IF YOU ARE THINKING OF BUYING A MITCHELL CAMERA, WELCOME TO A SINGULAR RESOURCE HERE AT MITCHELL CAMERA AND PLEASE READ ON...
Collecting nearly anything is a challenging endeavor. Even though these cameras were never meant to be collectables and were considered mere tools, they were built to last. Through no intent of anyone in the industry, they have become iconic treasures to some and even investments to others. In that case, we are not just collectors but the current caretakers for other generations.
When I started collecting Studio cameras, it was for love of the monsters. Soon I was amazed in the sheer amount of misinformation out there in the marketplace. I started learning and questioning which led me to researching, verifying and putting the Serial Number graphs on this site. From that the registry project grew as a way to hopefully document the Mitchell Camera survivors into this 21st century and as a possible resource for future generations. As such, if you do buy a camera or already own one, strongly consider registering it with us here.
THE SERIAL NUMBER GRAPHS ON THIS SITE HAVE ADDED A WHOLY NEW LEVEL OF CERTAINTY TO AID THE BUYER.
AS A FURTHER AID, BELOW IS A MITCHELL CAMERA BUYING GUIDE:
A Mitchell Camera Buying Guide.
Do not pay premium price for a camera just because it looks old.
Mitchell cameras look old- especially the ones with 4 lenses on the front turret. But few are really old. These cameras, referred to as "standards" were made with few cosmetic/visual differences into the 1970's. Nearly 80% of all Mitchell standard cameras were NOT Hollywood studio cameras used for entertainment motion pictures. Most were sold to the military and government from 1935 to the end of production. NC and BNC/BNCR cameras are different from the Standards as they were mostly studio cameras and fairly rare. Any of these is a safe bet to be what it claims to be even though some were sold to the government.
The Hand Crank Jive.
A Mitchell with a hand crank proves that the camera is old, right? WRONG.
Every Mitchell camera featuring an external motor has the ability to be hand cranked. Especially true of the Standards and NC's from 1919 right up to the end in the 1970's. Even my BNCR can be hand cranked. All the government cameras required a hand crank so that the camera could be operated even without a battery or if the battery ceased to function (or shot up?). A hand crank was also a nifty service tool for turning over the camera by hand and therefore an accessory included with most camera kits.
So, a hand crank is a nice thing to have especially when cleaning and oiling a camera. But, a picture of any Mitchell with a hand crank on the side is just that, a nice picture.
Serial numbers are important as are types.
If a camera is listed without a serial number and said to be an "early camera" it could be a camera made from parts or is not what it seems. Look for multiple serial number badges. If possible ask if the numbers on the badge is the same as the number on the "L" base and on the main movement inside. That is a complete camera. The key serial number will always be the one stamped on the main inside movement was exterior parts can change through the years,
If you are serious about collecting a Mitchell, get the serial number first and...
How to find your Mitchell camera serial number.
Once you have a serial number, go to MitchellCamera on the internet and tab to the new serial number production date graphs to determine the age of the camera. To be clear, any standard Mitchell (even labeled with a single letter like A, D or N) with a number higher than 362 is most possibly a military camera or a GC (Government Camera.)
The Value Game.
An actual studio camera is worth a premium price. A military or Government camera, not nearly as much even though later in time it may have worked in the industry.
A number of ex-military cameras were used in later years as animation and special effect cameras but had numerous original parts removed to do the job. If you are still interested in a camera, talk to the seller about the actual age based on the serial number and ask if the camera is "reburbished." A camera, like any antique should show some age. Sometimes a new paint job is necessary and unavoidable- especially with really rare cameras. Such should be done with care and reflect the original finish as close as possible. “Factory fresh” may mask some problems.
Accessories do add value.
Lenses and other external parts for these cameras are not cheap and sometimes hard to find. A fully "dressed out" camera with tripod, matte box, focus unit, sidefinder, motor, and motor cable, etc. is obviously of more value than trying to find parts and pieces after the initial purchase.
I cannot recommend price ranges because the market must decide that. If you are interested in these collectables as some sort of investment, by all means pay attention to age and actual completeness based on factual information before you commit. If this is a decorative/art/passion thing, it doesn't hurt to have some objective information at hand to negotiate a price.
Hopefully the more knowledge you have from this will aid your decisions. Best buying. ED.
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