The First Camera

Our first experiences can often be special, and tend to set our expectations and aims for the experiences that follow.

Here are a few questions about first cameras I thought it might be interesting to answer. I hope you might find them worth pondering too.

Which was the first camera…

…you remember seeing in the flesh?

For me this would be one of my nan’s flip body Kodaks. Something like an Ektralite 500.

I’m not sure I ever used it, but I remember it being ever present at birthdays, days out and other family events, and I would guess of perhaps just a few dozen photos left of my childhood, 90% were made with one of my nan’s Kodaks.

I also remember her routine when a film was finished, taking it into the camera shop (Crawley Cameras was her nearest) to be developed and prints made, in one hour, complete with a free new roll of film.

Incidentally, it wasn’t until decades later when I started shooting 35mm film, that I realised the negatives were the very same film that was in the camera, just cut into strips.

I thought the magicians in the camera labs took the film and somehow created negatives from them, then discarded whatever the original film looked like.

…you remember being impressed by?

This was my uncle’s Minolta SLR, almost definitely an X-700 as I distinctly remember it was all black, with the golden rising sun logo on the case.

I can’t actually remember him using it, just seeing it on a shelf and it looking sleek and sophisticated, a “proper” pro camera compared with my nan’s basic old plastic point and shoot Kodaks.

I also recall occasions where we went round for an evening of slides from a recent holiday, so he obviously shot a fair bit of slide film.

…you remember making intentional photographs with, rather than holiday or family snaps?

My first camera I went out on photowalks with, intending to capture images of things I found beautiful, was a Sony Ericsson K800i camera phone. At that point (2006), phones were still painfully slow at almost anything other than phone calls and text messages, but at least they’d started to have decent cameras on board.

With the K800i, its now humble sounding 3.2MP camera was plenty for my needs back then, and combined with some thoughtful design touches (so when used on its side, the phone handled like a compact camera, with a proper shutter button with half press to lock focus), served me very well.

…you thought you would never sell (and haven’t)?

This wasn’t my first Pentax by a long stretch, but the first I felt was close to perfect and beautiful to use, was an Asahi Spotmatic F.

I came across the camera on eBay advertised at a very ambitious price, but it looked very clean, with original S-M-C Takumar 55/1.8 lens, and was local, so I contacted the seller to ask if I could see it in person and make an offer.

She was selling off her late husband’s camera gear, and he was obviously a photographer who not only had good taste in gear, but looked after it incredibly well.

The Spotmatic was in lovely condition, and after holding it, winding on the shutter, and focusing the Takumar lens, I knew I had to have it. I made her an offer of £50 and she accepted.

I’d seen the same camera for far less, but given its condition and that I could test it before buying, I was more than happy to pay a little more.

Also in his collection – and now for sale – was a near mint Pentax Super-A and couple of lenses. I asked if I could do some research on price and get back to her, which I did, and again made an offer higher than I’d seen on eBay, but with the reassurance of the superb condition and being able to test the camera in person. We negotiated a little and settled on £30 I recall.

This leads me on to…

…you remember regretting selling?

There are a handful of cameras I’ve bought more than once, after selling or donating them in a purge of my collection, then weeks or months later missing them enough to seek out another example.

The first I remember regretting selling is probably the original Pentax ME Super I had, as I subsequently bought at least 10 different M variations, including the MV, MG and later incarnation as mentioned above, the Super A.

This was a prime example of me finding an excellent camera early on, then in an effort to find something even better, going through a dozen others (non-Pentax) that weren’t as good or as enjoyable, and going back to the one I started with.

How about you? What was your first camera for each of the questions above?

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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30 thoughts on “The First Camera”

  1. First camera I saw in the flesh: most probably my father’s Agfa camera, one of the models from the renowned Isoly series. As a 13/14-year-old boy he let me take snapshots of our dog with it.

    First camera I was really impressed by (and actually bought): the Nikon F3-HP, an SLR that was also used by professional photojournalists at the time – God knows how I could afford this camera in my twenties. The most expensive new camera I ever owned.

    First camera that I used creatively: like many others, I started as a 16-year-old boy with a cheap Praktica SLR from former East Germany.

    The cameras that I still own in addition to my current set up are non-working film cameras. Sold everything and never regretted a decision.

    1. Thanks for sharing your first camera memories Robert.

      How long did you have the Nikon F3 for?

      A cheap Praktica or Zenit was the starting point for millions in the late 60s, 70s and 80s.

      1. Dan, I’ve had the F3 for eight years. These cameras were professional workhorses, so very reliable. The only reason to sell was the introduction of auto-focus SLRs by Minolta in the late 1980s. I then got a 7000i.

