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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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Old 01-09-2017   #41
wpm
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4th largest city in the U.S. and Houston really has one camera store left. Over the years and lots of money spent, I've come to know almost everyone at the Houston Camera Exchange and my Leica guy steers me in the right direction when something new comes in, which is rarer and rarer. They don't seem to get much cooperation or respect from Leica either. I try to deal with them rather than online, simply to help keep the local guys in business. I can come in and just hang and pick brains when needed. Can't do that much online. Getting film developed, ha, good luck. You have to go to Austin.
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Old 01-09-2017   #42
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I spent several years in high school hanging out at the local camera store, knew the staff well. Used to do the same at Willoughby-Peerless in Chicago in the '70s. And I've gotten good advice, loaners, etc. from Calumet in Cambridge, MA before they closed a few years back. Keble&Schuhat in Palo Alto was always worth a visit (the store that Godfrey mentioned) -- I understand that their camera collection will have a new existence in some space close to where the store was. And FotoSchwartz in Jerusalem, a tiny little shop, has a few knowledgeable people. They keep no longer legal batteries deep in the drawer for older cameras, and a small supply of chemicals and papers. It is art students who provide a market for these, apparently.

Availability and sales taxes complicate my life, and internet purchase for any major equipment is the only solution. In Europe, VAT of about 20% is standard. For a business, this is a pass-through, but for a consumer it is just a sales tax. It can be avoided by internet purchases with shipment to another state in the US or outside of the EC, so I end up trading taxes for shipment costs and storage until I can get to the US to collect things. And gear on the shelf is pretty limited in Israel. The headaches of shipping something from Israel to where it can be repaired and getting it back fixed without paying customs duties are also significant, but can be managed.

scott

PS: Note that avoiding sales tax in the US by collecting your stuff in a state other than NY (for B&H) or CA (for Popflash and Cameraquest) will go away someday. Amazon has already started charging sales tax almost everywhere since they have a presence, well, almost everywhere.

Last edited by scott kirkpatrick : 01-09-2017 at 23:08. Reason: PS
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Old 01-10-2017   #43
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I'm spoiled in that I live in NYC and I can still go to a few stores. However, where I differ is that I don't necessarily like sales people or gear talk (though my friends seem to love it). The internet allows me to bypass the annoying part of the process... sales people. That said, there are exceptions. In the early 90s, I enjoyed going to one camera store a lot. Dover Camera.
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Old 01-10-2017   #44
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Originally Posted by jsrockit View Post
I'm spoiled in that I live in NYC and I can still go to a few stores. However, where I differ is that I don't necessarily like sales people or gear talk (though my friends seem to love it). The internet allows me to bypass the annoying part of the process... sales people. That said, there are exceptions. In the early 90s, I enjoyed going to one camera store a lot. Dover Camera.
I'm kind of the same way, but what I dislike is sales people that know less about the camera than I do. I used to work in a camera store many (many) years ago so I know how hard it is to keep up with new models. And it's harder still with all the info available on the internet. But when it's obvious I know more than the guy behind the counter, I walk away.

I usually buy over the internet; however, when I purchased my Nikon Df, I did it in the store, in person. Mostly because they let me bring in all my old Nikon MF glass and try out on the camera.
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Old 01-10-2017   #45
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I'm kind of the same way, but what I dislike is sales people that know less about the camera than I do... But when it's obvious I know more than the guy behind the counter, I walk away.
Exactly...
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Old 01-10-2017   #46
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I'd like to visit my local store and help keep them in business, but over the last decade or so, I've become increasingly frustrated with them. Normally I'm averse to sales and being sold, but their sales tactics are like reverse psychology. They're the most reluctant sales people I've ever met. I could deal with that, but rarely do they have what I want in stock. Sometimes they have fixer, sometimes they have developer, sometimes they have paper. When I get the itch to shoot a few rolls of film, or use the dark room, I don't want to wait a week for a package to arrive, I want it now. When a local brick and mortar business can't harness the one advantage it has over the online world, what's it good for? I live in a rural region and the nearest camera store in any direction is at least 250 miles away. But with the plethora of choices available online they can't act like they're the only game in town.
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Old 01-10-2017   #47
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A camera store I used to frequent was The Camera Trading Company on Bank street in Ottawa. The two owners in this small shop will talk your ear off about stories about each piece of history that catches your eye. Though their prices aren't as competitive as some online sources for used camera equipment, the opportunity to look through their stock and learn about film photography was certainly worth the price. Unfortunately, they're closing down in April. I managed to snag a very good deal on a Rollei 35 SE while I was in town last. Here's a brief video on the store if you're interested.

