Ask camera aficionados where to shop and they’ll probably have one word for you: Samy’s. Thanks to owner Samy Kamienowicz, a mainstay in the photo business for nearly 50 years, this super-emporium holds four overwhelming stories’ worth of all things imaging. Since it opened in 1976, Samy’s has been known for its huge selection and savvy staffers—with some salespeople boasting several decades behind the register. Trying to get a question answered can be intimidating, what with the hordes of Industry techs and lighting gurus snatching up gear around you. If you’re not ready to play with the big boys, Samy’s branches in Venice, Pasadena, and Santa Ana carry the same stock but in a more low-key atmosphere. » 431 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, 323-938-2420.
If you’re looking for a big pond that caters to smaller fish, try Bel Air Camera. The Westside’s largest all-service photo store, this 50-year-old institution is owned and operated by the fourth generation of the Herskovic family. UCLA students, semipros, and a few Industry vets roam the aisles of camera, darkroom, and printing staples or head to the Bruin-blue rotunda in the back for rentals and repairs. An extra perk: free weekly classes on the basics of digital photography. » 10925 Kinross Ave., Westwood, 310-208-5150.
Call it the thrill of the chase. Some shoppers just feel better rooting through overflowing bins to earn their purchases. For those folks, there’s Simon’s Camera. Ignore the sign outside promising one-hour processing—the machine broke a while back—and explore rows of shelves piled high with Sharpie-labeled cardboard boxes squished next to Beseler slide duplicators, new Tamrac bags, and Lind’s List camera price guides from 1996. Manning the counter as he has for 33 years is Simon Ong. Whether you’re looking for a used 35mm up front or one of the newer treasures in back, he will help you make sense of the clutter and pull out exactly what you need—and maybe a little more. » 1213 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood, 323-463-8585.
Founded in 1946 in a small apartment, Mel Pierce Camera occupies a modest storefront that gives off a nostalgic feel, from its narrow showroom to its retro signage. Staffers patiently instruct newbies on how to use a manual focus, or spend an hour explaining the differences between photographing birds and horses. Many experienced photogs got their first point-and-shoots from Mel Pierce and still stock up on equipment here. » 5645 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, 323-465-2191.