This week a photographer stopped by to talk about the article I wrote last week about the popularity of 1970s cameras. We discussed cameras we had used over the years and eventually got around to the question, “What was your first camera?”
The very first cameras that I likely used to make snapshots of family and friends were probably 127 Kodak cameras made of dark brown Bakelite plastic and I remember little (I think 3×6) prints with wavy edges coming back from the department store lab.
My father had the more serious 120 format folding bellows camera and usually posed us with the sun behind his back with the resulting squinting and pained smiles on our young faces.
I snapped pictures for years with cameras that had little or no control over exposure or focal length. I glued the pictures into photograph albums with little sticky corners. Of course, the self stick holders didn’t last long, and the pictures fell out, so I glued the pictures directly to the pages, but the glue’s chemical reaction discoloured the images and eventually those that weren’t lost by falling off and out of the album just faded away.
My first serious camera was purchased in 1967 while I was in the US Army. I purchased it from the Army PX (post exchange) while stationed overseas. The location was visually spectacular and different from anything I had ever experienced and I wanted to have photographs for memories.
I looked at the limited selection in my price range and purchased a Petri V6 with two lenses, a 58mm and a 135mm.
When I got the Petri, I was so excited because it had an attachable light meter, used slide film and I purchased the 135mm lens because I was advised it was the perfect lens to take portraits of people.
My next camera was a loaner from a friend’s father so I could take a photography class in 1969 at Santa Monica College; the previous Petri had seen better days. That neat Pentax H3V camera had a clip-on meter and came with only a 55mm lens, but my instructor said it would be perfect for his class.
Shortly there after, in 1971, a fellow student who worked for United Airlines purchased a camera for me during a trip he took to Japan. The photo magazines were talking about a new camera with “multi-coated” lenses, and an amazing through-the-lens spot meter. I then became the proud owner of a SLR Pentax Spotmatic II.
Although I used colour film for events like parties and Christmas I absolutely believed serious photographers only used black and white film. I added another lens, a Vivitar 35mm. Wow, a wide-angle lens! Then I got a 200mm. Gosh, I had everything I needed.
Those first three SLR cameras wetted my interest in photography. They were complex enough that I read magazines, books, and took classes to learn how to operate them effectively. In addition, I searched for opportunities to meet other photographers and talk about cameras, lenses, enlargers, photographic paper, and all sorts of picture making.
Before the Petri and two Pentax cameras, photography was only about documenting events around me, not creating a personal vision of the things that interested me. If I hadn’t had the opportunity to start making images with those three SLRs I expect my photography would never have advanced from anything more than just snap shots.
I am sure readers that used cameras before the digital onslaught remember their first camera(s) that helped their enthusiasm for photography grow and might even have great memories on prints or slides packed away in boxes.
I made fun of those old film camera wondering about the nostalgia some feel for them. I remarked that I personally wouldn’t want to return to film. But gosh, it was nice it was to hold those old metal cameras that were constructed so tight with shutters that clunked solidly instead of the high-pitched clatter most make today.