In this blog, I have listed down some basic tips on how to inspect secondhand film camera:
When you inspect secondhand film camera, the most common sense is to look at the overall outlook of the camera. If you pick up something that is so dusty, and look like it is freshly dug out from soil or mud, move on.
This is true for many flea markets in Hong Kong. They have a lot of cameras lying around but they are all rusty and covered in webs. I wonder why they even bother selling.
I also chanced upon a Kodak Brownie box in Bangkok. Unfortunately, it was very rusty, with a cloudy lens and lots of scratches.
After the first stage, the next is to pick up a decently clean looking body, put the viewfinder up to your eyes and look through it. You might be surprised the viewfinder can be totally hazy too! Well, there might be ways to clean it up.
Next, turn all the knobs you can find. They shouldn’t be clogged. Then, open the camera body. Once, I picked up a decent looking camera, opened it, the inside looked like there’s been a civil wars! Ha!
Don’t be deceived by the look!
Check for lens fungus
If the lens comes with the camera, check it thoroughly. Check for fungus. Because one fungus-infested camera can easily spread to your other camera. These lens fungi feed on materials used to make cameras, such as glue, lubricants and leather, etc. Fungus on the lens look like spider web, in my opinion. Go Google how fungus looks like.
How to check for fungus? Use the flashlight on your smart phone, shine the light through the lens. The lens should look clear, or it might be dusty but just make sure it doesn’t have thread-like monster on it.
Well, lens fungus on the surface is still removable. What’s more problematic is the fungus in between lens element i.e. inside the lens, very difficult or near impossible to remove.
I don’t know about this at first. But this point is quite important. Some cameras have this thing called the foam seal. It is commonly glued around the window of the camera door. So when you load your film, the window allows you to see which film you are using.
At the same time, the foam seal prevents the light from leaking into the film. The problem with foam seal is that they degrade and turn flakey after a prolonged period of time. Especially the camera is left unused.
However, good news is you can always DIY a light seal yourself. What I did was to use black opaque foam, cut the shape out and glue it. There are also services to help you do it. Just Google.
I read this on a guidebook: Shutter might not be the shutter speed it should be. In some super old cameras, their lubricants might have solidified while sitting in the store rooms for too long. As a result, a 1-second shutter speed might become a few seconds, or they got stuck.
If you still insist buying the camera with malfunction shutter, the guidebook suggests you could put the camera in a warmer place and see if the self-timer functions okay. Otherwise, Google online for instruction for that model, clean the parts yourself with alcohol and apply graphite powder to lubricate it. If all fail, send the camera to the ‘hospital’.
The easiest way to test out the shutter speed is to just set it to 1 second, click the shutter release and listen to the sound. The shutter should close and open complete in 1 second. If the shutter is closed for more than 1 second, that means something is not right.
Everyone knows electronics don’t last. They are powered by battery or charger which might not come with it in the flea market. Or the motor systems might have broken down and is not fixable.
Don’t be like me. I once bet SGD 5 on a very clean and new looking Olympus mju ii film camera, light seals all on point and the seller promised it’s working.
I didn’t trust him but well, I still went on to bet. Stupid right? So, I tested it in 2 camera shops and 1 repair shop. Their advise is to have a full set of battery so I can test the camera before I buy. And most of the time, electronic-based camera is not working. Places like Sungei Road Thieves Market (subject to closure in July 2017) has lots of old cameras, but 90% of them are good for display. Of course some flea market sellers might take pride of their stuff and only sell functional ones. So, check properly.
P/S: Such a pity, Olympus mju ii is highly sough after!
It is important to thoroughly inspect secondhand camera if you don’t buy it from a proper camera shop. Because chances are they are mostly problematic. Furthermore, the sellers who sell junk don’t really know about their goods as much as a shopkeeper in a camera store. I am not sure how true it is, but a photographer advised me not to buy any secondhand film camera from eBay, especially if shipped from the US.
Let me know if I missed out any important tips about inspecting secondhand film camera.