Bellamy Hunt wants to put film cameras back in your hands
Known as Japan Camera Hunter, this photographer, camera geek, and entrepreneur finds and sells the rarest of rare film cameras.
It’s simple. Film photographers and camera collectors in search of hard-to-find equipment turn to one man: Bellamy Hunt, aka Japan Camera Hunter (or JCH for short). The Tokyo-based purveyor of cameras, lenses and accessories is known as the guy who somehow, someway is going to find that film camera you covet.
Hunt’s own obsession began when he was 12 years-old and picked up—or, as he puts it, “commandeered”—his dad’s Minolta XG-1, a budget SLR released in 1979. “I found it fascinating, not just because it was a camera, but it was a camera I could take apart. I could play around with it and achieve different effects with it,” he says.
Originally from the UK, Hunt studied photography in art college and worked as a photographer before he landed in Japan, home to iconic camera manufacturers like Nikon, Olympus, Canon, Mamiya, and Pentax.
It was a heavenly place to be for a camera geek like Hunt, who learned the ins-and-outs of the camera trading business while working for a photography supply company. He struck out on his own as Japan Camera Hunter about 12 years ago.
Hunt still has his dad’s camera, by the way. Holding up the SLR for me to see, he says, “It still works, and I still use it.”
What is Japan’s camera culture like these days?
Tokyo is still an important trading hub. There’s so many stores here because of the culture of photography. I can get one-day developing cross the street from my office. There’s still a large support network. There’s rental dark rooms. It’s all here.
And there’s always been a large collector network. Japanese people like collecting things. That’s a very broad generalization, but when they do get into something, they get into it, and they look after what they have. They treasure it. So you can find cameras that are 50 years-old that are new in the box.
Have you found cameras and lenses that are akin to landing the holy grail of photography equipment?
There’s been many. Throughout my career, I’ve sourced some extremely rare items. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the clients who’ve wanted those items—you know, the Leica MP Titaniums, the ultra-rare, super wide Nikkor fisheye lenses.
Are you a film purist who never takes a photo with a digital camera or a phone?
For my personal work, of course, I’m a film purist. But, obviously, this is the modern day and age, and I run a business. I have to put photos of cameras online. I need a digital camera to do that. I have to post on Instagram. I need a phone to do that. It becomes necessary.
Why should we still shoot with film in the digital age?
There is a certain something with film that cannot be recreated in digital. It’s the mistakes, those little errors, those faults, the aberrations. It’s that risk of failure. It’s rewarding.
What’s the Japan Camera Hunter office like?
I used to work at home for the first few years, but then it just became impossible. So, now, I actually have this office space about four miles from my house. I cycle here every day. My office is basically like my man cave. It’s just cameras and bike and toys and just stuff. It’s actually in a neighborhood known for vintage clothing. [laughs] It’s three stops from Shinjuku, where the cameras are.
Can people shop in person, or do you do all your business online?
Everything’s done online. I don’t generally allow random visitors. I have had that happen. Some people would just turn up to hang out, and I’m like, “I can’t hang out. I’ve got work to do.” [laughs] It was nice, but it’s a working office. It’s not a showroom. I actually had to put on Google Maps: “Appointment only.”
For someone who is new to film photography, how do you recommend they begin? By buying a camera, taking a class, reading books?
All of those things. If you’re new to photography, it’s a case of experimentation. If you are really, really new to photography, as in you have no idea about aperture and f-stops, buy a book, take a class, watch some videos online. You can go onto YouTube and learn the basics of photography. It’s pretty easy.
Then go and pick a camera. Find a camera that you feel is right for you. It doesn’t have to be your be-all, end-all camera. You don’t have to go out and buy the fanciest one or spend a lot of money. You just need one that you can use to familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of photography.
If you feel like this is the right thing for you, then you can move on up. You can upgrade.
Is there any part of your job that is not fun?
There’s a lot of stuff that is not fun. Paperwork, mainly. [laughs] The behind-the-scenes stuff people don’t see is just really boring. But, at the same time, I’m doing everything on my own terms and getting to live how I want to. I’m thankful to my customers. I’m thankful to everybody for allowing me to be able to do this as a job.
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📹 Watch Bellamy’s videos on YouTube, too