fed up with eBay: where to buy a complete rig cheap?

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Well, it's me again... after losing 3 consecutive eBay auctions to smarter snipers than I (even using sniping software!), I'm starting to get a tad frustrated with the process.

Can anyone reccommend additional sources for LF bargains? I'm looking for a complete outfit: cheapo monorail, 210, 545, 3036+3047. I don't have the time or patience for ebay anymore (or the funds, for that matter). I'm looking to spend about $400 (less if I can manage it).

Oh, and if anyone has novel suggestions about equipment, my interests are architecture and portraiture (odd combination, I know... need short and long lenses).

-- Josh Wand (josh@jwand.dhs.org), November 19, 1999


Amen to the sniping problem on eBay. What is "sniping software"? Also, what are 3036+3037?

-- Bill Mitchell (bmitch@home.com), November 19, 1999.

I used a program called Ebay Assistant, which will wait until the last 10 seconds of an auction and automatically place your bid, so there is no time to be outbid. (It's still a bit buggy, though... use with caution)

3036+3047 == Bogen 3036 legs + 3047 head. Any sturdy tripod, really.

-- Josh Wand (josh@jwand.dhs.org), November 19, 1999.

Try shutterbug. Try the ads in View Camera. Then find the photo swap meets & go to them-they will usually give the greatest success. Check with some pro-shops in your area & get a line on the guys who haunt the used camera market. The ones waiting outside the newspaper for the early paper & start calling folks at 4:30am to buy their advertised cameras. They will be able to find something that may fit your needs. Also check the ad boards at some of the pro shops(some do have them).

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), November 19, 1999.

I guess I am wondering if you can put together a complete system as you have outlined for $400 without the equipment being junk. I learned long ago that buying equipment that is less quality than is needed is no bargain. LF equipment is pretty stable on value and if you buy nice stuff and find you aren't into it you can sell it and get your money back. Actually, LF equipment appreciates over time, I have cameras that will sell for twice the price that I paid new. The suggestions above are good advice for getting good buys, I am skeptical as to the acceptable quality of such a low priced system. Also, the camera is just the beginning. A largeformat darkroom is just as necessary, unless you can afford to pay a lab which will really add up over time. Polaroid is great but they don't give that stuff away either. Just a thought.

-- Jeff White (zonie@computer-concepts.com), November 20, 1999.

Try Midwest Photo Exchange, Lens and Repro, KEH and Quality Camera. A cheap monorail like an old Omega should not set you back by too much. I've seen them go for $200-300. I've seen some other B&J type monorails go for less. Another potentially good way to go on a budget might be to pick up a ratty one and refurbish it, eespecially if you have the necessary woodworking/whatever skills. You can get good deals on used lenses, especially if they have some marks on them. Portaiture may also benefit from a not-tack-sharp lens although I guess that depends on what you want. Good luck. DJ

-- N Dhananjay (ndhanu@umich.edu), November 20, 1999.

There is a good chance that you aren't being sniped on eBay. Hypothetical situation: an item is currently bid up to $100, the bidding increment is $2.50, another bidder bids $200, the price immediately goes to $102.50. You come along and bid $105. The price immediately goes to $107.50 because of the bidder who bid $200. You bid $150. The price immediately goes to $152.50 for the same reason. Even if you bid $197.50 in the last 10 seconds, you would still lose because eBay takes it to the highest bid before displaying the final closed price. The beauty of the system is that the bidder who was willing to pay $200 will always win unless someone bids higher than $200 before the auction closes. I suspect from the price that you state you are willing to pay for some specific items that you are simply being outbid, not sniped.

IMO, I think that much of the hostility toward eBay from the "serious" camera using crowd is due to their anger that they can't get as good deals as they could before eBay came along and increased market efficiency exponentially. Its the same way of thinking that makes the mom and pop shop angry when the Walmart opens up. That, however, is the free market, and, as technology improves, the trend will only continue. Without going into an economics lesson, be assured that on the average everyone will be better off. Individually, those benefiting from less efficient markets won't be better off.

-- J.L. Kennedy (jlkennedy@qnet.com), November 20, 1999.

IMO, the assumptions and conclusions of Mr. Kennedy in both paragraphs are erroneous.

-- Bill Mitchell (bmitch@home.com), November 20, 1999.

I disagree with the comments about Ebay too, but not the theory. I just find that it's no harder to find good buys now than it was five years ago.

