Film photography allows us to produce unique photographs – not one shot will have the same style. And certainly, each film camera has its own look-and-feel, and signature aesthetic. It’s partly what motivates and inspires film photographer Samer Halwany to collect vintage film cameras. Each olden technology has been manufactured for its own unique story, purpose, and details. Camera collecting is not an easy hobby to have, and it may not be for everyone – but if you’re a film photographer who has already found the perfect purpose to build your very own trove, take a seat and read our special with Samer as he shares us insights and tips on being a vintage camera collector.
Vintage Treasure Hunting
It's without question that the prices of digital cameras keep scaling upwards as new technology comes into the market, but for the faithful, analogue souls like Samer, the real treasures in photography – although not entirely hidden – are tucked away in seemingly unsuspicious and humble flea markets.
"Through my experience of 16 years of collecting film cameras, my best camera hunt has always been in flea markets. I find my uppermost pleasure in walking through crowded streets and old souks searching for vintage cameras."
It all began when Samer was on a stroll at a flea market in Vietnam, eyes wandering and wondering with each vintage and historical pieces that recorded the Vietnamese War. Here, he purchased the very first camera in his collection, the Polaroid 80 Highlander (1954).
As a traveler by heart, Samer often visits special markets across the world. Some notable markets according to Samer's experience would be Khan El Khalil Souk in Cairo, Marche' aux Puces in Paris, Sunday Market in Beirut, Portobello Road Market in London, and Ferikoy Antika Pazari in Istanbul. Currently, he has around 700 vintage cameras.
Camera Love Takes Effort
Samer knows that collecting vintage cameras is not a simple, carefree hobby. "As a matter of fact, maintaining my vintage cameras after purchase is a hard task as many pieces have defects, are unclean, and heavily used," he admits.
When shopping for old and vintage film cameras, Samer considers three things first before making the purchase: First is learning about the condition of the camera -- if it's clean, how utilized it was, if it's working, or if it's in mint condition. Second, considering the rarity of the camera, whether there are quantities being produced, and the purpose of the production. And lastly, the historical background of the camera. "For example Kodak, Agfa & Polaroid were mainly produced to serve all types of clients, while Rolliflex & Graflex cameras were tailored for professional photographers. On the contrary, Leica cameras were perceived to be acquired by the high-end clientele."
Again, vintage camera collecting is not a simple hobby, and the price points for such treasures can be just as expensive as digital! So, learning when and how to bargain, setting limits is also part of the art.
"I usually base my decision on the above aspects taking into consideration that in flea markets, bargaining is a must especially if the camera is over-priced. In case the camera I want to buy is rare, I limit my bargaining efforts. In most cases, however, I evaluate the price of the cameras in accordance with several websites (eBay, Collectible, etc.). They serve as a pricing benchmark for me. I am more serious in bargaining if the camera is overpriced and not rare enough."
Once Samer decides on purchasing a camera, he would check the functionality and start cleaning on it, then store them in good condition. Usually, this would mean not to store them in direct sunlight, or in a humid environment.
Not all cameras Samer got were all in mint condition – the maintenance after the purchase is perhaps the most challenging part of this hobby, as many unexpected problems could arise. It's a lot to take note of when getting into the world of camera collecting, but the upkeep is all worth it.
The Physical and Innate Aesthetics with Vintage Cameras
Many might ask if this endeavor is worth it. Some might find it silly, wasteful, impractical – the same comments others may have made before when they discover a photographer still using film in the digital age. We at Lomography are more supportive of individuality, uniqueness, and experimentation in self-expression – and if vintage camera collecting makes you fulfilled as a photographer -- we say give it a go!
The cameras on Samer's shelves are not only well-loved and cared for, but also well-used. In fact, it is through his hobby of collecting vintage cameras how Samer began his photographic journey. The love for analogue grew from his curiosity and interest in collecting, and soon he fell in love with what many other film photographers love about film – the vintage aesthetics that decorate stolen and captured memories burned in negatives.
"What I love about film is the history it holds, Since I am passionate about history and the retro lifestyle, the vintage effect that film cameras produce when developing the pictures, reminds me of the golden era of photography. The beauty of film lies in the fact that each shot taken documents a moment of today through a lens of yesterday. I love the beautiful mechanics of film cameras, they are beautifully well-crafted. In film photography, happiness is doubled; first when you use such a beautiful tool and click your shot. Second, when you will be excitingly waiting to see the results of your shots."
As such, like how he wanders as the vintage camera hunter that he is in cities, Samer also wanders the streets, " to document the current life with the lens of the past", using film cameras from his collection.
To build your own collection is an ambitious task that can come with high prices, but if done right, smart and most importantly — if you love the various retro looks of your captured memories – your future camera collection might even be a passive outcome of your love for analogue experiments and creativity.