The Game Changers – Three Cameras That Redefined My Photography

In my journey through hundreds of cameras, some jump out in my memory as revelations, ones that started a new whole chapter of photography.

Here are perhaps the three biggest game changers of all.

Holga 120N

This was the camera that started my film photography journey.

I’d had one on my Amazon wish list for years but never taken the plunge. When my wife asked what her dad could get me for my birthday in 2012, I suggested they have a look at my wish list and surprise me.

A couple of weeks later I was unwrapping a Holga 120N and a multipack of Fuji Neopan, wondering how on earth this chunky plastic toy could ever make a photograph at all, let alone a decent one.

Well, it turns out it could, and some of my Holga shots I made in the following months remain amongst my favourite photographs I’ve ever made.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Put simply, perhaps no other camera before or since has shown me the magic and wonder of photography more.

The Holga could barely be any more primitive and yet it could summon in the light like a sorcerer, consistently conjuring up intriguing captures on (to me) huge negatives.

Later on I starting exploring 35mm (and subsequently modified the Holga to take 35mm film itself) and the floodgates for film cameras opened.

But this was the one that began the great film adventure, and remains a very fond old friend.

Pentax K10D

The pinnacle of my film photography was using SLRs like the Asahi Spotmatic F, the Pentax M range (my favourites were the small and simple MV and MG) and the Contax 139 Quartz.

With all of these with I favoured M42 lenses like the Takumar 55/1.8, Zeiss Flektogon 35/2.4 and Helios 44-2.

These SLRs, with their wonderfully big bright viewfinders, satisfyingly smooth mechanical operation, and vintage charm, gave me my most thrilling and rewarding film experiences to date.

But the expense of film was starting to make it less viable, and having experimented with the same beautiful old lenses with some success on my Sony NEX mirrorless, I knew this was a direction I needed to pursue.

What I needed was a digital camera that had the handling and feeling of my favourite SLRs (the NEX handled awfully), with a great viewfinder, and that was compatible with the lenses I already knew and loved.

In other words, the experience of using a film SLR, with the convenience and ongoing close to zero costs of digital.

Enter the Pentax K10D, their flagship SLR from 2006.

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I came across mine in 2017, so it was already ancient in digital terms, and cost me a fiver under £100.

But it had the handling and physical chemistry the NEX sorely lacked, a very good (for a digital camera) viewfinder, was compatible with my M42 lenses (using the adapter I already had for my Pentax K mount film cameras) and perhaps best of all, the 10MP CCD sensor gave me lovely colours I would dare to say were reminiscent of my favourite film emulsions.

Meeting the K10D was the game changer that signalled the beginning of the end of my film photography adventures, and since then I don’t think I’ve finished a single roll of film in a camera.

Ricoh GRD III

The main drawback with the K10D was it size and even more so, its weight. Whilst it felt wonderful to slip my fingers around the inviting curvaceous grip, it wasn’t so much fun after a couple of hours of lugging it around, especially with an all metal and glass vintage M42 lens attached.

Another factor that came into play was my eyes were not as great as when I’d first starting using viewfinder cameras, and I’d stop using the K10D on a photowalk from having overly tired eyes, before I capitulated due to its bulk.

The NEX before had a far lighter weight and more compact size but the handling was so awkward, and the colours of the final images nearly always disappointing. So that wasn’t a direction I wanted to return to or explore further.

Perhaps there was a smaller, lighter camera that had almost the image quality of a DSLR, and still handled like a dream?

At this point I still owned the three film compacts I’d chosen to keep after experimenting with dozens. An Olympus Mju 1, an LT-1, and a Ricoh R10.

The Ricoh was a lower end version of the much revered Ricoh GR series of film cameras, which I’d always coveted but been put off by because of their flaky (un)reliability reputation.

But Ricoh evolved this range into the digital era, keeping the excellent and inspired body shape of the GR film cameras, and my R10.

After some research, I decided I’d like the third or fourth incarnation of a digital Ricoh, and found a GRD III.

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At £150 it was the most I’d spent on a camera since my NEX four years earlier (which was about the same price used). For me, someone who typically spends £20 or less on a camera, this was risky territory.

I needed have worried.

It was love at first touch, and the GRD III remains the best handling compact camera I have ever used. Plus it is just big enough to not be fiddly to hold and use, but small enough to disappear in your pocket or palm.

Add to this the logical and intuitive menus, how simply it can be customised to your own small group of favoured settings, and not least of all the stunning 28mm f/1.9 lens that focuses down to just 1cm, and it was an instant classic in my head, and my heart.

In the same way the Pentax K10D ushered in my final days of film, the Ricoh GRD III made me question why I would ever use a DSLR again.

Today I don’t have any, but the GRD III and its sibling, the zoom lensed GX100, remain amongst my very favourite cameras.

The GRD III was also the camera which kickstarted my return to b/w photography that has endured every since, and I’d estimate that less than 1 in 20 images I’ve made since then with any camera have been in colour.

So those are three game changers from my camera journey over the last seven years or so.

How about you? Which cameras ring loud and long in your memories as being absolute game changers in how you photograph? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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20 thoughts on “The Game Changers – Three Cameras That Redefined My Photography”

  1. Your photo adventures and mine are near reciprocals in that I started in film and shot untold thousands of images with hundreds of cameras, and then became re-energized with the advent of digital. Now while you look to spend on old film cameras I look to my next digital purchase!
    You can swim in the lake or swim in the ocean, just so long as you can swim. 🙂

    1. Marc, actually I cycled through film then back again – I started with camera phones in the mid 2000s then a Nikon Coolpix was my first “proper” phone in 2011, then the film adventure began in 2012 with the Holga.

