…they just end up in antiques stores.
I spent a bit of time wandering the cluttered aisles of one of the local antiques emporiums over the weekend. Here in semi-Upstate New York we have many of these, mostly catering to the clueless city dweller who will mindlessly overspend for some kitschy reminding of their weekend in the “country,” as they see it. Nonetheless, there are sometimes interesting tidbits to be found. Amid the countless pieces of tasteless 80s decor, cheap glassware sets (invariably with an odd number of pieces), and items that make you wonder why anyone purchased them in the first place (like the dolls that are instantly creepy or the seriously shiny pleather coat in a color not found in nature), one occasionally stumbles across a camera or two.
This trip found a few. A Brownie Hawkeye with original box was there to be had, as were a couple of other similar box cameras. They always look nearly new, but basic function checks often suggest internal issues; these predictably were not in perfect working order, and getting film is a problem for some as well. A few various plastic autofocus point-and-shoots were scattered about, but it’s hard to even notice them. I’m sure the day will come where they’re worth substantial sums and are considered “vintage,” but that day has not yet arrived. There was an old and tired-looking folding “pocket camera” of indeterminate age. As much as I like the concept, I haven’t worked my way far enough back in the vintage camera world to embrace per-war folders. I didn’t even bother to open it up.
My eye fell upon an unmarked black vinyl case. Given the size and shape, it was probably a 1960s-era rangefinder. Pulling it out of the case confirmed my initial impression – it was, in fact, one of the most common of that genre, a Canon Canonet QL-17 GIII (a name that somehow manages to be overly complex and mind-numbingly dull at the same time). The shutter speeds seemed OK, as did the aperture settings. The viewfinder was reasonably bright, and the rangefinder seemed calibrated. The lens dials worked smoothly, and the glass itself was fairly clear. I didn’t bother checking the meter, as the battery (if there was one in there at all) was surely dead, and I usually shoot with manual settings in any case. The light seals were shot, and the fold-out rewind handle was missing, but the basics were there. Knowing the reputation of the Canonet as a solidly-built, reliable camera, and given the fact that this one was actually working (stuck shutters are common), at $68 (originally $85, but that case was 20% off) I was tempted. But not tempted enough. As appealing as that 40mm 1.7 lens is to me – I don’t have a camera with that sort of low-light capability – I was a bit put off by the missing part, and the price seemed a little high. Plus I’ve already got a bunch of old cameras. So I walked out, figuring the camera is not likely to go anywhere anytime soon should I happen to change my mind.
It’s a shame. All those cameras sitting there unused, some probably never to be used again in their intended purpose. They may end up as accent items for an interior designer, or gifts for someone who won’t use them (“Hey, let’s get this for Phil – he’s always carrying a camera around!” (Never mind that it’s a DSLR)), or simply souvenirs for those clueless city dwellers up for a day in the country. They deserve a better fate.