Articles

COLLECTING VINTAGE CAMERAS

I am 51 years old, and have always been interested in photography. I have fond memories of exploring the Southern Ontario countryside as a young boy, with my grandfather's old Kodak Duaflex box camera in my hand. I was just twelve at the time. I also recall my first new camera. It was a Christmas gift; a Vivitar 110 pocket camera. But my first experience with a real camera was when I was in high school; my older brother kindly allowed me to use his brand-new Canon AT-1 SLR for my eleventh grade photography classes. The year was 1977 and I was 16 years old. The Canon AT-1 had just been introduced to the world in December of 1976, and I was proud as punch to be the only student in my school using this new model! Truth be told, school bored me... with the exception of my photography class! I was mesmerized in the darkroom; seeing the images coming alive before my very eyes was pure magic, plain and simple.

Over the course of the next 30 years or so, I owned various inexpensive and mostly forgettable cameras. Raising a family, and life in general, always seemed to prevent me from owning anything close to the quality of my brother's Canon AT-1. In 2007 we were planning a trip to Africa, so I purchased a decent Sony H7 ultrazoom for the occasion. That trip, and the photographs I took over the many weeks we were in remote Western Uganda, really got my "photographic adrenaline" going again. I shot a series of candid portraits, as well as the usual touristy-type fare. (game drives, scenic landscapes, etc) Once we had returned to Canada, National Geographic expressed an interest in my Africa photos; (The magazine's chief editor happened upon my images on a photography forum) in particular my "Africa Candid Portraits" series, and went on to publish them in 2009. This was the "feather in my cap" that I needed to boost my confidence and spread my wings, and from that point forward, I have been living and breathing photography. I particularly enjoy landscapes, I suppose because I live in such a stunningly scenic region of the world.

I should perhaps mention here that I one day took a very bad fall, and the resultant damage to my upper spine is unfortunately irreparable. This serious and permanent spinal injury forced me into an early retirement... an upside being that I now suddenly had all the time in the world to really build upon my passion for photography. In 2008 I purchased my first DSLR, a Sony Alpha A200, along with some vintage Minolta Maxxum prime lenses that just so happen to share the Sony's Alpha mount, meaning that even these decades-old lenses were suddenly fully stabilized, thanks to Sony's in-camera anti-shake technology. Over the next few years I have added three more Sony Alpha bodies to my arsenal; the A500, A550, and most recently the translucent mirror SLT-A57.

Then a funny thing happened. Out of the blue, I started to think about the fun I used to have with that old Kodak Duaflex and my brother's Canon AT-1. I thought about how it was more enjoyable back then, when you really had to stop and think... to slowly and methodically plan out each and every capture, rather than simply rely on today's "machine gunning" tactics. Sure!... if you take 200 shots of something, you are bound to get a keeper or two! Now don't get me wrong; I love my DSLR's and doubt that I could ever part with them. But sometimes I get the feeling that this is just not... well... real photography as I once knew it. I found myself longing for a big, solid, heavy, metal camera that would really make me use my head for a change. Rather than a built-in computer chip to make decisions for me, I wanted to return to the basics of determining my own settings for that perfect photo. But aside from the techniques involved, I was really missing those gorgeous old cameras that felt like a tank in my hands, rather than today's feather-weight, molded plastic "computer with a lens".

So I began lurking in various online photography forums, getting a feel for all things analogue. I promptly discovered that film is indeed very much alive and well these days! I began actively participating in discussion groups that have memberships into the tens of thousands! I found that there is an enormous film world out there, that a whole new generation has discovered film photography with the help of Instagram, lomography, Holga, etc, etc. And perhaps most importantly, I discovered that there are a great many beautifully preserved classic cameras readily available at little cost!

