Thursday, September 1, 2016

The camera I didn't buy

I ran across a Nikon N2020 in a thrift store last week. It would make a great doorstop, or maybe a prop in a war movie.

By dw_ross from Springfield, VA, USA (20121213_1371)
[CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)],
 via Wikimedia Commons
The bottom plate was partially unscrewed. A thin patina of dust covered its surface. You couldn't read half of the control labels on the body. Nikon made many rugged 35mm single-lens reflex cameras. The N2020 wasn't one of them, despite being the company's first autofocus SLR model.

I'm a long-time Nikon SLR owner. But I let it go.

Some owners baby their cameras. Others toss them in a backpack and neglect them. And there's no hard-and-fast rule about which holds up better. SLR cameras of the 1970s and 80s were built with metal frames, but plastic soon took over. If you find a $10 Nikon in a thrift store, it's likely to need more than a dusting off and a fresh battery.

Compact point-and-shoots are a mixed bag, however. My $5 Canon Sure Shot Supreme operates as good as new. Earlier Nikon point-and-shoots, while seemingly more rugged, don't appear to withstand as much neglect. Almost none of the thrift-store film cameras I've found are water-resistant models; if they weren't damaged by sea water, sand in the mechanism is a likely deal-breaker.

Brands worth considering:
  • Olympus Infinity and Accura models seem to hold up well. Canon Sure Shots are also fairly rugged, but are known for noisy film-winding mechanisms. 
  • Ricoh and Pentax point-and-shoot cameras are less durable. Yashicas, Minoltas, and Konicas are all over the map in terms of build quality. Polaroids are generally trashworthy; unless they use 35mm film, you should just skip them. (Ricoh built a slew of cameras for Sears to sell under their own brand. The Sears models are no better.)
  • Nikon: not sure. Their later point-and-shoots were well-regarded. Earlier models seem to show their age.
  • Fujifilm made some great lenses for their point-and-shoots – and then built some models with hard-to-replace batteries. If you can’t access the battery compartment, it’s not worth buying.
  • A few early Kodak 35mm cameras (K12, K14, VR, etc) were built to last. Some K-series cameras may require hard-to-find batteries. Later Kodak cameras (S, KE, and Star series) were a little less sturdy and had cheaper lenses, and may not be long for this world.
  • Not worth considering: Ansco, Concord, Jazz, etc. These were $10 cameras when new, and almost none of them will operate as intended. 

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