A Life Story In Cameras

When I had my first car, a Vauxhall Nova, I had my life up to at least the age of 30 carefully mapped out by which cars I would own.

The rather feeble 1.2 litre engine of my little Nova would be upgraded to the sportier 1.3 SR, then the 1.6 GTE, through three VW Golfs – a Mk1 GTi, a Mk2 GTi 16v, a Mk3 VR6, and finally resting on a BMW M3 in my late 20s, 30 at the latest.

Back then it seemed the car I owned was a useful way of measuring my progress in life.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

I got the Nova SR and Golf GTi Mk1, and later a fantastic Honda CRX SiR, but since then my vehicles have been far more practical and family oriented – my current having been taken off the road for four months and me commuting on my ebike, as we try to make being a one car family work.

I wonder now why the car I drove seemed such an important marker of where I was back then.

I needn’t look far, my dad was involved with cars all of his life, either selling them, fixing them or driving them (he once owned a taxi fleet, and in another era a couple of Jaguars and a chauffeur business), and talked about them extensively.

It was then, to me, a way that adults measured their progress – how many cars they owned, and which ones.

This hasn’t entirely left me, but in an inverse way.

It still baffles me why some people need to have a new car every year, or spend £40k on a 4×4 just to take kids to school a mile away. It all seems so indulgent, so impractical, so expensive.

Anyway, what’s any of this got to do with cameras and photography?

I came to thinking about how in the last 15 years I’ve had a similar progression through different cameras.

The aspirational side has disappeared though – and with cameras it was never there.

Whereas I guess I felt driving a BMW M3 would not only be exciting, but make a statement to the world about who I was and how “successful” I’d become, with cameras I have zero interest in owning any camera for the purpose of making such silent proclamations to the outside world.

Since I rarely photograph when there are other people around anyway, it would be rather silly on that basis alone.

Whilst it’s well documented here that I’ve owned hundreds of cameras and lenses, my evolution can be summed up far more succinctly –

Phase 1 – Cameraphones. Mostly Sony Cyber-shots.

Phase 2 – Advanced digital compact, a Nikon Coolpix P300.

Phase 3 – Holga 120N.

Phase 4 – 35mm film, starting with modifying the Holga to use 35mm film when 120 film got too expensive, then with a Smena 8M.

Phase 5 – 35mm film SLRs. Praktica, Konica, Minolta, but my favourites becoming Asahi/Pentax, and Contax.

Phase 6 – A Pentax K-x DSLR, with vintage lenses.

Phase 7 – Mirrorless bodies, with vintage lenses. Mostly a Sony NEX 3N, later a Panasonic Lumix GF1 Micro Four Thirds camera.

Phase 8 – DSLRs again, Sony, then back to Pentax – K10D, K100D, K-m, Samsung GX-1S.

Phase 9 – Digital Compacts. A whole range but those that have lasted the course are a Ricoh GRD III, Ricoh GX100, Pentax Q, Panasonic Lumix LX3.

Now these weren’t mutually exclusive phases, aside from those blissfully ignorant first few years with cameraphones.

Since then, at two or three of the phases have overlapped at any one time. And Phase 1 has never stopped.

These days, I gently oscillate between phases 8 and 9, mostly influenced my the season.

Colour photography in the spring and summer with the Pentax DLSRs, back to mono in the late autumn and winter with the digital compacts.

I’m not sure how, or even if, this will change in the future.

Both set ups work well, and I enjoy them each greatly in slightly different ways.

The whole mirrorless world sounds good to me on paper, but just hasn’t really worked in practice, falling awkwardly between the comfort and immersion of a DSLR and the portability and simplicity of compacts.

I didn’t really plan this adventure, and if you had shown me this future 15 years back, when I was just using 3.2 and 5MP cameraphones, I’d have probably asked two questions –

1. Why buy so many different cameras?

2. Why not just stick with a decent cameraphone, which you always have with you anyway?

I know the answers to both (that’s for another post or two), and am more than happy with my set up.

Nevertheless I am always open to new paths, even if they may now only be subtle diversions rather than radical steps like when I tried a Holga or an SLR or a vintage lens on a NEX for the first time.

How about you? What has your life story in cameras looked like so far? Where do you think it will head next?

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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27 thoughts on “A Life Story In Cameras”

  1. Phase 1: Collecting, anything I could afford. I had the most rag-tag set of gear you’ve ever seen.
    Phase 2: I sold my entire collection and didn’t own a camera for a few years.
    Phase 3: Focused collecting. I was going to do 35mm rangefinder cameras and medium-format folding cameras.
    Critical Moment: Someone gave me a 35mm SLR. I discovered that I was born to shoot this way, and it changed everything.
    Phase 4: Leaning hard into SLRs. It was here that I started to become more a photographer than a collector.
    Phase 5: Thinning the herd to the set of cameras I will use regularly and enjoy.

