5 things to look for in a used camera
Whether you are garage sailing, surfing online, or exploring vintage shop shelves, here are five important things to look at to quickly assess SLR and rangefinder cameras so that you don’t go home with a dud you can’t shoot with.
1. Battery Compartment:
Open the battery compartment and make sure there are no signs of damage or corrosion. Blue stains on the metal or acid gunk that has leaked and solidified are bad signs.
2. Shutter Curtain:
When you open up the film compartment, you will see a thin black piece of fabric. That’s the shutter curtain. Make sure it lays flat, is clean, and is free of tears, rips, or any other damage. You should be able to click the shutter release button and see it open and close smoothly, returning into place.
3. Light Meter:
The light meter allows you to determine which shutter speed and f-stop should be used for the best exposure of film, based on which film speed you’re using and what the lighting conditions are like.
Some really old cameras won’t even have a light meter, but if you’re looking at an SLR that does, you’ll see a scale to the right or the left of the viewfinder. If the camera doesn’t have working batteries in it when you’re checking it out, you may not be able to verify if it will work. (Quick tip: Throw a couple AAs or a 123 lithium battery in your pocket or bag if you’ve planned a camera hunting mission.)
If you do decide to buy a camera without a working light meter (or without one at all), don’t worry! You can still make it work for you. Download a light meter app on your smartphone to get the settings information you need. If the camera does have a light meter, comparing the results between your app and the camera’s light meter is a good way to ensure it’s in working order.
A broken shutter means that the camera won’t be more than a shelf decoration. Click the shutter button a few times to make sure it works well and doesn’t jam.
The timing of the shutter is also important. To test this, set the shutter speed to 2 seconds, and count for yourself 2 seconds while watching to make sure the shutter opens and closes in that time.
This might be common sense, but the glass should be clean and clear of any scratches or nicks. Unless you have the ability to properly clean it yourself (or want to spend the money to have it professionally done), take a close look. You should also take a look around the rim of the lens to look for any dents that may indicate it has been dropped, possibly preventing it from properly focusing.
Watch out for fungus! It’s gross, but yes, older lenses can have something that almost looks like spiderwebs inside the lens. That can indicate fungus, and that can be a serious health and safety issue. A quick online image search will show you what that could look like.
Looking at something else that’s looking cool and old school analog?
Our top tip on other types of cameras that you may be tempted to buy because they look really cool… find out what kind of film the camera takes. 35mm and 120mm film are available and in production, and can still be reasonably easy to get developed. Other types of film, such as disc film or APS are difficult to find and have to be developed at specialty labs, which can become expensive.