How to identify a vintage camera



2016-06-29 15:22:05

Now that we’re deep into the digital age, film cameras have largely lost their appeal for anyone but the enthusiast.

That said there’s still a market out there.

You may be interested in vintage cameras yourself or you may be thinking of getting into the hobby. Here are a few pointers to identifying them.


One of the simplest determinants of the value of a camera is the brand name.

Companies like Leica, Canon and Nikon have sterling reputations for quality, and are more popular with buyers, while less well-known names can be hit and miss.

However, cameras produced in the Soviet Union have proven particularly popular in recent years as they produce interesting, retro effects.

Names like Zorki, Fed and Kiev have reputations for decent quality products. 

Image: eBay

Image: eBay


You can get a feel for which models are the most sought after by looking on auction sites.

This will give you an idea of what to keep an eye out for next time you find yourself checking out the camera section in your local thrift store.  

The Nikon F2, for instance, is an extremely popular camera that is always in demand.

Image: eBay

Image: eBay

It usually sells for around the $265 mark.  

The Canon AE-1 was produced in huge numbers, but has a solid reputation and so is usually offered for around $100. 

Not bad for a mass production model from the early 1980s.

Also, the fact that it is so common makes it a regular sight at car boot sales and vintage fairs. 


The most important thing to check when buying a camera is whether it works. All too often buyers get their camera home, load it with film and shoot a roll before realising it’s no longer in working order.

This will also massively affect its resale value.

Cheap broken cameras are effectively worthless while rarer specimens can be worth around 50% less. 

If you are buying from the internet, check that the seller has clearly listed whether it is functional. 

If you are buying from a flea market/ thrift store, ask the seller about the condition. If they are unsure as to whether or not it works it may be best to walk away. 

As your knowledge grows and you familiarise yourself with the workings of cameras you can start to test them yourself.

How to check if it's working 

There are a couple of simple tests you can do to check if your camera is working. 

One is to check the light meter - the blue and red needle visible through the rangefinder. If these move then things are looking positive. 

Check the winder by turning it. If it moves, then things are looking even better. 

Finally open the back of the camera and fire the shutter.

Move the aperture settings up and down - longer aperture settings should mean that the shutter stays open longer. 

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