I have to say that I love car-boot sales, probably because I pick up dozens of fantastic film related bargains every month, and you could also say I'm a bit of a car boot sale addict, getting up early every Sunday and wandering around a least two with my better half...
For everyone outside the UK, car-boot sales are usually held on a field somewhere early on a Sunday morning. Sizes vary, but at the best ones you'll have hundreds of cars turn up, and people set up small stalls at the back of their cars (by the boot, or tail-gate) and sell their stuff.
Most of the goods are second-hand, from where people have been clearing out attics, lofts and garages. Needless to say, there is a lot of junk, but be persistent (and eagle-eyed) and you can find some right gems.
To wet your appetite, here are some of my best bargains:
- Fujifilm Instax 7 (Polaroid 300) with film: £6.
- Olympus Mju II / Stylus Epic: £5.
- Minolta SRT101 with 50mm f/1.4 Lens: £5.
- Boxed Canon EF 35-105mm Lens AND a boxed Canon EF 100-200mm lens for £30!
Of course I've also come home with my fair share of cameras and accessories that would have probably been cheaper on eBay, but I can't resist any old camera that's going cheap and looks like it is working and in good condition. I've got about six old tripods, loads of old 35mm Film Bodies, several Polaroid cameras (without film!) and plenty of Cokin Coloured Filters.
These are my Car-Boot-Sale tips, but they equally apply to Garage Sales, Thrift Stores, Charity Shops and Second-Hand Stores.
Time For The Tips:
- PREPERATION! Dress up warm and wear comfy shoes. It could be muddy, rainy and cold, so make sure you're going to be ready for it!
- GET THERE EARLY! There's always plenty of "pro's" around who buy stuff to sell on eBay, so you need to get there before all the good stuff is gone, I'm talking 0700 hours at the latest!
- BE METHODICAL! Go up and down every row, checking every stall. The best bargains are from the sellers that don't know the value of what they've got, so there could be a great camera hidden inside a plain camera bag, or a great photo-book behind that Driving Atlas from 1972...
- KEEP AN OPEN MIND! You may be looking for film, or a nice Olympus Trip 35, but always be on the look out for other stuff - Photo books, light-meters, tripods, light-stands, dark-room equipment, lenses, flashes, screens and slide-projectors. Always ask the seller if they've got any more photo gear in the car or at home, you might find someone who's got a whole dark-room set-up to sell for a song!
- WATCH OUT FOR TRADERS! As I've said, the best bargains are from sellers who just want to get rid of their stuff, but beware of people who have an over-inflated idea of how much their camera equipment is worth (this is usually traders). That Olympus OM-1 with a 50mm lens might look nice, but is it really worth £50? You'll probably find a cheaper one in the next row.
- WATCH OUT FOR MOULD! Old camera's and lenses might have been stored in less than ideal conditions, and although you can clean dust and dirt, if there's any mould or fungus growing inside the lens it's probably best to pass and look for a cleaner example.
- MAKE SURE THE APERTURE BLADES WORK! When a camera hasn't been used for a while, one of the first things to stick are the aperture blades. On a SLR it's best to take the lens off the body (ask the seller first!) then turn the aperture ring while looking through the lens, to check to see if the aperture blades move smoothly over their full range. Note that on most lenses you'll have to press a lever or button on the back of the lens while you turn the ring. Another way to do this is to leave the lens on the camera body, and if its got one, press the Depth of Field Preview button, then look through the front of the lens, while turning the aperture ring.
- MAKE SURE THE FOCUS IS SMOOTH! Sounds obvious, but don't be scared to pick up the camera and practice focusing on things at various distances. Is the viewfinder clear? Is it easy to focus?
- DON'T WORRY ABOUT LENS SCRATCHES! Small scratches on the front of a lens DO NOT MATTER! They won't affect your images, and if you use a lens hood, small scratches won't even cause flare.
- CHECK AS MUCH AS PRACTICAL! Does the film wind-on lever work? Can you open the back of the camera to load the film? Does the back close properly? Does the ISO / Shutter Speed dial turn?
- ASK THE SELLER TO SHOW YOU HOW TO USE THE CAMERA! Sounds obvious, but often the seller will then point out how to use the light meter and you can see if it really works.
