If you are reading this, it’s maybe because like me you started looking for good quality, fully working cameras and finally got tired of being part of the eBay lottery. In this article, I’ll relate personal eBay buying and selling experiences as well as purchasing from online dealers and hope that readers will get some benefit from my experiences. The next two articles will cover common faults and how t spot them as well as a guide on the more common 35mm SLR cameras around.
Returning to film I initially bought a camera from eBay. Of course in my naïveté, I imagined that sellers with a positive feedback buyer score in the thousands who seemed to know what they were talking about actually DID know what they were talking about! Mistake No.1. I was soon disabused of that idea after the first few cameras arrived. As they often are on eBay these were stated as fully working but were far from it!
The initial few had relatively minor issues; dirty focus screen, rough focus on lenses and rotten seals. I can only imagine the supposed satisfied buyers of these sellers were as clueless as the seller. And, sadly browsing forums, that often seems to be the case. Newbies appear on a regular basis with yet another tale of woe regarding their eBay camera and often showing astounding ignorance about film.
The eBay Experience
Now, lest you think me a snob, it’s hardly the fault of someone under the age of 40 that they are clueless about film – after all anyone younger than that has probably never seen a film camera or used one. So, it’s hardly surprising they don’t know how to repair one or that eBay is so bad for cameras.
Being somewhat dab-handed and having owned many cameras over 50 years, most of the issues I got stuck with presented few problems. Some online research quickly solved most of the issues. Initially, I thought most people, like myself, would have the basic skills for running repairs. A quick look around forums proved otherwise with folk being advised to squirt WD40 into things (for those that don’t know you should NEVER use WD40 on a camera) plus endless tales of lost springs and bearings, pleas for missing parts and usually with little help to be found.
Camera repair is a skill!
For those not in the know, to fix most cameras you need a certain lightness of touch, tools, experience and technical savvy. Getting to grips with fixing even simple problems can often mean wrecking an entire camera for a novice. I found this out the hard way. In short, there are very few simple fixes to most classic cameras.
So after brooding about the poor state of the world in general and why eBay is so bad for cameras. I vented online quite a bit (including here) and decided to do something about it. So I started refurbishing cameras, testing them and offering them (I hoped) to a grateful world on eBay. What a nice thing for someone to actually sell a camera that actually did fully work, was clean, nice to use, didn’t smell of cat sick or old farts, looked minty and shot perfectly. Cameras you could have some faith in that could be relied on not to waste expensive film and your time.
I set about creating some stock and fed some cameras and lenses onto eBay. Sadly this turned out to be not such a great idea either (chalk up bad idea No.2). People sent them back broken or worse claimed refunds from eBay without ever returning the goods. Finally a beautiful Minolta X-500 that had been extensively restored and CLA’d was returned after 3 months by the buyer telling me ‘he didn’t realise film photography was so complicated’. Clearly buyer remorse but he stated goods not as described. Thanks to an eBay goof up the camera was never received back. I did get to keep the cash but only after spending weeks on the phone to eBay using up a lot of brain cancer minutes on my mobile, sending emails and using up my evenings in a never-ending round of filling out forms and going over the same issue (seemingly with every member of staff employed by eBay globally). Your mileage may vary, perhaps you are the sort of person so bereft of companionship that even speaking with an eBay customer services staffer is a comfort but that’s not me. I have plenty of things more interesting to do.
eBay really did eat my camera; the X-500 was the final straw in selling anything of any value on eBay. It came on the back of a lost Pentax K1000 caused by another eBay goof-up. I decided I had invested too much time in refurbishing classic cameras to risk that effort being wasted on feeding eBay more cameras for buyers with mental health issues.
The “Expert” Dealer Experience
The whole eBay (or mugs market as I call it) lark was finally topped off by me deciding to treat myself to a camera I for once didn’t have to spend a weekend fixing and becoming more expert in repairs than I really wanted or needed to be.
I plumped for a nice Minolta XD7 from a dealer. This camera was stated as excellent, fully working and from a dealer with 10 zillion “years experience” of photographic goods. ‘What could go wrong?’ I thought. So parting with some hard-earned I waited expectantly for a nice relaxing day out with something that worked out the box.
What turned up was something very far from excellent with a busted frame counter, rotting seals showering everything with grot, a gummed-up mirror piston, film safe indicator broken, a missing aperture mirror readout and the camera absolutely filthy.
The only upside was the external cosmetics did in fact look mint under the dirt. It seemed obvious at this point that dealers seemed to know zip about film cameras. Now you might say ‘well Mel stop griping and send the bloody thing back from whence it came’. The problem is I know damn well the dealer would just palm it off on some unsuspecting punter later on. Now, I am not noble enough to worry about what happens between a dealer and other customers, but I have the skills so I ended up fixing the camera up. 8 hours later and a few quid poorer she returned to full operation after having to salvage parts from a junked camera.
On other occasions, dealers have sent me lenses that were also stated as good but were full of fungus with jammed apertures or focus issues. When I took issue with this the response was “well they are old, they all have problems“. A quick read on forums shows this sort of thing is all too common in today’s film camera sales with even apparently ‘expert’ dealers palming off duds on the unwary.
To test this out I have called around various dealers who claim competence and it was rather worrying that they tended to say stuff like ‘it looks clear and clean’ or ‘it winds and fires so seems ok’. That’s like saying a car is fine because the engine starts. It doesn’t say the gearbox, brakes and steering is ok or that the wheels won’t fall off when you go round a corner.
The kind of issues I see from dealers with equipment would be obvious to anyone even vaguely familiar with film or cameras. It pretty much tells me (shouts in my ear with a million-watt amplifier in fact) that many sellers of film cameras are no more able to judge the quality than someone from a lost Amazonian tribe. For many, the response is ‘well just send it back for a refund’ and that kind of works but then where do you go? Do you just spend your days walking to and from the post office? I can’t speak for others but I would kind of like a camera to work, to take pictures with from the get-go – after all that’s the point isn’t it? For myself, I lack the time to stand in the post office playing ‘pass the parcel’ ad infinitum just hoping one day a decent one turns up. Neither can I waste film at £14 a roll in a camera that may turn out to be duff.
So here I am a seller who actually cares, where you can actually buy something that works just like it was designed to. A revolutionary idea (we’ll see if this turns out to be bad idea No.3) and a place where the cameras and lenses are clean, fungus free, checked, tested and ready to use.
I NEVER sell a single camera or lens that hasn’t been film tested. By that we mean I load a roll of real film, shoot it and then process it so I can be 100% certain the camera and/or lens is working exactly as specified. In short, if I sell it then I have used it and would be happy to use it again.
So that’s why I ended up with creating this site where I can sell good-quality cameras. As part of this, I have invested in test equipment and tools to professionally test cameras and lenses. I can’t sell as much as through eBay but that’s no big deal. I can only refurbish maybe 12 cameras a year at a pinch. Why bother? Why be noble? Well I happen to love film. I’d like to see it go on and I’d like to see people get a camera that they can love and treasure and help keep film alive.
So that’s the background – coming up next the questions you need to ask any prospective seller on eBay or elsewhere.
Mel is one of the driving forces behind High 5 Cameras and writes all our articles.
Starting serious photography back in 1972. Over the years she got to shoot film with most of the major brands in 35mm and large format as both a studio photographer and content provider for websites in the early life of the web. These days she is rediscovering photography and has become the GOTO person for knowledge on camera repair advice.