Ringing the Changes
Having retained my passion for photography for more than half a century you can well believe that I've owned and used (sometimes borrowed!) a lot of different cameras. The first camera I owned was some sort of toy camera bought for me by my paternal grandmother in Woolworths for 5 shillings (25p) It did take photographs and I remember pleading with my gran to buy it for me – I even suggested I'd pay her back when I got some money, which never happened, of course. At secondary school we went on a field trip and I borrowed my dad's camera which wasn't anything more than a plastic box with a plastic lens but I got a few black and white photographs which were satisfactory to me in those days.
My first camera, that could be called a camera was a Kodak Brownie Vectra – another plastic box with a plastic lens but I loved it and took as many photographs as I could and hoped mum and dad would support me with film and processing – black and white, of course.
Once I'd left school and started my apprenticeship I eventually managed to buy my first adjustable camera; a second-hand Halina 35X Super, which I bought for £9 – on hire-purchase at 4/6 (22.5p) a week (refer to URL: http://www.alsblog.co.uk/halina.html). This would have been in the late 1960s.
As soon as I could afford to, I bought my first SLR, new, for a penny short of £30. This was a Pentacon Pentaflex SL with what was the cheapest lens - based on the Domiplan design. How I wished I'd spent a little more money and bought the Tessar lens option which was so much better in terms of image quality. Photography really took a big hold on me in those days and I sometimes used a number of cameras together – with a different type of film in each. I often used to borrow a second-hand Pentacon Praktica MAT from the local camera shop where the salesman really looked after me and helped me in every way he could. I owe him a lot for his kindness and his enthusiasm for my photography.
During this period, I bought an additional camera, a Yashica MAT with a Yashinon lens. How I wish I still had it. Superb quality photographs on the 6 cm x 6 cm format film. And it was SO robust. Built like the proverbial tank! I also bought, I don't know when, a Minolta 126 film camera that had a 'clockwork' power winder.
Towards the end of 1971, I left my job and went to study in Leicester and here I bought one of my 'star' cameras. This was a second-hand Asahi Pentax Spotmatic with a 50 mm f1.4 Super Takumar lens for which I paid £95 – I still have both this camera and the lens. If you've seen any of my recently 'digitised' photographs many of them were copied using this lens fixed to my digital camera via a bellows unit (refer to URL: http://www.alsblog.co.uk/digitising_photos.html).
Using this camera and lens combination, I achieved my biggest ever print size – 8' 6" wide (2.59 metres) which went, together with other prints a little smaller, on display in the local Datsun (now Nissan) showroom where they remained for more than 20 years.
The end of the 1970s saw me change to Canon cameras when I bought a new Canon A-1 which was a revolutionary camera at the time. I don't recall buying it with a lens as I seem to remember obtaining a free Canon 35 mm f2.8 lens through a 'points scheme' that the company I worked for ran at the time. I'd accrued enough points to get this lens which saved my buying one with the camera body. If I remember correctly the camera body cost about £186 at the time – quite a lot of money back in about 1979. I still have this camera and lens.
At some stage I bought a second-hand Exa VX500 which I later passed on to a friend of mine together with a 300 mm lens. I hadn't used it very much so was only too pleased to give it to a friend who hadn't got a camera at all.
During this period of my life I sold quite a number of photographs and had various magazines publish my articles. I certainly wasn't making a living out of it but felt justified in buying a complete medium format camera outfit. I travelled to the shop of Keith Joseph Photographic in London and purchased a Mamiya 646J camera with a range of lenses, as well as power winder and a TTL Pentaprism head and other accessories. This outfit set me back £1250 – a huge sum to me in those days. In actual fact I'd got lucky buying this outfit when I did as there was a change to the importer of Mamiya equipment and the prices went through the roof shortly after my purchase. If I remember correctly, some of the prices tripled! I still have this equipment and have since added additional lenses to the outfit.
At some stage, I bought a Canon EOS 10. I can't remember what year this was. I do remember taking it with me when I moved to the Philippines early in 1997, where it was stolen. In November 2000, I married Grace and we went to live and work in Kuwait. In 2001, we went to an exhibition and I bought a Canon EOS 5 for probably around £450, which would have been one of the last produced. This had eye-controlled focusing and was a lovely camera. I still have this too.
Some years later, during our time in Qatar, I was finding it more and more difficult to obtain good quality processing so elected to 'go digital' in July 2006. I bought a new Canon EOS 5D which, like the A-1, was a revolutionary camera at that time – and cost almost £2500 for just the body. The huge increase in cost compared to a film camera could only be justified by the saving I made in not having to pay for film or processing. I took about 10 000 photographs in the first year I owned this camera with no additional expense for film/processing.
This was the camera I used for more than 11 years so was extremely good value when looked at from that perspective. The only additional expense was lenses, which would be the case with any camera that I owned - and additional hard drives on which to store my photographs. This camera is still in use even after all these years.
My current camera is also a Canon EOS 5D, this being the Mk. II version which I'm really delighted with, especially as I only paid £600 for the body, second-hand, in really excellent condition (refer to URL: http://www.alsblog.co.uk/buy_used.html).
Despite this being a fairly long list of equipment, you need to think that these cameras have been used during a period of more than 50 years and have often received quite heavy use. In actual fact, I've always hated changing my camera as it means getting used to another piece of equipment. The only reason I've upgraded equipment, especially in the early days, was to get a camera and lens that would produce better quality images or give me more versatility – or both. Whether or not I'll ever buy another camera remains to be seen – maybe a second-hand Canon EOS 5D Mk. III or a Canon EOS 5DS or EOS 5DS R or even a Canon EOS 1D X Mk. III if I ever feel it necessary to upgrade again, which is doubtful.
I just wish my dad was still around to use my camera(s) and see the photographs. In fact, I'd buy him a camera just like the model I have now as he loved photography too but could never afford the cost in those days when it was quite unaffordable to working class folks like us. How times have changed.
All comments on my blog should be addressed to: email@example.com