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10-13-2009, 11:50 AM   #1
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What to look for when buying older used film cameras?

There's an antique/resale shop nearby. I was in there a few months back and remember seeing a shelf with a big pile of old cameras on it. I didn't pay much attention to what was there, but I am pretty sure I seen the names Pentax and Minolta as I walked by, among others. If I had to guess, and this is a wild guess, I would say they were from the early 60's to 80's. I do remember seeing one of the heavy fold up Polaroid Land Camera's as well. Like this one:
http://www.foundphotography.com/PhotoThoughts/archives/Polaroid95a.jpg

I was thinking about going back in there just to check them out to see if there's anything worth getting, or any older lenses worth having.

When checking out older camera's such as this, what are some things to watch out for?

Besides the obvious scratches and dents, what about the lenses?

Without film and batteries, is there a way to test these cameras to see if they still function?

Did they even use batteries? Haha, I don't know.


Last edited by r0ckstarr; 10-13-2009 at 10:24 PM. Reason: grammar nazi's
10-13-2009, 01:08 PM   #2
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Cameras is plural and is not spelled with an apostrophe. Seeing as this is a camera forum, it makes sense to spell the subject right.
10-13-2009, 02:14 PM   #3
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Checking out film cameras

Most film SLRs that I know of, including all Pentax and Minolta cameras, will operate without film. Many will operate, at least to some extent, without batteries.

Look through the viewfinder. If there's a lens on the camera, the image should be clear and you should be able to bring it into focus. Look for heavy concentrations of dust in the viewfinder. This probably won't affect the pictures, since the VF is not in the light path to the film, but if can detract from the ease of use and may indicate abuse or a serious lack of maintenance in the rest of the camera.

Try to operate the film advance lever. It should move freely and completely through its stroke. Now try the shutter. If the shutter operates, it means that the advance lever is cocking the shutter, as it should.

Try all the shutter speeds. While this is by no means a scientifically accurate measure of the speeds, there is a distinctly audible difference between 1 second and 1/1000 second.

Remove the lens and open the back. Few old film SLRs had interlocks to prevent the shutter from operating with the back open. Operate the shutter at several different speeds, from low to high. Watch from the back to the front. You should clearly be able to see the shutter open and close, even at high speeds.

While you have the back open, check for nicks or scratches in the pressure plate or anywhere else that the film would come in contact with, that might scratch the film.

Check out the foam rubber light seals around the back cover. These can dry up and fall out or turn to soft, mushy goo. Fortunately this is an easy, DIY replacement.

Make sure the mirror operates properly when the shutter is tripped. It should go up and return to the down position immediately. Sometimes on old cameras the mirror gets stuck in the up position. This can be caused by either the mirror stop foam getting gooey and holding on to the mirror, or by a more serious mechanical failure, inside the camera. If it is the former, you should be able to coax the mirror down with a little gentle prodding. If it won't come down and seems to be locked in the up position, it most likely has internal problems.

If the camera has a light meter, chances are the battery is dead. Try to remove the battery cover. Often, the battery has leaked and corroded the cover shut. This could be a problem. In some cases, the original battery is no longer available, particularly the old mercury batteries. There may be a modern replacement.

Some of the Pentax M-series cameras, such as the ME and ME Super use a battery for the meter and the electronically controlled shutter. However, they have one speed, usually 1/100 or 1/125 that can be used manually. This will allow you to check the basic operation of the shutter and film advance, but won't allow you to try any of the other speeds.

For lenses, the glass should be clean and clear. A few old Pentax lenses had glass that included a slightly radioactive element (thorium, I believe). This cause the lenses to turn yellow with age. This yellow color can be removed by exposure to ultraviolet light for a long period of time; say, two or three weeks on a south-facing window sill.

Look for scratches or other damage to the front and rear elements of the lens.

Its hard to describe, but another flaw that can show up after many years, is lens element de-lamination. This means that some of the internal elements, that are literally glued together, have come partially unglued. A little bit of this around the edges may not affect the image, but it should still be avoided.

Fungus can attack the coatings on the lens. This shows up as thin, spidery lines in the glass surfaces. While there is no easy repair for this, a tiny bit may not affect the images.

The aperture blades should operate quickly and snap back open easily. The mechanism for operating the aperture varies widely among camera brands, so there's no one method of testing this. Your best bet is to trip the shutter at a very slow speed, such as 1/2 or 1 second, and simply watch from the front of the camera. The aperture blades should stop down with a snap when the shutter is tripped and should snap back open immediately after the shutter closes.

Focusing rings should move freely. If you're used to autofocus lenses, you will notice a difference with old, manual focus lenses. It is normal for them to offer more resistance than an AF lens, but it shouldn't be too great and the movement should have a smooth dampened feeling to it.

Aperture rings should click nicely from one stop to the next. Operate the shutter at a slow speed and watch through the front of the camera, with the lens at various apertures. Make sure that all the different aperture settings seem to work. For example, at f/3.5 or f/2.8, the aperture should be stopped down very little, if at all. At f/16 or f/22, the opening should be very small.

Look for obvious signs of abuse or overuse, such as major scratches, dents or missing external pieces. Often, the leatherette covering can be curling up at the edges. This is an easy fix, with a little superglue, if the leather has not shrunk. The good news is that replacement leather is available for many older cameras.

If the camera has black metal parts, it is not unusual for there to be some "brassing", especially at corners and edges. This is where the black has been worn off, exposing the underlying metal, which is often brass. Too much of it detracts from the appearance and may indicate overuse. Usually, it has no effect on the operation of the camera, though. This is not an easy fix. It is not paint. It is usually black anodized aluminum, which is clearly not a DIY job. Some people have reported luck with modern powder coating.

Good luck on your treasure hunt.
10-13-2009, 03:25 PM   #4
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Wow, what an essay on old cameras. I think this should become an article for this forum.

Well said. Learned more here than I think I could have figured out in a year of reading.

Tim

10-13-2009, 10:19 PM   #5
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Noblepa, thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to type all of that out. It is very informational and helpful as well.

QuoteOriginally posted by blackcloudbrew Quote
Well said. Learned more here than I think I could have figured out in a year of reading.
I completely agree.

QuoteOriginally posted by dragonfly Quote
Cameras is plural and is not spelled with an apostrophe. Seeing as this is a camera forum, it makes sense to spell the subject right.
Sorry I ruined your day.
10-17-2009, 02:16 PM   #6
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Noblepa has covered the subject well. Sticking with older Pentax models or compatible models, you will have lenses that can be used on your DSLR. Back in the M42 screwmount days, that mount was considered the "universal" mount and several companys made cameras using it. You may come across "T" mount lenses. The threads are close but aren't the same a Pentax M42 (different pitch) but T mount adapters are available. I don't think old Minolta lenses will fit anything but old Minoltas. Have fun shopping!
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