      2. Ah I had a Minolta Dynax 7000i a few years back. Very capable camera, and they made some fantastic lenses in that mount. Many still being used on Sony DSLRs with the same mount!

  2. My first camera was a green Kodak Petite. It was my Dad’s first camera as well. I still have it.
    What camera did I think I’d never sell? All the rest, which numbered hundreds. Life pulls some mean surprises on us sometimes. But I really only regret having had to lose a few of them.
    Nothing is permanent.

      1. Dan, technically the Petite still functions – it’s too simple not to. But the bellows are ‘suspect’ and stiff, not being made of leather they don’t take to standard treatment. I have shot pictures -through- this camera using the Canon T100 as ‘film’. I don’t do film because it’s outrageously expensive here. Yes Kodak had a whole range of colour cameras, including the Rainbow Hawkeyes as even box Brownies with colour leather finish. I had a few of them and kept one of the RH – in red. In the 1960s colour plastic cameras were all the rage – look up the Sabre 620 for example (which also came with different brand names as well as colours).

      2. Yes of course, I forgot about all those “toy” cameras like Dianas in various colours too. The Sabre 620 is very cute, like a little Star Wars droid.

  3. The first camera I recall to have seen in the flesh is the Olympus (don’t recall the exact model, if a Pen or a Trip 35) of my parents, the first camera I was impressed with was a Sony R1, that display that can be set as a medium format viewfinder made an enjoyable experience. The first camera I used intentionally for photography was a very nice HP r607 camera, I haven’t sold my cameras yet, although seriously considering selling my Sigma DP2 as a support for imprevisible times. I could give it to my younger brother but that camera requires to use a slow specialized raw converter which I could not wish him to endure, there are some that enjoy fiddling with raw files but that stage has ended in my life. Thanks for the memories, Dan. I liked in special the reference to you nan’s Kodaks.

    1. Ah yes, we’ve spoken about the R1 before. If I had a wish list, it might be on it (but that’s for another post, ha ha).

      I wonder what happened with HP, obviously they know their stuff with imaging, their printers etc sell by the thousands. Looks like the HP camera you mention had a Pentax lens so there must have been some kind of partnership there.

      What do you think of the Sigma? The DP1 and DP2 seem to be very “marmite” as we say over here – some people love them, some hate them. I was very curious a while back when I first got my Ricoh GRD III.

      Thanks re my nan, I think those kinds of cameras obviously became very special for many families, regardless of the less than stellar image quality, simply because they allowed us to capture memories we could revisit visually for decades to come.

      1. The lens in the HP was marvelous, these days when many lenses are digitally corrected I am afraid the photographs loss that kind of soul or personality when you can recognize them by the little particularities. I made a short post about it here and there is a special Harajuku edition that costs around 500 dollars on ebay, it appeared in the first seconds of the music video “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani It is very comfortable in the hand.
        Hmm, the Sigma DP2 is a nice camera, I like it when light is not harsh, but living near the equator that means only around 9 am or 5:30 pm, the rest of the time either is quite bright or quite dark for its experimental sensor which shift much the colors in intense shadows, and burn the highlights; and when the light is soft the camera is not good beyond iso 100 so you have to carry a tripod and that makes moot the point of having a small camera. White balance is the worst offender, it never gets set despite not using it in auto (which tends to be cold) so it makes mandatory the use of a Sigma raw converter which is painfully slow to use. What I love is that it has a dial to choose manually the focus, that its experimental sensor a few times create something unique that wouldn’t be possible with other camera, and that the lens has (besides an ugly greenish flare) a nice natural rendering, as it is optically corrected. But in the end I am afraid I never bonded to it, not love nor hate, just a tool with limited capabilities. The Sony R1 instead I could use it in darkness,is the closest experience I have had in digital to a film camera, and I say it as somebody currently using a Fujifilm X100s, the only issue were the colors, accurate but maybe too accurate to be nice.
        Sorry for the long comment, kind regards, Dan : )

      2. Yeh there are so many interesting and more unusual and distinctive digital cameras from the earlier days. These days everything is so clinical and precise and like an advertisement billboard. Those shots in your post have an appealing kind of subtle grain look to them.

        I’ve read the Sigma DPs are amazing in certain conditions, but hard work to get there, and limited in many other ways. The Sony R1 may have to return to my wish list, just a couple of weeks after saying I don’t have a wish list anymore, ha ha!

        Oh and don’t ever worry about writing a long comment Francis, I go on for ages!

      3. Thank you, Dan. For sake of honesty those photographs are edited jpegs, the camera underexposed a bit to protect the highlights I imagine (all is full auto) I brightened them which exposed the noise and increased the saturation a bit to match how I recalled the light. The photos straight of it have a more realistic presentation.

