That is my advice and a general guide for photographers of both film and digital media for shooting in Bangkok but most of this applies pretty much as well for the rest of Thailand also. It’s a work in progress and I’ll keep adding things to it. Thanks for reading.
The year of 2016 in Thailand was hectic, stressful and contained much distress for the Thai population at large. Regardless of these circumstances, it seems that the film shooters here were just as busy as ever, if not much more so. The sales of film in Thailand this year have been reported as very brisk indeed according to several well known suppliers and retailers of film that I have spoken to. I personally had the experience this year of either buying up the last of a pack of favourite film type at a certain shop or just being pipped to the post by someone else buying the last packs in stock the day before. I usually have a good stock in the freezer at home but there were one or two times this year where I actually had to wait a week or so before I could get the exact films I wanted.
Another interesting development (pun probably not intended) is that Thais have been increasingly getting into medium and large format photography and buying more of this size of film. 120 rolls and sheet films have been selling very well and there has been quite the upturn of MF and LF cameras changing hands. You won't see a big Linhof sitting around unsold for months like you often used to just a few years back. This is easy to follow as a trend, not only from direct communication with those vendors in the industry in bricks and mortar establishments, but also from following the sales of cameras on Thai language sites and internet forums. From various sources such as websites and podcasts, it appears that in the U.S. in recently, good quality MF film gear such as Hassies and Rollies have been going up in price and selling out very quickly. I am not sure if this is a knock on effect back here in Thailand or just a general echoing of such changes but I’ve seen a similar scenario overall in Bangkok this year.
In fact, one can even take this to a generally broader argument and suggest that many (but not all) good film cameras seem to be going north in price, at least more so than normal. A lot of young people are driving the demand, that much is clear and seems to apply here as much as anywhere. Trading of Leica glass has been really quite busy this year. One dealer I know sometimes looks like the floor of a stock exchange (on a good weekend) with punters cramming in elbow to elbow and snapping up freshly imported Leica glass from Japan. The good German stuff is (I mean in good condition, do they make any bad stuff?) changing hands very quickly and often facilitating the need to act fast if you want apotentially popular item. It goes in spits and starts at times though with seemingly nobody wanting that 35' lux for a few weeks and then five people fighting over it all at once. A key difference of late is that a lot of the younger Thai crowd that have been buying the Leitz lenses in recent years to use with mirrorless gear seem to have graduated up to just buying Leica bodies (both digital AND film) to mount them on instead. It seems that even though the likes of the Sony bodies are better digital cameras than a lot of the Leica stuff, people just soon want to plug and play these lenses with the native cameras instead. I have seen really big increases in demand for the Pentax Super Takumar vintage lenses peaking to be much higher than just a few years ago when I last owned any of them. There are dealers with whole drawers and dry cabinets filled with nothing but SMC Super Takumar and the like around in Bangkok currently. This is a trend that I can easily agree with. These lenses are sometimes referred to by one respected dealer I know in Bangkok as 'Leica Japan' and the quality of the glass and the images they produce are truly amazing. I have some classic shots of loved ones that I took with these lenses in years gone by that I really cherish. I would say that in Bangkok now these are definitely a current trend and very popular for use with the adapters on all of the mirrorless bodies, I have seen these kind of rigs all over the city on numerous recent outings.
For film labs I still highly recommend Procolorlab, Patani Studio (ring first as this guy is often out shooting and he has become busier in 2016, he also still does E6 slides on site with good work and turnaround!) and relative newcomers Airlab doing great work and winning over a whole lot of people (although, be aware that it’s jam packed at certain times and especially weekends as a wall to wall hipster central, consider yourself warned). They are all on Google and Facebook under the above names and all of them update their pages pretty regularly. Do try all the generic photolab 'Mom and Pop' townhouse stores in Bangkok (read the original full article above for more details on these) near where you are staying though as it's often surprising how many seemingly defunct looking places will still process C41 though. For B and W you will need to stick with the specialist labs or do your own (highly recommended anyway). As always, a good soft option still might be to try a chromogenic like Ilford XP2 (very often in stock at Photogalleryshop) if you wanna shoot B and W here and get it developed easily and locally whilst you are still in Thailand. I always think of this as a tourist’s dream option for B and W on holiday with no hassles if you can’t wait to get back to your own country and develop.
