Must-Have Vintage Cameras Every Collector Should Own

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Must-Have Vintage Cameras Every Collector Should Own

For those interested in consumer history, it goes without saying that the camera is one of the most important pieces of gadgetry ever produced. The ability to take photographs on the mass market has been a hobby for many for over 100 years. Both serious photographers and those interested in the history of cameras can divulge their passion by collecting vintage cameras.

There are many, many vintage cameras on the market, some actual original models, others more modern with a vintage look or shooting capability. A must-have vintage camera is generally down to the personal opinions of the potential buyer, as a camera one person would not be without may not suit another. Most importantly, no matter what the make or model, the camera needs to work.

What is a Vintage Camera?

A vintage camera typically refers to any camera model made before 1970, although vintage style modern cameras are also very popular among the photography world. What makes a camera vintage is not only the style of the model itself, but also in the film. In order to take vintage style photographs, the film itself needs to either be old, or the film can be left exposed to UV light for a short time, which attacks the emulsion layers in the prints causing them to look vintage, or a vintage filter needs to be applied post production either on the camera itself or on a computer.

Below is a list of some of the most desired and fun vintage cameras available on the market. Not all of these are particularly expensive or rare, but they all come highly rated by vintage camera specialists for various reasons.

The Argus C3

Also known affectionately as the Brick due to its size, weight, and shape, the Argus C3 was a hugely popular camera model in America in the 1940s until 1966. Even now, there are groups dedicated solely to the C3 and many photographers who still use one.

Photographers more used to modern cameras will feel as if they are learning how to use a camera from the very beginning with a C3. The shutter needs to be cocked in order to release before taking the picture, and the lever can be accidently touched by the user's fingers during shooting, which will wreck the potential photograph. The C3 has no double exposure prevention, separate rangefinder and viewfinder, and the rangefinder itself has a short base.

There are further positionings on the C3 that is unusual to a modern user, so it is recommended that a certain amount of research is done before purchasing and using this type of camera. There are those with experience in using the C3 that are able to some excellent photographs, so it is not a model to be dismissed simply due to its basic structure and age.

The Canon F-1

Canon has been a well respected name in camera production for a long time. The Canon F-1 was originally produced in 1970 until 1981 when it was replaced by the improved version the F-1n, and is a 35mm single lens camera. It had the benefit of being fully compatible with previous Canon lenses such as the FL and to a lesser extent the R-series. The F-1 was Canon's first proper professional-grade SLR system, with a huge variety of accessories and interchangeable parts. The Canon F1 was specifically created to be competitor to the Nikon F2 series of cameras, which are described below.

The Nikon F2

Like the Canon F1, the Nikon F2 was a 35mm single lens SLR camera and was produced during the same time period as the F-1, from 1970 to 1981. Unlike the Canon model it could not share major components with other models in the F-series both before or after. The F2 was a mechanically-controlled (e.g. springs, gears and levers), manual focus camera also with manual exposure control, and had a 1/2000 second maximum shutter speed, faster than the previous F model. Other new features found in the F2 were a swing open back to make it easier to load film, an assortment of detachable finders and meter heads, a 250 exposure film back, large reflex mirror and a shutter release near the front. It was also the last all-mechanical Nikon SLR aimed at a professional level.

The Polaroid SX-70

An extremely popular model in its day, the SX-70 had the unique ability to fold flat, and also that special Polaroid feature of being able to process pictures immediately. This model is commonly used amongst vintage camera enthusiasts today, and locating a working model is relatively easy.

The Kodak Brownie

It is believed that this camera was the first affordable consumer level camera to enter the market, as far back as 1900. It had a reasonable pricetag that made it accessible to people who had never been able to afford a camera before. The original Brownie had no film, so in order to process photographs, the entire camera had to be sent back to Kodak for processing. It was named the Brownie due to the size and shape, as it is a brown-shaped box. This model was basic, and although it had no specific special features, any serious vintage camera enthusiast would have an incomplete collection without one of these. Fortunately, there are still many of them around and it is relatively easy to obtain one.

The Belair X 6-12

A modern camera with an impressive vintage look, the Belair X 6-12 from Lomography is a stunning camera. There are three models, the Globe Trotter (in mottled brown casing), the Jet Setter (light brown casing) and the City Slicker (all black). These cameras have auto-exposure capabilities, come with two interchangable lenses (90mm and 58mm) and bellows for easy folding.

As well as being an impressive camera to look at, the Belair is able to shoot at three aspect ratios - square 6x6, standard 6x9 and panoramic 6-12. It also have zone focusing, can support ISO film from 50 to 1600, has a hot-shoe mount as standard, and the same bulb mode and double exposure shooting modes common to the high-level Lomography cameras.

Buying a Vintage Camera

Before making a purchase, always conduct sufficient research into the desired model. If the camera is to be actually used, it needs to be made sure that the model is still workable in the modern day. Focus on well-built SLR and Rangefinder cameras when purchasing a vintage camera. Major brands such as Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Yashica and Konica are good choices in this area, as well as cameras with a cult following such as Lomography.

Always inspect the camera visually for any signs of damage. Corrosion and mold are both issues common to older cameras, and are not necessarily a problem unless the damage is extensive. An experienced vintage photographer will be able to restore this type of damage. Light scratching is only an issue in terms of the look of the camera, but deeper scratches can indicate a more serious problem.

Be aware that counterfit products do exist on the market, but these models should be fairly obvious to the experienced eye and will have a poor build quality when compared to the real thing.


Owning vintage cameras can in itself be a hobby, and there are many models available on the market. Always conduct sufficient research before making a purchase, and if the camera is intended to be used, the camera needs to be in a workable condition and able to take film. Some of the models listed here are known to be great products that any vintage camera enthusiast would be proud to own.

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