Last updated 03 Mar, 2023

It all started with... real film (and it's back, big time).

Quick quiz. Are you: A) old enough to fondly reminisce about same-day camera film processing, B) young enough to be surprised it was ever a thing or C) a customer of PhotoCo, in the Adelaide Central Market? 

Unless you're in the last group, this is probably an eye-opener: PhotoCo can process your roll of old-school film the day you bring it in.* In fact, they turn over about 100 rolls right there on their premises, every day. 

PhotoCo's co-owner Paul Bulley says that after well over a decade of digital dominance, film photography is booming again. 'Fifteen years ago we were processing about 100 rolls a day. Maybe seven years ago, it had dropped down to ten rolls a day. Now we're back up to 100.' 

For many locals, this well-known landmark is simply 'the camera shop in the Central Market'. It's the one on the corner near Lucia's, its windows packed with alluring gear from collectors' items through to the latest digital wonders. But it's worth remembering the name PhotoCo because that's how you'll find their website of sought-after secondhand gear and their inspiring Instagram account. A word of warning though: you might end up with a new hobby/obsession. 

As part of the national Camera House group since 1982, PhotoCo has the pricing benefits of a big chain but maintains the personal service and deep knowledge of a passion-driven small business. Paul and his brother Luke are third-generation family owners. In fact, it's the oldest camera shop in South Australia. 'My grandfather and grandmother, Allan and Hildegarde, started the store in 1967', says Paul. 'Then my parents Peter and Marijan had it for probably another thirty years. I've grown up crawling around on the ground in the market as a baby.' 

'By far our biggest niche is a range of secondhand camera gear that no one else can compete with. We sell and post interstate every day, and overseas too. We list probably 30 new [secondhand] items on our website every day.' 

PhotoCo may be a paradise for camera geeks, but the team can get anyone started right from the simplest basics. 'We try really hard to not make people feel intimidated. We sell a re-usable plastic Kodak or Ilford branded film camera with a flash for $49,' says Paul. 'When you finish the film, bring it in, we'll show you how to rewind it. 

Alan hilda and peter

'We get excited about asking all the questions to really dig down ... are you taking portrait stuff? Landscapes? What do you want to do with the images? "I just want to send them to friends on social media". Or "no, I want to do big prints, two metres by two metres". So now you need to look at these cameras. We love that process of fine-tuning to exactly what people want.' 

And are younger people discovering film photography? 'It's a little bit of a trend, everything is so digital at the moment', says Paul. 'It's great to have a breath of fresh air, to have to be patient. Someone that came in today said "I'd love to buy a 21st present for my younger brother. He's so into his phone and he's got a couple of digital cameras, I would love him to learn to slow down and appreciate the art of taking film photographs". So he did buy this gorgeous old mechanical camera, an old Pentax K1000. And he loved the fact that there's only one tiny battery that powers the light meter. And right at the end of the sale ... I said, you know, for the birthday, if he really doesn't like it you can return it straight away. And he was like "dude, I'll keep it!"' 

PhotoCo also runs regular photography courses to get you started or polish up your skills. Paul leads a class around sights in the city. But first, he says: 'we would start just saying "let's photograph that chair". And well, how many ways can you photograph a chair? It sounds a bit silly. But I can go left a little bit, right, down, up. You can go right underneath it looking up, you can zoom right in macro, you can go way down there and have it part of a composition'. 

Street snap

Apart from chairs, and inside the market, what are some favourite city locations to photograph? 'The alleyways, Rundle Mall,' Paul muses, 'the Park Lands, the Japanese gardens [Himeji Garden], Botanic Gardens. And looking at different corners of buildings, having the sun behind the building silhouetted, light and dark, shadows, street stuff.'

We walk around the inside and outside of the store, and Paul introduces other staff. Maxine, who's about to retire, has been processing film at PhotoCo for around 25 years. (Do not fear, she's passing the baton to new 'whippersnappers'.) Well over half the film she develops now isn't immediately made into prints; it's delivered as negatives and digitised files. Perhaps that's the perfect hybrid, gaining the analogue qualities of film without wasting prints on lesser shots. Skeat, one of those whippersnappers (@skeatstudio on Instagram), buzzes with knowledge of the 35mm medium. He describes himself as 'the bartender of film'. 'Let me know the feelings you want to portray, and your budget, and I'll mix you the right film.'

Or maybe you'd like to leave your film choice in the lap of the gods, or... a gumball machine? For $15, you can turn the dial on a globe-shaped vending machine at the front of the store. Out pops a plastic ball containing a slip of paper, with the number of your 'lucky dip' canister of film. Perfect for the indecisive, or anyone looking for a photographic challenge.

Before leaving, I snap a few pictures on my phone to serve as memory prompts. Sure as heck they won't end up as archival-quality prints. I remember there's an old manual Pentax tucked away somewhere at home. Maybe it's the K1000? Time to slow down, ditch the social media filters, and pay a visit to PhotoCo.

*If they're super busy, you might have to come back the next day. Patience is a virtue, and anticipation is half the pleasure, isn't it?

The Market Square redevelopment is underway but it’s business as usual for PhotoCo and the rest of Adelaide Central Market. Check out the other Adelaide Central Market traders.


PhotoCo Camera: 44/60 Gouger Street, Adelaide 5000

Instagram: @photoco_camerahouse

Words: Jane Goldney

Images: PhotoCo & Skeat Studio

Rundle General Store

Vault 91