      I now only have three film cameras (including the Holga) and haven’t shot any in over two years. I’m firmly embedded in digital it seems these days, like you.

  2. Pentax ME – first SLR I “took to,” and it made me an SLR devotee.
    Canon PowerShot S80 – first truly good digital camera I ever owned, enabling me to share my road-trip hobby with the world.

    1. Ah yes Jim, we know your love of the ME! Any of that family of cameras are are excellent choice for SLR film photography.

      With digital I think my experience of what could be done took a while to catch up with what I was using. The first phone cameras I used (I think a 3.2MP Sony was the first with a camera) were good enough, because I didn’t know any better. Later on I used more accomplished cameras (for example with Aperture Priority) and realised what else could be done.

    1. Make sure you search for “Ricoh GR Digital III” or “Ricoh GRD III”. The Ricoh GR III is a completely different model, the most recent one and therefore much more expensive.

    2. As Robert has pointed out, Ricoh’s naming of their cameras has not been as clear as it could be.

      The models go as follows –

      GR Digital – 2005
      GR Digital II – 2007
      GR Digital III – 2009
      GR Digital IV – 2011
      GR – 2013
      GR II – 2015
      GR III – 2019

      Check out this page on Ricoh’s site for the story – http://www.ricoh-imaging.co.jp/english/products/gr_special/story.html

      Wikipedia is useful too – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ricoh_GR_digital_cameras

      I was originally looking for the original GRD (aka GR Digital) but went for the GRD III (aka GR Digital III) as it had a slightly faster lens, 10MP over 8MP and being four years newer I figured it was likely to last longer. I believe the GRD IV is very similar to the III.

      The GR (they dropped the D, as by this point they no longer made 35mm film GR cameras!) series from 2013 onwards are usually considerably more expensive as they have a larger sensor (APS-C) which is also CMOS not CCD (I prefer the former generally) and 16MP.

      What you choose comes down to budget and your needs. My GRD III cost £150 a couple of years ago, as I couldn’t have justified the GR at four times that.

      The latest GR III is around £800 I believe.

      I’m still curious about one of the original 8MP GRDs, but obviously the older they get the greater the risk of them breaking down. Are even these are still not cheap.

      Just be careful you don’t pay GR/GR II/GR III prices for one of the older GRD cameras!

      Let me know if I can help any further.

  3. I had Canons for years, but it was a Fuji Xpro 2 that made me fall in love with photography completely, so much so I quit my job to go professional. I’ve also owned a Ricoh GR, wonderful little cameras.

    1. Those X series Fujis have been game changers for so many it seems!

      Yes the Ricohs are wonderful, I hope to get a GR to compliment my GRD III one day.

      Thanks for your comments.

  4. I didn’t get into photography until my 45th birthday in 2013 with the Olympus E-PM2. The Olympus E-M10 Mk II was my game changer a couple of years later. The electronic viewfinder is amazing, allowing me to see the effects of my exposure changes before I hit the shutter. Once I set my Fn2 button to enable focus peaking on the fly with my adapted lenses, it completely changed the quality of the photos I was taking. The Super Menu is amazing. Being able to change most of my picture settings without taking my eye from the viewfinder. My sports photography just flowed once I started using it.

    I started film photography a couple of years ago with a Vivitar XC-3 and Yashica FX-7, but the Contax 139 Quartz, Olympus OM-2n and Pentax 645 were my game changers in film. All three of these have been instrumental in improving my landscape photography by leaps and bounds.

    1. Rob, sounds like you’ve found a handful of cameras that are working wonderfully for you.

      I’ve not tried any of the Olympus MFT cameras, but have come close a couple of times.

  5. (1) Nikon F3HP. First serious camera, after playing around with some Praktica as a teenager. More a game starter than a game changer. Today, I’m still wondering how I could afford such an expensive new pro SLR at that age. The best camera I ever owned in terms of quality – used for years without any issues, and only sold when Minolta launched their AF SLRs.
    (2) LG KC550 (a.k.a. LG Orsay). My first phone camera (not even a smartphone), and for a while the only camera I used. 5 megapixels and only two settings (color and B+W), but I made my favorite mobile photos with this LG. Beautiful natural colors, “film-like” noise, and a 30mm-ish focal length – not the 26/27mm wide angle that makes it so hard to really love the current phone cameras.
    (3) Holga 120 CFN. Perhaps my most favorite camera ever, sparked my love for imperfect and not too clean photos. I still have a copy that is not broken, loaded with film, but I just don’t care for the hassle (and costs) of film anymore.

    1. Robert, I just read a post the other day about the F3 and how some think now they’re one of the best SLRs, if not the best SLR ever made.

      Yeh with phones I think the whole “selfie” craze has played a big part in influencing the wide angle lenses.

      When you’re holding a camera at arms length pointed at yourself, it has to be a pretty wide lens to get much background in.

      My current Sony is 25mm (and has a wider 120° selfie lens too that I’ve used perhaps three times in a year) but I nearly always zoom to 1.4x (ie 35mm) before using, otherwide is just too wide and distorts people too much.

      And I don’t need any selling on the charms of the Holga. I’ll put another roll through mine someday…

  6. Considering how many other areas of my life have been affected by “game changers” I think it’s remarkable that no other camera has had a lasting effect on my photography since my father let me look through the viewfinder of his Leica IIIc. That was in 1952. I was eight years old. I am frequently tempted by other cameras, all the way from a Minolta 16 (16mm “spy” camera) to a 4×5 Crown Graphic press camera, with some brief forays into digital land, but in the end I always come back to shooting black and white 35mm film with my old thread-mount Leicas.

    1. Doug, I always think this with you. Your loyalty to that Leica is extraordinary. Especially to someone who has used perhaps a couple of hundred cameras in seven or eight years.

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