There are 1,001 reasons to visit Istanbul.
No longer Turkey’s capital but by far its most populous and dynamic city, Istanbul sits on the geographical crossroads of Europe and Asia. The Bosphorus splits its European heart from the vast spread of Greater Istanbul on the Asian shores, and its skyline of minarets and awe-inspiring domes is not easily forgotten. You could spend a month in this city and barely have explored its museums, galleries, ancient sights, restaurants and historic markets.
If you’re into film cameras, there’s an extra bonus.
Not far from the Golden Horn – the waterway divides the European districts of Galata and what was once Constantinople – is the bustling locale of Eminönü. Ferries and tourist boats leave from here to the Bosphorus and the Asian Shore. It’s where the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market are, and a short walk from the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Whether you’re here at noon or midnight, the place is packed. Walk up here alongside the tramline and you hit Sirkeci, a neighbourhood full of hotels, souvenir shops, travel agents and electronic stores.
It’s here where it gets interesting.
You’ll notice plenty of camera/electronics shops and processing labs on the streets, but as you come on to Muhzirbaşı Sk, this is the shopfront to look out for:
Inside you’ll find a handful of camera shops spread across the first couple of floors inside the building. The day I visited – just afternoon, things were relatively quiet, and I was able to have a good snoop around what was on offer.
The shops in this building include this one, complete with the likes of this old-school Soviet Horizont panoramic camera and shelves full of film at the back. The chap behind the desk beckoned me in between checking something. I only had about 45 minutes before meeting my wife for lunch so had to decline.
Many of the shops are essentially small offices; there are some also offering repairs aswell.
In this building, the shops seem to offer a little bit of everything – like this line-up, with a Minolta SR-T 101 and Zenit-ET, and a clutch of cheap Chinese-made compact cameras.
This shop included a bunch of 35mm compacts, including this Olympus LT-1, a souped-up Mju-I with a faux leather covering that makes it look like a luxury wallet.
A short hop across an alleyway brings you into a second building which is the real main event. This is Hayyam Çarşısı.
Unlike many parts of Europe, there seems to be no shortage of film, but the days of getting a roll of film for the equivalent of a few euros have long gone; new rolls of Kodak colour film like ColorPlus and Gold 200 sell for about 350 lira, which is about £14 ($16).
Amid the piles of ColorPlus, AgfaPhoto black-and-white film and Kentmere you can find the odd curio too. This shop had some Konica Centuria 120 film (which must be at least 20 years old) and even Portraitpan 100, a long-discontinued mono film made by Forte in Hungary.
There’s a huge array of cameras from the 1960s, 70s and 80s, when Istanbul was firmly on the tourism map.
But apart from the ubiquitous Minoltas and common Canons, there’s plenty of less common stuff too. I spotted these on a quick walk around:
That camera at the back on the right is a Mamiya ZD, a medium-format digital SLR produced in the mid 2000s. Fewer than 2,000 were thought to have been made, and I’ve never seen as much as a lens cap from one before.
I love the fact that it’s sandwiched next to a Zenit SLR and a Canon T-series SLR from the 1980s. No such thing as VIP velvet rope here – it’s worth having a look at every shelf and cabinet to see what’s in there.
Ever seen a Zenit-412LS? Me neither, apart from in a camera museum in the middle of Siberia 20-odd years ago, and I collect Soviet cameras. This was the last Zenit camera made in M42 mount – in the year 2000. It’s the last camera to feature the kind of cloth shutter used in the Leica II rangefinder, first released in 1932.
One shop, called Mikro, didn’t just have the one here boxed in the window – they had a whole display case full of them. The friendly shop owner told me they had come from not from Russia but from Iran. By the time the Zenit-412LS came out, Iran was two decades into a stand-off with the West and supplies of consumer goods were patchy at best. Zenits were, at least according to this bunch of boxed examples, much easier to come by.
I’ve visited this place before on earlier visits to Istanbul and spent a lot more time exploring what each shop had on display. Buying is not an in-and-out experience. One previous trip, where I bought a Cosina SLR with a Korean-made wide-angle lens, necessitated a half hour of chit-chat with the owners (him in Turkish, me in English), a glass of tea and scribbling down of prices before both parties were happy. It was brilliant fun, and all part of the experience.
This trip I didn’t buy anything – which is saying something for me – but I’m already preparing for my next visit.