Say Cheese: How To Invest in Vintage Cameras

 Say Cheese: How To Invest in Vintage Cameras

Film photography is making a comeback, but does that mean vintage cameras are worth investing in?

 Say Cheese: How To Invest in Vintage Cameras
Moriah Costa

Updated Oct 24, 2022

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  • While some vintage cameras are worth a lot, not all old cameras are good investments. 
  • The most valuable cameras are usually made by the German brand Leica. 
  • Things like rarity, type, and condition can also impact the value of a camera. 

 

Browse any flea market and you’ll likely find at least a vintage camera or two. While many are outdated digital cameras, you’d be surprised to find a rather expensive analog camera.

Old cameras can be worth nothing or thousands of dollars. It all depends on factors like brand, condition, type, and popularity.

While not as popular as other alternative investments, vintage cameras have become a trendy collectible among investors and shutterbugs alike. Just like investing in classic cars or shopping for vintage guitars, old cameras that still work get scarcer as fewer people know how to fix them.

But are these old cameras actually worth anything? Get your old Kodak out as we hit record on vintage film camera investing.

Analog is making a comeback

Blame it on TikTok or Gen Z’s nostalgia for the 90s, but film photography is having a bit of a comeback. Instead of the instant gratification of snapping iPhone shots and dumping them on social media, some are turning to analog cameras and even learning to develop film.

Major film manufacturers like Kodak Alaris and Fujifilm are noticing an uptick in film products, with a large portion of customers under 35. Fujifilm’s Polaroid cameras have seen an upswing in sales over the last decade. In 2010, the company sold half a million, and in 2020, it sold 10 million worldwide.

Today, TikTok and YouTube are full of creators dedicated to all things film photography. And because holding physical film is getting more popular, some cameras are worth a bit more than others.

Are old cameras worth anything?

Old cameras can be worth nothing or thousands of dollars. Like many of the best collectibles worth investing in, it all depends on factors like brand, condition, type, and popularity. A vintage camera sitting in your grandma’s attic might not be worth anything if it was mass-produced or damaged from years of collecting dust. But if you have a family member who was a pro photographer, that could be a different matter.

One of the most expensive cameras ever auctioned was a rare, vintage Leica from the early 1900s, which is part of a famed 0-Series and went for a record €14.4 million ($15.1 million) in June 2022. Only about a dozen 0-Series Leica’s have survived to today of the 20-odd prototypes made in 1923 to test the market for 35mm film. A similar model sold in 2018 for $2.95 million.

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A Leica 0-Series No. 105 'Oscar Barnack' auctioned for $15.1 million in June 2022 at Leitz Photographica Auctions. 

Source: Leitz-auction.com

Meanwhile, a special edition 1994 gold Leica M6, created for the 50th birthday of the Sultan of Brunei, sold for roughly €31,200 ($35,731) in June 2020. Covered in gold, it's housed in a special wooden box, and only 125 were ever issued.

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Chart tracking sale prices of assets similar to Leica M6 from Nov. 2005 to Nov.2018 (not adjusted for inflation). 

Source: rallyrd.com

It’s not just vintage cameras that can sell for millions. A unique Leica M created in 2012 by Apple designer Jony Ive and industrial designer Marc Newson sold for over $1.8 million at Sotheby’s (RED) auction in 2013.

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A Leica M from 2012 that sold at Sotheby's (RED) auction for over $1.8 million in 2013. 

Source: sothebys.com

If you noticed that all these cameras were Leicas, you’d get a gold star. Leicas are famous in the photography world and would fetch good money from collectors. This brings us to our next point—things like brand are one of the many things to consider when looking for valuable vintage cameras.

What makes vintage cameras valuable?

Whether you want to invest in valuable film cameras or a vintage video camera, here are things to keep in mind when researching collectibles:

Brand 

The brand is everything when it comes to collectibles, and even more so for cameras. Mass-produced cameras, like a Kodak Instamatic camera, might sell for $10 or $25. But a rare camera from a well-known brand like Kodak can go for thousands or even millions of dollars.

Leica brands, for example, are some of the most expensive models on the market, both new and old. The German camera and lens manufacturer is renowned for its exquisite quality. In fact, the company was originally called the Leitz company after its founder Ernst Leitz, but it changed its name to Leica in 1986 due to the fame of the trade name.

Other brands that can be worth a fortune include Hasselblad and Nikon.

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Chart tracking sale prices of assets similar to '49 Nikon One Camera from June 1994 to Nov. 2019 (not adjusted for inflation). 

Source: rallyrd.com

Type

The other thing to keep in mind when investing in a vintage camera is the style of camera. Things like the type of film the camera uses should also be taken into account. A film camera with 35mm or 120 film is among the most popular film among photographers. Cameras with film that is not produced anymore might be valuable or not.

Other factors to keep in mind are the construction and features of the camera, such as if it comes with accessories. For example, a camera that is made of metal is likely to have more value than a mass-produced digital camera made from plastic. 

Other factors like shutter speed can also increase the value of a camera, as well as the type of lens it comes with. In fact, sometimes the lens can be worth more than the camera itself. For example, the price of a Leica Thambar portrait lens can range from $2,000 to as much as $12,000

Rarity 

When it comes to antique film cameras, rarity is an important factor in determining its worth. A camera that's rare and popular, like a black Lecia, is more valuable than a digitally mass-produced camera like a Sony. However, some popular and mass-produced cameras can be valuable, like a classic Polaroid. A Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera owned and used by Andy Warhol sold for $13,750 at Heritage Auctions in 2020.

Condition 

The last factor that can impact the value of a vintage camera is its condition. A working camera with few scratches and dents is likely to be worth more than a camera with scratched lenses or with damaged accessories. If you’re looking to invest in a vintage camera, look for one that not only is from a famous brand like Leica or Kodak, but also is in good condition, free from dents and dust. And make sure that you protect your investment, keeping it secured, covered, and in a dust-free environment.

Double exposure

Double exposure

Would you invest in a vintage camera?

How to invest in film and vintage video cameras

If you want to invest in film and vintage video cameras, you have a few options. You can go through auction houses like Sotheby’s or Christie’s or specialized photography auction houses like Leitz Photographica Auction. Or you can find vintage cameras on online auction houses like eBay, marketplaces like Etsy, or at a specialty camera shop.

If investing in a vintage video camera isn’t your thing, you can also buy shares of publicly traded film companies like Fujifilm or Canon through Public or Robinhood and other online brokerages. These brands don’t just make cameras—they produce equipment for optics, offices, medical electronics, and even chemicals.

If you want to buy a vintage camera but aren’t sure about storing it or just can’t afford the hefty price tag of a quality investment-worthy camera like a Leica, then you can also consider buying shares of a vintage camera through Rally.

Rally is a platform that lets you invest in cameras as well as vintage video games, collectible sports cards, and more. Rally takes care of acquiring and storing collectibles and securitizes them so you can buy shares and own part of a moment of history.

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