Since moving to Toronto in March, I've discovered a wonderful gem on Queen street: Downtown Camera. Very conveniently located if you're ever in town for a visit, they have tons of fresh stock of film as well as full lab services. The customer service here is amazing and will make sure you're happy with your purchase. Their selection is great and every time I visit it's usually bustling with photographers of all ages. They typically do a film photo challenge every year in which amateurs and advanced photographers participate. I did it this year and had a blast. Of particular note is the amount of younger photographers who are getting into film photography for the first time. Seeing their reaction when they pull out their prints or contact sheets puts a smile on my face.
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Old 01-10-2017   #48
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I live out in the west end Suburbs of Toronto On Canada in Oakville. We have a chain store called Henry's which does nothing for me. Now I'm blessed to be in the middle of two local stores, Burlington Camera with a great used camera selection, darkroom section, decent lab services and great staff. Over in Toronto is Downtown Camera and I use them to buy paper and darkroom supplies. We have a nice little online retailer called Argentix.ca that sells niche films and chemicals.

My purchases at B&H are pretty much film, and more film. In particular Ilford and Kodak colour products. Kodak pricing is insane and talking to people at Burlington and Downtown Camera and the culprit is a predatory distributor who oddly enough really isn't in the photographic business, and I flat out refuse to $18 CAD for a roll of Ektar 100.
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Old 05-20-2017   #49
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Old thread, I know.

I stopped in at Kurt's Camera Corral in Albuquerque a few months back to check out used Leica-M lenses. The COF (Cantankerous Old Fart) in charge said he hated Leica gear and film shooting in general. He implied I was another Leica collector pestering him (the shop was empty, save me). All I did was ask him where the Leica gear was.

He tried to sell me his boss's old Hasselblad film outfit. He said that he can't believe that people still shoot film, when the digital Hasselblad, which he owns, was so much better.

He brightened up when someone came in, seeking a digital point-and-shoot. I left. Kind of sad.

I depend on the Internet to buy gear due to the remoteness of where I live, in northwestern New Mexico. Kinda risky, but what choice do I have? Nevertheless, I've gotten some great Leica-M gear, so no complaints.

I spent two years in retail camera, so I can understand the old guy in Albuquerque. But it doesn't have to be that way, does it?
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Old 05-20-2017   #50
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Down in Florida, we have 2 big time Leica dealers for rich folks and one (as far as I know) traditional camera store left. Employees look like they are two skips from retirement. They were not up on the latest stuff.
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Old 05-20-2017   #51
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Originally Posted by creenus View Post
Old thread, I know.

I stopped in at Kurt's Camera Corral in Albuquerque a few months back to check out used Leica-M lenses. The COF (Cantankerous Old Fart) in charge said he hated Leica gear and film shooting in general. He implied I was another Leica collector pestering him (the shop was empty, save me). All I did was ask him where the Leica gear was.

He tried to sell me his boss's old Hasselblad film outfit. He said that he can't believe that people still shoot film, when the digital Hasselblad, which he owns, was so much better.

He brightened up when someone came in, seeking a digital point-and-shoot. I left. Kind of sad.

I depend on the Internet to buy gear due to the remoteness of where I live, in northwestern New Mexico. Kinda risky, but what choice do I have? Nevertheless, I've gotten some great Leica-M gear, so no complaints.

I spent two years in retail camera, so I can understand the old guy in Albuquerque. But it doesn't have to be that way, does it?

Kurts is gone, they closed up recently. I lived in Santa Fe for a while, and Kurts was very expensive for film.
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Old 05-21-2017   #52
Bob Baron
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
It was the place. Is it true he opened a store or mail service in Florida when he left NY?
Just picking up on this thread: Ken is still in business and can be reached by email at [email protected].

He is in Florida in the winter and NYC in the summer but doesn't maintain a physical store any more.

