Film, Metal, Glass, Plastic, Pixels, Paper – The Natural History Of My Photography

My recent shift towards enjoying photography in print form rather than on a screen got me thinking about how my photography and related spending has changed over the last seven years or so.

Pre-2011 I simply shot with camera phones so I didn’t need a photography budget, it was all wrapped up in my phone plan.

Late 2011 I invested around £300 in a Nikon Coolpix, and have shot I would estimate at least 20000 photographs with it since. So at 1.5 pence a shot, it’s worked out excellent value.

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My discovery of film debuted in the summer of 2012, first with a Holga 120N, then a few weeks later 35mm cameras. Pretty quickly I decided I needed a monthly budget, and decided on £25, enough for three or four rolls of film a month plus developing.

And so began my film age. 

Maybe six months later I’d had another handful of 35mm cameras, and bought my first SLR, a Praktica BMS Electronic. Then a Konica AutoReflex TC, then, I think, a Canon AE-1.

Enter my metal age, where most of my money was funding vintage cameras, as well as film. 

With each of the Praktica, Konica and Canon SLRs, I’d had just a standard 50mm lens. Then I started to explore other lenses for each.

Maybe you’re familiar with the allure of vintage glass, especially large gorgeous hunks like the Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 58mm f/1.4.

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So, as lenses became more enticing than cameras, I evolved into what I’d call my glass age.

Now, more money was going on lenses than anything else, but I was still buying a few cameras and the film to feed them with. My £25 a month budget was taking a hammering.

I’d also discovered a Sony NEX and the vast array of available adapters to shoot vintage glass with.

Alongside playing with the NEX and old lenses, my collecting shifted more towards later more plastic film cameras, like Canon SureShot, Pentax Espio and Olympus Mju compacts, as well as exploring SLRs from the 80s and 90s like the Minolta Dynax 7000, Konica FS-1 and Canon EOS 500.

My plastic age had dawned.

Because I track my budget for everything, I know that at its nadir I was over £500 in the red for photography purchases. This was including the £25 a month I was budgeting. Which to me, is a pretty big chunk of money, and even without spending another penny, would take 20 months of £25 a month to break even again.

I remember being in the crazy situation having something like 55 film cameras and only having put a roll of film through less than 20 of them.

Maybe to you this doesn’t seem so mad, but being a minimalist at heart, having more cameras and lenses than items of clothing and books combined, seemed pretty out of control.

A gradual purge began, selling off the cameras I really didn’t need (I have three film cameras left from those 50+), simplifying my choices again, and of course redressing my budget deficit.

Choosing one lens, one camera and one film from even six of each gives you over 200 options. Try making that decision with 10, 20, 50+ cameras and lenses. Most of the time, I couldn’t.

In conjunction with selling off film cameras, I realised from the NEX I could potentially still get plenty of pleasure from using vintage lenses. Which led me to explore other digital options, because although the NEX 3N I had was a fantastic picture taking device, it never felt like a “proper” camera.

So after much research I plumped for a Pentax classic, the K10D DSLR. So with my film photography all but dried up, the pixel age of my photography history gathered pace. 

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Most of the journey from this point has been document previously here on 35hunter.

My steady progress towards invisible cameras, zero processing and irreversible photography means that for the last seven or eight months I’ve only used three different digital compacts and a couple of camera phones.

Wanting to get away from so much time online checking and chasing photography that didn’t do much for me anyway, I’ve plunged into some classic photography books for the last few months, via my local library and a few purchases.

Combined with this, I’ve started having prints made of my own photographs.

Before about six weeks ago I’d probably only ever had two or three prints made, aside from family shots for albums and frames at home. This feels something of a brave – and exciting – new world.

So whilst I’m still in the pixels age in terms of shooting, processing, storing and sharing my photography, I also feel I’ve entered a paper age.

The books I’m enjoying and the prints of my work are giving me a deeper appreciation than is possible on a screen – especially the tiny screen of a mobile device or tablet.

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On the budget front, I’m about £100 in the red currently, but with a dozen vintage lenses I barely use gathering dust.

I probably don’t even need three, but anticipate keeping maybe six for now, and selling the others in the next couple of months, so my budget should be well back in the black for some future investment in paper.

There we have it, the evolution of my photography (and spending!) through eras of film, metal, glass, plastic, pixels and paper.

I’m not sure where I’m heading next, except further into the pixel era for making photographs and the paper era for enjoying them. We’ll see what unravels in the coming weeks and months.

How has your photography evolved in recent years? Have you gone through different phases or ages like I have? Do you have a monthly budget for photography?