- KNOW HOW MUCH YOU'RE WILLING TO SPEND! Go on eBay and make a list of how much things cost, so you won't over-spend at the car-boot sale.
- KNOW YOUR LENS MOUNTS! When you see old lenses for sale, it's not always obvious which camera systems they fit. The way I make sure I get M42 Mount lenses and not some other screw-type is by taking a M42 Extension Tube along with me. To make sure what I'm getting is M42, all I have to do is see if it fits the extension tube. You could take a camera body too. The same goes for filter sizes. Make a note of the filter thread sizes of the lenses you already own (eg 52mm, 58mm, 70mm) so that when you find some filters you'll know if they'll fit your camera.
- BE PREPARED TO HAGGLE, BUT DON'T MISS A BARGAIN! A bit like "Life of Brian" people expect you to haggle at a car-boot sale, so always offer less than the asking price (a half to a third less is a good starting point). However, if something is an amazing bargain, (like my Fuji Instax for £6) give them the full price straight away, you don't want anyone else stepping in, offering the full price.
- SUSS OUT THE SELLER! Does their stuff look well cared for and can they tell you the back-story to the camera gear, indicating it has been well looked after? Do they look like they're not short of a bob or two and are just clearing out the attic, so you'll get some great prices?
- BRING YOUR SMART-PHONE! Got internet access on your phone? Bring it along to check eBay to see if something's the right price, or for more information on rare and older cameras.
- OLD FLASHES COULD FRY YOUR NEW CAMERA! Be VERY careful when using old flashes on newer cameras, especially digital ones. The trigger voltages are a lot lower now, so an old flash on a newer camera could destroy your beloved dSLR! Check the internet for compatibility.
- CHECK BATTERY COMPARTMENTS! Most people forget to take out batteries when they store their gear, which leads to leaking batteries and ruined terminals. Always open up any battery operated photography items to make sure they're ok. Old Polaroids are especially vulnerable.
- BRING BATTERIES! Have a couple of AA's and AAA's handy to check those cameras or flashes really work...
- BRING CHANGE! It's a lot easier to haggle when you can say "Sorry mate, I've only got £8.50 left" for that £10 Minolta...
- KEEP YOUR MONEY SAFE! Watch out for pick-pockets and low-lifes, especially at larger car-boot sales held later in the day.
- WRITE DOWN THE REGISTRATION! Of the car if you're asking someone to hold onto larger items while you look around - it's easy to forget where you've left stuff!
- YOU CAN GET BARGAINS LATER IN THE DAY! As closing time approaches you may find that sellers (but not traders) will reduce items further. That's if there's any good stuff left.
- BUYER BEWARE! This is second hand stuff, so don't get too upset if it doesn't work.
- BE FRIENDLY! This is meant to be fun!
- WATCH OUT FOR FAKE NOTES! Check your change, especially notes - it's easy to get stung with fake notes at a car-boot sale.
- KNOW YOUR BRANDS! Look out for the obvious to start with - Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Olympus, Pentax, you know they'll be quality, then move on to the rarer types, but do your research!
- UNDERSTAND FAST GLASS! Any 50mm SLR lens you see that is f/1.8 or below, should be a good buy if it’s the right lens mount for you. Any other focal lengths that are f/2.8 or below (and are the right mount) should be good too. Lens manufacturers don't generally make rubbish fast glass. If it's got a wide maximum aperture, chances are the optics are OK.
- DON'T FORGET TO LOOK IN ALL THE POCKETS! You'll be amazed what you can find in the pockets of camera bags at car-boot sales. Filters, adapters, flash leads, etc, sometimes are more useful than the cameras themselves, so have a good look around.
- DON'T GIVE UP! You probably won't find what you're looking for at your first visit, but keep going and I'll guarantee you get some great bargains!
Where To Find Car Boot Sales In The UK:
What has been your best car-boot or second hand bargain? What are your techniques for getting a bargain, and what do you look for? Please add your comments below!
Follow my car-boot exploits on the SCL Photography Podcast!
Rob lives in Hampshire, on the South Coast of the UK. He's an avid photographer and a friend of The Film Photography Podcast. Check out Rob’s site at: robnunnphoto.com