Vintage Cameras: A New Excuse to Loiter on Auction Sites
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Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.
I’m referring of course to auction sites. Seems like only yesterday that I got the CigarBid.com monkey off my back. Yet I have found a brand new excuse to flag 50 auctions at a time, live-snipe at 3 am and otherwise engage in antisocial behavior — vintage 35mm film cameras.
(What does this have to do with cigars? Nothing, which is why it’s listed in the “Just Plain Random Stuff” category. However, I suspect that many cigar nuts who have fallen prey to C-Bid know just what I’m talking about here!)
Props (or blame) to Trixy, who gently mocked my addiction to digital and sold me on the retro-cool factor of 35mm film. My father, himself an excellent photographer with an encyclopedic knowledge of model numbers, also encouraged my bad behavior. Dad egged me on with gems like, “Of course you need a third Minolta XE-7… for parts!”
Two months later I have accumulated more cameras than an Osaka pawn shop — an arsenal of cheap, bulletproof workhorses I barely know how to use.
Why? Because I have an unnatural interest in photography. Because there’s something wrong with me that compels me to “win” other people’s crap. And because vintage cameras are the best deal since those $9 mazos of Padilla Achilles. (Ah, remember those?)
It’s a quirk of supply and demand, what Billy Beane would call a “market inefficiency.” Old SLRs are built like tanks, nothing like today’s plastic wonders. None of them croaked. They fill closets and attics the world over. Now, with the universal move to digital, 30 year-old gems like the Leica R3, Pentax ME and Minolta X Series are being dumped on the market en masse for whatever the seller can get.
Enter yours truly, Auction Dork…
A couple of weeks ago I won a functional Minolta XE-5 body sporting a clean Rokkor-X 45mm f=2 lens for $5.35. Miraculous. The Minolta XE-5 once retailed for $300, a shiny penny in the late 70s. In current dollars, that’s $1,082. Only two years ago, I’m told, the X-Series routinely sold on eBay in the $200 range. Today, five clams — less than one-half of one percent of its original value, adjusted for inflation.
One of these days I’ll learn how to shoot with it.
NOTE: For the technically curious, the camera above is a Kiev 4a rangefinder, a Soviet copy of the legendary German Contax. (As a child of the late Cold War, all things Evil Empire still strike me as dark and mysterious.) The story goes that early Kievs were made from Contax parts the Red Army took from the German factory as war reparations. True or not, it’s interesting. And yes, I shot it in digital and added film noise in PS. I’m a poser, but at least I cop to it.