Friday, 22 February 2008


I was speculating today about the reasons we choose a particular brand of camera, and more importantly, why we stay with it. I have only owned five brands of camera in over 40 years of photography, and only two could be described as at all serious photographically.

My first camera was a baby Ilford point and shoot that took 127 roll film. I think there was one control - for close-ups/portraits and/or everything else. My second was a Halina Paulette Electric. That was a 35mm camera, with proper focusing and control of shutter speed and aperture, but a fixed lens. Focus had to be estimated from the distance scale of the camera, and I had a separate, flash shoe (not hot!) mounted split image rangefinder to help! The camera was entirely mechanical, apart from a built-in exposure meter, which gave a readout that had to be transfered, via a numbered aperture, to the lens.

After a while, I graduated to my father's Practika SLR. I still have it somewhere in the loft, and it was in working order last time I checked. It had a waist-level finder and no focusing aids apart from a magnifying glass for the ground glass screen. There was a 50mm standard lens and the exotic joy of a 35mm wide angle and 135mm telephoto. I don't remember the manufacturer of these, but they shared a single M42 mount and linkages, with the optics bayonetting into the front of the mount.

My father then moved on to a Practika with a bayonet mount, and I inherited his Practika IVF. Again, an M42 camera with no electronics at all and a shutter mechanism that was so stiff it almost guaranteed camera shake! It did have a pentaprism and a split-image viewfinder, although a separate meter was still needed. However, I took my first serious pictures with that camera, and it lasted me for some years.

Eventually a new job, and more money, meant I could step up to a new camera. I had long admired (and lusted after) a friend's OM1. I loved it's small size and light weight, the crisp optics and match-needle metering. I even photographed the friend's wedding with it (at which point I swore to never, ever, do another wedding as the main photographer... just too nerve-wracking!).

So when the money meant my credit card could take the strain, I bought my first "modern" SLR - an OM20. Having learned the old-fashioned way, I rarely used the auto mode and mostly shot manual, but it was just such a joy after the huge Practika! After a short while, I picked up an OM2SP - with the huge bonus of a spot meter! This was the point at which I started taking photographs for work: I couldn't afford to hire photographers as I had in previous jobs, and if I wanted illustrations for a story or a press release, the only way was to shoot it myself. There was a small and unused darkroom at work I used for printing, bringing in my old "Gnome" enlarger from home. Before long, I was universally regarded as the official photographer - which sometimes put me in a difficult position as far as work priorities were concerned!

At the same time, I was acquiring lenses and flash, and other paraphernalia . I was very popular at my local camera shop! However, I was also having photographs published regularly in the local and professional press, illustrating my own publications and campaigns, and having great fun! I also learnt the hard way about the importance of fresh batteries and back-up cameras. The mechanical manual mode on my OM2SP got me out of trouble on a number of occasions, but that sinking feeling as something goes completely belly-up was truly horrendous.

My next acquisition was an OM4, second hand and after part-exchanging my OM20. That camera has now served me well for more than 15 years, travelled round the world twice and has (touch wood) never given any trouble that fresh batteries can't cure. I do wonder whether the same will be true of my present cameras in 15 years time.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the investment in bodies was reflected in an investment in lenses, giving me focal lengths from 21mm to 200mm (400mm if you include the Olympus 2X-A teleconverter) in Olympus Zuiko glass, plus Sirius 18-28mm zoom and 500mm catadioptic lenses.

Of course, I was aware of the advent of autofocus, and was highly entertained by the Chief Photographer of one of the local rags, who, having bought the first pro AF Nikon, completely cocked up his first job with it - focusing neatly on the wall behind the two people who were supposed to be the subject... How we all laughed! If he hadn't been such a pompous ass, we might have been more sympathetic.

However, the advent of AF marked the beginning of the end for my relationship with Olympus for several years. They had produced an AF lens as early as the OM2SP, with self-contained electronics and motor, and there were a couple of other models with AF - but nothing on a par with the OMs I was used to. I wanted AF, knowing that my poor focusing skills let down some of my photography (to be fair to myself, poor eyesight was probably the real problem). That, and a change of job that meant photography was no longer a part of my personal routine (although I bought photography from others) meant a sort of hiatus that lasted many years... but more of that another day.

No comments: