It’s been nearly 20 years now that film photography started its downward trajectory, and while the vinyl-record-like resurgence of film is encouraging, and all signs suggest that film has stabilized,* it’s not been helped by a general decline in photography over the past 10 years or so — essentially the point at which smartphones came onto the scene, and became everyone’s default camera.
You can argue the timing, and you can argue the facts, but one thing is tough to refute: Camera shops have basically died off, helped by the rise of e-commerce, and we’re left with scant choices when it comes to photography gear in general, and film photography gear specifically. So what’s a photographer to do?
Indeed, with professional-grade film gear not even being manufactured anymore, we’re left with used gear — much of it quite high quality, actually — but finding it can be a problem.
For me, I have two options: Englewood Camera in Littleton, Colorado, a good 35 to 45 minutes from home, and Cameraworks, in Colorado Springs, which is over an hour away depending on traffic. Englewood is where I got my Pentax 645, but the used film gear is sort of an afterthought. Cameraworks specializes in it, and they have an incredible selection of film camera bodies and lenses, supplemented by a staff who actually knows a thing or two about their merch.
But while these options exist locally, their selections are… Disappointing. If you’re looking for something specific, you generally have to roll the dice on an eBay purchase, or find someone with a national footprint.
Frankly, eBay is not a choice for me. I refuse to spend any more money at eBay than I’m willing to basically take out of my wallet and throw onto a bonfire. I know many people have success, as I have in some areas, but broadly, I’m not going to risk much there. Individual sellers simply don’t have much skin in the game if they misrepresent the merchandise, and screw someone in the process.
On the national footprint scene, I know of basically two choices. First, B&H in New York — which seems quite proud, price-wise, of their limited array of used gear — and KEH, located in Georgia.
Both B&H and KEH have myriad reviews online, and there are plenty of people who hate both of them due to supposed bad experiences. All I can relate is my own experience, and in both cases, it’s been positive. But this piece is about used gear, and so far, I’ve not decided to spend at the premium price points B&H seems to demand, opting instead for KEH.
As I write this article, I’m waiting on my third order from KEH, and I doubt it’ll be my last. Why?
- Great web site. You can find things pretty easily; the search works well, the filtering works well, the categories and attributes are configured well for photography gear, and it just works. It’s not perfect, but I’ve also not failed to find what I was looking for.
- The stock is good. They do not have everything. Like any used store, they’re going to have only what people have sold them, so if you’re looking for something specific, they’ll have it — or they won’t. But for the things I’m looking for, they’ve typically had, when I want it.
- The condition ratings are accurate. When KEH says something is “excellent” it is. The only exception to this was a rear converter for my Pentax, which was sold as “excellent,” and visually, it was indeed excellent. However, the lenses did not smoothly attach to the converter; they bound-up, and while it worked, it did not work properly. Which brings me to my next point…
- Returns have not been an issue. When I had the problem with the rear converter, I called KEH and explained the issue. The CSR not only arranged a refund, but sent a return shipping label immediately. If this was a situation of “I just don’t like it,” I’m certain I’d have had to pay the return freight. But in this situation, they stood behind it and made it right, and I got my refund back on my credit card promptly.
- Fast service. On each order, KEH has fulfilled it immediately, and even the free shipping option has gotten me my merchandise in just a few days — all of it very well packed. I consider that a positive.
Considering that KEH has had every lens cap, back cap, and body cap I’ve ever had need for (how or why these always go missing is a good question), and considering they’ve had the lenses I want at a decent and fair price, I just can’t complain.
Well, I have one complaint, and KEH can’t help me with it: Act fast. If you find something you’re looking for, I’d suggest ordering it. Like, right now. You snooze, you may well lose, and that’s been the case for me. With decent used gear being in-demand and hard-to-find, you’re not the only one searching KEH for specific things, so if you find it, get it — before someone else beats you to the punch. That someone else might just be me.
* I say “film has stabilized” primarily because Kodak Alaris is actually introducing new products rather than discontinuing them (Ektachrome E100, anyone?), and even Fuji recently announced the return of Acros black and white film — a sign that they may not, actually, be plotting their full exit from the film world. Encouraging; if they discontinued Velvia 50, I think the world would be a worse place to be.