Vintage Cameras in Cape Town

There’s a guy in Windhoek who teaches black-and-white photography who mentioned that there is a big vintage camera shop in Cape Town.  He didn’t remember the name of the place, but as we were headed down there we thought we’d check it out.  A bit of investigation on Google revealed this camera repair shop that has been around since the 1970s.  Noting the shop has moved a number of times in recent years, we drive all over Cape Town and end up in front of a truck repair shop, where they inform us the camera shop has moved yet again.  We finally end up calling the guy, and he directs us to a (somewhat questionable – sorry Tony) residential area where we tentatively knock at the door.  No answer, but another phone call and he opens up and urges us to quickly come inside.

We are asked to sit in the entryway, which has three old chairs and is piled up with boxes and paint buckets – in the room beyond the entryway a vacuum is running.  Tony is a big guy, white-haired and with a pony-tail, friendly enough, but the whole thing seems a bit weird as we were expecting a shop of some sort.  I ask about old cameras and he informs us that he’s had to continually move due to increasing rents, and his current location is not zoned as a retail area, but are we looking for anything in particular.  I tell him no, we were looking to browse, and he starts bringing plastic shopping bags of cameras in, two at a time, and while my family shifts uncomfortably in their seats I started to look through them.

As I’m still fairly new to the vintage camera collecting business, I pick up a couple that look interesting and appear to be functioning, and we work out a fair price.  One of them is this Kodak Vest Pocket Autographic, and the other is a Kodak Retina Type 118.  I regret not having looked more at the Retinas, because he had a number of them there, but it turns out I got pretty lucky in that the Type 118 is interesting from a historical perspective.  While the type 117 was the first daytime loading camera (i.e. it uses the same 35mm film we know today, in 1934 already!) the type 118 happens to be the very same camera (type) that Sir Edmund Hillary used to photograph Tenzing Norgay when they climbed Mount Everest.  Between 9,000 and 10,000 of these were manufactured waaay back in 1935, and now one of them was mine.

Of course, at the time, all I knew was that I had a camera that took 35mm film.  So I popped in a roll and started snapping shots – once I figured out how it worked.

Kodak Retina Type 118

The Kodak Retina Type 118 is a small camera whose lens pops out once you open the cover that protects it.  A small bellows (3 or 4 folds allows the lens to extend out from the film, and once it’s loaded you use one of the knobs on top to advance the film.  Since there’s no little red window in this camera to tell you when to stop winding for each exposure, I wondered how I’d know how far to wind – but the camera automatically knows when to stop you, and you have to slide a small  latch on the back of the camera to the right, in order for the film to be advanced again.  As you can see on the photo, speeds range from 1 second to 1/500 second, plus B and T, and most of the usual apertures are available.  On this particular camera, it seems that the spring that holds the shutter release tension has been broken, so you have to hold the shutter release in the top position to cock the shutter.  Once you have cocked the shutter, the release holds in place (but has a hair trigger!)

There is nothing to prevent you from making double exposures, however – so it’s best to get in a routine of always advancing the film after you take a picture.

For my first roll, most of the photos were a bit overexposed.  However, for an 80-year-old camera, I’d say it did fine.  Here’s how things turned out:

Cape Town Downtown

I like this shot of downtown Cape Town. This is one of the best photos on the roll.

Cape Towb Street

This is a bit more suburban scene – lots of little art shops here.

At the Mall

I thought the camera did well in low light, considering. This was inside a mall, and it wasn’t nearly this dark, but it made an interesting shot I think.

Double Exposure

Finally, I like how this double exposure – completely accidental – turned out.

For more photos from the Kodak Retina Type 118, check here.

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4 Responses to Vintage Cameras in Cape Town

  1. Jeni says:

    Suppose you couldn’t quite connect Tony’s living/working situation to the fact there’s not much money to be made in repairing vintage cameras? Tony is a decent, genuine guy who does a fantastic job at restoring and repairing film cameras – I’ve had several repaired with different service providers, and his work has proved superior.

    Perhaps you could use some of your excess wealth to help him find a more ‘suitable’ premises for fellow snobs.

  2. Tom (Admin) says:

    I am describing my experiences that day. I bought a couple of cameras off him for a fair price, but the experience had a definite “back alley” quality to it. I don’t presume to know why.

  3. Karl Ndebele says:

    He has now moved to

    Grand Central Laundry

    Shop 10, 155 Main Road

    Wynberg 7800

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