The Irresistible Spell Of The Bargain Camera

It’s no secret that in the last seven years or so I’ve shot hundreds of cameras, and owned as many more that I never made a single photograph with. 

The cameras I’ve paid over £100 for I can count on one hand.

Those that cost me under £20 I’d need the hands of an entire village to help me add up.

So what is it about buying cameras that’s so alluring, and specifically, ones that cost so little? 

I want to answer this in two parts.

First, the appeal of any used camera seems greater to me than using a brand new one. 

Before I’ve even got my hands on it, I wonder –

Who’s owned it before?

Male or female, what age, what nationality, where did they live?

How did they use it?

To capture their holiday and family memories year after year? As a more serious art making tool that produced thousands of wonderful photographs? Or did they never even take it out of the box more than once or twice?

Where did they use it?

Just at home to photograph their cat (and if so where was home), all over the country, all over the world, in cities, forest, mountains, deserts?

And I wonder what sights that camera’s eye has seen, what places has it discovered, what experiences has it been an intimate witness to?


Second, we add in the bargain part.

One element here is that I just love getting value for money.

I’ve had cameras that cost hundreds new that I’ve paid a tiny fraction of that for.

The objective quality of the camera hasn’t changed over the years (in fact if anything it’s more likely to seem higher quality than modern equivalents).

I’m getting the same object that its first owner paid five or even 25 times for. This absolutely delights me.

Another factor is how incredibly well the experiences of using a bargain camera compare with other ways we can spend a similar amount of money. 

Take something like the FujiFilm FinePix S7000 I bought a couple of months back for around £12.

I mean, what else does £12 buy you these days?

A main course in a half decent restaurant, or a starter in a more expensive one?

Two gallons of fuel that won’t even get you 100 miles?

A cheap t-shirt that might not last a dozen washes?

Half a day’s parking at an airport?

Weigh this up against the hours of potential joy the camera can bring – and the hours beyond those, when you enjoy and share the photographs you made with it – and it really has to be one of the most rewarding and intelligent uses of £12 – or any other small amount these old cameras can be picked up for.

So there we have it, the irresistible spell of the bargain camera.

Used cameras – very enticing with their past stories and promises of multiple future trips at your side.

Cheap cameras – amazing value experiences that can’t be matched by much else in any area of our lives.

You can see why I keep succumbing.

How about you? Do you have a weakness for the irresistible spell of the bargain camera too? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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12 thoughts on “The Irresistible Spell Of The Bargain Camera”

  1. While I don’t go out of my way to try and find new cameras (unless it’s something I specifically want), sometimes our paths will align and it’s difficult to pass up on the opportunity – such as the Pentax Espio 140M that I found in a box at a stall at a steam rally a recently visited. For £1 it would have been rude not to, wouldn’t it? I’m currently waiting on the results from the film I put through it last week and will decide on whether to keep it or not based on those.

    I don’t REALLY need another P&S compact though – I already have two Canon Sure Shot models that give great results, and while the Espio is smaller than either and has some features they don’t have, I think the only real reason I would hold onto it would be as a backup.

    I don’t have a vast collection of cameras, but given that I don’t often get the chance to go out shooting more than once a week I probably have a few too many to be able to make use of on a regular basis, so I think that anything new I acquire will need to be either something that I have a definite need or desire for, or would have to replace something I currently own to keep the numbers manageable.

    It IS a battle to avoid that collecting mentality though, but I think that, unless you’re running a museum, or are going to display your collection in a way that it can be enjoyed (rather than just filling up boxes and cupboards) it’s probably a far more sensible idea to just have enough cameras to meet your photographic needs. That way you can learn them and use them regularly and get better photos as a result. At the end of the day, for me, it’s all about the photos, and the cameras, as nice and as desireable as they might be to own, are secondary to that.

    1. Very wise words.

      I think I had an Espio 140, and if I recall correctly it’s one of the smallest Espios.

      In the past I certainly reached the point where I had more cameras waiting to have film put through them than I had time to use them. I probably had a three month backlog or more, even shooting a new camera every week. It just gets a bit silly, and stops you relaxing and enjoying each camera, as there’s always a dozen more waiting for your attention.

      Completely agree about collecting. If you’re not using them regularly, or making them available for others to enjoy, then what’s the point in having them? Let someone else have the chance to enjoy using them.

      I can see the appeal of how some photographers (and I include myself to an extent) like using different cameras then post pictures of them, and pictures made with them, on a site like Flickr, so others can see if it’s a camera they might like to try myself. So you might only have a small collection at any one time, but your past collection can be made available to others. I used to have a “camera collection” album on Flickr, but after a while I just felt I was fuelling other people’s addictions, when I myself was trying to radically hone down the number of cameras I owned and used. It’s still useful sometimes to look back through myself if I’m trying to remember something about a camera I had, but it’s just a private album now.

