t mention Yashica in his alternatives to the ‘big five’ Japanese makers.
randomrubble 18 3.1k 12 United Kingdom
28 Feb 2018 10:45PM
Also, the Canon F-1 image is of an F-1/F-1n rather than the New F-1 (F-1N) which the writer reccomends.

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