Photographic collectors and users gather at camera fair

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Image caption Looking for a bargain at Photographica 2010

If you hanker after a daguerreotype or are looking for that long lost lens cap to fit a rare lens then Photographica, the UK's largest photographic collectors fair, could have the answer.

The fair is organised by the Photographic Collectors Club of Great Britain and takes place on Sunday 22 May. Inside you will find all manner of goodies on offer from around 200 dealers.

Expensive Leicas and Hassleblads will rub shoulders with 110 format cameras from the 1970s as well as large format plate cameras from the 19th Century.

There will be the usual boxes of books and an amazing array of accessories that will be carefully sifted by the many attendees.

Some will be there as collectors, others looking for a bargain or trying to pick up a top of the range camera from times past.

In photography it is of course the result that matters, the picture.

But there are times when the journey is important too and using older cameras, be they film or digital, can offer the photographer something new, or perhaps just a change in their way of working that might open up fresh ideas.

Photographers like Kevin Meredith have shown how a simple Lomo camera can be used to good effect and film photography enthusiasts such as Michael Raso at the Film Photography Podcast in the US continue to evangelise its merits.

Whilst talking to students in Brighton the other week I was pleased to see that film is enjoyed by some young photographers.

As a committed user of film myself who spent all of last year shooting Kodachrome I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk to a couple of people at two ends of the spectrum, one a dealer who specialises in used equipment and the other a keen film user who likes to try out different camera and lens combinations.

Jem Kime is the owner of Manchester based The Real Camera Company, a dealer in used photographic equipment which he setup some 10 years ago when the high street stores were pulling out of the second-hand camera market.

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Image caption The Olympus XA range is popular with many street photographers

I asked Jem why this was. He said: "Many stores had taken in too many film cameras against the new tidal wave of digital ones being sold into the market and suddenly found themselves being unable to sell them on any longer. One by one they gave up and allowed niche-market dealers to enter the field. Of course trading in old technology is a dangerous business, spend too much on something that's not wanted and you die."

Since that time the internet and online shopping has changed many of our shopping habits, how has it affected the trade in used cameras?

"The market changed rapidly with the simultaneous onslaught of the now ubiquitous eBay and cross fertilisation meant that here was a route to the few folks left who wanted the items that could no longer be sold locally. So trans-global enterprise ensured the continuance of old cameras still being sold, whether they were sent to Italy, China, Japan or the USA."

Is the much talked about resurgence of film photography something you have noticed?

"Film is experiencing a small renaissance, maybe 3-5% of photographers might still want to use film, often in more 'serious' formats than the once ubiquitous 35mm. Medium format and large format 5x4" cameras are still sought by aficionados who crave ever more resolution than even the latest 14 megapixel DSLR can offer. Its reckoned that with slow film and a good scanner, even 35mm film can offer 60 megapixels worth of resolution, so it's not that film 'sucks', it's just that digital is so much more convenient for 95% of the public."

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Image caption An object of desire: A British Reid camera with a lens like this could go for £1,500

And at Photographica, what's usually on offer?

"Of course Photographica is all about old cameras and collectable ones in particular, not necessarily the user's market, even for film buffs. Offer them a rarity from a prestigious marque and the serious dealers and collectors appear from all over Europe and the Far East. It's the traditional time of the year for buying trips to Europe with auctions being held to coincide with Photographica's weekend and not far away in Bievres, Paris, lies Europe's largest camera fair, just some two weekends away.

"Leicas still seem to be the zenith of desirability where collecting is concerned, more people aspire to their Rolls-Royce equivalence than any other make though devotees would cite Alpa to Zeiss at you.

"But the other grand dames of European manufacturing still claim enthusiasts, Rolleiflexes can happily sell for over £1,000, even some old British cameras too. An Ensign Autorange 820 can fetch £2,000, or a British Reid, or top of the list an Ilford Witness. Make a quick trip to the 'hole in wall' come back with £4-5,000 and they can be yours.

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Image caption A Nikon D1, the camera that changed the digital market, is now worth just a couple of hundred pounds

What about early digital cameras, are they collectable yet?

