As independent camera stores slowly shut up shop, online auction site eBay has become the world’s biggest camera retailer, selling everything from bricks of expired film to cameras in all shapes and sizes. Shelves and shelves of treasures, waiting to be snapped up…
Over the past decade I’ve bought all sorts of stuff off eBay – from a Nikon F100 that’s the mainstay of my music photography project to a bunch of old Soviet Zorkis, Zenits and Feds. And a lot of film. As photographers go digital and sell their cameras, a lot of them are also selling the film that’s been sitting in their fridges, freezers and garages.
I’m always on the lookout for old emulsions to shoot with – especially as many of them are getting to near a decade past their use-by date. In a decade or so, many of them will be unusable.
A couple of years ago I found a stack of old Agfa film up for sale – bricks of old Agfa Optima 100 and 400 film. Agfa Optima was Agfa’s premier range of print film in the 1990s and early 2000s; rich colours and fine grain. As it wasn’t as common as the company’s Vista brand of consumer film, it’s somewhat rare to find today. Any Optima you find today will be at least six years past the expiration date – but as any Lomographer knows, such film can still be capable of eye-popping shots.
On any day, there are tens of thousands of old film cameras up for sale on eBay. Last year I got a steal – an old Praktica MTL 50, one of the vast armada of M42-mount cameras made by the East German giant during the Cold War. It’s very similar to the first old-school film camera I taught myself on 15 years ago, an MTL 5B. It’s a brick of a camera, solid, simple and with few frills to go wrong. Prakticas are renowned for their reliable shutters. This one cost me £15, and works like a dream.
I’ve recently moved from north west London, where I lived for a good 16 years, to the south east; it’s not an area I know very well and any sunny weekend has been spent exploring the area. The six-odd miles from Blackheath to Waterloo via Greenwich and New Cross is a good stretch of the legs, full of pockets of local flavour and vibrant street scenes. The Optima, loaded before I left the house, lasted all the way to Waterloo – a perfect afternoon getting to know a new neighbourhood with an old camera and an old roll of film.
Expired film might seem a bit of a gamble, but the results here, I think, show some of the plus points of shooting with old stock – the grain becomes a little more intense and the colours shift a little. The Optima tends to boost the blues in open shade – something that helped add to the mood on shots like the one of the mannequin above. And the Praktica’s lens, the Pentacon Auto 50/1.8 which came as standard, is a superb performer. Roll on, sunny weather.