The film years
Photography has always been my most favourite hobby, something which I thank my father for guiding my interest and supporting over the years. I decided to write this blog entry as sort of a biography of the history of photography in my life. This is a rewrite of my original post written in January of 2012.
My hobby in photography started out when I was very young, with a Kodak Winner 110 camera. This was a rather unremarkable brown camera with an orange shutter button, and a lever that I would slide to advance the film. Film came on 110 format cartridges, and I could plug in disposable flashes that were good for 8 uses. The resulting pictures were very soft and unremarkable, but the camera held up very well to the abuse I put it through.
I didn’t take very many photographs at first, in part because, for me, a roll of 110 film was expensive to buy and process, and so was the flash, so I relied upon the generosity of my father to provide film; however, since he was shooting on 35mm film, he had little desire to purchase 110 format film. Also, I wasn’t much of a photographer. I had yet to develop an eye, and did not realize yet that the lack of quality in my photographs was due to the small film and small lens of my camera. That was to change in 1985.
The first major photographic event in my life was the 6th Canadian Scout Jamboree that took place in the summer of 1985 in the Guelph Lake Conservation Area in Guelph, Ontario. This was a big deal for me, as I got to be one of 12,000 attendees from all over the world of this historic event that happens only once every four years, so I was sure to bring my camera with me to capture this once in a lifetime opportunity.
When I got my photographs back, I immediately noticed that the quality was nowhere near what my father was able to achieve with his Pentax. Details were lost so it was difficult to identify people unless the pictures were close up. I was glad to have captured those memories, but I knew then that I wanted a better camera, so for Christmas that year, my mother and father bought me my very first SLR: A very slightly used Pentax K1000. It came with a camera bag, self timer, lens filters, and a 28mm lens.
As I grew into a teenager, my father recognized my desire to take better pictures and to learn the art of photography. On Christmas in 1985, he gave me a gently used Pentax K1000 camera body with a 28mm lens and some extras like filters, a self timer, and camera bag. He later gave me his old, but still very good, manual focus 50mm lens. I still have these today.
The K1000 was a wonderful gift on which I learned about the relationship between aperture, shutter speed, film speed, and things like depth of field, composure, composition, and exposure. Even though it took me years to develop an eye for photography, I was always pleased with the quality of pictures I could take with it, and wanted to take it everywhere with me. At this point, I need to credit the Boy Scouts of Canada for my love of camping, and my parents for my love of photography.
I used to say that the K1000 wasn’t always a convenient camera. I reasoned that I needed to tote around a bag which contained the camera, two lenses, a flash, the filters, the self timer, and film. though really I could have just carried the camera and the 50mm lens. In reality, I was insecure. My father helped me get a gig at the Cobourg Mall taking smiling kid photographs for two weeks in 1991 and 1992, and I really can’t explain why I didn’t start a career in photography after that. I suppose I was too young to appreciate what I had, perhaps I was a little too insecure, and thought I would chase the big bucks in the computer industry. Many of my friends were shooting with 35mm point-and-shoot cameras that were less conspicuous and would easily fit into a pocket, and I felt like the K1000 made me stick out. To their credit, even a cheap 35mm camera with a plastic lens took far better photographs than the Winner 110 camera ever could, but in hindsight, I really wish I had just stuck with my K1000 in the early 90’s.
In the mid-1990’s, cheap, disposable cameras were all the rage. These were cameras from various film makers that could be bought with the film pre-loaded, and came with a pretty good built-in lens and a flash, and the price included processing. Some of these cameras were waterproof as well. I could simply drop the entire camera into a bag and drop it off for processing. With me starting a career, a new life married to my wife Sally, and plans to buy our first home, it fit with our busy lives.
Shortly after getting married, I picked up my K1000 to help my father shoot his high school reunion. It felt good to be doing something professional with my camera again.
My father pointed out that many of the pictures I had taken of our honeymoon didn’t have both me and my wife in a picture together, because the cheap disposables lacked the all-important self timer. I had one for my K1000, but I wasn’t quite ready to give up the convenience of a pocket-able 35mm camera, so he bought me a Polaroid 35mm camera which had a good fixed lens, self timer, panoramic picture ability, and a few other goodies.
Everything changed in my life in 1999, because that’s when my child was born. It completely changed the way I thought about everything in my life. I was no longer insecure about carrying an SLR; it was more important to me to capture high quality pictures using available light, as I didn’t want a flash popping off into my newborn’s eyes. My Pentax K1000 with the F1.7 50mm lens loaded with Fuji 800 film was the perfect camera for the job, and became my main camera from this point on.
Fatherhood brought out the photographer in me like nothing else. Suddenly, I didn’t care for a point-and-shoot anymore, and the weight of my gear and insecurities didn’t feel so heavy. It did occur to me that I was shooting with a 20 year old camera that had been through a lot, and found a good deal on a barely used Pentax P3n a couple of years later.
The P3N is the camera I wish I had bought in the early 90’s. The 35-70mm lens provided the versatility I needed for daily shooting. It had important upgrades from the K1000 like a built-in self timer, an automatic mode, was able to sense the ISO of the film (which was also easier to load), had a depth-of-field preview, a split prism focus screen, a faster flash sync of 1/100th of a second, and the rubberized body with a grip that made it more suitable for daily use.
The P3n was the last film camera I ever bought; I used it up until 2005, marking 20 years of shooting with a film SLR. After that, I switched completely to digital, which will be the subject of part 2 of this series of blog posts.