Words of Advice:

"Never Feel Sorry For Anyone Who Owns an Airplane."-- Tina Marie

If Something Seems To Be Too Good To Be True, It's Best To Shoot It, Just In Case." -- Fiona Glenanne

Flying the Airplane is More Important than Radioing Your Plight to a Person on the Ground
Who is Incapable of Understanding or Doing Anything About It.
" -- Unknown

"There seems to be almost no problem that Congress cannot, by diligent efforts and careful legislative drafting, make ten times worse." -- Me

"What the hell is an `Aluminum Falcon'?" -- Emperor Palpatine

"Eck!" -- George the Cat

Saturday, September 8, 2012


I don't know, exactly, the model name of the first camera that I had. It was fixed-focus, the lens at the bottom, a viewfinder in the middle and a silver flash-bulb pocket above that. It used 127 film. I used that camera for almost six years.

Being a kid at the time, I glued a number of the photos into an album. On some of them, I used way too much glue and the photos were damaged. A few of the others have become loose over the decades. This is one of them, a somewhat blurry photo of my dog Susie.[1]

Then my uncle, who had upgraded to a Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex camera, gave me his old Argus C3.

The Argus took decent photos, but it was a hard camera to use well. One of those windows is a split-lens rangefinder. So you had to dial in the rangefinder and then shift to the viewfinder. There was no light-meter. If you were concerned about such things, you had to first use a light-meter to determine the proper exposure time and aperture setting.

Once you had determined the settings, you'd then set the exposure time with the dial on the right and then twisted the front of the lens to set the aperture. Which is about as cumbersome a process as it sounds.

I was shooting black & white film at the time and I had a cheap-ass third-hand enlarger. At the time, my family was living in an old Edwardian house. The house had some sketchy rooms on the third floor that, in the pre-Great War era, would have been occupied by servants. There was a windowless bathroom on that floor that I used as a darkroom.

What that meant was if I was a little off on the exposure for the film, I could correct it in making the prints. So a lot of the time, I just went with the exposure charts that came with the film and that was good enough. Sometimes I opted for store-bought processing, which always seemed to turn out better than my hand-rolled prints.

(This photo is stuck in an old album, it did not scan very well.)

But taking photos of objects outdoors was difficult, especially if they were dark, which steam engines often were.[2]. A spot-metering light meter was not cheap. So I saved up and was able to buy a Canon FT.[3]

A few black and white photos from that time have survived.

That locomotive was scrapped by the Chicago Transit Authority in an act of historical vandalism in the 1980s.

I shifted to Kodachrome around 1969. I still have about 30 or so boxes of slides, maybe half or so of what I shot. In the latter part of the `70s, I shifted to Kodacolor. Somewhere around `72, I bought a 135mm telephoto for the Canon. I was cooking with gas, or so I thought.

The shutter of that FT broke in 1985. A camera repairman told me that it was not worth fixing. I was told that the lenses for the FT were not compatible with newer models, so I bought a Nikon FM2. I was kind of skeptical about that then newfangled technology of automatic exposure. On the recommendation of a relative, I bought a Tokina 28-200mm lens. He told me that I'd end up rarely using the 50mm lens and he was right.

When my father died in the late `90s, I got his Olympus pocket 35mm, which had a telephoto lens and autoexposure. It turned out to be a right handy little camera for times when carrying around a full-sized 35mm SLR was a pain in the ass. I used both that Olympus and the FM2 until 2005, when I was given a Canon A95 digital camera.

I still have the FM2 (yes, I removed the batteries). Thing was, the film processors began offering to return both a CD with jpegs of the pictures along with the prints. The jpegs were far more useful, as I could send them in emails and not bother having to have prints made and mailed out. I gave the Olympus to a friend who was resistant to digital.

A few years after I got the A95, I replaced it with a Canon A1000. The thing that I liked about both cameras is that they used AA batteries, so I didn't have to screw around with chargers. The A1000 didn't have a lot of the functionality of the A95, it didn't have the swing-out viewscreen, but it was thinner (it used 2 AA batteries, the A95 used 4) and it shot in much dimmer light.

But the thing that bugged me about both cameras was the shutter lag. I'd press the button and the damn things would think it over before firing the shutter. I also hated using the viewscreen, for it felt unsteady and unnatural to hold the camera away from my body. The viewfinders on both was not through-the lens, so I had to be mindful of parallax error, especially for indoor shots.

A few weeks ago, I got to play briefly with a Nikon D40. I could not believe how satisfying it was to use a good SLR again.[4] And so, I swallowed hard, unlimbered my credit card, and bought a Nikon D3100 with the issue 18-55mm lens.[5]

So now I'm learning a new camera. It's nice to have a decent camera again. I find that I end up using manual focus (it'd be nice if the damn lens had range marking on the barrel). Made mostly of plastic, it's nowhere near as heavy as that FT, let alone the FM2. A decent padded camera bag is going to be a must, I suspect, as well as a better strap than the issue one. So will a backup battery and SD card, but those two can wait a bit.
[1] I'll write about her some other time.
[2] The 1960s was possibly the Golden Age of railfanning. Steam engines had been retired in the late 1950s by most railroads. There were a lot of locomotives out there that were still in good condition. Some railroads kept a few to run for excursions, others were bought for scrap prices by individuals and non-profit groups. They ran them until the locomotives required major inspection and overhaul, at which time most of those engines were retired to museums or scrapped. By the early 1970s, steam excursions were rare, indeed.
[3] My father told me that he had a contact who would get the camera for me for half-price. That was a hell of a deal, or so I thought. I saved up and gave my father the money so he could buy the camera for me. A few years ago, in some of Dad's old papers, I found the receipt for the camera. He had paid full price for it. He never told me.
[4] Think of going from shooting a Hi-Point to shooting a HK.
[5] They were running a deal where a 55-200mm lens could be had for $100 off with the purchase, but that seemed like too much of a hit at one time.


D. said...

That first camera of yours sounds like a Brownie. I had one, as did my brother.

J4rh34d said...

My dad was a photo buff back in the 50s and let me use one of his cameras, a twin lens reflex. B&W only. When our family moved to an outer suburb to be closer to work (a dairy), it was too far to commute to his old photo club, and he had given it up by the mid 60s. I once had a Pentax 110 SLR (really) with three lenses, wide angle, regular, and zoom. Lost all but zoom lens at the 1984 Worldcon.

In PDX, we have three locos chugging along on a regular basis http://www.orhf.org/ like for the Holiday Express. The SP 4449 was the 1976 Freedom Train loco and seen in the movie Tough Guys.

bluemoonfever said...

Sounds like a Brownie Starflash, which retailed for $9.95. I saved my allowance for one.

Comrade Misfit said...

No, it wasn't a Starflash. It was something else, probably a knockoff. I never used the flash attachment, the bulbs were too pricey for me.