Believe it or not, there used to be in almost every town, small shops that specialized in selling cameras.
Once, not so long ago, the camera store was the best place to buy a camera. Camera shops had it all. That is, they had everything you might need to take your pictures. They sold cameras, film, flash units, photoflash bulbs, lenses, filters, tripods, camera bags, film processing, darkroom supplies, photo books and things like film projectors and studio lights. If you needed a specific filter or a stepping ring, they probably had a drawer full. If they didn’t have one in stock, they would order it for you and call you when it was in. They sold films of all sizes and varieties. The person behind the counter was always there to answer any questions you might have and everyone that visited probably had a similar interest in photography. Good personalized service meant repeat customers.
The old photo shop is probably gone in your town. It is in mine. The one nearby is all digital now and they no longer process film. For the most part, the old photo store is long gone from most places. If you look hard, you might find a few still lurking in the bigger cities. But they are not the same as they once were.
Nowadays, you have to go to a mega store to buy almost anything. If you want a camera, you have to ask a sales person who also sells TVs and perhaps appliances. Many just know enough to sell you something you probably don’t really need. Personal attention is only for as long as it takes to ring you in. Once you are gone, you are forgotten.
Personally, I liked the old way better. Every time you went into the store, you were greeted with a genuine smile and most times a handshake. You could talk to a real photo person that made photography their livelihood and their life. Almost any question could be answered. They would show you how to operate the camera in the store. They might even load your first roll of film and remove it when you brought it back. Many of these places taught darkroom and camera classes. Because they were usually in small locations, they got to know the clientele on a first or last name basis.
Recently, I was driving with a friend along one of my favorite routes in upstate New York and stopped at a still viable camera shop in Seneca Falls. While they do sell a few digital cameras, the shop is still in business, not because of digital, but because of film photography.
As it turns out, there is still a large interest in old cameras. This shop is full of them. From what I can remember, there were cameras made by Linhof, Leica, Nikon, Pentax, Argus, Agfa, Yashica, Kodak, Robot, Seneca View, Exacta, Mamiya, Hasselblad and Rollei. There were also many other cameras, lenses and photo paraphernalia on the shelves, in cases, and in boxes that spanned the past hundred years or so of photographic history. It was like walking into a camera museum where everything is displayed on shelves and glass cases.
These days, most of their business is conducted over eBay and ironically, most of that business is from overseas places such as Japan, Germany and the like. I remember buying at least a couple of things from their eBay store a years ago. One of them was an old German made Zeiss-Ikon Baby Box Tengor camera from the 1920s. The other was, If I remember correctly, an American made Bolsey from the 1950s. Both were in excellent shape.
I’ve lost count of the old cameras I have purchased. Most of mine are not worth a lot of money. I collect them because I love the way they look, their feel, the lens and how they shoot. I also love the surface patina from all the use they have seen over the years. I love them for the nostalgia, the history and the wonder of who might have used them. They are simply beautiful and a joy to use to shoot photographs. They are mechanical jewels with optics, apertures and mechanical controls.
Perhaps such a place as this camera shop has little to offer a younger photographer who has grown up entirely in a digital world. I think that is too bad. Those cameras were and still are something of a marvel. I’m guessing that most of the history of photography has been done from those small hometown camera stores selling those great old cameras.
For a camera nut like me, well, I was like a kid in a candy store…if you happen to know what I mean.
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