I offer this suggestion for anyone who loves their cameras and wants to see what happens when one of the worlds most populated cities builds a dedicated camera shopping mall. Hundreds of dealers are present here selling second hand film models, brand new digital gear, lenses, bags, tripods, photographic books and a wide range of too-cheap-to-be-true memory cards.
The market is an exciting place to visit, but take cash and take care.
I've known about the Beijing Camera Market for years but have struggled to find an accurate description of how to find it. Check the bottom of this article for details, but for now the question is "why go there"?
It's chaos. Cameras, Cards, Tripods, Dresses and more. Yes dresses. Chinese camera markets are intrinsically linked to the sale of wedding dresses. Or vice versa. Half the place is filled with sequined taffeta, the other half with Canon, Nikon, Hasselblad and other toys. Tripod shops, camera bags and other dedicated items abound, and tucked away in the maze of shops inside the main hall is even a quality bookshop where you'll find the best photographic images from China in print.
New cameras dominate the market, but the prices are not brilliant. Haggle hard. Opening prices vary from one store to another by 20% and sometimes more. Buyer beware applies when purchasing memory cards so test them in your camera by formatting the card before you walk out the door.
The real gems here are from the old school. Narrow stores fill in the gaps with second hand goods dating back to an era when Mao Zedong was China's most photographed icon. Alongside Russian relics and early western range-finders you will come across classic models of local heritage. SeaGull is best known but keep an eye out for the Pea Fowl and Great Wall. For as little as 150 Yuan you can go home with a working camera, but expect to pay more than ten times that amount for a genuine Rollei35 - well over it's market value outside of China.
If you love your camera gear then the Beijing Camera Market is worth a little effort to get there. And what did I go home with?
Pleased to say I spent my 200 Yuan on a "Great Wall DF-2", or known to the locals as the Chang Cheng. It's a Chinese copy of the Pilot 6 which uses 120 film, has a simple but durable shutter mechanism and is relatively compact for a medium format camera. For the sake of US$30 this Great Wall helped to make my following photo tour a little more fun. Year after year I roam about China with my digital gear but for one trip I had an added challenge and a new perspective.
I got home with a few rolls of Lucky (the aptly named film stock sold in China - you'll be "lucky" if the ISO rating on the label matches the film!) and had them processed. Joy. The magic of film, chemical reactions and the simplest of optics.