What’s Up With The Return Of Those Old 1970s Film Cameras?   

1970 Film cameras


When I wrote about this year’s Vancouver Swap in April I mentioned that I always go to the event wondering what the latest trends will be, or what is popular with the photographers that attend.

I didn’t discuss it in that article, but, this year those photo enthusiasts that turned up surprised me when they all but ignored the modern digital equipment sellers were displaying, and, instead seemed mostly interested in older 1970s manual cameras and lenses.

I commented about that this week to a photographer who came in to pick up an old Canon FTB camera she had left for light seal replacement. She had dropped it off a couple weeks ago saying it had been given to her. She also brought in an old cloth camera bag and pulled out three old Canon lenses she got with the camera and asking me my opinion.

Other than the 50mm that was mounted on the camera, there was a 28mm, a 135mm and a 200mm. All were Canon brand and, although very dirty from the dissolving foam inside the bag, very great lenses.

I remembered the time period, before zoom lenses, or automatic exposure, when cameras that actually had light meters like that old FTb were the pinnacle of technology. The original owner had chosen the most popular lenses of the day. And now a new owner was planning on putting the 45-year-old film camera and lenses to use again.

It’s been about 16 years since digital single-lens-reflex cameras became affordable and capable of making images equal to, and now surpassing, film cameras.

The photographer I talked to in my shop as well as those I met at the swap meet all owned modern DSLRs. I suppose there is a sense of nostalgia in holding and shooting those shiny, old metal cameras.

The local high schools whereabouts I live have photography programs where students use film cameras and learn to process and print photographs. I don’t know if the same happens in Vancouver where the swap meet was held. Nevertheless, those old film cameras are certainly popular.

There are many of us old enough to have used and even to have made a living with cameras during the 1970s who don’t for a moment regret the change in technology from film to digital. I sometimes wonder how we survived with that inefficient, cumbersome technology from a time period my friend Alex refers to as, “the days of click and pray”.

Digital cameras are a great way to learn photography, with instant reinforcement and no cost unless one wants to make prints; whereas, with film there is the initial cost of film, the cost to process, and the cost to print; however, one can easily and economically scan and download the image file to a computer. And unlike the cost of a DSLR those old cameras have become very inexpensive. That photographer’s whole kit, camera and three lenses here in BC should cost well under a hundred dollars.

I don’t know if it’s the nostalgia, or the low price, that has brought a return of popularity to those old film cameras. Even though I personally wouldn’t want to return to film I do remember how nice it was to hold those old cameras (there is a 1948 Olympus sitting on a shelf in my store that I keep eyeing) that were made by engineers instead of technicians and I will grudgingly admit there is something wonderfully tactile in the quality of an image captured on film.









9 responses to “What’s Up With The Return Of Those Old 1970s Film Cameras?   

  1. That was a well-balanced post giving the different approaches to film and digital. I deeply regret being no longer able to use my trusty Nikon FM2’s because of failing eyesight. After fully manual cameras auto-focus and digital feel like cheating.But I am so grateful for the option. An Epson photo scanner plus computer keep the old negatives and slides alive. Des.


    • I am so pleased you enjoyed my article Des.
      I, like you, have not so good eyesight, and am so glad..hmmm…actually “damn glad” that modern cameras have auto focusing.
      and we are also alike in having a scanner to keep those old negs and slide alive.
      I will say that I never thought that embracing the move to modern technology would be in anyway “cheating”. Since buying my first SLR from the Army PX in the late 1960s and bragging about how wonderful it was to have an in-camera indicator that let me know when the photograph was under or over exposed, I have constantly exchanged cameras for the newest or what I thought would be the best for making pictures.


  2. Good post – I think it’s the sense of achievement in being able to control the whole process.
    It goes along with vinyl, maps not GPS, phones that only make calls rather than take over ones life, books not e-readers and so it goes…..
    I am very thankful because it has given new life to manufactures who didn’t get swept along with the idea that film was dead.
    From my own point of view, I like getting away from the computer and using my hands to create a one off image rather than a clone of what is on the screen.
    I have also found that there are more people buying gelatin silver prints rather than ink jet because they feel it is more like a work of art (I actually gave someone the choice of either or and the G/S print was requested for exactly that reason) even though I charged more.
    Don’t get me wrong, I love using my D800 and can make images with it that are not possible with film: the temptations of Photoshop 🙂 are endless.

    But it’s like rubbing sticks together or flint & steel for a fire when camping – so much easier with a match, but not as much fun; the look of amazement on fellow campers when flames appear is priceless. I get asked about my Nikon F2 but never when using the D800,

    Enough, sorry I just had to put my two penneth in ……



    • Thanks David, I am glad you liked my thoughts and very pleased you took some time to express our thoughts on using 1970s cameras. I guess you are right that there are those that believe the old technology is more artistic. I put those along side the bicycle riders I see painfully struggling with their heads down along the trans-Canada highway with the belief that they are getting more out of the experience that someone in an air-conditioned automobile.
      My wife prefers having a stack of books to read, while I have the same stack on my iPhone to read.
      You wrote, ” I think it’s the sense of achievement in being able to control the whole process.” That may be true. However, I expect most of those using those Old Film Cameras quickly scan and manipulate the image and have no idea how to process a roll of Film.


  3. Pingback: Camera – Sergio Ristie

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