Here follows some more extensive detail on other good shops at the current time and also repairs, spares and specialist work which have not yet been covered in depth on this article before:
Get a taxi to take you to ‘Mega Plaza’ in an area often simply known as ‘Wang Burapha’ (also known as the ‘Saphan Lek’ area). You’ll easily find it on Google maps but it is a real pig to get to and so I just recommend a taxi ride. You can't mistake it once it's in your line of sight, surrounded by (real) gun shops, it has a huge sign in English and the whole place is garish orange from the outside. It's a six storey, medium sized mall which is most famous for being the centre of all things geeky and toys. This is the place people come to for knock off Chinese Lego, BB guns, real Gundam kits, hobby supplies, RC cars/planes, Playstations and games etc. It's probably one of the best places in Thailand for all of the above. That's not why you should go there however. If you go up to the fifth floor on the escalators in the very middle of the building (don't get that wrong as there are two sets) you can then turn to your right as you get off at that floor and you will find yourself in vintage camera sales and repair heaven. There are more than twenty or thirty tiny little shops (rented booths in all honesty but some are more grand and ‘shop-like’ than others) here offering all things good in camera land, with a heavy bias towards film bodies. In fact, this is the only place in Thailand where you could approach a dealer, ask about repairs for your camera and the first thing that they will say is …' We ONLY repair film cameras!" How's that for a rare response in this day and age?
This little zone is only about half of the size of the entire mall on this floor but what you can't find here, probably doesn't exist anywhere in Thailand. They have it all, including some really left field and esoteric stuff like a Leica MDa or perhaps a Speedgraphic for the weekend sir? Several of the little shops here are purely repairs only with some very well respected and capable repair techs plying their trade in full swing. This is the place you come to make the impossible possible. I have seen guys here repairing things like Nikon F5's and they just happen to have that 'whole board' or just the one LCD section that you need and they can somehow get it all together and working again. You know that is not an easy service to find but this is the place. They can work wonders on mechanical stuff, I have recently discovered that some of the already recommended retail shops in this guide send their camera repairs to guys in this place and then add on their small commission on top so if you are not in a rush and feeling brave, you could theoretically cut out the middle man and take a chance on dealing directly with skilled techs yourself. The obvious problem here might be the language barrier though, especially if the fault were intermittent or hard to describe. For more obvious camera problems or if you had a Thai friend to help explain, it would be fairly straightforward. This is no Tokyo camera shop but by local standards, there are some great shops here with decent inventories of great film cameras and also worth a look for classic (and sometimes modern) glass even for digital shooters of course. One problem here though is some of the vendors are unrealistic about pricing at times and approaching them as a foreigner with no Thai language skill is certainly unlikely to help them ‘re-evaluate’ their pricing. You can also find lots of film types for sale, there is a good general variety although often not in massive quantities. Lots of places here will also have a wide range of photographic accessories of a very specific nature that might be hard to source elsewhere so if you have a tricky and weird item to source, this place is your best bet (filter of an odd size, mechanical cable release anyone?)
So, whilst at Mega Plaza then, and to try and be as helpful as possible, I would like to add a newcomer or two to the recommend dealers list (no affiliation and like all recommendations on my website these are actual people that I have personally bought from and had good experiences and been treated well). 'TheEye2' camera shop (unit B507 with a yellow sign, it's small and not easy to find, if you do a 180 degree u turn when getting off the escalator on the 5th floor and walk back on yourself to the back of the building, you'll find it straight ahead). The lady owner is friendly and fair and will haggle with you a bit. You can also trade in and trade up etc. She has a large selection of classic Leica glass at all times but also lots of other great stuff. She is also directly connected to somebody reputable in another unit on the 5th floor who only does repairs but it's better to go through her first as the repair guy is not much of a one for friendly chit-chat and the price isn't any higher if you go through her as they are connected. Again, this store is on Facebook under thatname and they are very active with almost daily updates of what's in stock at any given time.
Just for a quick recap then my personal names and places of people who are good to deal with for glass and bodies (and usually film) and who won't rip you off, as of Jan 2017:
Kuhn Boonlue (a great guy) at Photogallery Shop (on facebook) inside Thaniya Plaza Sala Daeng, Silom, Bangkok (connected directly to the BTS Skytrain! Nice old glass, Leica bodies and lenses, good MF and LF equipment. Still probably my fave place for buying large amounts of film which is kept in a proper fridge!
Khun Mana (a very well known and reputable fair chap) at 'AV Camera' (close to Saphan Taksin BTS station and also on Facebook) Large selection of used Leica glass here! Their used section on their website is updated daily with prices and clear descriptions.
Khun Meow (fair and friendly woman trader) at TheEye2, 5th floor Mega Plaza, Wang Burapha, Sapah Lek, Bangkok.
