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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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