      4. Overblown highlights is a common Achilles heel with digital compacts, with nearly all I use I set to -0.3 exposure compensation by default to protect it a little and not get those bright white amorphous blobs in the background!

  4. Interesting questions… I expect you to get a lot of answers to this post.
    1. First one I’ve seen, I don’t remember, I was too little when my parents would get us to take kids pictures… first one I do remember was one of those Kodak Instamatics – probably a 277X. It had those flash cubes and I remember using the camera as a kid, we would use it to take pictures at birthdays and parties like that. That thing took awful pictures.
    2. First one I was impressed by was a Canon 1D Mark II a friend of mine had. But it didn’t lead me to get a new camera as I thought I couldn’t afford a good one.
    3. First one I ended up using intentionally was an Olympus Stylus 35mm film camera. I only ran a few rolls through it and then I gave up for years.
    4. First one I thought I’d never sell? I don’t think I have that one yet… everything I have could be sold one day.
    5. I haven’t regretted selling one yet… I don’t buy and sell that many so if I sold one I had good reason to…
    Having said that I think I’ll probably keep my K-S1 for as long as it works. And that’s the question, isn’t it? How long will it work. Unless it’s an all mechanical Leica, it will probably die at some point.
    I’ll add a bonus question (and answer): 6. The cameras I always wanted but never bought would be the Pentax 645D and the Leica M9. The way things go, I might buy the 645D one day, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to buy the M9. Both have Kodak CCD sensors, which is why I would love to have them.
    Second bonus question: 7. The camera I’ll probably buy next: I’d say a Pentax KP but, not for at least a couple of years. I am quite content with the gear I have now.

    1. Thanks Chris, yes we’ve had some great replies so far.

      Strangely, I remember those flash cubes too, and my mum always had some in one of her bedroom drawers, but I can’t ever remember her having a camera, let alone using the flash cubes.

      Wonder what about the Olympus Stylus put you off film? I’ve had the original (over here called the Mju-1) and think they’re great, but the successor, the Mju-II I didn’t like at all, not least of all because of the slippery handling that made dropping it always a moment away.

      What if the KS-1 broke, would you get another the same, or something different to replace it?

      I can definitely see you getting a 645D with your passion for Pentax. It’s an obvious transition from the DSLRs you have/had. Same with the KP, but no interest in a Full Frame Pentax?

      1. With the Olympus Stylus, it was pretty obvious to me that the lens was slow (small, sort of retractable, so not good in low light) and not as good as cameras that I didn’t really want to buy because they were too expensive. The picture were not that great, especially in the “panorama mode” which I thought was so cool but in practice wasn’t. The camera was also very plastic despite being well built but it just didn’t feel good to use. And batteries were expensive, could not be found at my local grocery store, and didn’t last very long. It all made for a clumsy entry into photography. I should have just gotten a K1000 back then, they still sold those, but I did not know any better…
        My K-S1 did break recently, the aperture block broke and I could only use lenses with manual aperture rings. I fixed it myself with a solenoid bought on Ebay… because it’s a very common failure it was easy to find the information to fix it, but the little component to fix it is being sold for a lot of money for what it is… 45 dollars! That’s more than what you paid for your K-m if I recall correctly…
        If the K-S1 broke for good, I hope it would be a few years down the road when the KP would be selling for cheap.
        The K-1, the Pentax full frame, is an interesting question… I sort of want it but the KP has basically the same image quality at high ISOs, and the files look about as good to me, despite it being APS-C and 24MP instead of 36MP and full frame. And I now have a nice APS-C setup so it makes sense to have APS-C as my main kit. Even if I ever got a 645D, I would only get a lens or two (those 645 lenses can be pretty pricey) and would use it as my fun camera. Most of my serious photography like our traveling and our birthdays and events, would probably still be with my APS-C setup.

      2. I think because when I really got into film compacts I’d already used SLRs and so knew a bit of the theory and experience behind it, I was able to manipulate them a little to get the results I liked, and my expectation was modest. I expect if I had picked up something like a Mju as my first ever camera, then 19 out of 20 shots would have been terrible and I’d have given up after a couple of rolls of film.

        Yeh, my three old CCDs (Pentax K100D, K-m, Samsung GX-1S) were all between £25 and £30. Absolutely bargains. The K30 is nice enough and actually a brilliant camera but I can’t get my head around the fact it cost me £150, so over five times what the CCDs cost. It just cannot justify its cost in any way (and that was used, new they were £100s more!) My Ricoh GRD III was also £150 and I’d say that was better value, because it’s more special and individual.