Although I wouldn't expect a good tripod in the package, it's fairly easy to find a good, classic camera and lens for less than $400.00

Many, if not most pro camera stores with large stocks of used gear should be able to set you up. I imagine that a nice Calumet or Burke and James body, a classic Kodak Ektar lens, five or ten holders, and a decent tripod should be less than four hundred in many parts of the country.

Leave Ebay for the free market theorists!

Brian in Queens NY (where Armato Camera has several 4x5s for your price)

-- Brian Yarvin (byarvin@mindspring.com), November 20, 1999.

Whether or nor you agree with Mr. Kennedy's economic theories about e- bay, he is definitely correct about the effects of proxy bidding: doesn't matter if you put your bid in at the last second, proxy bidding still will automatically increment to the highest price that anyone in the auction was willing to go.

Nathan Congdon

-- Nathan Congdon (ncongdon@jhmi.edu), November 20, 1999.

For the record, I was sniped. I looked at the bidding history, and the winning bid came in about 30 seconds before mine. The trick to doing this (as I subsequently figured out) is to bid about one dollar over a nice even number you'd expect somebody else to bid. I think I was sniped because the winning bid was a funny number--not the standard bid increment.

As for finding an outfit for $400, I know it can be done; I've watched such things slip from my grasp before. The problem is simply finding those good deals (even if it is for 1940s/1950s equipment... my two last efforts on ebay were for a Graphic View and a Kodak View Master 4x5... pre-calumet). As far as a darkroom is concerned, I'm still in school--I have everything I need there.

Another concern is if I end up buying a non-complete outfit, I'll have to match up lensboard and lens... how difficult/expensive is it to get the lensboard drilled to the correct diameter and to have the lens mounted? I think that perhaps as a LF newbie I'd do best to avoid the spanner wrench myself.

FWIW, I just sent Armato an email. Thanks everyone for your insight.

-- Josh Wand (josh@jwand.dhs.org), November 20, 1999.

My vote goes with Mr. Kennedy. If you are bidding LESS than you are willing to pay, you will probably lose on eBay. I've found that the best way to deal with proxy bidding is to bid what I am willing to pay. If someone wants to pay more.. they win. If I REALLY want the item, I bid an amount that insures that I'll win, and I ONLY pay the increment over the next highest bidder. Ebay is not Santa Claus. Good deals require patience.

-- chuck k (kleesattel@webtv.com), November 20, 1999.

Obviously, the way to work ebay is to use it when you want a piece of equipment, bid what you are willing to pay and if somebody comes along 1 second before the close and bids more than you, so what? He was willing to pay more than you were and he got the goods. If you're unhappy about that then you didn't bid enough in the first place.

Regarding Mr. Kennedy, I think he's absolutely right except possibly about the statement that on average everyone is better off. I'm not so sure. Those of who haven't got a lot of money but do have plenty of time to snoop around for deals come up empty handed more often, and those of us who have plenty of money but not so much time, because we spend it all in traffic on the way to and from our fancy-pants office buildings get cheaper goods than we used to. (I'm not referring to anybody specifically here.) In the end the result is: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Not just because of ebay, but because of (I'd hazard) every single economic and social trend our culture is able to come up with lately. My local thrift store for example now uses ebay when they get a donation they think may be worth something. So it isn't worth going to this thrift shop any more: all they have on the floor is garbage. It's just one more way that those with money have found to get their fingers into the margins and make the margins ever smaller. Does "everyone" on "average" thus benefit? I think it depends how you decide to construct your notion of "average," and how you decide to construct your notion of "benefit." Maybe it's not such a bad idea to let people who have to shop at Goodwill find an exceptionally nice deal once in awhile. Maybe it's worth it to everybody, even those who never shop at Goodwill and thus don't get the item for themselves.

Regarding the 400 dollar view camera, sure, it's possible even on ebay. Take a look at the Graphic Views, don't try to get more than one lens at first, and you can easily pull it off with a month's worth of patience. Just quit worrying about being outbid and bid whatever you are willing to pay for the item.

-- Erik Ryberg (ryberg@seanet.com), November 20, 1999.

I think there are several factors that become obvious after using Ebay for awhile. It is easy to forget that you are buying a USED item. Remember that you are unable to touch, feel or otherwise work the item involved. Yet if thy look good in the picture people are willing to pay very close to NEW prices. Personally I will not pay more than 80% of the "discount new" price for any used item. After all, a new item comes well packaged, untouched by a users hand, with a guarantee, from a store that I can return it to or as for an exchange. I always assume that used camera/lens is like used car, something is not quiet right (for its previous owner) or he would not be selling it, and sooner or later you will find out what it is.