"You might think that 'The Next Big Thing' has got to be collectible digital cameras. And so would many, but that market hasn't taken off yet. Highly expensive early digital cameras can still be bought for relative peanuts; my best bet is that won't last. At some time or another the world will wake up to the history that was built into them and start to reappraise their value."

Thanks Jem, I'll hang on to my Nikon D1 then. One keen photographer who loves his old film cameras is an old BBC colleague, Stephen Dowling. He has been working on a number of projects using film, his current one being shot on 36 different cameras.

I asked Stephen what inspired him to take up the 36 camera challenge?

"I got into photography in the 1990s, in the pre-digital days, and after using autofocus cameras I decided to train myself with an old East German Praktica with a standard lens I picked up for £50. That got me hooked on finding and using old cameras - a lot of them old Soviet ones.

"To be honest I don't know where that interest comes from. I didn't grow up in a house with loads of old cameras; my sister was a keen photographer but mostly on a compact. But the more I played round with these old cameras the more I got into the aesthetic, especially with things like cross-processed film or pushed black-and-white, exploring the results you could get from the vintage lenses which didn't have the modern coatings to lessen flare or vignetting.

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Image caption Stephen: "A street near my house on a blazing hot spring day. It's cross-processed slide film which creates the super-saturated colours."

"Plus I'd bought a lot of stuff which had sat in my camera draw for a while so needed a project to get me using everything, 36x36 seemed a nice idea."

How does using older cameras help your creativity, or is it a hindrance?

"It is definitely a help. I'm making sure I shoot a range of film styles in each camera, including; colour negative; colour slides; black and white negative and colour slide cross-processed.

"It's almost like a vintage camera database as I'm trying to use a bunch of films, including some expired stuff, and different lenses. I always have a camera on me and it makes the simplest walk to the shops part of a photo project. You never know what's around the corner.

"One of my favourite shots from it is one of a woman and dog on the other side of Kilburn High Road near where I live in north London. It's a place I've walked past a thousand times. That day I got lucky, but the important thing is I had a camera with me, so I could shoot it.

"I'm also doing a project shooting bands at soundcheck which I've been doing the last six or seven years. That's all on black and white film, using the same film stock, two lenses and two cameras. This project allows me to try different things and not keep shooting the same stuff."

What's the best camera bargain you have found so far?

"An Olympus XA for a little over £30 at Photographica last year - it's a classic rangefinder that's small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, has a razor-sharp lens and is virtually silent.

"I've also got an old Soviet Zenit E which cost me £4 at Greenwich market a few years back, less than a roll of film. It works perfectly and I really like some of the shots I've got off it. Proof it's not the camera but the person behind it which is the biggest factor in getting a good photo.

"I also obtained a Pentax ESII, which is the camera Pennie Smith used to shoot the cover of London Calling by The Clash (Voted the greatest rock photo ever of all time in a 2002 poll for Q magazine). It cost me about £40 off eBay."

Do you ever shoot digital? Would you consider using an old digital camera in the same way you are using older style film cameras?

"I'm not into digital photography. No disrespect to those who love it - photography is a broad church. I do love the fact the internet and the advance digital photography has brought allows me to share this stuff with other like-minded souls. Flickr is the perfect vehicle for this, because there are people all over the world buying stuff like this in camera fairs and car boot sales and sharing inspiring photos."

You can see a small selection of Stephen's pictures below. The 36x36 project is still in progress and you can follow it on his Flickr page.

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Image caption An Eastern European meet at London's Ace cafe. It's shot on an old Zenit 3M which is nearly 50 years old and cost me a few quid.
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Image caption This clock in winter was spotted in the window of a second hand store in Berlin and captured using a Chinon Memotron with a Helios-44 58/2 lens
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Image caption Tourists walking past a cafe in Dubrovnik, Croatia, taken on a Nikon FM2N
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Image caption A cat in New York, shot on an old Pentax and Fuji Neopan film

Photographica is at the Royal Horticultural Society's Lindley Hall in Vincent Square, Victoria, London on Sunday 22 May 2011.