I’m nostalgic for old cameras but not for film

Unlike many photographers my age (I’m rapidly approaching the half century mark), I have no fond memories for film. Back then, my experience was strictly point and shoot film cameras other than a few stints with the Yashica Electro 35, which I talked about yesterday. The colors rarely came out right and I had a sense of trepidation picking up my developed film.

It started out okay. My first experience with the Electro 35 was on a class trip to Washington D.C. I have distant memories of taking a photo at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. My father loaded the camera with black and white — he said it was good way to start instead of using color. Back then the Electro 35 was a fancy camera, especially for a kid in middle school. Most of my friends used Kodak Instamatics.

I never did take to photography. My family photos dwindled during high school, probably because like most teens, I no longer wanted my parents to take snaps of me. None of my friends where into photography. We were all the early adopters of primitive home computers, pre-IBM PC. Somewhere at the end of college, I finally started to take pictures for myself. But by then, all I used where compact film point and shoots — a couple of Pentaxes over a 15 year span.

It wasn’t until 2002, with my first digital, that my interest for photography rekindled. I’m grateful that I took those film photos, even with that modest camera. But my use of film was a necessary evil. The only way to record those memories, with that imperfect and inconsistent media. While I yearn for the quality and beauty of those old cameras, I choose to ignore the fuel that powers them.

After a decade of using digital, I have no nostolgia for going back to the “good old days”. I have on display 3 classic cameras that my father gave me — a Leica M3, a similar era Contax Rangefinder and a Rolliflex Twin Lens Reflex. I have no idea if they work. The Electro 35 will take its place next to them. Not because of its equal status for mechanical perfection, but because of its link to my childhood.

Yes, I know that there are better films than the bargain basement consumer types I used. Maybe the modern processing is more consistent. Perhaps I should use slide film instead. But I’m not jumping on the nostalgia train just yet.

Rather than my love for picture-taking, it’s ironically this blog that may pull me in to explore film. As a writer, I’m in search of stories, experiences that I can write about in the context of photography. So maybe, just maybe, you might see a change of heart. At least I do have a twinge of curiosity about Velvia or for the gritty feel of black and white. The latter will certainly bring me full circle, to that time when I snapped that first photo at the Smithsonian over 35 years ago.

8 thoughts on “I’m nostalgic for old cameras but not for film

  1. As you know, I’ve shot a good amount of film lately. My perspective is a bit different than yours. I don’t have any sort of photographic heritage. Sure, we took a few pictures growing up. We had cheap instamatic cameras with 110 film and a Polaroid as I remember. My real journey in photography began about 4 years ago now. Part of my nature when I undertake a new hobby or interest is that in addition to learning the current technology, I like to delve into the history. It’s hard to appreciate where we are without knowing how we got there. I’ve dabbled with film recently with a child-like wonderment. It has taught me many things and I’m becoming a better photographer for it. I appreciate old cameras not out of any sense of nostalgia because I never had anything growing up as nice as the film cameras I’ve purchased recently. I am, however, taken by the craftsmanship and longevity of these old beauties. There is a sense of permanence to the machine and the media. Our modern digital cameras are so temporary in comparison. Useful for precious little time considering their cost, discarded like a styrofoam cup when the next model emerges with mo’ better features. Some of my film cameras are 60 years old. I’d consider myself to be doing quite well to get a tenth of that useful lifetime out of a digital camera. Who knows though. Perhaps 50 years from now, these expensive little gadgets will be prized by a new generation for a retro look and feel.

    1. Mike, I agree with all you said about film cameras vs. digital cameras. My appreciation for film cameras, I guess, goes beyond just nostalgia. Though I didn’t go into it. I really like the quality of the devices from the bygone era.

      Film, that a different story for me. But I do understand the goodness of that medium to some extent. I predict that some time in the future, I will go out with you and shoot some film. Even if its just to re-remember what it was like to do so.

  2. When I started, point and shoot was a brownie box camera. 35mm was the hot new format and old time photogs said it was a fad that would never last. I did own large format cameras for years, especially for shooting weddings and other events where a big negative could be a plus in the darkroom. I liked black and white film … I could do it myself and using various papers and dodging, burning and other shadow show stuff produce some really interesting … remarkable … photographs. But paper and chemicals were expensive, time consuming and as long as I had access to the University’s dark room, it was great. I used their chemicals and paper and equipment and didn’t have to figure out where to put one in my overcrowded home. When I could no longer use their facilities, I gave up darkroom work — and black and white — entirely until, oh joyous day, digital arrived … 25 years later. Like a duck to water I dove in and never looked back. I do NOT miss film. I do NOT miss the chemicals, the cost, worrying if I had enough film or (oops) did I load it right or whatever. I sometimes wish some of the effects you got on film could be properly reproduced digitally … but we get closer every day. You still can’t get — especially in B&W — the kind of depth we got using certain paper and lens combos. Maybe that’s lost to us forever. And I don’t miss the old cameras, either. Just the lenses. I had some unbelievable lenses … Leica and Bronica and Rollei … I’d have to mortgage my soul to get them back today and I’m not sure what souls are selling for on the open market. So … I’m with you. Except you can keep the old cameras, too 🙂

  3. Why bother with black and white film if you are just going to scan it. The wet darkroom is what makes black and white film exciting. I haven’t used my darkroom in ten years. In fact it’s not set up anymore since I moved three years ago and I’m not about to set it up again. Digital has made me lazy but the excitement of printing a difficult negative is far more satisfying than pulling a rabbit out of the hat with post processing software.

    1. Tom, you know the funny thing is that I never developed film until fairly recently. My son took a short course on black and white photography and I “helped out with the class” because I wanted to see how to print film. It was interesting to use the enlarger and use the chemical baths.

      And by interesting I mean in a “reliving history” sense but it’s not something would want to do often.

  4. Only thing that made me enter a dark room when I was a student was that cute and shy brunette called Cecile who was in charge of the photo club of my college. She taught me the rudiments of the technique, and my heart was always beating a bit faster in that dark room with her.

    I guess I could go back to a dark room and develop B&W again, but, that would just be too much nostalgia. Definitely.

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