Much appraisal of vintage cameras can be done online by collectors who sell, auction, or collect antique cameras.
(c) Dan Colucci 2009
What To Look For
Digital imaging may have taken over and made film obsolete for the average consumer, but that doesn't mean that a film-based camera can't be a beautiful thing to behold. Or use. There's a wide range of cameras that afford a beauty and functionality going way beyond that found in today's SLRs; with names like Leica and Yashica, Hasselblad and Konica, Rolleiflex and yes, even Kodak. So regardless of what kind of film the camera uses, there's a lot of different styles and shapes and sizes of cameras to see.
For some, an antique camera may be all about looks, but it's also important to know whether it works--regardless of whether you actually plan to put film in it. This means not only that the camera mechanism functions as it should, but that the mechanism itself is in a good state and doesn't show signs of aging, such as rust or worn down parts.
Things to check include the condition of the lens (scratches and mold), whether the shutter is sticking or making an unnatural noise when activated, and whether the film plane inside the camera is clean. The easiest way to check all of this is to be able to hold the camera in your hand and try it out--such as at a camera store.
But don't forget that there are other places where antique cameras can be found--such as local sales and online. In all of these cases, it's up to you--the buyer--to ascertain the condition of the camera.
Where To Buy
There's plenty of places locally where you can go to find an antique camera. These include camera stores, Goodwill stores and thrift shops, and yard and garage sales--even the occasional sales event at your church or synagogue.
It's also possible to find an antique camera online, the benefit being that there will be a wider assortment of cameras than can be found locally. These will come from camera and used photography stores, such as B&H Photo and KEH.com, or specialty websites, like Vintage Camera Ltd., among others.
There will also be individuals looking to sell vintage cameras on sites such as eBay.
In all online cases, you should demand to see at the very least well detailed photos showing off all angles of the camera, as well as its interior. And considering how easy doing video is these days, try asking to see the camera being physically manipulated and used. Guarantees and return policies are more likely to come from a store or company than from an individual, but this can vary widely, so you have to be careful.
If you find something you just must have, the price or the physical quality of the camera or its usability might go out the window--so it's really is up to you to decide.
Since everyone can set their own price for the cameras being sold, it will require some homework to find out whether the price being asked is a great deal or exorbitant. Comparing costs is a must and can be done online from the comfort of your home--plus with today's smart phones it's now even possible to do this while looking at a camera someone's just handed to you. Besides books that note values of cameras, there are even camera appraisal services that can help you in determining the price of a particular model. And don't forget that when buying online there will also be a shipping cost to consider.
There's no way to say which will be the best place to find your camera, but whether burning gas or burning broadband, the fun will be in spending time looking for that particular model or being surprised by a camera that you never even knew existed.
Buying overseas can cost much more for shipping and could also involve customs forms, which can add to the cost of the shipping as well as the time for it to arrive. Unless it's a "must have," you probably will find that buying in your own country (i.e., the USA) to be the best approach when dealing through the mail.