At the risk of being long winded allow me an example. Not too many years ago I bought a Nikon 360 T for a very good price. It was in mint+ condition. Sharp as a tack. I often wonder why the lens was sold so cheaply. Well, Many moons after I had the occasion to use the T setting on the Copal shutter, you guessed it. The shutter would stick open. Lucky for me I recognized immediately that the shutter was not closing so all I loss was a sheet or two of film and he time getting it fixed.

Also I have observed that there is a good deal of testosterone flowing on ebay. It is not just bidding; it is a bidding war. In fact, it is a competition. An in competition you play to win. So rational decisions take a back seat. I have seen lenses go for more than it would cost the person had he decided to buy the stuff from B&H.

And, have you noticed the amount of return presentations after the bids have been won and closed? (More so in medium format than in large format). This makes me very suspicious.

If unhappy with ebay, I would try to cut a package deal with a store like midwest photo exchange or KEH or the equivalent.

-- Pat Raymore (patrick.f.raymore@kp.org), November 20, 1999.

In the last year or so I've equiped myself with a beginner's ammount of LF gear. It has been a mix of new, used dealer and ebay. I'd like to offer the following advise.

I had trouble finding good deals on used Bogen tripods/heads. I considered B+H prices on new to be close to used prices and they seemed like good prices for what I was getting. Perhpas other less common tripods could be had at a good price used.

I've found Midwest to have good used prices, the rating system is fair, and they have been easy to deal with for returns (factor this into what you consider a good price when shopping eBay). The other dealers mentioned may be as good.

I've gotten what I would consider good prices on eBay. First of all it requires a little patience to wait for the right item and to not be overbid. You might have to bid on several items before you get the bid. If you consider the extra money you would save worth the wait, give it a little more time. My personal stategy has been to find an item on eBay I'm interested in. Figure what the reputable used dealers are typically selling this for. Discount this by 30 percent or so. This is what I consider the cost of risk when dealing with someone who may not allow you to return the item, may have an inaccurate rating system, or may not know enought about camera equip. to notice some defects. Bid this amount regardless of what similar items are going for. Don't try to squeeze the last penny out of the deal. Often this is above what the bargain hunters are willing to pay. If you win the bid, you've gotten a fair price and saved some money. If you're outbid repeatedly, you might as well buy from a reputable dealer. It's my experience that with popular and hard to find items ebay prices aren't much less than used dealer prices.

-- Roger Rouch (rrouch@msn.com), November 20, 1999.

Pat, what is a "return Presentation"? (Please excuse my ignorance.)

-- Bill Mitchell (bmitch@home.com), November 20, 1999.

Concerning the advice to search Shutterbug: I think it's a lost cause. Observing classifieds there recently, especially in the large format category, leads me to the conclusion that eBay is killing them. Month after month, their ads shrink; used equipment buyers are flocking on-line and, it seems, abandoning print. For more than a decade I have subscribed only to be eligible for reduced classified advertising rates. In my opinion, the rest of that publication has been a font of misinformation. Therefore, I will now sell on eBay and, when my current term expires, the Shutterbug subscription will be allowed to lapse. If enough people agree, there may not be a Shutterbug left to search.

-- Sal Santamaura (bc_hill@qwestinternet.net), November 20, 1999.

Having purchased several (actually about 30 items) over ebay during the last year, including a very nice Wisner camera, I share some of the frustrations heard in these answers, but in general I have gotten good equipment at reasonable prices. But I have been very careful. You must know what your bidding on, what it sells for new, what it has should for recently on ebay, and what you might pay from a used dealer. I have frequently seen items being bid above the new price from B&H or amazon (for books). In the case of this questioner's desire, I would definately shop some of the reputable used vendors mentioned above (I have had particularly good experiences with Mid-West photo), since the items he is seeking are every common and a good deal could probably be struck.

I am in favor of the opening up of the market via ebay, and other online venues, I think we have access to many more options than previously and if this access promotes a greater demand than perhaps the cost of LF equipment will follow the pattern of small format and become more affordable.

-- Mark DeMulder (mdemulde@usgs.gov), November 20, 1999.