We haven't had a Leica dealer in Oklahoma City since the last big oil boom went bust in the 80s. Ken is a great source of gear and knowledge (as was his employee the late Jose Gaytan when Ken's last shop was in operation on Madison Avenue). Jim Estrin of the NYT wrote of Ken's shop as the closest thing to a graduate education in gear and how to use it one could get and I think he was right.

--Bob
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Old 05-21-2017   #53
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If you watch the stock market, retail is getting killed. Even big old stores like Macys.

Nordstrom is shaky.

Marshall Field, the icon of Chicago, sold out a few decades ago.

Big malls are going under because the have no anchor stores.

Whats wrong? It`s the economy stupid. I know why, but I am not going to get into a contest over it or try to teach economics.

There are not enough sales to support the camera industry. Read cell phone. I was tasked to do confirmation pics for church this AM. 15 parents, one camera, 14 cell phones and not a one of them knew what that were doing.

Nikon is dropping the low end cameras because there is too much competition. They had a choice, put a phone in the camera or quit. They picked the latter.

Small local camera stores can not exist on selling only high end merchandise.

So the really big outlets are sucking up the sales. Next step will be only selling direct.
Leica is going to try boutique stores. Might work for $7000 cameras and $4000 to $10000 lenses. You do not find them in big box stores.

Another problem is there is no need to replace very often. I think they have gone as far as average person needs. My son just made one gorgeous 30x60 metal print from a M8. Well he cheated and stitched with properly exposures on pano equipment.

The the whole thing started with locals not being competitive, perhaps only saving sales tax, then the economy tanked, then cell phones got better. Then Uncle Bob can shoot the wedding and journalists carry their own camera as if that makes them photographers. This translates to less high end camera sales.

I have two half decent real stores and both are near colleges that offer photography. A third had to downsize.

Then collectors or Japanese buyers have scooped up used cameras . KEH and Roberts have very low stock and that is the garbage nobody wants like Nikkorex. I had to buy an F2 from Japan EBAY to get a plain prism.
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Old 05-21-2017   #54
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As far as I am aware, no flesh and blood camera stores nearer than 40 odd miles from me, but my last substantial purchase was from Grays of Westminster, an actual Nikon specialist store in London. Transaction carried out over the phone with a minimum of fuss and a day later a genuinely Mint Condition Nikkor 50mm f1.4 af D arrived for a bargain price with 12 months no quibble warranty. I believe in supporting real stores when ever I can, the exception being film which they really cannot compete with. I will no doubt deal with Grays again when looking for Nikon gear. Always worth a look through their listings and hopefully one day I will call in person.
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Old 05-21-2017   #55
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My local store has good prices and friendly sales people, but have an inventory problem. I waited 3 weeks for them to get Ilford DDX in stock, and finally gave up and ordered it online. I had it in two days. I have been waiting 6 weeks for them to get a Fuji XT2 in stock. I'll probably end up ordering it online as well. I'd like to support my local store, be they make it difficult.
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Old 05-21-2017   #56
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I used to shop at the local camera store, when I lived in New York, and it was B&H Photo. When I moved back to Chicago I still sent them a lot of business because I still knew so many of the folks there. The big camera stores here in Chicago, which I also used to frequent, Helix and Calumet, have both closed. I think there might be a satellite store of one or both of them, somewhere out in the suburbs, but I have never found either one. Tamarkin is still in town, and when I need something specific to Leica, he gets my dime, but otherwise, there really isn't a choice for "shopping local".

Best,
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Old 05-21-2017   #57
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I used to shop at the local camera store, when I lived in New York, and it was B&H Photo. When I moved back to Chicago I still sent them a lot of business because I still knew so many of the folks there. The big camera stores here in Chicago, which I also used to frequent, Helix and Calumet, have both closed. I think there might be a satellite store of one or both of them, somewhere out in the suburbs, but I have never found either one. Tamarkin is still in town, and when I need something specific to Leica, he gets my dime, but otherwise, there really isn't a choice for "shopping local".

Best,
-Tim
Central Camera in Chicago is one of the coolest camera stores I have been in. The place is over 100 years old!
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Old 05-21-2017   #58
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Originally Posted by Timmyjoe View Post
I used to shop at the local camera store, when I lived in New York, and it was B&H Photo. When I moved back to Chicago I still sent them a lot of business because I still knew so many of the folks there. The big camera stores here in Chicago, which I also used to frequent, Helix and Calumet, have both closed. I think there might be a satellite store of one or both of them, somewhere out in the suburbs, but I have never found either one. Tamarkin is still in town, and when I need something specific to Leica, he gets my dime, but otherwise, there really isn't a choice for "shopping local".

