Old Cameras Outlive Their Time

I’m in a bit of a dilemma and am hoping someone out there in Readerland can help me.

What do you do with old cameras that have outlived their time but served you well? If it were a thoroughbred, you would put it out to pasture and keep it comfortable. But we’re talking inanimate objects here.

I know, you’ve got the same problem, that’s why many of you have called me wondering what to do with your arsenal.

An easy solution would be to take them to a dealer and sell them for a pittance. I cannot do that after accompanying a photography friend to one of those stores. They offered him $25 for a Leica camera that had cost him $200 in its prime.

With everything else he had brought that day—lenses and filters—the dealer stood firm.

“I’ll give you $75, pal. Take it or leave it.”

My buddy put everything back into his tote bag and said, “Let’s get out of here.”

“I’d rather have them rot at home than give them to a scavenger like this,” he lamented.

I feel the same way about my equipment. When we moved from our home to a condo, I was forced to downsize. My darkroom equipment was donated to the photo lab at Northern Essex Community College.

My cameras were another matter. I couldn’t part with my precious belongings and stored them in the basement, where they have rested in peace for 10 years now.

Nobody uses these types of cameras. Buying film for them would be difficult, let alone having it processed and developed. With the advent of digital equipment, I’m afraid cameras of any sort are going the way of the dinosaur and 5-cent parking meters.

I remember taking pictures at my daughter’s recitals. I’d scurry to the aisle with a box camera in hand, blocking everyone’s view to get that precious photo. And with flash photography prohibited, I’d have to rely on a time exposure, provided the dancer stood perfectly still.

Well, this is ballet and tap and there are no statues on stage. I’d take 20 pictures, hoping to get one decent shot. Back then, I was shooting in black and white, then “souping” my film in a darkroom the size of an office cubicle.

Now, all that’s done with a typical audience is lifting your arm with a cell phone in hand and presto! Mechanics does the rest. And the phones are so technically sound, they’re as good as any decent camera on the market.

My cameras are like my precious friends. There’s the Hasselblad I used to shoot weddings with for 30 years. It never failed me. The flash went bonkers once or twice, but my “blad” was as reliable as the seconds ticking off a clock.

It came to me from an insurance settlement after thieves broke into my home one evening and stole my camera bag. Good thing I had homeowner’s insurance. It was covered.

Joined in the family are three Yashicamat twin lens reflexes I used during the early days before I shifted over to the Mamiyaflex—a bulky 2 ¼ format camera that took 120 film. So sturdy was she, even a fall or two never affected her operation.

When the advent of 33 mm came into vogue, I was still using the big cameras. Other photojournalists looked at me with curiosity.

“Get with the times,” they snickered.

So I did. I invested in a Nikon F with a dateline that stretched back to 1960. Yes, my golden anniversary camera was used for all my newspaper work, matched with a wide angle and telephoto lens.

The children used them. My son secured his Eagle Scout with a photography project for the library. I used them throughout my camera club days. They were also used for a share of newspaper awards, not to mention the various trips they encountered and the exhibits they produced.

Now, they all sit on a table, keeping one another company, while building up dust. I hate to see them decay like this. They deserve a better fate for the service they rendered me.

“Anyone want one of these cameras?” I said, trying to pawn them off to my children. Very politely, they turned the other cheek.

One of the grandchildren wanted to know what film was. She had never seen a camera being loaded and kept her distance, thinking it might explode. If I left them in my will as heirlooms, they would fight over the refusal rights. Or try passing them off to the next generation.

In time, they may find themselves in some antique store in town and take up space with the white elephants.

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
Tom Vartabedian

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  1. Excellent article! I have been an advanced amateur photographer for the 50+ years and still have all my old film cameras… Sometimes I looked back at them with nostalgia… Today’s digital cameras make photography much much more easy: out of 30 shots of the same subject at least one should be acceptable if not good! We didn’t have today’s luxury to take so many pictures of this same subject.
    Digital photography does not have any “soul”.

  2. Everything comes back, Tom. Keep them. I’ve still got my Polaroid, and the big deal in art galleries is framed Polaroids. And art collectors are falling all over themselves for slides. I just knew if I waited long enough…..

  3. Hi Tom, I think ,your writing is the common practice that every phoptographer is going through ,Now,and I guess in the future,as the mobiles,watches,Ipads ,and soon even the microwave will photograph you while warming goods in the oven.
    Same story with me,photographer all my life,and all the beautiful cameras are in the basement(I just could not sell them for peanuts),and I am using a mobile for pictures.
    Good article brought back golden memories thank you,keep it up.cheers

  4. Hello Mr. Vartabedian,

    I am a retired photographer living in Yerevan since several years. You mentioned a friend who wanted to sell an older Leica. If that Leica just
    costed $ 200 when it was new, the offered $ 75 were a good deal. In Europe he would have got less.
    I personally do not have so strong feelings concerning my former cameras.I know that I bought other important things for the money I received for the photos. And these things still exist.
    Anahid and Shiraz my children are also not interested in cameras anymore. They have their mobiles and ipods and don´t hold photos in high regard. I understand that the world has to go on developing further. But these “Pics”they shoot with their mobiles are often of lesser quality.
    What worries me more is, what will happen to my very many negatives in the future. I lately got to know somebody here who will scan my negatives so that they will survive for some more decades. Of course that are only a few family remembrances, but I want to keep the negatives that I shot during the last decades in Western Armenia. I guess they are of bigger importance.

    Yeah, Mr. Vartabedian such are the problems of old people ! !

  5. Thank you all for your precious comments. Before I sell my whole collection off for $133,including the Hasselblad, three Nikons and a Mamiyaflex, they will continued to be admired from time to time in my basement and be buried with me when that time comes. All the memories and good shots they’ve brought me will endure forever.

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