In 2020 we got a tip from an analog community member about an electronics retailer that might have some unused film cameras. The person giving the tip had seen some on a shelf in the touristy area the chain operated. We get these kinds of tips daily, so we didn't get overly excited at this point, but decided to call anyhow. In the quietness of mid-2020 the electronics shop was not very busy and they actually had time to answer questions. Or kind of, the phone call was almost absurd: - Hello - Hello. - We got a tip that you might have film cameras to sell. - Yes, we have some. How many would you like? - As many as you have.
- Are you sure?
- Sure sure, we specialize in film cameras and no volume is a problem for us. - Are you sure?
- Sure, we buy hundreds or thousands at a time. How many do you have?
- We dont know really - the basement is almost full.
- Is it a big basement?
- It is.
- Interesting. Do you have a list?
- Can you make a list?
- Hmmm. Will you entertain a visitor if we send someone?
So due to travel restrictions, we decided to send our Spanish hombre, Nico Llasera, who still lived in Spain at the time. After a while we got a video like this:
It turned out that in the basement storage of this electronics reseller, they had stored all the photo equipment that had been left during the rise of digital. They owned the building and didn't pay rent for the basement, so they had no pressure to empty it out. For almost 20 years all these cameras had been sitting there. Altogether there were 1,728 unused film cameras from the very last year's film cameras had been manufactured.
But that was 2020. Why are they just now coming to us two years laters?
Well - with camera rescuing at this scale there is no such thing as a simple deal. For most analog photographers, walking into this basement would be like walking into Aladdin's cave. The temptation to buy it all straight away could be overwhelming, but in situations like this one should remember that every analog camera is unique and 90% of the value is in the condition. Also, the shop was thousands of kilometers away from us in a hard-to-get-to island - so logistically the items could not be shipped to us as easily as most of mainland Europe.
We knew from previous experience that there would very likely be 5% to 50% of defective cameras in the boxes even though no one had touched them in two decades. Turns out, sitting unused for decades is not good for a camera. Just like an old car, they need to be used regularly for optimal performance.
The company selling them had bought them at full price back in the day, and had the asking prices of 2002 in their inventory system. For the most part, the film camera prices of 2002 are still higher than in 2022, so there was some work involved in adapting the pricing for 2022. After a few months of negotiations - we got a first test batch of roughly 250 Pentax Espios to test. Out of them the failure rate was roughly 40%. The LCD screens had bled their contents out, lenses had gotten haze or fungus into them and electronics had failed left and right, causing overexposing or functions not working. 144 cameras worked like they should - or could be repaired - out of 250+. It took us another year to negotiate the remaining 1500. The negotiations were even harder now since we expected a 40% failure rate and the sellers thought they were selling perfectly working material (but wouldn't accept returns). However, now they are here! There were seven euro pallets of the material when it arrived.
All of the cameras have gone through our testing machines and procedures. Out of the 1,728 cameras, 1,044 were suitable for refurbishing and sale. The rest are either going to be in future outlet drops, are used for parts, or are going to be recycled.
Can I buy one? Our part of the work has been done and we have handed over the 1,044 cameras to the team at Kamerastore.com who is selling the cameras both wholesale and through their web shop. The first drop of ready-to-go cameras will launch on the 2nd of August. An email of the drop will be sent to Kamerastore newsletter subscribers first, so sign up here if you want to get first pick.
If you are also interested in what actual models were within those 1044 cameras, the Kamerastore Instagram will give a better deep dive into them.
How often can this happen?
Most likely this will never happen again. Over 1,500 cameras is just so much stock that it is very rare that it hasn't been somehow distributed or trashed (yes, sorry, it happens and the stories are awful) by now. Most analog photographers in the world will never see bigger lots than 4-10 new in box cameras come from some newly-found old stock. We see lots of hundreds of boxed cameras coming in every now and then, but we have tens of people looking for them every day and get the help of thousands of members of the analog community sending us tips.
And finally I want to use this moment to thank the people involved in processing this lot. The technician class of 2021 got to process the Pentaxes and the technician class of 2022 got to be a part of processing the big lot. Opening decades-old boxes is super exciting when it is your new toy, but a bit overwhelming when you have to do it tens or hundreds of times, test them all, and put everything back together neatly. Also, Nico did a tremendous job finalizing the deal over the course of two years.
And, of course, big thanks to the community for sending these kinds of tips to us. Sometimes they lead to nothing, sometimes to 1,728 unused cameras in a basement. - Juho