  2. For many years I only owned two cameras, the Olympus OM-1 I bought as a student, and a Leica M3 I bought from my local repair tech. And one lens for each camera. I had always been curious about Pentax cameras and when I found a Pentax ME in its original box in an antique shop 15 years ago I couldn’t resist. When it broke after 2 rolls I took it to be repaired and was told that it wasn’t repairable be he had another body for sale for even less than the repair would cost. I was shocked that cameras had become so cheap, and looked at a few other cameras also, and so it started. I do love a bargain, and the collector bug bit hard, Like you, I also love the stories these old cameras could tell, and I’m a sucker for units in the original boxes with paperwork, and tidbits of history. I also like cameras with engravings which are usually very cheap indeed, and have been able to find out a little about the original owners in some cases. I really got carried away and stopped buying a while ago. (Deleting the ebay app was a big help,) Now I find myself with a lot of selling to do which turned out to be harder than I thought. I gave a few away to young people, but I don’t think any of them have used the cameras so that wasn’t very satisfying. My two favorite repair techs are nearing or past retirement age, so I’ve been focusing on getting some repairs done while I can.

    1. Jon, yes eBay is a killer! I deleted the app long ago, but confess I still surf the used listings too often via the website.

      Selling is such a pain. It should be easy with eBay, but still seems to take ages to set up listings. I have a few bits I’d like to sell but I can’t really be bothered anymore.

  3. I’m leery of used digital because they are hard to check out; like those ‘battery powered’ film cameras of yore. An old mechanical camera requires only simple manipulation to see if it works. I like that.
    Besides I look at cameras now and ask myself if they would really bring anything to my photography. Would I even use it? There’s a Nikon W100 sitting in the truck that has about six shots on it so far. The new Canon has wrung up over 600 already. The old Kodak P850 retired at 2000+, and I’m thinking about replacing the battery so I can use it again. Meanwhile the P610 keeps chugging along, as that seems to have been my best camera choice ever.

    1. I do think a great approach is to have only one example of any type of camera.

      Once you’ve got a digital compact you love, don’t buy another. Same with a DSLR, 35mm SLR, medium format, whatever. Then the differences between the cameras are so different there is no debate, you know which one will do what you need.

      PS/ It’s funny when I hear “leery”, as here getting leery generally means someone getting aggressive and pushy and violent. I guess your meaning is like “wary” or “cautious”, and you don’t mean you start pushing your cameras around, shouting at them… : )

  4. As you pointed out Dan, its good to have one type of camera and I do – I have one type in a lot of different brands 😉

    I found a Nikon F4 in a thrift store case for $20. They weren’t sure that it worked. I gambled and came up aces. It does have a LCD bleed on the left body LCD and I had to repair the diopter in the prism, but other than those two things, its perfect. I didn’t need it (I have a F90X and F100 that are far more modern, and lighter to boot!) but the allure of having such a legendary camera cheaply was hard to resist. I once bought a Yashica T4 Super D in beautiful condition for $7. I sold it after two rolls for a ridiculous profit.

    I think for me, finding these legendary beasts for little-to-nothing is the exciting part – the thrill of the hunt. The awesome camera find for less than the price of a decent lunch.

    I’m not going to lie, I do have the collector bug. I used to do regular camera hunts several times during my week. I actually travel with a small case with different classic camera batteries (2CR5, CR2, LR44, etc.) Can you tell I have a disease? I am getting better though. I did recently post 19 cameras to eBay and I’m in the process of culling the herd.

    I do though, display them on a bookshelf – I’ve always had a love of elegant machinery and to me, the classic cameras of the 70’s have an appeal that modern plastic and rubber just can’t match.

    1. Ha, yeh the danger is being too specific in your categories. I want just one Nikon SLR with autofocus, just one full size F series Nikon SLR and just one compact Nikon SLR, then I want just one Asahi Pentax M42 SLR, just one Pentax compact SLR, and just one Pentax autofocus SLR, and so on… Before you know it you have 25 “different” cameras.

      And yes while I don’t shoot film anymore, I do still greatly appreciate a classic machine like my Spotmatic F with a classy Takumar lens attached.


    Compact camera sales peaked in 2010 – since then the market has collapsed. The lack of new sales tells you that most owners aren’t using their own cameras either. The result is a stream of decade old cameras at the price of a pizza for two on web auction sites: which neatly fits in with your “Sub £20 challenge” policy.

    Now the year 2010 means the likes of Lumix TZ10s’ and Samsung WB650’s. These are serious machines that sold new at £250-350. They were beautifully made “up to a standard”, had at least 28-250mm lenses, manual control of shutter, aperture, iso, white balance – as well as control over the JPEG conversion algorithm so you can dial up/down contrast, colour, sharpening, noise reduction etc. They had live view histograms and exposure information in real time. Both these examples take images at slower than 10 seconds, have shake reduction systems, can auto-bracket over 3 stops to take an HDR series and they have a host of scene modes to save time in post-processing. Being 1/23″ CCD sensors they are sharper than later CMOS sensors – although that means lower resolution video shooting (which never bothers me).

    At a decade old, this technology today is seen by many as “throw away” and of little value — but when you learn to use this tech within its best settings, the photographic potential is amazing. Keeping to 200asa or less, being careful with exposure highlights, composing right first time to avoid cropping later – these are all the skills that were needed for transparency film photography, and with this level of tech, will even deliver even 20×30 prints.

    Both those camera models I have got in the last 12 weeks for <£12 each; both are in pristine condition. I carry a camera like this whenever I go out and it makes me look at the world around with a greater appreciation.

    Crucially – this makes photography is now more open to the young and poor than at any time in its history. Lets see what talent that can unleash !

    1. Paul, will you stop telling me about other interesting and eminently affordable old digital cameras!

      Seriously, thanks for all the info and your enthusiasm.

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