        As I shoot probably more with compact cameras than DSLRs anyway, and they’re good enough, I think I’d find it hard to summon a genuine desire for a digital full frame body, other than I could use old M42 lenses at their native focal length, instead of cropped. But they arguably work better on APS-C because the edges get cropped, and with most lenses that’s the part where performance is worst anyway, so APS-C kind of enhances these old lenses.

  5. First I saw in the flesh was my mom’s Perma Matic, which took 126 film.
    I don’t remember which camera I was first impressed by.
    First camera I made intentional photographs with was my first camera, a Kodak Brownie Starmite II. I made portraits of some of the children in my neighborhood. I was 9; it was 1976.
    First camera I thought I’d never sell, and havent: Nikon F2A.
    First camera I regret selling: A Stereo Realist that had been given to me as a gift from a dear friend.

    1. Thanks Jim. I remember you sharing some of your early pictures on your blog before. How long have you had the F2A? Did you regret selling the Stereo Realist because of the camera, or because it was a gift from someone dear to you?

  6. Dan, the first camera I ever saw was my parents Box Brownie camera. I don’t know it’s official name. Only know it as that. It would have been in the 1950s. The camera I was impressed by as a teenager was a camera my dad bought that could make the prints on the spot. I thought that was amazing at the time. No waiting for the results. The photos lost their colour over time so I wasn’t impressed by that. The first time I made intentional photos was with a little instamatic camera. Have no idea of it’s name but I did lots of nature photography which I still love to do now. I have a Pentax 35 mm camera I got when I travelled to Hong Kong in my early 20s and loved using it over the years. I will keep it happily in a drawer and doubt I will use again unless someone presents me with a reason to drag it out again. I’ve never sold a camera.

    1. Thanks Susan. Do you remember seeing your parents make pictures with the Box Brownie? I expect your dads instant camera was a Polaroid? They’ve made something of a comeback in the last 10 years or so. I’ve been debating a Fuji Instax for a while again, like a Polaroid, but more affordable film, and arguably capable of better pictures by all accounts.

      1. Dan, I do remember my parents using the Box Brownie camera for family photos and mum putting them in the album. My brother has the album now to hand down the line

      2. That whole process of taking the picture, getting the film developed, and putting the best prints in a physical album is so lovely, and one that’s lost with most families these days. Ironic, when it’s easier than ever to make one’s own prints!

  7. I don’t know when I first became aware of my father’s camera, a wartime Leica IIIc. I was less than a week old when he took my first picture with it. His camera gear and darkroom and my mother’s paints and easel were a part of my environment from birth until I left for college. My father bought a Leica IIIf in the mid 50’s because it had flash capability which the IIIc did not. A few years later he switched to medium format with a Zeiss rangefinder and TLR. The Leicas became mine to use and I still have both of them. My sister eventually inherited our father’s MF gear.

    Over the years I bought and sold more camera than I like to admit, film in every size from 16mm to 4×5 and then digital. But I also continued to use the old Leicas alongside whatever new and exciting camera I was using. For the last year the only cameras I have used are my old Leicas, including my father’s two bodies and lenses. I don’t see that picture changing. Everything else, except for one digital body that I use for “scanning” my negatives was given to family and friends or packed for eventual sale. I have no regrets about any of this. It’s been a fun ride.

    In contrast, my wife has never owned more than one camera. For the last 10 years or so it has been a Nikon F6.

    1. Love that dad kept his Leicas so long, and then passed them down to you and you still have them. Did he buy them brand new? And how they’ve been such a constant presence in amongst all the other cameras coming and going over the decades.

      Even after major purging of my collection I’m not sure I could quite live with just one camera!

  8. My first camera was a little grey plastic Ilford Sprite…127 film, one shutter speed, two apertures, colour and b&w! Dad had a Kodak Folding Brownie, and a Voightlander Vito CL 35mm camera. I used both of these at various times. My first serious camera was a Practika. From there I graduated to a Yashica TL Electro X, which I traded on a new Contax 139Q which I still have!

    1. It’s funny how most people here seem to have had parents quite into photography, or at least who exposed them to photography from a young age. I can’t remember ever seeing either of my parents even hold a camera.

      You can’t go wrong with the beautiful Contax 139Q Steve!

  9. I was born in 1966. Had I thought that someday a blogger would ask me to remember the first camera I noticed, I would have taken notes. 😁. But then again, five year old me wasn’t a photo nerd. If I had to guess, it was either a 35mm Pentax or Kodak. Dad passed away in 2019, so I can’t ask. Uncles are 94 and can’t remember his name.

    1. I didn’t get anywhere near being a camera geek until about nine years ago, in my mid thirties. Just never really had any serious exposure to it before then.

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