Photo Gear Price History

In my early years in photography, the back (especially) pages of Popular Photography and Modern Photography were the sources of many of my lusts. That’s where the mail-order camera companies ran their ads.  Some of those ads went on for pages and pages, in little tiny type, with small low-resolution images of the cameras stuck in every now and then.

I’ve finally made a start on getting images of some of those old ads and putting them online. I use these to look up old prices, and to look up what gear was being advertised when, and to remind myself of some of the weird strange things that were being sold back then.

I hope to keep adding data from additional years to this collection, and also to extract some prices into spreadsheets and charts to show how particular pieces of equipment or classes of equipment have fared over the years. Some day.

Some of the images I have collected elsewhere and some I have made myself from old copies of the magazines, at the library or wherever I found them. Since I don’t own them, I can’t take them apart to get good clean flat scans of the pages. Sorry about that; I’d like better images myself, but I haven’t gotte my bound pages holding jig designed and built yet, so these were done freehand and are really rather rough.

The collection lives here.

Olden Camera I remember for their signature bright yellow pages. They mixed new and used prices through their ads, and had a stranger collection of gear than most places.  I remember I bought a used Leitz 90mm Summicron f/2 from them for my M3, and decided the condition just wasn’t go0d enough and returned it.  They list a used one for $184.50 in September 1973, which is about right.   I’m pretty sure the new one I then got also came from Olden, and I remember it as costing $360.

Custom Quality Studio in Chicago did film processing and reprints at very good prices, and they actually did a decent job.  I used them up through the 1980s.  They eventually disappeared.

I never used Sunset Color Lab, but they had the distinction of being the only place I remember seeing that advertised dye-transfer printing services. A regular 8×10 print cost $1.75, a dye-transfer print cost $22.

The Latent Image (NSFW) had the interesting business of selling rolls of undeveloped film with nude photos on them. I imagine a lot of people bought pictures from them. I wonder if this got around some state laws, too? (The ad kind of looks like they sold some processed negatives, and some unprocessed rolls. I never actually ordered from them, so I don’t know.)

B&H Photo is the place I most remember dealing with—but they didn’t get started until 1973, and I don’t have the first one-page ad of theirs that I found posted yet.

Wall Street Camera Exchange had the weird advertising model of giving prices for unlikely trade-up exercises, and often not giving any price for just buying the stuff. I guess this let them print smaller numbers, but anybody with any functioning brain cells figured it out in the first few seconds, so I don’t know what it gained them.

Is it a bad sign when I find I’m nostalgic about old advertisements?



A New System

Camera system, that is.

Olympus EPL-2 with Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens

This is going to replace my Panasonic DMC-LX3.  The LX3 has a 24-60mm-equiv. lens, which is good (the 20mm is 40mm-equiv. on the new camera). But the LX3 is fixed lens, whereas the EPL-2 is a Micro Four-Thirds camera, which takes interchangeable lenses made by at least 4 companies (plus almost anything else via adapters for manual operation).

And the EPL-2 has a much bigger sensor, and is much better in low light, where I take so many of my snapshots.  In good light the LX3 is great, I even made a 20×30 print of one of my LX3 photos for the decor project at work. But working with the files from Minn-StF meetings or sitting around at home in the evening was no fun at all. I could get snapshots, but little more, usually.

Plus the EPL-2 has extreme toy potential. Micro Four-Thirds has about the shortest flange distance of any lens mount for still cameras; so it’s easy to make mechanical adapters that put the lens the right distance from the sensor.


With 75mm f/1.4 video lens adapted

That’s an effective angle of view matching a 150mm lens on 35mm, a moderate telephoto (Micro Four-Thirds has a 2x crop factor).  At f/1.4.  At least in preliminary testing, this one covers the whole format, too, there’s no major vignetting in the corners or anything. This is a “C-mount” lens, a common mount for old Bolex 16mm cameras and video cameras.   (This is the Pentax/Cosmicar 75mm f/1.4).

And the EPL-2 has in-body image stabilization, so I can hand-hold at rather slow shutter speeds.

I’ve also used it with my old Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AIS lens.  I’ll try the 70-200/2.8 some day when I’m feeling really evil.  Or maybe the 500/8.

This isn’t aimed at replacing the Nikon DSLR; that’s far superior in low light, and faster at focusing, and more accurate at focus tracking.  Quite possibly better dynamic range, haven’t checked.

With the pancake lens, it’s maybe 1/8″ thicker than the LX3, and it’s much nicer in a lot of ways. If you’re looking for a used LX3, keep your eye on Ebay, I’ve got a few things I need to find all the parts of, photograph, and get listed, including the LX3.

Yeah, failed my saving throw against the Shiny!