And so it began. Little by little, I realized just what types of cameras most interested me. I did a lot of research; learned what to look for when purchasing vintage gear, which cameras offer the most "bang for the buck", which are least prone to mechanical failure, easiest to repair, etc, etc. Although I like a wide variety of camera types, I found myself particularly drawn (at least in the beginning) to Soviet-made 35mm rangefinders, and was fortunate to eventually snag a truly mint 1960 FED 2, and an equally pristine 1963 Zorki-4; both have wonderful "Industar" lenses, and produce excellent photographs. Later I gravitated toward medium format folders. As I am only interested in cameras which look and function as if they are brand new, it has taken me awhile, but I am currently the proud owner of four beautiful folders; namely a 96-year-old Kodak Autographic 1A that I have adapted to accommodate 120 roll film, a 1951 Ensign Ranger, 1951 Franka Solida 1, and 1953 Voigtlander Perkeo 1, all of which I will be using this summer for my Newfoundland landscapes.

I have over the past couple of years also acquired many fine 35mm SLR's. (Canon AT-1 and AE-1, Cosina CT-1 Super, the cult-classic Asahi Pentax K1000, a couple of Minolta Maxxum 700SI's, and the world's first autofocus SLR, the beloved Minolta Maxxum 7000) Throw into the mix a few more 35mm rangefinders like the Minolta Hi-Matic F, Vivitar 35ES, Canon Canonet 28 and Yashica Electro 35 GSN... a few simple box cameras, such as the Kodak Duaflex 1, (a perfect clone of grandpa's, which I had somehow lost somewhere along the road of life) a Brownie Flash Six-20 and Brownie Target Six-16, and I'm seeing a nice, well-rounded collection in my display cabinet.

But my all-time favorite camera of all, without a shadow of a doubt, has to be my immaculate 1958 Yashica 635 dual-format (takes both 35mm and 120 roll film) twin lens reflex; easily my most cherished possession in my entire collection. Any Yashica 635 in working condition would be a fine addition to a photographer's bag, but this one is particularly special, in that it is not only in absolutely mint condition, but is also extremely rare; in fact it is quite possibly the only remaining functioning Yashica 635 on the planet with factory-installed black radial control dials, (to adjust aperture and shutter) rather than the usual silver knobs... this has made it a valuable collector's item according to two of the world's leading camera experts/historians, who have painstakingly analyzed/compared its serial/model numbers, etc., with a vast database. They have concluded that my camera is indeed one of the very first 635's ever made, and that it is in fact one of only about 15 ever manufactured with these "incorrect" dials. (it remains unknown as to whether these black knobs were mistakenly installed, or perhaps the result of a temporary shortage in the supply of silver dials)

A world-renown Yashica expert advised me that I should keep the camera permanently enclosed in a sealed, climate-controlled cabinet, and to never use it. Well, I bought it to use, and that's precisely what I have been doing... I've just been VERY careful with it! I do keep it in an enclosed cabinet, (not climate controlled, as such, but I do have a dehumidifier in the room, as our ocean climate is extremely humid) I have purchased a quality padded/fitted case for when I do go out with it, have attached a very secure strap, and have made sure to have ample insurance coverage. But I think it would be a great shame to just admire it behind glass. I plan to use this camera at every opportunity. The images it produces on Ilford Delta 100 Professional film are stunning in their tonal quality, sharpness and contrast. A real beauty that is such a breeze to use.

There is one more camera that I am about to add to my collection. I have ordered a hand-crafted "ONDU" medium format (6X6) "Pocket Pinhole" camera from a custom camera maker in Slovenia, who recently raised funding for his new company through Kickstarter.com. I should be taking delivery of my very first pinhole camera in Oct/2013.

So there you have it, in a nutshell. In the past couple of years I have gone from four DSLR's to about 30 cameras in total, most which are vintage beauties from decades past. In the past year I have returned to developing my own black and white film for the first time in 36 years. I scan the negatives (35mm and 120) to my computer using an Epson V600 flatbed film scanner. Yes, I would prefer to wet-print, but unfortunately my ongoing spinal issues prevent me from doing so. (am bedridden much of the time)

I want to take a moment to say how thrilled I am, as a newcomer to Ipernity. (I had become increasingly frustrated with a continually worsening Flickr experience, and thankfully discovered Ipernity as a substitute) I have already met many like-minded photographers and vintage camera buffs. Ipernity is a wonderful venue for discussing ideas, asking questions, picking up pointers, etc. with others who share a passion for photography.

Glen