Sounding very much my age, I was talking to my kids about what photography was like when I was young. The idea of not seeing the picture right away seemed odd to them, as did the notion of developing film. I got out my old camera to show the boys and let them see how it feels/looks. I tried to explain how you had to try to get the right shot at the start since it was expensive to develop film. They learned to change the lens, focus (they’ve only used autofocus), and how film worked. They attached the flash and played with that. I tried to explain all the complex settings on the camera and the flash. While they were interested, it was obviously a relic to them. I may as well have been explaining Gutenberg’s printing press.
One thing about my generation is that we’ve seen a large range of technological change. I still remember dial phones, black and white pre-cable TV and adding machines with a pull handle. When I was a kid flash cameras had these nifty little flash cubes. Each cube had four flashes (one on each side) and the camera would turn the cube a quarter way each time. That means you didn’t have to replace a flash bulb with every picture.
I’m not sure when it was, perhaps my first year of college, but I decided I wanted to get a real camera. One where you could control the shutter speed, set it for different film speeds, determine how much light you wanted to let in, and replace lenses for long range or wide angle.
I already had a Polaroid, which despite giving instant pictures, was low quality. I still have some in my old albums – a lefse making project in northern South Dakota and pictures of friends. But as I saw the kinds of photos others were taking I realized I wanted something better.
So at K-Mart on the east side of Sioux Falls I bought a Yashica for about $100 (in today’s money that’s about $200). It was nice, but I soon became dissatisfied and bought the Minolta shown above. It cost nearly $300, which was a major investment for a college kid!
I learned to be very good with that camera. I could frame the shot exactly how I wanted, adjust for different kinds of lighting, play with different settings, and as soon as I clicked the camera the picture was taken, exactly as it looked in the view finder. If I set the shutter speed high enough on a sunny day I could get someone running full speed to look perfectly still — no blurrs.
The camera case is a story in and of itself. Given the politics I present in this blog it my shock readers to find out that in college I was a college Republican (even South Dakota state PR Director), and I went to the national convention in Detroit that nominated Ronald Reagan in 1980. I was even on the convention floor when Reagan gave his acceptance speech. With me was my Minolta camera of course.
But at Eastern Michigan University where we “Reagan youth” were housed, a party atmosphere was the norm. I hung out with two girls from Maine (I don’t recall their names), and traded a big “South Dakotans for Reagan” pin (at least 6″ in diameter) for a little Maine lobster sticker which I put on my case.
I would carry that camera case with me for the next decade – always with the symbol of Maine, even though I’d never been there and had no clue that I would end up living here. An omen?
I lived in Bologna, Italy for a year attending Johns Hopkins SAIS. I’d travel to visit friends in Germany, taking the overnight express train to Munich through the Brenner pass (trying to sleep in the compartments – . The villages there were picturesque in the Alps, and I made sure to take a day train once just to get photos. Two nuns were in the compartment and pointed out photo opportunities. Even though it was from a train chugging through the Alps one of the photos was so good that my parents had it framed. With that camera, it was easy to take an excellent photo.
The last year I really put the camera to use has a sad ending — it was the year I lived in Germany. First, the camera started to have mechanical problems and didn’t work well. Second, I decided not to develop my film in Germany because it was much cheaper to develop it in the US. So I packed the film and other things in a box and mailed it to my US address. The box never arrived. Dozens of rolls of film from a year in Germany gone.
Then digital photography came. At first I hated it. There was always a pause between when you pushed the button and when the picture got taken — or a pause afterwards as it stored it. I found I lost my ability to take good pictures.
I finally have a digital camera I can use — a Fuji Finepix. It has a real camera feel (though light), but at a cost of $200 it’s still far lower quality than my old Minolta. I find my Iphone can take good pictures. Meanwhile Minolta and Yashica are both out of business, and rather than striving for a few quality photos to save film now people snap numerous photos figuring the law of averages will give them a couple really good ones.
High end digital cameras are becoming as easy to use as the old film cameras — easy as in taking instant shots and being able to manipulate settings. And the fact that photos are now “free” – once you buy the camera and the storage card you can take as many as you want and download them – is definitely an improvement on film. After the experience of my lost German photos, I certainly like being able to download and save them!
And though society belongs to the youth, I count it as one blessing of getting older as having the memory of things like taking photos with my old Minolta.