From the south coast of England to the Highlands of Scotland, we bring you four of the UK's most interesting second-hand camera shops where you can not only grab a bargain but, unlike the internet, also take it away the same day.
The internet may be the first choice for many photographers keen to snap up a bargain, but if you want a keen price advice you can rely on, as well as the satisfaction of being able to have your used camera or lens immediately, nothing beats paying a visit to a good, independent, second-hand camera shop.
There are a number of retailers choose from around the UK, but to provide as fair a geographical spread as possible we’ve singled out four: one each in West Sussex, West Yorkshire, Inverness-shire and Conwy. At each you’ll find a rich selection of cameras, lenses and accessories, a wealth of good advice and, above all, you’ll be able to leave the shop with your new purchase without having to wait for it to be delivered, which has got to be good.
Clock Tower Cameras, Brighton
Tel: 01273 706010
This small, independent store in Brighton, East Sussex, celebrates its 21st anniversary this year. ‘We’ve always specialised in second-hand items, but have diversified recently,’ explains Paul Wrede, the owner. ‘We stock more lenses than cameras, but also sell a lot of accessories – new tripods and bags, film, and so on. ’
The most common digital cameras people bring to the store for sale or part exchange are three or four-generation- old, mid to entry-level SLRs such as the Canon EOS 500 and 500D, and the Nikon 300 and 3100.
‘It’s often somebody’s first camera and they are looking for an upgrade,’ says Paul. ‘With film, it’s everything. We get a lot of people selling us stuff they found in the loft or were given by relatives, or gear they bought a while ago and aren’t using. We’re particularly keen on 1980s film SLRs such as the Nikon FM2, which does very well.’
Leicas, including digital versions, hold their value well, as do Rolleiflexes.
‘My colleague sold Derren Brown, the TV illusionist, a nice Rolleiflex a few weeks ago,’ Paul recalls. ‘He popped in to get the sensor cleaned on his Leica digital and spotted the Rolleiflex in the window. We have a lot of Rolleiflexes, and the Vivian Maier documentary [Finding Vivian Maier, 2013] has really boosted people’s interest in them.’
Paul reckons the most interesting camera on sale at Clock Tower is an unused Canon F-1 with a huge 250-frame film back: ‘The guy bought all this technical gear back in the 1970s and never used it. The camera comes with a lovely Canon 50mm f/1.2 lens.’
So does he find that customers tend to haggle more in this age of eBay? ‘With second-hand, haggling goes with the territory,’ says Paul. ‘It’s good for us if a customer walks away thinking they’ve done well or got a bargain. I’d rather that than they leave thinking they’d overpaid or we’d been difficult.’
Cambrian Photography, Colwyn Bay, Conwy
Tel: 01492 532510
Cambrian Photography is the oldest specialist store featured here, and was founded by Dick Duncalf in 1946. ‘We made a good business taking pictures of tourists by the castle and the Smallest House,’ he recalls. ‘Even then, we used to have the prints ready in an hour. There was no film or paper available, so we used bulk film and paper from the Air Force: 35mm from the gun cameras and 1,000ft waterproof paper cut down to 93/8in. Because there was such a shortage of films and papers, we started to sell the ex-Air Force stock in the shop. Pretty soon the tail started to wag the dog!’
Since then, the store has gone from strength to strength. As well as new digital and second-hand digital/film cameras and accessories, there’s also a studio – Dick converted it from an old bakery – for rent. Another attraction is the collection of plate cameras and antique equipment that sits on the higher shelves surrounding the shop.
‘I started the collection because I didn’t have a pension!’ Dick jokes. ‘Sadly, most of the cameras are boxed away as we don’t have enough space to exhibit them. We looked at opening a photographic museum at one time in Conwy but, sadly, that all fell through.’
Dick is still involved in the store, but the day-to-day running is now taken care of by his son, Mark.
‘The most common items sold to us are DSLR lenses,’ explains Jack Mayall, web development manager. ‘The most interesting camera we have is a Sanderson Tropical camera – a rare field camera from the influential British company. As for the most interesting lens, it’s currently a Canon TSE 24mm.’
West Yorkshire Cameras, Leeds
Tel: 0113 2460868
Howard Parker and his colleague Tom started West Yorkshire Cameras while in their third year at the University of Huddersfield. Their customers approach the store with a broad range of equipment – from basic Bakelite box cameras to high-end premium and sought-after collectibles.
‘The most commonly offered cameras are East German and Russian SLR cameras, and lenses – Praktica, Zenit and so on,’ reveals Howard.
Anything that’s rare or desirable sells out fast. ‘We actually have a waiting list for Mamiya 7s, Contax T2s and Pentax 67s,’ Howard explains. ‘However, most customers come to us wanting a good,functional SLR for around £50.’
What’s the most interesting camera Howard has in stock? ‘It’s the Welta Superfekta – a folding, 6×9 medium- format, twin-lens reflex. It’s a total oddity but really beautiful. We also have a Kodak Bantam Special, which is an enamel art deco, clamshell rangefinder camera. Ask me next week and I’ll have a different answer!’
When it comes to lenses, Howard has an original chrome Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux from 1961. ‘It’s in close competition with the Nikon 400mm f/3.5. Or maybe it’s the huge Schneider 360mm f/5.6 large-format lens which, when the rear element is removed, becomes a 620mm f/12.’
Howard has some useful tips for buying second-hand film cameras: ‘Most faults are associated with the particular model you’re considering, but in general you need to check first that the shutter works at both the high and low speeds. Set it to one second (or as low as possible), and check that it is indeed opening and closing for one second. Next, check the highest speeds, making sure it opens and closes, and without capping. Look through the viewfinder, and check the infinity focus of the lens and the viewfinder/ rangefinder. Also, check the electronics, particularly the accuracy of the meter and any LCD or LED display. If you’re buying a lens, shine a strong light through it to check for haze, fungus or anything else nasty. You can also do yourself a favour by taking the time to make sure the aperture and focus work smoothly. It’s just a few seconds out of your time.’
Ffordes Photographic, Beauly, Inverness
Tel: 01463 783850
‘We are one of the largest dealers in used camera equipment in the country, so we see a lot of different types come and go,’ explains Steve Byford of Ffordes. ‘I suppose the most brands we see are Canon, Nikon and Leica.’
Steve is keen to point out some enticing highlights from his more interesting stock: ‘We currently have a Leica M 60th-anniversary edition camera set, which looks lovely in titanium, and a 24-carat, gold-plated Hasselblad 500CM. There is also a Leica M 240 Harrods edition with rather striking red calf leather. It’s one of a limited edition of just 25 cameras.’
As for lenses, Steve cites a very rare Leica 15mm f/2.8 Super Elmarit Aspheric lens, as new and priced at £4,499. ‘Quite often, these lenses are purchased by collectors, but they are also bought and converted for use on other digital or video cameras. We also have a rare Pentax 15mm f/3.5 SMC PK lens, an ultrawide, but much cheaper than the Leica at only £369.’
Ffordes first opened its doors in May 1960 and is going as strong as it did all those many years ago. So if you’re in the Inverness area, give it a try.