Got an old film camera gathering dust in the attic? Keith Wilson speaks to a group of analogue camera fans who might give you an offer that you simply can't refuse
At the bottom of my wardrobe sits a barely used Canon EOS-IV camera. Yes, Canon’s former professional flagship from the days of 35mm film. It’s been sitting there with a couple of EF zoom lenses more years than I can remember. Once in a while, I’m distracted enough to pick it up and marvel at how it fits my hand like a glove. How did we become separated? Well that temptress called digital came along and I changed sides, yet being the old romantic that I am I could never let her go. But now, someone is coming to her rescue.
Camera Rescue is the name of a Finland-based business founded by a small group of analogue camera lovers who have set themselves the target of ‘rescuing’ 100,000 film cameras by the end of 2020. As I write this, the black and white counter on their website homepage stands at just over 60,000. With just under 40,000 to go, this promises to be a very busy year, but the ambitions of co-founder Juho Leppänen supported by his energetic band of camera repairers, technicians, sales people and partners across Europe, means this target is still within reach – the most recent 10,000 cameras rescued took just three months. Now the team is focusing on acquiring unwanted film cameras and parts, then making any necessary repairs to get the cameras back into marketable condition for resale to the ever-growing global fan-base of analogue photography aficionados.
So, how does it work? I tell Juho that I’m not completely sure if I want to give up my EOS-1V just yet, but would it be possible to get a BP-E1 battery grip for the camera instead? He quickly checks my expectations by replying: ‘Not quite! At the moment we are only buying in. In that case, we would do an offer for the items, a preliminary offer, and then we have a DHL contract and you call them and they pick the item up from your house. When it comes to Finland we then test the condition of the camera and according to this the final offer is given. If you decide to accept the offer, then it’s paid into the bank account straight away, and if not it is returned.’
Sounds simple enough. Juho goes on to claim that ‘96 cent of the offers are accepted.’ This high rate of acceptance is down to Camera Rescue making an offer ‘as good as we can’ in order to lessen the chances of people deciding against it, thereby resulting in too much time spent dealing with administration and shipping logistics with gear going back and forth overseas.
So, assuming I decide to seek an offer for the EOS-1V and the camera is packed away for collection by DHL to Finland, what will Juho and his crew do next and how will the camera be sold on? The answer lies in an orderly queue – it seems that my EOS-1V would join a queue of over 2,000 cameras currently waiting to be serviced by Camera Rescue’s five full-time repairers. ‘These are all cameras that once working would all be over 100 euro items,’ he says. ‘We buy them for the shops in Finland which have a joint web shop platform called Kamerastore.com and the items are there, but only the items that have gone through repair and are ready to go.’ Later, I look on the Kamerastore.com website. There are no EOS-1V bodies listed but its predecessor, the EOS-1N, is for sale at €199.
A global market
Kamerastore.com claims to have ‘the largest selection of professionally tested cameras in Europe’ and it is a hard claim to dispute. Logging on, there is a veritable treasure trove of second-hand cameras of all formats, as well as lenses and accessories. With a steady supply of recently repaired camera gear from Camera Rescue, this must also be one of Europe’s largest specialist retailers of analogue camera gear. But how did a handful of individuals in a small country like Finland tap into a market that bigger players and brands have overlooked?
Juho freely admits that he and his co-founders, Antti Heikkinen and Jussi Lehmus, didn’t actually know what was going on with the film market in Finland, let alone anywhere else, but he and other local enthusiasts were determined to find out if film had a future.
‘I wondered if my baby boy would be able to shoot film when he was 15, so I set off to investigate if there will be analogue photography in 15 years, and if yes, what it will be like.’ That investigation took the form of an online questionnaire, launched in 2016. Juho’s expectations were modest. ‘I thought maybe we’d get a few hundred replies,’ he recalls, ‘but we got more than 8,000 responses from over 100 countries!’
At that point, the team had a little start-up company called Camera Ventures with the goal of creating a single online sales platform for second-hand camera dealers. ‘We had five shops in Finland but we had plans to conquer the whole of Europe,’ he says. ‘One of our goals with the questionnaire was to see where people buy their cameras in each country, so we would have a list of possible clients for the platform, but once we saw the results from 8,000 people we saw people were just buying from each other on eBay or Facebook groups, so the whole idea of doing a platform just for shops disintegrated.’ Instead, Juho, Antti and Jussi hit on the idea of buying unwanted analogue cameras and lenses and repairing them for resale online. It was now 2017, the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence. ‘100 years and 100,000 cameras sounded right, so we started Camera Rescue.’
Arguably the most critical factor to Camera Rescue’s future success, especially in the years beyond its 100,000 camera target, is the availability of spare parts – not an easy task when nearly all film cameras ceased production years ago and the regular channels for spares have dried up. But the ever-resourceful Juho Leppänen has come up with an answer – he occasionally tours Europe in a battered old campervan selling small, low-cost items such as UV filters and bags that aren’t worth displaying on web shops. He explains: ‘There are events all around Europe, so I just fill the van with that kind of stuff and price everything at one, two or five euro and try to empty out the van as much as possible.’ Last summer, with the van’s contents traded for cash, Juho then visited the owners of closed-down repair shops in order to buy their unwanted parts and tools. ‘I visited one old repair shop in Madrid, one in Lyon and another in Newcastle. The spare parts and repair machinery we will definitely need in the coming years.’
So productive was last summer’s outing that the Camera Rescue team is planning another trip to coincide with the Photokina trade fair in Germany this coming spring. At the previous Photokina in 2018, Camera Rescue had a stand and they were inundated with enquiries from customers and analogue enthusiasts. Juho believes the market has a bright future. He declares: ‘There is a global community of up to a million people who still want to shoot film and in that community the demand for film is still quite high.’
Like any marketplace, some cameras are more popular than others, and the asking prices can vary considerably. It’s not just premium brands like second-hand Leicas, Rolleis and Hasselblads that attract the highest prices; even some of the mass-produced 35mm film compacts of the 1990s are now changing hands for the same price as they did when new. Juho explains: ‘The Olympus mju-II with the 35mm f/2.8 fixed lens was the cheapest version back in the day because the zooms were hot stuff for people using compact cameras, but nowadays the 35mm is the one that everyone on Instagram wants. It has reached its original selling price while the zoom version of the same camera costs a third or a quarter of the price.’
Instagram’s influence on market prices is most potent when a camera gains celebrity endorsement. There is no better example than the Contax T2 and T3 compact film cameras, as Juho reveals: ‘Both are essentially very good cameras but they’ve been hyped up by certain celebrities using them. The Contax T2 is Kendall Jenner’s favourite camera and I think the Contax T3 is P Diddy’s. Kendall Jenner has the second most followers on Instagram, so if she decides something is worth having and every now and then it’s in her pictures, then it is bound to attract someone.’ According to Juho, the T3 is selling in some shops in London and Tokyo ‘for around £2,000 and about £1,000 on eBay’ – that’s if you can find one. I look on the Kamerastore.com website. There are none. I had better take another look at the bottom of my wardrobe before Kendall Jenner or P Diddy find a new favourite…