Camera Shows – How To Be A Smart Shopper

This past weekend, it was my pleasure to attend my third Photographica show, in Wakefield, MA. Organized by The Photographic Historical Society of New England, of which I am a member, this is a large camera show, held twice a year, in the fall and the spring. With over 70 dealer tables, It brings hundreds of camera and traditional photographic process enthusiasts together. While there are clearly some fantastic deals to be found (I scooped up a basic Bogen enlarger for $1.00 US), there are also some real questionable prices as well. Some dealers anticipate something of a “haggle” process, and inflate their asking prices accordingly. As Mike Brady told Greg once, “caveat emptor”- let the buyer beware. Here are a few tips-

  • No matter what, don’t “fall in love” with any piece of gear. Go to these shows with a sense of purpose, or a wish list. While old me would have scooped up that $5000 Nikon SP rangefinder, smart me (today) was content to hold it, admire it, and lust over it. I’m good for another year at least.
  • Use technology. If you have an iPhone, or a Blackberry, or some Android device, download and install the free eBay application, and have search and the “Buy It Now” filter ready to go. This way you can get some kind of benchmark as to if you are getting ripped off.
  • Look at glass closely- hold it, check it for fungus, chips, etc. If you are mated to a specific system (Nikon, Canon, Hasselblad, etc), bring a body with you, and ask the dealer if you can try the lens onto your body.
  • Look at cameras real closely. Ask if the camera has been CLA’d- cleaned, lubricated, and adjusted. Critical for a camera such as the Hasselblad, which I bought last year, as it had been recently CLA’d. That was a huge selling feature for me. Also, ask about the light seals. Have they been replaced? Are there any light leaks? If so, is it easy to do yourself, and can the dealer work with you on pricing of the item accordingly? With older cameras, the cost of the body is just the start. Factor in some maintenance – it will need some at some stage.
  • Don’t be afraid to haggle. Some of these folks really want to make a sale. If foot traffic is light (this show was noticeably more quiet than the last ones I went to), the dealer may just want to make a sale. I have never been to one on the last day, at the last hour, but if you really enjoy haggling, and some customers do, that might be an advantageous time to be there. Some will want to lighten their inventory before moving on to the next show, or back home.
  • Comb the dollar tables- aside from the predictable filters, obscure accessories, etc, you can really scoop up some great buys, such as the aforementioned Bogen enlarger.
  • Look for film deals. I got a brick of TMax 400-36 for $18.00. With silver prices going insane, and film prices following? Stock up.
  • Don’t let them tell you that eBay is a wasteland. There are some deals to be found on there as well. Call to the dealer’s attention any comparable eBay finds that have been “film tested”, show them the pictures, etc. At there shows, there is a lot of junk, and you see some of it resurface show after show. There are certainly reasons for that.
  • Have fun- this can be a blast, and at times, quite frustrating. But the good far outweighs the bad.
  • Be sociable. I am painfully shy, but a lof of my shyness goes away when I am chatting with dealers and fellow shoppers. You can learn an awful lot, while making new friends in the process.

Can’t wait for the next one. There are less and less of these types of shows sprouting up, so I am very fortunate to have such local access to this exceptional event.


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