Best,
-Tim
Central Camera Wabash & Jackson Been there 100 years.

Helix has online store

La Grange photo BNSF to La Grange RD, one block east on south side of tracks. Really nice people. They ship also. I try to use them whenever I can.
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Old 05-21-2017   #59
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I'm near Seattle and I support Glazers as much as possible. I don't why people diss their sales staff? They have their moments but are pretty knowledgable and mostly very nice. Of course, I know them for 25 years and thousands of dollars worth of purchases. I buy ink and paper from B&H but anything like cameras and lenses that I want to touch and ask questions, I feel supporting them is a must. I want them to stay.
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Old 05-21-2017   #60
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When I was a wee lad in England, department stores used to have film departments. I remember staring at Olympus OM-1s and OM-2s at Allders in Croydon.
I heard that Allders, which had been in operation since 1862, closed down for good a few years ago.
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Old 05-22-2017   #61
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In my city, I bought large ticket items for years at the largest camera store (there are two). It was great to actually handle camera bodies, lenses, bags, etc. But then I had something close to a shouting match about a price with a staff member.

After that, I feel compelled to buy online.

I’d previously also had prints made at that camera store. Now, I’ve discovered a local drug store makes better ones!
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Old 05-23-2017   #62
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It's certainly enough to send me to B&H or Amazon. Although the latter recently started charging sales tax in IL.

The thing I feel bad about for shops is the likely percentage of customers who come in to handle cameras, knowing they will go home and order online.
Our remaining local camera shop (Rockbrook Camera, three locations, one near you) has been meeting B&H prices on many items lately. They were actually $10 cheaper on a Canon printer that I got from B&H but I did not even check them at the time. If I do blow my bonus on a new camera, I'll definitely give them a chance to get my business.
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Old 05-25-2017   #63
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Kurts is gone, they closed up recently. I lived in Santa Fe for a while, and Kurts was very expensive for film.
Thanks for the update. I haven't been down there for awhile. Years ago it was a fun place.
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Old 05-25-2017   #64
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There are lots of good stores near me -- for a given value of "near". I mean, Paris is only about 200 miles away...

So like most people I buy on line.

Cheers,

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Old 06-08-2017   #65
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An interesting topic since I work at an independent camera store in my city.
We are the last of what was once many camera stores in the city.
There are other stores around, all about 20-30 miles away.
I have learned a lot about how the photo industry operates from working here.
Traditional small business photo stores have to adapt to the changing times.
Offering services and products that set you apart from the competition.

Most pricing is set by MAP, so a Nikon D810 is going to be the same price at our store vs BH Amazon ETC.
It can come down to sales tax vs shipping for some customers.
But most of the time customers value the time spent working on problem solving their issue or helping them with a purchase that sales tax isn't an issue when making a purchase.
And that person to person experience is something most people really enjoy.
+1 Support your local so they can support you. That simple
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #66
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Reading this thread makes me realize how fortunate I am.

Living in Melbourne, Australia, we have a fair range of camera stores within a 25km radius of the CBD. I'm about 25 minutes away from a great secondhand camera dealer (Camera Exchange), an excellent independent (Camera Lane), photo specialists like Vanbar, and a number of chain stores like Teds, Digi Direct and Digital Camera Warehouse.

I like to buy from local stores as much as I'm able, only buying from B&H when the exchange rate is really favourable. At the moment, the exchange rate means that buying from overseas isn't that much cheaper than buying local at a discount. The places I frequent tend to be staffed by diehard photo and gear enthusiasts; Camera Exchange had a guy who now works for Leica Australia, and Teds in the CBD even had a fellow who has met Tom A a time or two!

Perhaps the only issue is that we don't have the range of secondhand gear that I see advertised in America or Hong Kong. It's rare to see a Contax G2 or Hexar AF in a secondhand shop, if at all. In all the years I've been looking in Melbourne, I've only ever seen a Contax G1 and a nonfunctioning Hexar AF. Never seen a Contax T, T2, or T3. So, if I want something like that, I have to buy online.

