Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The other side of the discount: When push comes to sell

Many vintage camera web sites and blogs (including this one) love to trumpet how they acquired some beloved piece of photo technology at an amazingly low price. "I got this OM-2 for $30!"  Stuff like that. I've even got an article about getting my Contax for less then $13. For many of us thrift store scroungers, it's the thrill of this low-buck kill that keeps us looking behind dusty shelves and going to yet another garage sale on Friday night.

There is a downside to all of this discount buying. What happens when you're the seller?

I'm finding out the hard way. With over 150 cameras in my collection, there comes a point where you exceed the amount of shelving and curio cabinet space your spouse will allow you to maintain in order to slake your collecting "habit". So, I've begun to cull the herd. Actually, that's been quite a good experience.

I've come to terms that I simply can't own it all. I've determined which items I absolutely can't part with and have begun to earnestly offer the rest for sale. It's all got to fit into my new camera collecting focus (pun intended). And, er, the profits will go to buying yet more camera stuff. Of course.

The problem is, no one wants my old equipment. Not anybody, not at any price. I've tried for six months. Maybe it's the economy, but mostly, I think it's the technology. Digital reigns, film is dead. I get it.

Even when offered as deals approaching a sawbuck - including shipping - no one bites on classic old film cameras.  The few inquiries I do get always seem to fall into the "so, like, what mega-pixel is it?", or "will that Soligor lens from 1974 fit my new Samsung D-SLR I just got at the Wal-Mart Superstore?" After replying "neither, dudes, it's film camera stuff" the emails quickly go silent.

Selling online works, but is spotty, inconvenient and cumbersome. And sometimes it just plain old sucks to do. If you try something like Craig's List, suspicion runs high that you're fencing stolen goods or are luring them into some deadly situation where they get robbed trying to buy from you. Hey, it's only an old Petriflex, folks, not drugs, relax.

I have met some very, very nice local folks online who have purchased some cameras from me. There are a scant few who still admire photo equipment. I've had some very pleasurable transactions mixed with interesting conversation and insight. These people are the ones that keep me going. But, alas, they are the (welcome) exceptions.

I'm left with finding the dwindling number of collectors like me who still value the vintage stuff. But again, like me, they're usually most interested in getting a great old camera for a steal to tell a story.

I now see the folly of my self-destructive ways. Instead of collecting a few very good pieces at rational prices from discerning collectors, I ran around digging in moldy cardboard boxes at the local Goodwill, hoping to score the wheat of a Kodak Medallist II from all the chaff of the plastic Time Magazine subscription bonus cameras. So far, I've eluded the high of getting a Leica for $10 doing this. Ya think?

So now I'm the garage sale guy putting all the good stuff out that's going for pennies on the dollar. Follow on to the next photo blog over, I'll bet there's a great-looking, recently acquired Nikon featured in it that came off my shelf right over there.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Pentax Auto 110: An Instamatic Love Affair

My uncle long ago decided to buy a digital camera to document his granddaughters. He decided that his old 110 instamatic cartridge-type camera should go. He knew of my collecting habit (mania) and dropped over to my house to deliver a small carrying case with his old camera.

Turns out, he had a Pentax Auto 110 camera, the Pentax flash and two other lenses. Now, I'm not a Pentax fan. Oh, sure, I respect and acknowledge the contributions of this company to photography over many years. They just never hit a chord with me. I have a couple of Spotmatic SLRs and a couple extra lenses. They sit on an honored part of my collection's shelving. But I never run film through them, seldom even look through the viewfinders.

The Pentax Auto 110 has turned me around. What a beauty.

As the Kodak 110 Instamatic cartridge craze was ending in the late 1970's, Pentax came out with what must surely be the most amazing compact camera ever built. The Auto 110 is a jewel. A true SLR with through-the-lens metering done in miniature, it measures only about 3-1/2 inches long! A camera, flash and two lenses could easily fit in your right hand. While entirely plastic, it still manages to feel tight and well-built. I can only imagine the difficulty in manufacturing something this small. Even a millimeter of misalignment and the camera is worthless. Hats off to Pentax; bravo.

You only got automatic control over the camera at this small size, but who cared? The point to Instamatics was ease of use, not fiddling with controls. All you get is a shutter button and a wind lever.

My model came with a 18mm f/2.8 Pan Focus wide angle lens. Like it sounds, no focusing required. Point-and-shoot. The 18mm format converts somewhat similarly as an APS format digital camera's lenses do. So this would be around a 35mm wide-angle on a regular 35mm camera.

The two lenses I also received (with their original bubble cases) include a 70mm f/2.8 telephoto (about a 135mm on a 35), and a marvelous 20-40mm f/2.8 zoom (40mm-80mm). All lenses have a bayonet mount that's only about 20mm across. There's a metal baffle inside the lens mount and you can just make out the tiny mirror inside. The word "cute" creeps into any description of parts of this camera.

The Pentax flash is equally small. It has its own screw-thread mount to the camera. This nails it down securely to the body. The controls are equally spare. On and off. That's all.

I'm not sure if I'll ever shoot film in this camera. 110 film is rare to find and harder still to get processed. That's too bad. It always seems that just when Kodak ditches a new film format, the manufacturers get it all together. With modern film technology, this camera could, should produce very fine images.

Until I can work out some shooting arrangement, this camera now occupies a prominent place on my shelves of camera wonder. It has also turned may opinion of the Pentax line around.

Now, you'll have to excuse me, I'm going to look for the little motor winder Pentax made for this camera. I'll be happily searching the internet till late at night. Happy collecting!