It’s that time of year again! I can already smell the must. Yard sales are popping up around the neighborhood. I’m not much of a picker; I have plenty of my own old stuff already. But I can’t pass up a great old camera or photo trinket. I’ve probably made more bad buys than good but since even the non-working ones look good on my shelf, it’s a win-win. Here are some things I’ve picked up along the way that might help you avoid rummage sale remorse.
- Know what you’re looking for. Sure, we’d all love to find a priceless Leica and, let’s be honest, sell it for a handsome profit. But looking for a usable charmer or inspiring décor piece is just as much fun. Make sure your budget reflects your purpose. I’ve never been disappointed with a $10 camera, even if it’s a paperweight. But I’ve immediately regretting spending $50 on something that was probably worth it, only to realize that I’m never actually going to carry it around and shoot with it.
- Know what works. Stick to cameras that you’re at least somewhat familiar with so that you can test them. Even with no batteries, the film advance should be smooth and the shutter should fire in bulb mode. Better yet, keep some common batteries in your pocket. LR44, PX625 and CR2’s cover a pretty wide swath of old 35mm cameras. If you plan to shoot it, check the foam around the film door. It can deteriorate regardless of camera wear and if it lets light leak in, your shots are shot.
- Know the market. Search KEH.com to gauge a top-end selling price. That’s not what you should pay at a yard sale but, if you can confirm it works, it’ll give you an idea what a reputable dealer would charge for it after it’s all cleaned up. They try to buy them for half that value. Ebay is a better indicator of private seller values but it can be tough to find accurate examples depending on how rare your find is. Filter for completed and sold items to get some history.
- Know your weakness. If you’re a sucker for vintage cameras, then you’re a sucker. I have a soft spot for Yashica Electro 35s even though they’re not great cameras, not yet really vintage, and not particularly unique. But they look like they know what they’re doing and apparently, I like that. You know how they say people look like their dogs? I look like this camera.
And finally, know that you may not find much. In the context of most household sales, camera equipment usually claims coveted prices and even though sellers want to get rid of them, they tend to over-value. Negotiating is key and usually part of the fun. But walking away, especially from a stubborn seller, can be just as satisfying.