I also find ‘The Shutter’ (another medium sized store just a few doors away from ‘TheEye2’ in the corner of the same floor) to be very good and fairly priced for all brands and lenses in great condition but their prices are good to start with and they really don’t want to haggle at all. The lady there is friendly and a patient, smiley type.
The first two are closed on Sundays, Khun Meow might be open then. I wouldn't go to any of them until at least lunchtime, but no later than 6pm.
Although this is veering into true caveat emptor territory, and might not be the most practical for shooters passing through Bangkok for short trips, I still would like to add something into this guide about direct, private sales of second hand cameras and lenses in Bangkok. A brave wildcard option might also be to try your hand at deals with the public and buying from somebody in Bangkok directly. Obviously the usual warnings apply and you need to decide what levels of risk you are comfortable with. It also helps if you are buying things that you know a bit about. The best webpage for my money in this area of the local Bangkok market (but also applies to other cities in Thailand) would be to google (ThaiDphoto) and click on the uppermost google search linked page. You actually don’t need to read Thai to see the equipment name for sale (nearly always in English) or the price and phone number in Arabic numerals. This is the buying and selling room of what was once a very small and quite irrelevant little site which by chance happened to become one of the busiest camera equipment trading rooms online for the whole of Thailand. The page is constantly being added to with new threads for stuff for sale all the time. A busy day might be forty new threads. This is strictly the domain for those who can get someone to speak Thai and help them with any transaction. Most people want to meet up at a Skytrain or MRT subway station and do a deal there in a large public place so it's not too dangerous on the whole as long as you use common sense. I mention this as somebody on holiday in Thailand could easily get a hotel receptionist to make the call, offer a price and get the seller to come and wait for you at an agreed time in the hotel lobby where you are staying on the skytrain or somewhere. This would be easy and quite safe and all on CCTV with security guards around the place so there's really no reason why not. You will find most sellers are happy to meet up with you and so this option is just something I thought I would throw out there as there is a brisk trade on such sites and you might well see somebody selling a lens or body that you really want right now and you just need a local to make one phone call to make it all happen. I have bought a few items from people on this website and had great experiences myself. There are certainly dealers on here also, either masquerading as private sellers or just happy to fess up to using this as an additional channel to their existing business, perhaps under a different name or whatever. No Ebay fees or Paypal nonsense though, you see, you touch, you like and you buy, or not as the case may be. You will have to decide what is best for you and what you are happy with. It's easier to check something like a lens there and then maybe, a mechanical film body might have a hidden fault that doesn't show up for a couple of minutes when you first look at it with a view to buy, like a lazy shutter in a Rollieflex that the guy makes sure he gets loosened up just before he meets you. All things that need to be considered I guess.
APRIL 2017 UPDATE:
Please be advised that as of recent months, IQ Labs no longer do any colour 35mm (c41) processing whatsoever, this applies to both Ekamai and Silom branches. No big deal really as there are lots of other options out there and IQ tended to be on the pricey side with varying consistency in their service and how they dealt with people at times. It's also yet another great reason to shoot B+W and develop yourself at home anyway!
AUGUST 2017 UPDATE:
Recently, a reader quite rightly pointed out to me that I had somehow overlooked 'Fotofile'. I was sure that I hadn't but when I checked, turns out I had. Thanks for the heads up! So, Fotofile is a chain of shops, been around for about twenty five years or so. Most of them are just everyday, common or garden modern, digital camera and accessories shops. Nothing wrong with that. The two branches in the chain which warrant a mention are, in the first instance, The ground floor branch in the MBK centre (BTS Siam or National Stadium Area). This is a small shop about half way back in the centre, near the main side entrance which lies under the pedestrian bridge crossing that takes you to the Siam Square side of the main road. This shop sells all the new stuff as well as LOADS of good second hand lenses and digital (AND) film camera bodies. A real haven for fans of Canon and Nikon mount glass, lots to choose from, you can fondle and haggle a little. Not much in the way of huge discounts here though for sure. The pricing often seems a little bit too arbitrary for my liking, as though it depended solely on the mood of the person who put the lens in the display case on any given day. Still a pretty decent little place to check out though for sure, they have a small selection of films for sale there although not usually kept in a fridge (unlike Photogallery in Thaniya Plaza). There's another branch of Fotofile that goes under another name 'Camera and Lens' inside Central Rama 3 and this is a cute mash up of a small but fully authorised Leica dealer and a kind of glossy display of older Leica gear in the vein of a mini-museum. As well as looking cool and being quite interesting if you are into the red dot, it's also a branch that seems unusually good at procuring hard to find Leica parts such as older, obscure hoods and filters etc. At least that was the experience that I myself had there a couple of years ago. Recommended if you like that sort of thing.