Folks, I'm baffled by all this...I've been in several large pro camera stores this past few days and saw plenty of great stuff in all of them. There is clearly no shortage of great pro gear on the market.

Why in heaven's name would anyone who's main concern is making images bother with Ebay? LeCamera, (where I saw at least three cameras that would fit the requirements of the original post this afternoon) Midwest Photo, and dozens of other great dealers all over the country will be delighted to sell you just what you want with no need for bidding at all.

I just don't get it. Is something wrong with me or is Ebay a really hard and expensive way to buy photo gear?


-- Brian Yarvin (byarvin@mindspring.com), November 20, 1999.

Have you tried the newsgroup rec.photo.marketplace.large-format ?

-- John Costo (mahler@lvcm.com), November 20, 1999.

Wow, I seem to have struck a nerve here. I thank everyone for their comments.

After doing a lot of thinking (and even more surfing), I think I'm going to be doing a lot more waiting now and not as much bidding. And even more thinking--now that I'm resolved to be patient and not bid excessively, it's become much less of an impulse purchase that it had been originally. I'm trying to think through exactly why I wanted to go LF to begin with. (thinking about photography instead of buying equipment: a revolutionary concept) I may even decide to not buy for a while, and search for other solutions to my photographic dilemmas (inability to execute tight portraits with my TLR; the general freshness of new equipment; wanting to explore new genres (architecture)). Those solutions may involve things other than new equipment, like shooting more film, or reading up on related subjects, or trying a new technique. Or they still may end up with a Calumet 400-series or maybe that Hassy 500C outfit (yes, considerably more than $400). But the idea is that the reasons behind the decision, whatever it may be, will be far more thought out than they otherwise might have been.

As to the value of Ebay, it has its good points and its bad ones. The beauty of the internet is that it dramatically widens the marketplace, so there's always a far larger selection on Ebay than at any single store, and there's a greater liklihood that an item may go unnoticed and a good bargain may be had. The downside, though, is that the internet dramatically widens the marketplace--there are far more people bidding for that same camera, and the liklihood of a bidder unknowingly bidding above market value is far higher. This is the legacy of the $400 PC. (ok, so that was kinda broad, but...)

Those bargains are still there; a search through completed auctions gives a good sense of the proportion of inflated auctions to bargains. Finding them is simply a matter of perseverance and luck. FWIW, I got my Yashica-Mat (the one with the loose door) on Ebay, at a very reasonable price. It was a more obscure item; I was unlikely to find it anywhere else--another Ebay advantage.

Anyhow, I'm glad this discussion is happenening; it has all been very helpful. Thanks everyone.

-- Josh Wand (josh@jwand.dhs.org), November 20, 1999.

Josh, you may be wishing for the moon, the tripod, and head you want will probably cost 150.00, the 545 probably 80-100, a modern 210mm lens, in useable condition, at least 275. You are already over 500.00, without the camera. You'll spend at least 200 for a Calumet or Orbit 4x5. So I think you have to set your budget to at least 700 dollars. On the other hand, I believe that you can easily get a nice Crown Graphic with lens for 250, plus 90 for the 545, any medium size tripod would work with this setup. This is really the best and cheapest way to get into large format. You won't lose money on this investment should you decide to sell it at a later date.

-- Bill Moore (wmoore@provide.net), November 20, 1999.

Just today a Graphic View with 127/4.5 and 203/7.7 Ektars, 11 cut film holders, Polaroid back, and Tiltall tripod went for $466 on eBay. That's a first rate outfit for anybody's studio, and several hundred dollars cheaper than it could have been bought from a legit dealer. There were 15 bids, and the winner was made 24 hours before closing, and, I'm happy to notice, was made by someone with only one previous buy, which probably means it was bought to be used rather than to be broken up and sold piecemeal by some sniping scavenger. This was a good one. Most of them seem to be otherwise.

-- Bill Mitchell (bmitch@home.com), November 20, 1999.

Bill... I was the #2 bidder on that auction. I didn't want to find out what the real winning bid was (I pushed it up as high as I could really afford). But that's the kind of thing I'm talking about, anyways. Takes luck.

-- Josh Wand (josh@jwand.dhs.org), November 20, 1999.

Josh, I'm sorry you lost. I'll bet it was either $476 or $501, and that's getting well above your $400 target. If you'd like to email me direct (off camera, so to speak) I have an idea for finding out.

-- Bill Mitchell (bmitch@home.com), November 20, 1999.

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