    1. Hi Jim,

      I am restarting my film journey. I think I just passed Phase 1 (five film cameras so far) and I am ready for a partial Phase 2 and will skip Phase 3. I’ll don’t think I’ll embrace Phase 4. I fell in love with a Minolta X-700 ( are recent purchase) and I haven’t touched my Pentax cameras in months so basically I’m at Phase 5.

      1. Interesting about the Minolta X-700. I had one in excellent condition and it was great, and the Rokkor lenses are wonderful. Just somehow I didn’t connect with it like I’ve done with Pentax cameras, there was something missing it’s hard to explain. I think some cameras are excellent tools, some go beyond, and become co-collaborators, comrades, something more that “just” a camera. The X-700 couldn’t do that last part for me. But I know they’re revered by many!

      2. I have four Pentax 35mm film cameras, two of which required work to be functional, one of which was my college camera, and the four is beyond repair. I keep it because it was my dad’s camera. He passed it on to me several years before his passing.

      3. One of the finest film cameras ever made, indeed as are all Spotmatics. I’ve had a few, my favourite, and the only one that remains, is the F.

    2. Jim, what was your first camera in Phase 3, what signalled your return to photography?

      How much more thinning of the herd is left? I know you’ve done plenty the last couple of years.

  2. Without going over my long photography history again, let’s just say I’ve recently come to the conclusion that in fact one camera fits >90% of my needs. Unfortunately this is the Nikon P610 which is breaking down (I took six pictures with it yesterday, two of which were in focus).
    It is kind of odd that after using hundreds of cameras of so many kinds the one best suited to me is the ‘bridge’ camera. In a way that says it all I guess.

    1. I think this is a good place to be Marc. I’d rather have one camera that covers 90% of my photography needs than a dozen that cover a much wider range – but then never have the right camera with me when those specific opportunities arose.

      You need to find a successor to your P610! I don’t have a wide experience with bridge cameras, but Fuji have impressed me, and I know Sony have done quite a range too, going back years.

  3. I don’t know what my camera history says about me as I’ve only owned about four of my own. I saved up from my Saturday job wages to buy a new Pentax ME Super at about 14-15 years old.

    Never owned another different camera after that as, because I was working in a family photo retail store, I had access through having a generous loan facility (and sometimes, if I particularly loved a camera, quite a long term loan) aimed at improving product knowledge overall, on anything in the used stock. So I think I’ve been through most of the desirable 35mm and medium format systems made between say, mid-1980’s to early 2000’s?

    After that 20 years (I know, who has the same job for 20 years these days…) I moved jobs at last and was a sales manager for Minolta, so had the full range of cameras, lenses and other nice bits of that brand for samples, so no point in owning my own. When I finished that I did buy a used Minolta Dynax 9 for myself but quickly changed it for a Konica Minolta Dynax 7D, first digital, then my current Sony A6000. So that’s it, four cameras owned, used hundreds!

    1. Bear, sounds like a dream job in many ways! In some ways though did it negatively impact your own photography, having such a saturated exposure to it day in day out that you didn’t want to see another camera on your days off?

      1. Certainly was an sizeable element of that, plus at a young age (18 when I started) there were other distractions to attend to as well…

  4. I began photography with a Kodak 127 Brownie. It was soon followed by a Leica IIIc borrowed from my father. That was 65+ years ago. I still have that Leica. In the intervening years I bought, used and sold innumerable film and digital cameras ranging in size from a Minolta 16 to a 4×5 Crown Graphic. Today all of my working cameras are screw-mount Leicas. All of my cameras that remain are packed awaiting new homes.

    My extended family also has a small collection of MF and AF Nikon film SLR’s. Although I occasionally run a roll of film through one of them, particularly those that are not seeing much use, none of them has really tempted me.

  5. Hmmmm…. Ilford Sprite (127 film, plastic fantastic. All I could afford when at school) Borrowed my Dad’s Voighlander Vito for a while then a Practica SLR, followed by a Yashica TL Electro X. My first new camera (apart from the aforementioned Ilford) was my Contax 139Q which I bought in 1984 and used happily for twenty years. Phase 2 was digital, beginning with a nameless and practically useless 1.3mp fixed focus point and shoot, then a Kodak easyshare which quickly broke, a Kodak Z730 which I still have and occasionally use, a Canon IXUS 1000 and finally a Canon EOS 1100D with two kit lenses. I still have the last three of these. Phone cameras – I never had phone with a decent camera until a Nokia windows phone about five years ago, followed by the Samsung Galaxy S7 which I have now. Great for recording the moment, and the Samsung is very good in low light. Then, a couple of years ago, back to the Contax, which I am enjoying so much I have added a couple of spare bodies and a small selection of Zeiss lenses. Branching out into Medium Format with a 1952 Zeiss Ikoflex TLR which really punches above it’s weight (has the same lens as the Rolleiflex of the same era), and more recently I was given a Mamiya RZ67 which I am also really enjoying, even though it is big and heavy. Really I have come around in a big fat circle, and the good thing is I am happy with what I have and there is absolutely no need to drool over the latest releases, or to keep up with anyone else. And, I have spent a lot less than a good quality DSLR and lenses!