'CAMERA COLLECTION' at the Charn Issara Tower in Silom seems to have moved in recent times. I was there yesterday in that building and was surprised to find that old shop is now a hair salon! A little investigating on their social media posts and it seems that they have moved here instead:
River city 3rd floor as Hummingbird foto. 23 Trok Rongnamkhaeng, Si Phraya Pier, Yota Road, Sampantawong, Bangkok 10100, Thailand. Please feel free to meet me (The owner Eddie, NOT anyone from Chromacomaphoto.com) there! (Please make an appointment)
There hasn't been a lot of activity on that Facebook page since they posted the new address a few months ago so let's hope that no news is good news and Mr. Eddie is still in business. Any reader of this blog who can either confirm or deny (a bad skill set if you want to work for the U.S. government, I'm sure) that 'Camera Collection' is doing okay at the new venue, feel free to drop me a line at the address shown on the bottom of this (or any) page on this site. Thanks.
OCTOBER 2017 UPDATE:
As I only like to recommend places or services that I have personally used or have been used by people who I know and trust, here follows some more detail as of October.
There is a lab up in Chiang Mai (in addition to Photobug, which is already in this guide) which has been running for a while now. It's run by two young ladies who were ex students of the local university there and who previously formally studied film photography and darkroom work. It's always nice to deal with people who also have a personal interest in the work themselves. They were known for a time on Facebook (and at the actual shop) as 'Ung Handcraft Darkroom Shop and Gallery' and that was the name with which I was still calling them. However, the same outfit is now seemingly known by another name 'Rakuda Photo Aritsans' and is still at the same place, it's a first facebook hit on Google presently under that name and so an easy lookup for their current preferred contact details/phone number etc. They even do push/pulling processing B+W and C-41 etc so it's a pretty legit service.
I know two people close to me who have used the services of the above place, under both of those different trading names. General feedback was pretty good and the ladies there are generally well-informed, happy and friendly. One possible complaint though was that the service was a bit too laid back and opening times, developing times and (especially) finished post-dev film and scans collection times should be taken with a pinch of salt. (to that point, the Facebook page of the old shop appears to even show a dialogue from an unhappy foreign customer who had to wait an hour later than the usual shop opening time to get his negs back, only to then discover five minutes before boarding his flight that they had even given him the wrong negs back, yikes!). DO NOT leave important stuff such as developing films here down to the last minute if you are facing a time critical situation such as needing them for a project or you are leaving the country with the films and scans the next day etc. Never mind what the shop tells you, it's not worth the stress, there's a good chance things can mess up.
The stuff is ready when it's ready and this might well be different from what you are actually told. This is a good rule of thumb to follow in general for almost all of the places mentioned in the guide to be honest. Things work here in Thailand in a very different way to Western countries. They might open today at the stated time, they might not. They might open later than normal or they might be closed on that day despite what it says on the door. You might get your film back today, or you might not. We might have the film in stock that we told you we had over the phone before you arrived, or we might not The customer is NOT always right in Thailand and your consumer rights are massively diminished compared to Western Europe or the States. This is not a critique of Thai culture, this is NOT a moan, this is merely an observation and one that you are highly advised to try and accept if at all possible...'cos you sure as hell ain't gonna change it :-)
I am often a fan of the wall of photolabs and film shops opposite Central Lad Phrao, they are accurately mentioned above in this guide already quite a bit. I just thought I'd mention them again today as although I rarely shoot colour, I did recently and got my stuff devved at 'Color Image' in the main row of shops there (02 9392624) and had nice results indeed. As this is very recent, I know this labs output is currently excellent and so I shall mention one of these shops specifically by name for a change as they deserve some credit. There are many others right there with similar services of course.
You'll also get B+W devved around there easily enough but personally I still highly recommend you to develop your own if at all possible.
Patani studio still going strong, still doing B+W, C-41 colour and even yes, wait for it....STILL doing E6, what a legend! His scans are as good as his wet prints, the lab space and time is still available for rent. The guy is also a real enthusiast,not just doing it from a business point of view, which is always nice. He does go out and about and shoot quite a bit so never a bad idea to contact him first, Facebook etc
A number of people have told me great things about 'Neno Camera' and lab on Lad Phrao Soi 80. (082 3535263 for Thai, if you wish to try and communicate with them in English, this number might be better:081-830-5630.). He's apparently a really well-versed gentleman and I think has even taught certain aspects of film and lab work before in a formal educational context. They are a good source of film and their Facebook page says (in Thai) that they also have darkroom rental available. Looks like they can handle 35mm, medium format and even large format in it too! Their enlargers seem to be top notch and they seem to also offer darkroom workshops from time to time, although these are aimed at Thais, in Thai one would assume. Some nice development stuff is also sometimes seen for sale on their facebook page, one to watch. I will have to say though that although I am certain it looks really good, I haven't yet personally been there or used them myself so I will not officially give them the Chromacoma gold standard recommendation until then. Probably will go there soon however, and as always...I will keep updating this info on an ongoing basis.