The last bastion of difficulty I have just surmounted is film. Film in Australia is stupidly expensive, but I've just found a place in Melbourne which sells film for much cheaper than it goes for in any other shop. Haven't given them a go yet, but that will happen soon.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #67
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Archiver, I lucked in (or out, for Americans) and got a G2 and 3 lenses from Camera Lane just because I was looking in their window randomly, and I don't even live in Melbourne. I agree though that it's a really great shop, and the last old school one I know.
For film, if you're talking about Walken, I can recommend them.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #68
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I support my local store when it comes to film processing and enlargements. However, when purchasing vintage lenses I use the lowest price. The local store may not have these items in stock. When I go to the local store if they have some item that is of particular interest to me I will purchase it there. For me my local store is an hour away so I must plan my day in advance. One issue that I take in to consideration is sales tax versus shipping. I expensive items there is free shipping which could be quite a savings.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #69
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My nearest store is 45 miles away and are the only Leica dealer other than San Francisco. I took my M9 in to have the sensor cleaned and the clerk didn't even know what it was, I said it was a Leica, he thought it a film camera, he was holding it. So when it comes back a month and a week later after two phone calls, it was just as dirty as when I brought it in, they recleaned it and got it about 50% clean. Suffice to say I'll not be back. They are an interstate chain. Lots of bags and tripods and shelves full of cameras and lenses but no knowledge.
Why would you turn you Leica over to them?
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #70
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Archiver, I lucked in (or out, for Americans) and got a G2 and 3 lenses from Camera Lane just because I was looking in their window randomly, and I don't even live in Melbourne. I agree though that it's a really great shop, and the last old school one I know.
For film, if you're talking about Walken, I can recommend them.
Arrr, you're so lucky! I saw a young woman at the NGV a little while ago with a Contax G2, and my first thought was that she probably got it online. Now I know they exist in Melbourne. Alan, Venus and Bobby at Camera Lane are great, aren't they.

Come to think of it, I met a wedding photographer about ten years ago who used to use a G2 and three lenses, and he loved how his entire wedding kit could fit in a waist pack. He shot with Fuji Pro 800 film, then went to the Canon 5D and assorted lenses. So Contax is definitely out there.

And yes, I'm talking about Walken. Thank you for the recommendation, I feel better about ordering from them now.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #71
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Fotocare and Marty Forscher are/were worth any extra money it might cost to do business with them. Never a problem, always honest. I miss Marty.

If you have to order from the web because of a lack of local dealers, I suggest you try ordering from Fotocare. If you're buying Fuji gear, buy it from Stephen. I called Stephen years back when looking for advice on buying a couple of M bodies. He suggested M6s over 4s as per the way I work. He didn't push Bessa bodies, but gave me honest advice. Fotocare is the same. They value their customers and treat them well.

If you have a problem with your gear weeks after you bought it, do you think Jeff Bezos will give a s*** ?

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https://cameraquest.com/
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #72
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Archiver, yes I was very lucky that day. I more recently got a G1 off eBay.au too, in fact a chap from Melbourne from memory, so these cameras are definitely around on our continent. I love Camera Lane for what they represent. Their prices aren't always wonderful, but mostly they're reasonable. I used to like Camera Exchange too when they were in town, but now they're in Box Hill it's difficult for me to get out there since I stay in the CBD when I'm down. Also their prices are a bit ambitious.
We should meet up. You can have a go on my Contax G's.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #73
David Hughes
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I seem to be lucky, 12 north and there's a camera shop and 12 miles west there's another.

What's missing are the labs; my favourite and only 5 miles away closed this month and I'm lost. There's two others locally but one has a sign up about staff not being available and the other is interested in digital and has those DIY slot machines now...

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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #74
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #75
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I had the chance to visit Camera Central in Chicago, it looked like a nice place. I really hate visiting camera stores these days. Most clerks have close to zero technical and historical culture of the medium, and all they do is serve you the marketing BS on digital. I'm tired of getting seen as a lunatic as soon as I enquire about film or chemistry. Most stores around here have no added value and probably deserve to close, if you ask me. I'm happy buying second hand gear off the Internet and new stuff directly from the producer. I put more value in savvy repair shops (many are completely unreliable though).
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