I was 10 years old when I bought my first camera. It was a Zenith EM SLR with a 200mm telephoto lens. It handled like a brick and weighed as much as half a dozen bricks but I adored it. I bought it because I wanted to take pictures of nature. I dragged my parents everywhere. They followed a respectable distance behind mostly while I crept up on birds and rabbits or ran off into the distance chasing a sunset. It was a film camera of course.
Getting Rolled with Film
You generally got around 30 pictures out of one roll of film if you loaded it well. Then you had to send the roll away to be developed. There was a wait of around one week until your photos returned by post.
When I opened up the package I always remember being slightly disappointed.
What I’d seen through the lens wasn’t what I now held in my hand. The colours were dull, the images were usually a bit blurry and at least half of the roll was chronically under or over exposed.
I must have shot dozens of rolls of film with that camera but the results were always the same. I still kept going though, because I loved so many aspects of photography.
The pictures were just one tiny part of something much, much greater.
All the Gear, No Idea
I loved the feel of the camera in my hands. It was heavy sturdy metal, not like the plastic cameras of today. It made all kinds of clunky mechanical noises.
As a boy, fascinated by cars and spaceships this used to thrill me.
I loved the smell of the enormous leather camera box I used to carry it in. I bought coloured filters and spent hours cleaning and polishing every component. Arranging them and then re-arranging them in the box.
It had luminous paint on the F-Stop numbers and a little red light that would come on if you’d set something outside of the camera’s recommended capabilities. The light meter was like a tiny compass needle that you had to line up with a circle to check your exposure levels.
Even though it was first realised in 1972, this chunky camera was the most advanced piece of technology I had in 1985 and I cherished it.
I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing. Once or twice I managed to get a half decent photo, but I didn’t care. I was addicted to the idea of being a photographer.
In 1987 I was returning home from a trip to St James’s Park in London with my mother when disaster struck. In a momentary lapse of concentration I left my beautiful Zenith camera on the train.
To this day I don’t remember having cried so inconsolably at any other time in my life.
I cried so much my mother took me out the next day and bought me a new camera. Presumably, to shut me up as much as anything else.
I was 11 and the owner of a brand new Practica MTL.
This camera was a step up in terms of usability but I missed the feeling of the Zenith. Despite using it constantly I never quite fell in love with the Practica.
Within a few months of getting it I’d already started to save my paper round money for something else.
The Olympus Years
Only a year after purchasing the Practica I swapped it for an Olympus OM 707. This was my first big brand camera. Olympus was a huge name in the camera market in the 80’s.
I kept this camera throughout my school days.
It had a standard 50mm f2.8 lens and that was it. It was all black instead of the traditional silver/black of older SLR’s. It had a digital readout on top which told you how many shots you had remaining. Trust me. This was one special feature at the time.
When eventually it came time to trade up to a new camera I actually had to search the house for that black Olympus. I’d resigned it to box a couple of years earlier after discovering alcohol and girls. The year was 1995.
The next logical progression for me was the Olympus OM10. It was probably the first camera I’d owned that I felt confident was capable of taking pro quality pictures. I swiftly went about purchasing an array of fine lenses for it including a fisheye. There were very few fisheyes for SLR’s back then. Most people, including me, purchased one for a movie camera and jammed it on using an adapter. I had bags of fun with that lens.
Much to the annoyance of my friends I would carry that camera everywhere. Always sticking it in their hungover tired faces and asking them to move a little to the left. Sorry guys! Thanks for putting up with me.
I held onto the Olympus OM10 for nearly 10 years. It was an amazing time in my life and I have some amazing photos to remind me.
In 2004 I sold the Olympus and bought a Canon digital rebel. This was the first consumer digital SLR and to say it was a game changer probably doesn’t do it justice.
Those reading this who have grown up in the digital era can never begin to imagine what this camera did for photography.
For the first time ever, SLR die-hards could take as many pictures as they wanted and not have to worry about the cost of film or developing. You could snap away to your heart’s content, see the results instantly and if you didn’t like the pictures, you could simply delete them.
That simple fact brought SLR photography to the masses. It meant that you could experiment. You could get it wrong and have another go without it costing you money.
Aspiring photographers everywhere who might never have bought a film SLR bought the Canon Rebel. And Photography was changed forever.
Go Pro with a Nikon
Fast forward 2 years and I was getting ready for my second backpacking trip. The digital market had picked up speed since the Rebel’s release. I knew I wanted the perfect travel camera and I was going to break the bank to get it.
I sold the Rebel to a friend and picked up a brand new Nikon D200.
Since the 1980’s I had fantasized about owning a Nikon.
I remembered seeing news reports from far away sounding places like Madagascar, Sri Lanka and The Falkland Islands. Seeing reporters from the BBC and National Geographic brave leech infested swamps, rain forests and war zones. They always had Nikons. To me, Nikon was the Rolls Royce of cameras. I knew I would own one-one day.
I bought the body only and had to wait 4 agonising weeks before the 18-200mm lens turned up in the post.
I shot literally thousands of pics while backpacking in 2006. I sent them home on CD’s. Many of them feature on this blog.
The Ultimate Evolution
I could’ve stopped there. Perhaps I should have. But in 2008 Nikon released the first consumer full frame sensor camera. The D700. I’d gotten used to APS-C sized sensors by this time but I missed the large bright viewfinders of my film cameras.
The full frame D700, represented the best of both worlds. All the advantages of 35mm film photography and digital photography rolled up into one package.
I had to have one. At £1700 in 2008 the D700 was by no means cheap. I justified the purchase by telling myself it would be an investment. No longer would I have to keep trading in bits for newer bits. I could buy a D700 and a selection of prime lenses and I’d be set for life.
If I stuck with Nikon, all I’d have to do is buy a new camera every decade or so to keep ahead of the game. The lenses I could use forever.
Over the next 5 years I collected a 50mm f1.4G lens, a 24mm f2.8 lens, a 135mm f2 DC lens and a 16mm f2.8 fisheye. It was a dream line-up and I took the most amazing photos of my life. Then I sold the lot on eBay earlier this year and invested the money instead.
Here’s what 28 years of trying to take amazing photos has taught me.
The Importance of Photos
A few months ago Navi and I went through another downsizing exercise in preparation for our forthcoming trip. Among many things on the chopping block so to speak were our photo albums. After the death of my parents we’d inherited their albums too and what with my history with photography we had literally dozens. So many in fact that digitising them all would have been practically impossible.
Instead we took to going through each album and evaluating which photographs were important enough to scan properly and keep. Very quickly something enlightening happened.
We noticed that the only photos we gave a damn about were photos of friends and family.
In the end, what really matters are people and the shared memory of an experience.
Photos are only really there to remind you of that feeling. If you take away the people, many photos lose their significance over time. Have fun being a photographer. Shoot sunsets, boats and buildings if you like. Just remember, after 10 years of sitting on your cloud storage, these beautiful vistas won’t be as important to you as a grainy holiday snap of your mates.