Please let us know in the comments below (and remember to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what my photography life looks like right now.

41 thoughts on “Film, Metal, Glass, Plastic, Pixels, Paper – The Natural History Of My Photography”

  1. A time I really enjoyed with my photography was when I took my cheap little digital camera out each day near my home and down the beach and to galleries and took photos that I had developed and then put it decoratively into my artist journals. I still love looking back on the photos of that time and how I artistically enjoyed the photos with my art. xoox susanJOY

      1. Dan,
        A Canadian friend online showed a HP Sprocket on a podcast which is a little printer that connects to one’s phone. I have never seen these before and my mind is wondering if this is something I would like to explore. I think this might be what you are thinking of getting your kids, Dan. I am torn between minimalising by not keeping a lot of my art and photos in print form and wanting to see them xoxo susanJOY

        1. Yes, I’ve had a look at those HP, and the Canon Selphy printers, which seem to have slightly better reviews on Amazon. I imagine they are both pretty good, HP and Canon are leaders in printer technology.

  2. Up to 2002 I was still using a Minolta X300 plus primes and couldn’t afford a digital. 2005 finally purchased a Nikon D50.
    2007, I no longer had any film cameras, 2010 three digitals Nikon D200, D7000, five lenses and a CoolPix (and if we must, a imaging device on phone)
    2012, I purchased a Nikon F80 on a whim and realised what a mistake I’d made trying to kid my self I could move on and like digital cameras, I didn’t!
    So today you could say I have gone backwards, I have one digital the D200 and one Nikkor zoom, everything else is geared to film, prime lenses including now a forty year old Leica M4-2 with Summicron. No budget really, I purchase when and when ever I need. End of the month we are going to France, after which I be expecting to top film stock and chemicals, around the £200 – £250 mark, I suppose is once or twice a year.

    1. Interesting to read the kind of journey many photographers who grew up with film found when trying to transition to digital.

      With that Leica your ongoing costs must be a service about once every 25 years? : )

      1. I don’t think it’s ever been serviced, so service booked in after France. Having fallen for Leica’s charms and the joy of using a Summicron on the front of this camera, it will be worth every penny.

  3. I still have a vivid memory of opening the yellow envelope from Kodak containing the prints of my first ever roll of film and seeing a picture of my cousin’s house that I took because I thought it was the prettiest house I had ever seen. I was eight years old.

    The next 65 years saw a progression of photo hardware from my father’s prewar 35mm Certo to other good 35mm and MF film cameras, then point-and-shoot film cameras of various film formats, then a Sony Mavica that stored the files on a floppy disk, followed by a progression of DSLR’s and then mirrorless cameras, and finally back to old 35mm film cameras where I am today. The one constant through all of this was the print. I have never lost my fascination with seeing something, taking its picture, and seeing the picture in my hand.

    1. Doug, beautiful first memory! Maybe I’ll do a blog post on something similar, would you mind if I use the idea? : )

      That Sony Mavica was very revolutionary at the time. Any idea if the pictures were any good?

      Yes, the print is the one constant we all have, regardless of camera, format, technology, we can always make a physical print to connect us to the photograph. I don’t think this will ever change.

      1. Dan, I’ve used so many of your ideas that I’m delighted that you might find one of mine of use.

        I have all of my Mavica pictures. (I was never a prolific shooter, even with digital.) Except for the resolution (1024 x 768 pixels) they are the equal of any digital pictures I’ve taken since, with some very good digital cameras.

        1. Great, thanks Doug! Watch out for that post soon, once I’ve let my memory simmer a little and reveal my own first memories.

          Do you have any photos online taken with the Mavica?

          I did an experiment maybe five or six years ago with our daughters camera, a VTech Kiddizoom. Though it’s only I think 5MP max or 2MP at the smaller setting, I took the challenge of getting some decent photos at 2MP. It made surprisingly sharp pictures, and yes the main limitation was the physical size of the digital file. As long as you didn’t enlarge it further that its original size, it was very acceptable.

          1. I uploaded a Mavica picture I took in Colonial Williamsburg in 2002 to my Flickr account with public access, but I am a real novice at this Flickr business. I have no idea how to point somebody to my account.

          2. Doug, if you go to that specific page in Flickr for that photo then copy the URL in the address bar then paste it in a comment here on 35hunter, we should be able to click through. Thanks!

    2. ‘yellow envelope from Kodak’
      I’d forgotten about those, I now seem to remember my father appearing with a Kodak envelope to show my mother and I what he’d taken, I must of been 5 or 6 years old.

