When I was starting out I borrowed a camera from my Grandad, his plastic auto-focus Minolta Dynax 7000i SLR, with a zoom lens. It wasn’t the coolest looking camera, but it definitely gave me confidence to get out there and shoot some more film. Later on my Dad handed me a box of his old 90’s cameras, and I tried a few I liked (and some I didn’t!) but I was lucky to be able to get started with borrowed gear. Before you start looking into buying a camera, if you can, I advise that you try out a friend’s camera and see how you like the experience.

If you’re interested in finally getting yourself a camera, and are ready to take the leap, then it’s useful to have some tips for purchasing cameras online. If you’re a new film photography enthusiast, it can be easy to get all fizzy over something that looks like a ‘good deal’ or claims that it is in ‘excellent +++’ condition. You can never really be sure buying used equipment, but these tips for online purchases might just help you along the way:

1. More photos means greater trust in the seller.

I’m sure you’ve seen these types of listings, where the price looks ok, and the description is generic, but it only has one photo. For me, that isn’t good enough. I expect to see multiple photos of the exact item, especially for lenses where defects are difficult to see online. Even better if the seller has pictures of the inside of the camera, where you can check for any issues. I always feel a bit of risk when sellers put ‘representative’ pictures of similar items instead of the actual item too.

2. Detailed descriptions help support your buying decision.

Even if the seller has written an essay on the item, I’d much prefer that than no description at all! They should be able to provide detailed notes about any issues, and describe their own tests of how the item works. If there’s no description at all, then I’m wary.

3. Clear condition ratings should help manage expectations.

There are no absolute guarantees with used equipment. Even something in mint condition could have a fault down the line, however when buying something online the ‘condition ratings’ help you to know what to expect. The difficulty with this is that there isn’t consistency between sellers, and because different shops have different ‘condition ratings’ then it can be confusing. After some bad experiences, I now only shop online for near mint condition items, with no dust or defects. This is where going into a physical shop can really help, as I can see the items in-person and talk to the (hopefully) friendly staff.

4. Camera servicing, light seals and CLAs can give peace of mind.

When I purchase a camera I expect it to work straight away, but for others they are happy to buy a ‘fixer upper’ and do minor repairs themselves. Depending on what your experience level is, you might want to look for a camera that says it has been ‘fully serviced’. This should mean that it has new light seals around the doors and shutter, and often it has had a CLA (Clean, Lubricate, Adjust) Remember that buying a lower condition item might seem a good idea at first, but I’ve found that you may have to pay the same amount again for a full service just to get the camera working properly.

5. Longer warranty’s show that the seller is confident of their product.

This means that the seller has an obligation to repair, replace or refund the purchase within a certain time frame if something goes wrong. Sometimes this timeframe is divided into whether the issue is electronic or mechanical.

6. Know your rights, but always read the small print.

Did you know that – in the UK at least – any online purchases have a 14-day return window? You’re protected by law, but there are some exceptions. You can check out the details on the UK Government website here – if you’re not in the UK, try a google search for an equivalent site for your country. Also, please don’t be embarrassed if the item you bought isn’t what you expected. We’ve all been there, so maybe give yourself a day or two to think it through, and don’t feel bad for sending it back.

Real Camera Co. – my local analogue photography shop here in Manchester, U.K. – shot on Portra 400 with the Olympus XA.

7. Save the original web page.

When you make a purchase often the listing goes off the website, and then if you need to check any details or make a claim later it’s more difficult with it gone. I usually save the photos, or screenshot the web page until I’ve received the item as expected.

8. Trustworthy shops and sellers have nothing to hide.

It’s never a good sign if you can’t find their return address, or any pictures of the shop or owner on social media etc. Personally I prefer to know who I’m buying from, and I love it when sellers have the confidence to put their names, faces, and personalities out there. I’m forever scrolling to the bottom of websites or looking at ‘About Us’ sections!

9. Visiting a store? Take a friend with you.

It can still be intimidating to go to an actual store, especially if you’re non-male or non-white. Like most hobbies, the ‘average white guy’ has laid claim to being the expert, so for reassurance and confidence take a friend with you. If the staff or customer service are anything less than supportive and encouraging then just leave, you don’t owe them anything.

10. Trust yourself, and get the camera that suits your needs.

Finally, only you will know what you want right now and why. If you can afford it, then get that luxury compact camera, it might be exactly what you wanted! However, make sure to stick to your original reasons for getting a film camera. It’s very easy to get distracted and end up with something that doesn’t suit your needs. For example I purposely got an all manual SLR because I wanted to explore photography as a hobby, and manually learn about exposure. However, if I were going to a party or festival, then an automatic point-and-shoot like a Pentax Espio would do me nicely!

Good luck!

I hope these suggestions guide you through the often difficult decisions we make when buying gear online. Trust your instincts, but also do your research. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with exactly what you want. If you’re not so lucky, then don’t feel bad, it’s happened to us all!

Check out similar articles here on 35mmc:
Which film camera should I buy?
Thinking about spending a stack of cash on a film camera? Read this first.

What advice would you give your younger self about your own purchases? Do you have any ‘golden rules’ for buying online? Let the community know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to sharing more of my photos and experiences with this community soon.
You can find me on Instagram: @tedayre

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