Today I started the day as I would any other – looking at cameras.  I looked through my little collection of cameras, and marveled at how advance one of the film cameras was – the Canon EOS A2E (also known as the EOS 5 in some places).  This little camera is the culmination of technological advances in fields as varied as petrochemical processing, electronics, optics, and design.  It fits the hand perfectly and is able to do all sorts of crazy things (custom functions, built-in flash, 5fps burst mode, servo AI autofocus, etc).  On the used market, it fetches 50 dollars, tops.

Then I looked at my old Voigtlander Bessa 6×9 folder camera.  It is incredibly old (from the 1930s), yet it functions perfectly.  There is no auto-focusing – just scale focusing, using a rudimentary viewfinder.  Yet it is also an incredibly compact package (folding down to about 8-by-4-by-1 inch), and has a huge negative size for high quality images.  The lens is no slouch either – a 3-element Voigtlander Skopar lens that is fully capable of very nice results.  I got is for about 30 bucks.

Now, I look at the Leica M2 which I got.  This camera needs no introduction – the M-series of rangefinders are legendary.  But here’s the thing – the negative is small; it fits awkwardly in the hand compared with the EOS; it is manual-everything (though it does have a leg up on the Bessa in that it has a rangefinder and uses interchangeable lenses); and while robust and well built, the same can be said of the Bessa.  The price of the M2 is ten times that of the Bessa and A2E, put together.

What makes a camera so good, that despite its age, and relative lack of features, allows it to fetch such a premium?  The lenses?  Well, I see the newer Bessa M-mount cameras losing value pretty fast compared with the Leicas.  I just wonder, when each of these were released to the public, what the opinion of them was.  Were they all highly prized?  Did people gasp at the ‘insanely great’ (thanks Steve!) Bessa 6×9 when it was released, comparing it to the behemoths that are glass-plate view cameras?  What was the price history of each camera?  Why are some esteemed, while others, no less capable, dissed?

If anyone knows of a place I can track the release, comments, and prices of old cameras, let me know!

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