      1. I wonder if my mum still has any packets of photos. I remember quite a variety as my nan used to go to whichever shop was offering the best deal – usually the one with a free film included in the price of processing. I remember Truprint and a few of the yellow Kodak, but many other colours of envelope.

  4. My photography budget is practically nothing these days. I’m still living off the very fat years when I filled the fridges with film, cupboards full of chemicals and bought all sorts of wonderful cameras for nothing on eBay. I have recently decided to print more though so I may have to shed some gear to pay for it.

    1. J, thanks for your thoughts. Are you printing yourself, and if so, how? If not, how? I’m very interested in how people make their prints (or have them made).

      1. In an ideal world I’d have room for a darkroom for my black and white stuff. I have all the gear just nowhere to put it. I have to settle for using my tiny Canon Selphy printer at home and since my local Asda/Walmart closed its photo department, I have been trying other send away labs like Loxley Colour (good but pricey).

        1. Ah, I was just looking at a Canon Selphy yesterday! Which one do you have and how do you rate it? Was thinking maybe about getting one for our kids to print out photos, I’ve just set up a thread in each of their rooms with mini clothes pegs to clip photos on. Thought they might enjoy printing out their own (daughter has an iPod Touch, son could use my old iPhone as a camera if he was interested – he’s surprisingly adept with a phone for a five year old!).

          I used to go to Asda near me for film but the photo part was taken over by another company who did not inspire confidence and didn’t seem to have a clue about film.

          I have been trying out a local Tesco purely for printing off photos from my phone (a Max Spielmann instant photo touch screen kiosk thing) and I’m pretty impressed with the results.

          1. My eldest bought me a CP910 a couple of years ago, I love it. I used to shoot a lot of instant film as I liked having little square prints, with the selphy and the Polamatic app I can replicate the look by trimming the edges.

            Max Spielman? I thought they disappeared years ago, glad to know I’m wrong.

          2. Thanks J, I was looking at a very similar one to that. That’s good to know about the borders too. What are the ongoing costs – how much is the ink, and how many prints do they last for?

            There’s loads of Max Spielmann booths around here, I can think if at least four shops within 15 miles that have them. I think Tesco probably have some franchise deal with them, but I’ve seen them in a little Timpsons shoe place too.

          3. I usually buy the 108 print pack, which has 3 ink cartridges and 6 packs of paper (2 per cartridge) I buy on Amazon whenever they are cheap, around £23, the rrp is much higher. That’s about 22p per print.

            I hate Tesco 😀 but I know we have a Timpsons, thanks for the tip.

          4. Thanks J, 108 prints would last ages!

            Probably cheaper and more convenient to just get prints as and when from an instant machine (I think they’re about 25p each for 6×4, and I got some 8×6 that were 40p each), but I’m keeping the Selphy on my wishlist for now to give it more thought.

  5. Not so much an evolution as a thick stew; ingredients were simply added to the pantry, but the old remained in use.

    Back in the film monoculture, I started with a bartered-for Yashica Lynx 5000E and a five dollar Topcon SLR, thought to be broken but merely loose of lens ring and swiftly fixed.

    For some years, that was it. The Topcon vanished but I gained a Canon SureShot autofocus by marriage, and later, a 1968-made Nikon F from a pawn shop auction with a battered 50 and no-name 28. An expensive CLA later, and the lens hunt was on.

    Fortunes and career improving, more Nikon cycled thorugh – FE, FA, FM, F3HP, N2000, N8008s, and N90S (twice). And all the motor drives and flashes and cables and screen, ad NKinfinitum.

    Got caught in the Iron Curtain mill for a bit with a clunking, crashing Kiev 60, a sort-of Contax clone KIev 4AM, and a Leic-ite Zorki 4K, both professionally sorted and still with us. A Mamiya 645 passed through, but the medium-format bug that really bit was boxers – an Agfa Clack and a Box Tengor.
    Spent too much time on the ‘Net reading enthusiast reviews and associated eBay-itis, and went right through almost all the noted Japanese rangefinders, an Olympus 35 SP and an XA now the lone survivors.

    We began digital with a Nikon Coolpix 5400 – still love that one – and someone gave me the silly but surprising 2 mp Sony DSC U30 for my pocket. But in early 2008, our workhorse became the Canon SD1100is, a much under-appreciated and very capable P&S with great glass that still goes everywhere with me When the collaborative CHDK software package came along, it added lots of extended functions and enabled RAW. Got caught up using a Canon PowerShot G5 (did an informalish wedding with it), and ultimately a G11.

