Economics vs. ethics in buying and maintaining used cameras

I’ve gone on a bit of a spree recently, in the process of getting a Mamiya RB67 from a coworker, and also taking long looks at Pentax K-mount camera bodies.  The RB67, it turns out, has quite a lot of problems with it, starting with the lens: the shutter doesn’t activate before the mirror flips up, letting in much more light than it should (check out this video).  Besides that, it looks like the light seals are going.  I decided to take the lens in for a CLA first, and see if I can get by without doing the camera body and film back, if so it’ll save me $100.  RB67 lens CLA cost me $150, still negotiating how much I will buy the camera for with my coworker.  While the price of a CLA doesn’t excite me, what’s really frustrating is that I was all ready to start shooting medium format, spent $90 on some 120 film from the camera store (hint: if you want to save money on film, buy online), and now it’ll have to wait a few weeks.  So possibly $250 just to get the thing running plus whatever I end up paying for the actual equipment, when I could have got one online for $300-400.

My Olympus Trip 35 just jammed on me a few weeks back, the shutter’s stuck halfway and won’t move; I shot a roll of Ferrania P30alpha and a roll of Kodak Gold 200, and was just starting a roll of Fuji Velvia 100.  Having just sent my favorite Spotmatic for a CLA last year, I’m glad that I have something that’s 100% reliable, but I’m aware that it might seem strange spending $120 on a CLA for a camera that cost me $5. The Trip 35 cost me about $8.50, and you know what, I love that camera so I’ll be willing to drop $120 on a CLA for this one as well…at some point.  I could get one off the ‘bay for under $40 probably, but at least I know mine has working AE and accurate speeds.

Moving into the future though: while I love my Spotmatics, eventually I want to get a more full-featured 35mm camera and sadly that means getting away from M42 mount and into Pentax K (or Nikon F, if I had any luck finding lenses for it).  Now, what I really want is the Pentax LX but I don’t know if I can quite afford one yet, so I’ve been looking at a K2 or KX.  I already have a few good K-mount lenses that I can use for that, so it’ll happen sooner or later.  And knowing that I’d probably have to get a CLA at some point anyway, I came across a K2 that’s had a recent CLA, and the asking price is not much more than it would cost me to have it done anyway.  While that seems like a no-brainer, I remembered that a few years back I picked up a KX for $10 (with a lens) that had a broken meter; why not send that out for a repair/CLA instead?

When I started this blog, I was all about finding the best deal out there.  Buying a camera from a garage sale or thrift store for $5-8 is the cheapest way to get into film photography, and in times past the most I ever spent for a camera was $25; that gave me much more money to spend on film.  And if a camera breaks, who cares?  It’s not much money to replace.  From 2009 to 2013 I upgraded constantly and still had put less than $150 into all my camera equipment.  But I think I’m past that now.  Since re-falling in love with the Spotmatic and using that constantly for the last 4.5 years, I want to have dependable equipment for shooting paying projects, and I found out recently that I don’t have two camera bodies of the same make/mount that I would describe as reliable enough for that end.

When thinking back to when the new Reflex SLR camera was announced, I was excited about it, but I do see the problem where it’s much cheaper for people to spend $50 on a used camera than to buy a new one for $700 or however much it’ll cost when it comes out.  I’ve also seen prices rise for film cameras over the last 9 years, which has me thinking that sooner or later our supply of cheap used cameras will dwindle noticeably.  I’m not the only one to notice that trend.  These cameras that are 40-50 years old need a little help to keep going, so instead of just buying cameras on the cheap I’ll spend the extra money to get them repaired.  Keeping as many old cameras going as possible is the right thing to do.

3 thoughts on “Economics vs. ethics in buying and maintaining used cameras

  1. Joe, those lens just need.some love and oil (cla). If you get them they need to be stored uncocked. The RB is a great camera.

  2. I was gifted a few years ago a Nikon F2 that had been fully overhauled by Sover Wong, said to be the world’s best F2 repairman. That gift represented a $500 total investment from the giver. But that F2 is likely to work like new for the rest of my life.

    I think a lot of that is because the F2 was built extra robustly. I also own a Spotmatic F and a Pentax ME that I had overhauled by a well-known Pentax repairman and they both behave like new. They even smelled new when I got them back from him. These cameras are not as robust as the F2 but are still solid enough and should give me many, many years of trouble-free use. But the total cost of the bodies and overhauls was $150 for the Spottie and $80 for the ME. Worth it.

    But I own cameras that I won’t have overhauled — the cost/benefit analysis doesn’t play out favorably in my mind, as the cameras are either not ones I use enough to justify it, or aren’t all that robustly built anyway (compared even to the Pentaxes) and an overhaul would likely not give me “rest of my life” usage.

    That said, if you love your Spotmatic, get another body that looks to be in good condition and send it to Eric Hendrickson at pentaxs.com for his full treatment.

  3. Alas the only options for new film cameras are quite expensive (Leica and Nikon F6) or somewhat crappy (Lomography). Perhaps with the Reflex this will change.

    Up to then we will have to rely on the good old cameras from the past. But the question is to buy cheap or expensive? In my experience, except for some rare cases, expensive cameras from eBay are no guarantee that they’ll work.

    Only thing to do is a competent CLA. My Spotmatic is just back from Eric Hendrickson and it’s looking and feeling extremely good (and smelling new too, as Jim said!). But it’s always cheaper than a new Leica ;-). I don’t need a lot of cameras, so I’ll have those I own and use CLA’d and be happy for many a year.

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