DECEMBER 2017 UPDATE (end of year round-up):
Thanks to everybody who comes to this site for keeping up with me and checking back here again to see what is going on.
In the last two months I have seen the normal general trend of young people walking around with vintage film cameras ramped up to an eleven out of ten on the usual scale. One day last month whilst walking and shooting around Chinatown, I saw a line of young university student girls (maybe a dozen strong) and nearly a half of them were packing 70's and 80's film SLR's. I stopped and chatted to a couple of them and they really were shooting film, it wasn't just a case of kids toting cameras around with no film inside for cool points. I know that Thai photography courses at main universities often still require students to shoot on film only for the first year and also to do their own dev and darkroom work, which I think is a great idea. However, the young people whom I often see are not always uni students, they are just an increasing large group of young people shooting film per se.
This is supported by the fact that whilst walking around Mega Plaza lately, I noticed the vendors who used to sell a little film here and there and maybe had no more than fifty rolls in stock often now sell a much, much larger volume and a greater variety too. When talking to such vendors they also confirmed that the huge surge in film trade throughout this year is definitely due to larger numbers of younger people buying film in Bangkok right now. Nice to see.
I had experience of using 'Neno Camera' and lab on Lad Phrao Soi 80. (082 3535263 for Thai, if you wish to try and communicate with them in English, this number might be better:081-830-5630.) I didn't tell them beforehand that I run this website or that I was looking to share reports of their service. The results were great. I heard through a Thai local pro recently that Khun Neno (rhymes with 'Hey-ho' NOT with 'Nemo'!) bypasses the local Fujifilm suppliers and directly imports everything, including all the E6 chemicals, for his processing. The film devving there is really nice and clean, just as with Patani Studio...perhaps the only other really solid choice if you are shooting positive film. All film devving at Neno's place has been worthy of a Chromacoma recommendation this far for sure so I am happy to report and share that with my readers.
The branch of 'PhotoCity' that had been inside Central Pinklao for many years (formerly in the basement with the green 'Fujifilm' stickered up windows near the pharmacies and then in a newly reopened unit on the 3rd floor following the renovation of the whole mall two years ago) has closed in the last month or two. This was owned and operated by the same family as their main branch and namesake opposite Central Lad Phrao (amongst that row of so many small photolabs there that are always stocked with film and great, fast devving options, read the full guide above again for more info if you missed that). Anyway, the sister (or cousin?) branch at Pinklao was very laid back, as in... to the point of horizontal, and were rarely if ever on top of anything. I mean they were seriously all over the place service wise even by local standards and so this is not really news that comes as any great shock. The good news however is that the main branch business at Lad Phrao is certainly very much alive and kicking with business as usual. The bad news for anyone in the West Bangkok/Pinklao area is that although very slow and messy, the service did usually end up coming through and they used to send film and scanning work (Fuji Frontier to a high standard) back and forth via messenger to the mothership branch. Quite handy if you live out that way and shoot film as there are not so many great options that way really. Oh well, never mind.
Keep checking back for updates throughout 2018 on this page and also click below or on the tabs on the right for the specific and highly detailed blow by blow shooting guides series for individual places around Bangkok.
This is the current state of play and, as always, this article will be added to with as much up to date information as possible.
APRIL 2018 UPDATE:
Thanks very much to a kind reader named Devlin for drawing the 'Polaroid Bar' to my attention, they are are a fairly new, family run outfit with a whole cafe/bar concept revolving around all things Polaroid. A nice idea and a fun place to go and check out. You can find it quite a ways out of town off the Rama 9, heading out more towards the airport in an area that I would say still just about comes under the heading of 'Hua Mak" (sounds like Mark) to locals. Closed on Monday through Thursday, which seems a bit odd so I thought it worth mentioning in case it ruins somebody's trip there. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, 13:00-18:00 hrs only. Found on Facebook under the name 'PolaroidBar' and they are on 7 Khwaeng Hua Mak, Khet Bang Kapi, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10240, Thailand +66 80 444 5603. I have no affiliation whatsoever but the place comes recommended by two Chromacoma followers so I will include it here.
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