    I was gonna stop there – really, the gear chase had become ridiculous – but then Sony brought out the NEX line, and I held out until coming across a nice used NEX 5, and nothing would do but to pursue a low-mileage A6000.

    Not a linear kind of thing at all. A lot of this stuff is still here, light meters and grey cards and developing tanks and what-not, and as notions take me or when I read about a bit of retro kit someone’s using to good effect, ADD kicks in and back I circle to earlier means and modes: it’s like a Cro-Magnon meeting an appealing Neanderthal girl at a saloon: nothing wrong with a few dates and throw-back fun.

    Then there’s the phone…and the stereo and B&W and editing apps.
    Really, it’s all of a piece and more fun than ever before

    1. Oh the Sony DSC U30, I loved mine. So tiny and cute I was so upset when it wouldn’t switch on one day.

      1. Were the pictures any good? Sony have made excellent digital cameras for years, there must have been (including phones) a thousand models or more!

        1. It was a magnificent 2 mega pixel funbox, the results were good for the time. Who would have thought little cameras would have got beyond 20mp? I still have a Sony now, an HX400V a total behemoth compared to the U30.

          1. I said elsewhere in the comments, the temptation for me with digital cameras is not the latest tech, but 10 or 12 or 15 year cameras that are 10 or 8MP or less, just to see what I can do with them. Many pre 2012ish still had the old CCD sensors, which give lovely results, in my experience. You can pick up old 7MP Cybershots for £15-20 and get excellent results, in a tiny body.

          2. Very true. Common sense may say buy more pixels but I still shoot with a 2003 5mp camera as it is my favourite camera full stop. Who needs billboard sized prints anyway?

          3. Funnily enough when I first got the camera (a Digilux 2) someone offered to make an A1 size print for me, that is about 23×33 inches and it looked great. Leica even had the print on display in the office for a while. Not bad for 5mp.

          4. I really want some larger prints made of some of my photos (mostly made with 10MP cameras) out of curiosity. I’m sure they’ll come out really well.

    2. Wow, what a journey!

      Those Topcons are quite sought after now I believe, one of the best made SLRs ever?

      I think there came a point with digital cameras in the mid 2000s where they were good enough for most people’s needs. Hence you still using the 2008 Canon SD, and me using a 2007 Ricoh GX100, and it not falling short in any department for my requirements. You could argue that ever since it’s just been the manufacturers trying to convince us to buy cameras with features we don’t really need…

      With film cameras now, the choice is almost unlimited, and it’s very easy to disappear into rabbit holes of internet research and subsequent eBay purchasing.

      For anyone, if that’s what you enjoy (and for some time I did) then keep going as long as it does.

      For me it hit a wall and the choice overwhelm was starting to impact my enjoyment. Plus the financial impact.

      Hence my ever narrowing simplification process documented here on 35hunter.

      1. “I think there came a point with digital cameras in the mid 2000s where they were good enough for most people’s needs.”

        Just exactly this.

        At the time, I read an opinion somewhere that more than 7 mp was a waste anyhow. Sensors and processors and distortion and fringing and what-not have since greatly improved, true, but given some of the 20″+ enlargements I’ve had made, one must concur, even if it does row against the more-is-more current.

        But.

        The simplification thing vs the ‘itch”…there ought to be a vaccine, and a Foundation behind it. Jim Grey serendipitously mentioned his use of the Canon S95, and naturally I had to see his blog and photos, and seeing them, why, a low-grade fever began burning and nothing would do but to hunt up the specs and profile of the thing, and of course encounter other good notices elsewhere, and then he spoke en passant of the ever-so-slight enhancements of the S100, and so I must look *that* up, and its reviews, but I resisted, successfully, too, and was resisting as of this morning, and then, then an electronic flyer from my favorite dealer showed up and I noted with dismay that they have lowered the price of the S100. Aware that the original MSRP was pret-ty stiff and the tariff at most dealers still no laughing matter, I began to shriek aloud that this was a bargain that no sane shooter would pass up, and sit now, with hands nailed to the desktop like a reluctant werewolf, lest I strike the “buy” key.

        But I digress, sort of. Because if I should slip, I’d be circling back to 2011, and not bankrupting ahead to 2019.

        1. William I think 10MP is plenty. I have a 6MP Samsung DSLR (Pentax clone, it takes K mount lenses) and the images I’ve made with it are virtually indistinguishable from those made with a 10MP K10D. Which in my view are quite wonderful.

          I confess with digital cameras the danger for me is also older models. I have zero interest in the latest models, but start talking about a Ricoh or Lumix fro 10 or 12 years ago and I start to get very interested!

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