TAKING PHOTOS WITH VINTAGE CAMERAS
BUYING VINTAGE CAMERAS
Vintage cameras can be found at camera shops, estate sales, yard sales, thift stores, antique shows, flea markets, and antique stores/malls.
Depending on the age, condition, rarity, brand name, and quality of the camera (and knowledgeability of the seller), you can expect to pay as little as one dollar, up to hundreds of dollars for a vintage camera. I have found a couple of good medium format (120 film) cameras for between $20 and $40.
Before you take the plunge and buy a vintage camera, here are some tips and potential problems to keep in mind, as vintage cameras frequently have condition issues. Fold-out cameras with leather bellows need to be closely inspected, even if the leather looks like it is in good condition. Over time the leather will crack along the folds, and even tiny holes that you can't see will leak light into the camera and "fog" the film. The best way to test whether the bellows is light tight is to open the back of the camera, take it into a dark area and shine a flashlight into the bellows. Tiny holes will show up as little pin-pricks of light on the outside of the bellows.
In my experience, most antique fold-out cameras do have problems with holes in the bellows. If you come across an old fold-out camera that can't be used due to problems with the bellows, it can still make a very cool display item. If you really have your heart set on using a particular fold-out camera that is not light tight, it is possible to try fixing the holes yourself. Try the solutions suggested at this website: http://www.rolandandcaroline.co.uk/bellows.html (note, this is a British site, "torch" means flashlight).
You can also send your camera to a couple of outfits that will make a new bellows for your camera: http://www.camerabellows.com/ in the U.K. has received good reviews on photo blogs that I've read, and http://www2.hawaii.edu/~mkapono/bellows.htm is in Hawaii.
Other issues you may come across in vintage cameras are sticky shutters, and fungus in lenses, although fungus is more of a problem in humid climates. These problems can be fixed by any good camera repair person, check with your local camera shop for recommendations.
FILM FOR VINTAGE CAMERAS
Vintage cameras take a variety of sizes of film, some of which are not readily available, but can still be found. The film sizes required for most of the vintage cameras that you will encounter include 116, 127, 120, 616, and 620 film. (620 is the same as 120, but on a slightly different spool.)
Film for vintage cameras is still available from several websites. You can get 127, 616, 620 and other odd size films - see the links under "BUYING AND PROCESSING FILM FOR VINTAGE CAMERAS" for more information. Medium format cameras that take 120 film are still being manufactured, so 120 film is the easiest to find, and can be purchased locally.
Many vintage cameras take 120 size film, which is readily available at good camera shops. In Sacramento, you can get 120 film at Pardee's, and possibly Filco (see the PDF for locations). I've been able to use modern 120 film in all my vintage cameras that take 120 film. However, in my research I've come across notes from some vintage camera collectors indicating they occasionally find an old 120 film camera into which the modern 120 spools won't quite fit. I carry a modern 120 film spool with me when shopping for vintage cameras so if I find a prospective purchase, I can test it to make sure the spool will work.
127 size film was popular for many years, so collectors often find vintage cameras that take 127 film, which is slightly more narrow than 120 film. Although the difference in width between 120 and 127 film appears small, the two sizes are NOT interchangeable - cameras that take 120 film cannot take 127 film, and vice versa.
Black and white 127 film is still made fresh by a factory in Croatia - the only manufacturer in the world still making black and white 127 film - under the brand name "Efke". Efke film is available from several sellers, see the information in this PDF document specifically listing 127 film sources and prices, or see the links under "BUYING AND PROCESSING FILM FOR VINTAGE CAMERAS" (at right). There are other sources of 127 film besides Efke; some sellers of 127 film are selling 120 film that is trimmed along one side to fit on 127 spools. If you want to shoot color 127 film, a company in Calgary, Canada has started making new 127 color print film, available on the "Frugal Photographer" website.
When it comes time to process your 127 film, any photo lab that processes 120 film should also be able to process 127 film. This is possible because labs process 120 film by taking several rolls of film and clipping one end of each roll onto a large round drum, so the width of the individual rolls of film doesn't matter. In Sacramento, you should be able to get black and white 127 film processed at Cox Black and White. Also in Sacramento, you should be able to get color 127 film processed at ACE Photo and Photosource. (again, see the PDFs for locations). As for myself, I process my own black and white film at home, using a Paterson Universal Tank.
Getting prints made from 127 color print film is a little more difficult, but a professional photo lab may have an old 127 negative carrier laying around that they might be willing to dust off and use for your prints. Or they might be willing to make a cardboard mask for their 120 negative carrier, and make prints from the slightly smaller 127 film in that way. Some of the sources listed on the PDF documents will process and make prints from 127 color print film.
Scanning your 127 film is also possible. I used the 120 film holder that came with my scanner to scan the 127 film image you see on my "My Vintage Cameras" webpage. Since 127 film is more slightly more narrow than 120 film, I covered the gap between the edge of the film and the holder with a narrow strip of thin cardboard, which also helped hold the film down flat. (It only took a couple of minutes to measure and cut the cardboard strip.) For printing black and white 127 film in a home darkroom the same techique will work; cut a cardboard mask for your 120 negative carrier.
Another option for scanning 127 film is to shoot 127 color slide film, buy some 127 slide mounts from the "Frugal Photographer" website, mount the film and then place the photos in the slide holder that comes with the photo scanner. Slides can also be placed directly on the glass of your scanner. I have done this with my 35 mm slides, and it works well on my Epson scanner at home. I use Epson scanners both at home and at work; models with the word "photo" in the name come with good scanning software, and plastic frames for holding film (e.g., my scanner at work is the "Epson Perfection 4870 PHOTO" model, with the film scanning part built into the cover).
120 film and 620 film is the same width and length but the spools are slightly different, so 120 film cannot be used in old cameras that take 620 film. If you find an old camera that takes 620 film, you can either purchase 620 film from one of the sellers listed below, or you can take matters into your own hands (literally) and respool 120 film on 620 spools. Click here for an excellent illustrated description of how to respool film. It's a little tricky to learn, but will save you money, as 620 is considered a specialty film, and costs more than 120 film.
LOADING FILM IN VINTAGE CAMERAS
Loading film in vintage cameras is not difficult, and with a little practice you can learn how to do it quickly. The number one rule is: don't force anything! Once you figure out where the take-up spool goes, and where the film spool goes, the rest is common sense.
Having a user's manual helps, and a surprising number of user's manuals for old cameras have been scanned and posted online by vintage camera lovers:
BUYING AND PROCESSING FILM FOR VINTAGE CAMERAS
The websites linked below sell and/or process odd size film for vintage cameras. (These websites are also listed in my PDF document listing sources of odd size film linked here and below.)
PDF Documents with information
MISCELLANEOUS INFORMATION AND FUN STUFF
Here's Marcy Merrill's Junk Store Cameras website. She buys old cameras in junk stores, uses them and posts the images, along with some hilarious commentary... for a perfect example, click on the "Ansco Lancer" photo...
Click here for a website done by a guy who looks for old cameras with exposed film still inside. He processes the film and posts the photos.
Click here to see photos of my vintage cameras (the actual cameras I use), and photos taken with my vintage cameras.