My first camera was a Kodak Brownie I bought from a pawnshop for $5 when I was ten. I have since bought more used camera gear than new – much more. As it is with things for which you have an intense interest or passion, hunting and gathering through shops is a pleasure that can consume hours if not days. In Guangzhou, at the Haiyin camera area, it can take a good day to poke through the treasures and ruins in the many stores. It’s just a short part of a street, just about 100m long, with maybe ten main shops, but there are two three-story buildings on either side that, in Chinese fashion, are filled with shops from large to closet-sized, impeccable to shambling. It’s formidable, not sizeable, and weekend days see the area bustling with be-bagged camera geeks.
I stumbled upon the area years ago shopping for a digital SLR. I wandered about and found a suitable camera and lens for a very suitable price. I also found an adapter for my Helios 85mm 1.5, a clunky Soviet-made chunk of metal and glass and atmosphere. I would wander back to the area, drawn by a need to look because it is the basement preserves of collectors spread out for you to ogle and buy.
The breadth and wealth of the stock is staggering: point-and-shoots to fumble-and-fiddles; Minox spies to Linhof 8x10s; Alpas and Exaktas to Prakticas and Robots; Leica 1s to M9s, all the Rs, and an occasional S2; Canon, Nikon, and Contax rangefinders; Phase One, Rollei and Hasselblad digital monsters; delicate Angeniux M39s to gargantuan 600mm cannons; lighting gear to outfit a studio; and all manner of accessories. I have been to similar markets in Shanghai and Beijing, and the streets of stores in Hong Kong and Taipei, but the GZ market is tops (though I imagine Tokyo and its optical otakus probably beat it); if you have the shutterbug, it will match your fervour.
The store I went to most was Qingmi, a medium-sized shop along the north side of the street that had a much-larger-sized store’s stock lined up on and sometimes wedged into the shelves. It had boxes of crap that may work and a table of stuff that probably didn’t, but they stood behind their gear. I bought a beastly Mamiya RB67 medium format just because. Later I traded the SLR for a long-lusted-for lens for a just purchased Canon 5DMKII.
This past weekend I was back to trade the 5D and lusty lens. I wanted a less imposing camera, something easily bike portable, and decided the new Sony NEX 5N fit the bill. Qingmi has taken over, and now comprises a few stores, selling mainly new but still has the used store, though it is smaller and more crammed. I didn’t get what I thought I would for the 5D (though Edith managed to get more for it and pay less for the NEX. Magic, she is) but it was enough for a new camera, lenses, and odds and sods.
One of the reasons I wanted the Sony was because it can probably take any lens out there if you can get an adapter. And somewhere in its warrens, Haiyin probably has any lens and any adapter for any combination – it was easy getting one for the Helios hand grenade. I wanted a fast, semi-wide prime that could go on whatever I get next. A few days of electronic browsing and I thought the Contax/Zeiss 28mm 2.8 was the thing.*
It took about twenty minutes at Haiyin to find a few of them, deal on one, and buy it and the adapter. I stopped to look at the Linhof’s. Never tried large format. And they aren’t too expensive.
*It is, too. Great tone. Focuses on the NEX in a snap and is rock solid with the adapter. They had the 90mm, too. And the 45. And the 21. And the 12.
Originally posted Jan. 19, 2012