There is no reason to buy a new camera," rants Don Alman, a fine-art photographer of twenty years who has worked for ten major local camera retailers and owns hundreds of cameras. "When you buy used equipment, you save a hell of a lot of money -- as much as half of what you would originally pay." And Alman always has room for one more. When he's shopping, he eschews the better-known emporia like B&H Photo, Adorama, and Olden, which take out two-page ads in the Times and pile stock from floor to ceiling. "Those guys won't even let you touch the camera until you buy it," says Alman. Instead, he heads for Fotografica (27 West 20th Street; 929-6080). In a tiny third-floor suite, proprietor Ed Wassel stands proudly over his beautiful assortment of cameras. Wassel thrills to the hunt, combing photo shows for nifty items to buy or trade. "Request what you want, and he'll get it for you," says Alman. "He has gadgets you can't find anywhere else." Inventory ranges from banal Pentax K-1000s to a sexy prewar Leica ($600) or a 1941 Art Deco Kodak Bantam ($350).
One of the most popular purveyors is Ken Hansen (509 Madison Avenue, near 53rd Street; 317-0923) -- the man and the camera store, both of which have a reputation for setting the standard. You may not find the lowest price here, because Hansen's well known, but you're virtually guaranteed to walk away happy. You may even make an interesting purchase, like a sixties Leica M2 in black enamel for $3,000 or a fifties Hasselblad 1000F for $2,000.
Professional Photo Supply (141 West 20th Street; 924-1200) is a mom-and-pop shop crammed with filters, developer, paper, and a display case of used cameras. The selection is small but diverse: A 35-mm. Canon EOS 850 (body) is $150, and a 120 Medium format Mamiya RZ67 costs $895 (new, it's $1,799). Owner José Ayala and his daughter Lysette will set up the novice without pushing useless extras. And they'll let customers monkey with the equipment, as you should -- making sure everything that clicks, turns, or whirs does what it's meant to.