The Yashica Mat is a fantastic choice for a first medium format camera. The basic model has no bells and whistles such as a light meter, but it is easy to use and well made. Also, it is one of the most affordable medium format Twin Lens Reflex cameras on the used market and an incredible value for the quality of photos it produces. A quick search on ebay will produce results in all three categories, making it an excellent example of what to watch for when purchasing a film camera online.
1. Non Functioning:
This camera is a great price and the photo looks good too, but you can see under the description that the condition is listed as "parts or repair;" unless you are an experienced camera repair person pass on this type of camera.
2. Unknown Function, but probably working:
This camera is described as having had one owner and probably well cared for. The description below reads like a cut and paste from Wikipedia and doesn't provide specific information about this specific camera. Also, the seller states that light meter indications are visible, yet this camera model does not have a light meter. The seller has a 30 day return policy so that is good, and 100% feedback rating. There is a reasonable probability that it functions, BUT it is priced WAY TOO HIGH for the unknown category of this model at $390. An unknown functioning camera of this model should range between $120-$180, with $200 being at the very high end.
This camera would be my pick of this group. The seller sticks to details about their specific item and the high quality photos show a clean looking camera. There is no return policy, but the seller does have 100% feedback. I would still ask the seller some questions regarding the camera's history, functioning of the focusing knob, the dials that set shutter speed and aperture, and the film advance crank. If they didn't include a photo of the ground glass viewing screen, I'd ask for that as well. The price of $158 is perfect for this category of camera. If it doesn't work after you test it, you can resell it online for $100 as seen in the first category above.
3. Known to Work:
I could not find any cameras of this model for sale in my search that had been used recently with a photo scan example; this is my preferred way of placing an item in this category. But this item is being sold by a camera store and longtime ebay seller advertising this camera as working. They also have a 30 day return and a 99% feedback rating, which for a seller having made 25,000 transactions is very good. The camera is incredibly clean looking and the description is informative. Although it is the same model as those listed above, this particular camera has a slightly better lens and therefore commands a slightly higher price; $313 USD is a fair price for this category, where the range should be between $160-$350.
Many consider Rolleiflex to be the best twin lens reflex camera ever made, and the used prices reflect this. The Carl Zeiss lens is some of the best glass available, and due to their value, many rolleiflex owners kept their cameras in great condition. This article is designed to help with eBay buying strategies rather than picking the Rolleiflex model that is right for you. Buying a Rolleiflex adds an additional complexity beyond my three category of advice mentioned above. There are 40+ models of Rolleiflex and the prices can vary drastically, so it is very important to research prior to shopping. Used Rolleiflexes are prolific on ebay and the vast majority of them are being sold by people who know little to nothing about the item they are selling. Always ask the seller for the camera's serial number and reference a website like Antique Cameras.net http://antiquecameras.net/rolleiflex.html which provides a detailed list of every model. The prices on these used cameras range from $250 to over $2,000, so it is essential to do your research and ask many questions. The safest bet with a Rolleiflex purchase is to buy from a camera dealer or the original owner/photographer. Below are some of the things to look for when searching eBay for a Rolleiflex.
Not Functioning/ Parts Only:
Looking at the prices on both the cameras below you can already tell that a Rolleiflex is going to cost a good bit more than it's Japanese counterparts. Both cameras below are earlier models with no lightmeter. The price ranges from $200-$400 for a parts only non-functioning camera. The first example clearly identifies itself to be "parts only" in the title and is asking a fair price. The second item is a bit trickier as it doesn't list its non functioning condition until the bottom description. Also the title reads "rare model," but does not actually provide a serial number. It says DRP DGPM, however this is not a model it simply means 'Deutsches Reichs Patent' (German Reich Patent) and 'Deutsches Reichs Gebrauchs Muster'. These markings are on all pre-WWII Rolleiflex models and although it is a cool piece of history, it does not signify that it is rare, as cameras bearing these markings appear frequently. Best leave shopping for parts up to the few people who are qualified to repair these cameras.
2. Inaccurate Description
This camera is being advertised as a Rolleiflex that takes 120 format film, and is actually a Rolleiflex baby 4x4, which takes 127 film. This is a cool camera and actually a great deal in the unknown function, but probably working price range. Just be aware 127 film is a bit harder to come by, or modifications to cut down 120 film to the smaller size can be a daunting task to a new film photographer.
4. Known to Work
The three items listed below are similarish models and all fit nicely into the known to work category. For the purposes of this exercise, assume that the first two are the same model and the third very similar but a few models newer. (Rolleiflex experts can correct me in the comments!) Look through these three and pick which one you would buy based on the information provided... my thoughts below...
My pick would be #2. This is because it is being sold by a dealer who did a recent cleaning and is offering returns and or repairs if the camera does not work. Also the description offers a serial number making the research easier. Lastly it comes with the bonus of a new focusing screen. All these factors make it worth the extra $100 above the first choice. With that said, I wouldn't discount #1 or #3 either. If the absolute top of my budget is $300, number one makes for a decent choice... I would ask for the serial number, and some additional photos before buying. The seller claims to have made some great photos with this camera, perhaps they would be willing to send an example your way. Buying a camera from someone who has used it makes it a lot less risky than buying from someone who picked it up at an estate sale. However, the dealer who CLA's their camera still wins in my mind; my personal budget allows for me to spend $100-$200 more for a CLA'd camera sold by an expert. If, however, it is priced much more above that cost disparity, I will start to strongly consider an item like #1 or #3). As far as #3 goes, I immediately am drawn to the fact they posted photographic evidence of results from the camera. The photos of the camera are high quality and give me a good idea as to its condition. But, because they do not provide the serial number, I cannot assess whether the model is worth the extra money compared to the first two examples; contacting the seller to find this info would be necessary prior to purchase. Another drawback for me personally, is the international aspect to the sale. As I've said before, I wouldn't omit the option to purchase from Japan, however it comes with added hassle.