    1. We’re so spoilt these days, who uses anything for 20 years nowadays. Although my 2008 MacBook Pro is still my main computer, 12 years old is ancient for a laptop!

      What led to you getting the Contax out again Steve?

      1. I bet you’re so glad you kept it! Lovely cameras those Contax, and still not very well known. Wish they’d carried on a bit longer and made more digital with the same spirit as bodies like the 139 Quartz and 167MT.

  6. Mi secuencia fue asì: fase 1 Leica IIIF con Summicron 50mm f2 colapsable regalo de mi padre a los 14 años, fue la ùnica càmara que tuve por màs de 15 años (que aùn conservo intacta y funcional) hasta que comprè una SLR Nikon FM2n con un 50 1.8 y un zoom Sigma 28-105, y años despuès, por costumbre de uso, seguì con Nikon digital, D3000, D7000, pasè por una fase de compactas ninguna de mi agrado ( no disfruto en absoluto enmarcar en una pantalla, sòlo me interesa enmarcar mi tiro en un visor…) y sigo disfrutando de mis compactas de 35mm que fui comprando a lo largo de los años… Saludos

  7. That’s an interesting exercise that I don’t think I’ve done before…
    Phase 1 – a 35mm film point and shoot (Olympus Stylus). Didn’t get a whole lot of use and results weren’t great (does it have a plastic lens? It might, the whole thing is just cheap plastic…).
    Phase 2 – digital point and shoots. I started with a 3MP Kodak camera, forgot the model. I was amazed at how much better my pictures were compared to the 35mm Olympus (I probably just didn’t understand film, others seem to love that camera…) Then I went to the Sony DSC-P200, a great little camera that we still have in the house (the 3rd one now), and shot that for about 9 years, took some great pictures along the way.
    Phase 3 – The Pentax DSLR phase started in 2013 and it still ongoing. From the get-go I was into manual lenses (I bought a K20D that came with the kit lens 18-55mm, plus 4 manual lenses).
    There was an aborted phase of going back to film, but with 35mm SLRs. I shot a few rolls with a Minolta XG-M (great camera!) and my P30T. I attempted to shoot with a couple cheap plastic Pentaxes, the A3000 and ZX-M. Both died during the first attempt to shoot with them. I still have the P30T but don’t shoot with it anymore.
    Not sure what the future holds, but for now I’m pretty happy with my Pentax DSLRs.

    1. Which Stylus? I’ve written about the Mju-1 here, I really liked it. But the Mju-II is way overrated and has terrible slippery handling, an instant deal breaker for me.

  8. Thought provoking post. My Journey has been not been that long.
    Phase 1: Bought a Minolta Maxxum 7000i to document my garden.

    Phase 2: Decided I needed more sophisticated camera—bought a Maxxum 70, then a Maxxum 7. Realized I didn’t understand photography principles well and went back to 7000i

    Phase 3: Bought digital camera to speed learning of photography principles. Learned enough to use Maxxum 7, then decided I should try Canon and Nikon to be sure I wasn’t missing out. Bought an EOS 7 and a Nikon N80. Shot both, and forget I had them until writing this. Le as

    Phase 4: Manual cameras. Tried them liked them. Still prefer AF. But decided to explore Minolta history by trying all major SLRs from 1958 on.

    Phase 5: discovered darkroom printing and still life photography. Fell in love with both. Bought a Yashica Mat 124

    Phase 6: Not interested in trying any new cameras. Focusing on studio and garden still life photography. Realized I enjoy composing images and testing concepts more than using cameras. Have favorite cameras and lenses and know which I’ll certainly keep.

    1. I’m pretty sure I had the 7000i. I tried the previous one, the 7000, which was fun, but the i added better handling and few more features. I also tried the one after, the 700Si, but it was a step too far in automation for me. Super capable camera though!

  9. One day I walked some kilometers with my Sony R1 and a metal film camera, FD mount, Canon EF. With tripod, filters, and one shoe that was smaller than the other (I got it online and that was the first time I tried it) I couldn’t bear the weight and that cured me from using or drooling over larger cameras. Provided I can walk farther or having a more expensive camera but walking less… I always prefer to walk and discover more. Your phases read as scientific experimentation : )

    1. If you’re in a studio with a tripod it doesn’t really matter how big the camera is. But yes when walking most of us prefer something far more portable and lightweight.

      Re the scientific experimentation, it wasn’t planned like this at the outset, this is just me trying to logical group my evolution into phases. When I was just using camera phones I was virtually oblivious that there even were other camera options, I didn’t consider it for years. Which ties back in with the portability. Those earlier Sony Cyber-shot phone cameras were just the right size, chunky enough to hold, and had the buttons arranged so when turned on their side in landscape orientation they worked very similarly to a compact camera with the zoom and shutter buttons. They even had contours and grooved plastic on the rear to make them more ergonomic.

      Today’s smartphones all seem to be a similar sleek and slippery design, that for me doesn’t work well for photography.

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