Over the past several years, I have watched as the prices for compact film cameras have steadily increased into the sort of price ranges usually reserved for collectible cameras.
This was inevitable. These cameras are getting expensive not just because they are more popular, but also because there are fewer and fewer or them available now. Even the younger compact cameras (apart from the Fuji Klasse) are over 10 years old now and they are reaching their performance limits. Basically, the cameras are dying and there is nobody that can rescue them.
When I started my website, Japan Camera Hunter, about 7 years ago, you could bag a Ricoh GR1 or a Contax T2 for about $250. Now they are $700+ for the same camera, but older and more used.
This has become such an issue now that I no longer source compact cameras — I locate and buy cameras for customers around the world — as I simply cannot find enough of them to meet the demand. And demand is high, I get 20+ emails a day asking for compact cameras, and I have to turn them all away. And it hurts me to do so every single time.
And herein lies the problem. What are we going to do for a compact camera in the coming years?
This is something that has been playing on my mind for some time now. And I have mentioned it to people like Juho, who started a database for helping to make sure film is available in the future.
I would dearly love to make a compact camera, and I know what I want too. Based on the buying requirements of years of customers it would not have to be an overly complicated camera. A simple point and shoot with a decent 28mm or 35mm lens, flash, ISO selector and manual override. As simple as possible and made from metal for durability. The fewer electronic components the better, so that it can be easily serviceable and less prone to breaking down.
But I am just one guy and I don’t have the weight of a large company or investors with very deep pockets. So I need help.
One of the large camera makers needs to step up to the plate and make a compact film camera. And I am not saying this on a whim or with a wistful idea of halcyon days. I get more requests for compact cameras than I could ever fulfill, even if I had the cameras. People are prepared to spend nearly $1,000 for an old Contax or Ricoh, knowing full well that it could simply stop working at any point and there would be nothing they could do about it.
Photographers are begging for a compact film camera and they would pay good money for a well-made and simple camera that could give them years of use. This is not an impossible task — the odds are not insurmountable. This is something that can be done. And should be done. We are in the age of 3D printing, small scale manufacturing, and highly mechanized assembly. We can do this.
As I have said, I cannot do this on my own, so I am reaching out to any and all of the manufacturers. I will happily work with you to provide data, buyer trends, PR, or anything I can possibly do to make this a reality. I have lens guys and ex-service repair guys who have technical knowledge and troubleshooting ideas. I have more user feedback and common faults info than you could ever possibly want. I can help.
I know some of the large manufacturers have taken a bit of a beating in recent times and the Internet can be a cruel and unforgiving place. But can you imagine the goodwill and sense of community that making a compact film camera could bring? That is not a small thing in this day and age. Kodak just mentioned the idea of making an 8mm movie camera again and the Internet went bananas, not to mention the rise in stock prices.
So what can you do? Share this, tell a friend, put it in a bottle at sea, skywrite it. But make sure the people in charge of the large camera makers can see that there is a real market for a compact film camera, and it is not a small market either. It is sustainable, and growing in popularity as people feel more disillusioned about sharing images online. Our voices make a difference, and if they realize that we are prepared to throw money at them, perhaps they will sit up and listen.
Realistically, I am going to try and do this anyway, even without the help of a manufacturer, but it would be really great if even one of them could get involved so that it would be a worldwide thing that doesn’t shave 10 years off my life through overwork.
About the author: Bellamy Hunt is a photographer based in Tokyo, Japan, and the man behind Japan Camera Hunter. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Hunt sources quality cameras and photo gear from Japan for customers around the world. You can find more of his writing on his website. This article was also published here.