Five things to look for when buying an old film camera

A fresh battery and a bright flashlight are crucial tools.

It’s a fantastic time to be a film shooter, but purchasing your first film camera can be a little intimidating. Just a few years ago prices on the secondary market were quite low, but the recent resurgence of film photography has driven them up substantially. Photographers who are just getting started can still find deals in thrift stores, garage sales, and occasionally an online auction, but there are definitely some technical aspects that you will want to be aware of so you don’t end up paying a lot of money for a fancy looking paperweight.

YouTuber Casey Cavanaugh has a new highly informative video that highlights five key things to look out for when purchasing a used film camera.

Asahi Pentax Camera
This full-manual Pentax SLR is a classic camera for learning the basics of film photography. Stan Horaczek

Cavanaugh’s tips are geared towards shooters who will have some hands on time with the camera before they make their purchase. Although online auctions are a great way to find rare cameras or super cheap camera bundles, there isn’t really a good way to verify the health of a unit until you have it in your hand. In the video Cavanaugh walks through the various mechanical functions that are most likely to break down over time: shutter speeds, light sealing, lens quality, focusing accuracy, and battery life.

Even if a camera you are eyeing has some mechanical issues, with a little bit of love you can get it in proper working order. Cavanaugh demonstrates how to test the health of the shutter, unstick oily shutter leaves, fix light leaks in the back of the camera or in the cloth shutter curtain, remove fungus from an old lens or get rid of haze. Although there is a ton of good info in there, his recommendation to bring a long a fresh battery is our favorite take-away. A vintage film camera might look highly mechanical, but there are all kinds of features that just won’t function properly without a fresh battery or a roll of film loaded inside.

Check out more tips from Cavanaugh in the video above.