My First Cameras   


Kodak 1

One of my first little 127 camera’s pictures secured in albums.

Instamatic 1

Even after swimming my little Kodak Brownie camera worked for a picture of a friend photographing a wet model in my car.

Taped 'em down 1

The sticky corners failed so I just taped the pictures from my Kodak Instamatic to the pages.     Note my early “selfie” wearing a gas mask.

Tape didn't work 1

I tried glue, but it wasn’t that successful.

Petri V6

Masking tap sort of worked, but my early attempts in the darkrooom processing film from my Petri V6 weren’t always very successful.

Spotmatic ii

A favourable outcome using the Spotmatic and processing the film at the “Free Venice” festival.  The pictures still fell out of the self-adhesive album.


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.



20 responses to “My First Cameras   

  1. My first camera (originally my mother’s) was a 116 Kokak box camera of 1920’s vintage. Took eight shots on slightly smaller than postcard-size film, so you had to be sure before you clicked. Complex controls labelled “sunshine”/ “cloudy”. Des.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My first camera (in the very early 1970s) was a Kodak Instamatic 33 that used 126 film cartridges – I was about 8 years old when I got it, and loved taking pictures even then 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My first camera was an Agfa Isolette 120 folding camera that was originally my mother’s. I have somewhere some negatives and prints of Suez and Pompeii that I took at the age of 10 but was unable to find them last time I looked. Maybe that was stolen. My next camera about 15 years later was a Pentax SV. I also got a Cosina (Pentax screw) which died and after that bought a Nikkormat and switched to Nikon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know those cameras Murray, and I still like the Agfa folder. However, I was not a fan of the not-so-durable Cosina.
      Ya know, I think there are really a lot of us that, like you and I, moved from Pentax to Nikon.


  4. That was an interesting comment you made about folk moving from Pentax to Nikon. I did just that myself – to Nikon FM2 manual with Series E lenses mostly (couldn’t afford “the real McCoy”) . I only gave up the FM2’s in recent years when I had to move to auto-focus (eyesight problems) and more recently to digital. My first 35 mm was an Ilford Sportsman (not slr) – cost all of 11 guineas in the early 60’s.
    Thank you for following my blog. I hope you will get some pleasure from the mix of photography and history, ancient and modern. Des.


    • Hi Desmond, An Ilford Sportsman? I must look that up. Ya know, I am like you regarding AF. Unless I am doing macro and have lots of time to watch the little green AF Assist dote I have to rely on AF.
      I expect to have a good time with the mix of photography and history you present on your blog.


  5. Lovely, those old photos 🙂

    I started off with an Agfa Click 1 when I was 11… A birthday present – if I remember correctly… Mostly family shots… But even then I used to take it along whenever possible… If you make a search for ‘Berlin’ on my blog, you can see I’m not lying 😉 Even a bit of real history.
    Next came a Kodak Instamatic with those funny flash bulbs… and then nothing for quite some time.
    My first (second hand) SLR appeared when I bumped into a camera salesman – A Praktika. No idea any more what model it was, only that it came with a 50mm lens. And with it I realized that I did not want to give up again and eventually bought myself an Olympus OM2 with a 35mm and an 80mm which accompanied me on the bike, travelling and walking through the streets, joining protest marches… you name it… (and a 4 years study of photography in the Arts Academy in Antwerp…) until it finally died of ‘dust inhalation’. That was the moment to switch to digital as I had moved and had no room for the darkroom any more…

    So, now you have a bit of an idea where I come from… 🙂


    • Thanks for your fun camera history Nil. I remember giving a girl friend a Practice for Christmas. The Pentax/Practica mount meant she could borrow my Spotmatic II lenses.
      You wrote, “now you have a bit of an idea where I come from…” Ahh..thats why I like yer photography.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks again for liking my photography (and the short version of my photographic history…) 🙂

        Reading your post again now, about those 70ies camera’s… somewhere in my hart I am still a bw-er , I think, as much as I enjoy now working with colours as well… bw still has a way of going straight to the essence, I think…
        But back into a darkroom? Hmmm… I don’t think so… 😉


      • Ha, I agree with you regarding the dark room Nil.
        And as to your long (mine too) enjoyment with B&W. If you have some time and are interested, you’ll find a few articles about B&W on my blog.


  6. John—I’m really enjoying following your blog. Reading this article, I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw the example photo from your Petri, the one with the masking tape: that’s me walking in the rain in Venice wearing the fireman-style surplus-purchased P-coat I favored in those days! I distinctly remember that photo from the brief time we shared a darkroom. (I recall a guy who made glass hash pipes in a studio nearby…) I think I had a Pentax with the clip-on light meter or a Mamiya-Sekor 35mm with built-in meter at that time. I love the funky, murky quality of your moody photo. I sometimes try to approach that look using a pinhole lens with my digital camera or through processing in Photoshop. Gave up on darkroom work a very long time ago.


    • Yep thats you walking on a rainy day Richard. And I remember that Pentax of your fondly. You lent it to me for the photo-class I was taking when my Petri failed.
      That “moody” look was me printing from the wet negative before the wash.
      I must send you a pict of all you guys making music in the empty lot next to our apartments.


      • Can’t remember the model of that Pentax—H3 or something? (You’d probably know.) I later got a Pentax MX that I used for years and recently gave to my daughter’s boyfriend, who had an interest in film photography, although he’s pretty sold on his new Fujifilm mirrorless.

        Try to get the moody look led me to using a Holga for a while.

        I think you already sent me the photo of the music making in the empty lot when we first made contact—love it! I sent it on to my daughter who always wondered what I looked like with long hair and beard. That photo and the one above reinforces for me the “historical” value of photography.


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