My cameras - Part I - 35mm


Most of us photographers experienced GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) at some stage, an incurable (sometimes) ‘disease’. It is even more dangerous in case of those working with analogue equipment. Variety of cameras, formats, matching optics. It’s insane and very often attracts one’s attention, especially at the beginning of the photographic adventure (and further on as well, unfortunately)

Of course, equipment is not the most critical part, but it does matter. Your vision and ideas are the crucial elements leading to your fulfilment. Once you find the right tool, however, It will help to express your imagination on so much higher level. It also often opens new possibilities and makes you discover new ways of work and at the same time, new ideas. The one who never tries will never understand. That’s the fact.

In the post a few weeks ago, I was talking about the way I was discovering my photographic language, and when it turned up that first of all film, not digital photography is the way to go for me. 

Then my way of searching for the right tool - a camera. Which one? 

Initially, I started with a 35mm - relatively short but repeated period. I understood pretty fast that I need a bigger format. 120 was the way to go. Especially 6x6 which for some reason happened to be the most suitable format for my type of photography and the way I prefer to frame the world. 

Then I wanted occasionally to go bigger and slower. 4x5. That was my limit so far even if I had (and still have from time to time) crazy idea of going further.

After many years of using various cameras, I have now only the necessary tools to express my vision. I realised that I am settled at last. 

But is it for sure? I don’t know.

I still have a feeling, inner voice telling me that there is something special waiting for me - some unique camera which will turn everything upside down and will open magic doors to a completely different world of creativity. Echos of GAS I’d say ;)  

Above experience and also questions I am getting from time to time from my students or colleagues - ‘which camera should I use?’, ‘which camera were you using for this or that?’ made me think about making a sort of summary. I will try to list and describe only briefly every film camera I used over the last ten years. Not necessary chronologically. Just my experience of using it and samples of photographs made with them.

I hope I remember all of it. 

To make everything easy to go through, I will divide it into probably three or four separate posts with different formats.

I will skip my pre-digital use of film cameras. I simply don’t remember which models I had or what lenses. 

Today 35mm …

1. FED 3 type B with Industar-26M 50mm f2.8. Soviet-era fully manual rangefinder introduced in 1961. Easy to use with excellent optics and low price tag. Industar 26m delivered high quality, sharp images with a lot of character. When I saw the first photographs out of it, I knew I was on the right way looking for a proper camera. 

But Fed 3 wasn’t the one. Not yet. Its relatively small viewfinder made focusing and framing a little bit awkward, especially when one wearing glasses. My model (maybe all of them) had a metal cogged eyepiece. After two rolls of film, I had to visit an optician to replace my scratched lenses.

2. A few years later, I’ve got an appetite for another rangefinder. This time I decided to get something newer and a bit more advanced - Yashica Electro 35 GSN. A beautiful camera with fixed, outstanding Yashinon 45mm f1.7 lens.

Yashica electro introduced in the mid-’60s was first electronically controlled camera, with an aperture priority ‘auto’ mode. Fast and reliable piece of equipment.

I had this camera twice :) 

3.  Nikon F5 - beast camera. Literally. Excellent in almost every technical aspect - bright and significant viewfinder, fast and reliable AF, very convenient grip. Film loading was swift. F5 was, however, way too heavy. Even with a small 50mm 1.8 lens. This camera weighs a tone. It’s not for everyone and certainly not for me.  

4.  Canon EOS 1 - another excellent and fast camera. Much smaller and more friendly than F5. I have to admit that I was mainly Canon user for many years in the digital world and only had a few Nikons for a year or so. In that case, it could also be the force of habit. But F5 was too heavy, and that’s the fact :) 

I was using it mainly with a 50mm 1.4 lens. Nice combo.

I can’t find scans from negatives exposed with EOS 1, but the next camera was used with the same lenses so photographs would be no difference in the look and quality of images.

5. Canon EOS 3 - that was my last AF film camera. I realised that I much more prefer manual focus over AF when working with film. Of course, one can switch on to the manual mode, but it is not the same. Natively manual cameras work entirely different, and in such case, manual focus is a different experience.

EOS 3 is a unique camera. 45-point autofocus system and introduced earlier in EOS 5 a refined version of the Eye-Control system.

It was the lightest of all 3 SLRs with AF I was using. Also the nicest of them all :)

Usually, I had a 50/1.4, 35/2 or 100/2 lens in the front of it. Once happened that I had a 70-200/4. 

6. Here comes another camera (Id’s say in the meantime of my AF period) and that once was my favourite of all I had so far. I had this camera twice, and I won’t be surprised if I will get it once again at some stage in the future.

Canon A-1 - Small, comfortable camera with some automation (AV/TV) and with a fantastic Canon FD optics. I had two lenses with each of them, 50/1.8 and later 50/1.4. Both were incredible performers rendering images uniquely. I don’t remember any other 35mm camera/optics combo which gave me photographs I had such pleasure to look at. 

7. Minolta SR-T 101 with Rokkor PF 58mm 1.4. Lovely, fully mechanical camera with very bright viewfinder and TTL introduced by Minolta in 1966. These and also superb optics made it a pure pleasure to use… for a short while. Again - I was trying these small SLRs, but in the end, they were gathering dust. 

8. The last one on the list is Vivitar IC100 - It’s the only one I still have on my shelf.  

IC 100 is an entirely plastic, point and shoot camera with a focus-free (also plastic) lens which apparently may give surprisingly good results depending on the lighting condition.

The beauty of such a ‘toy camera’ is the fact that it is weight next to nothing and fits in even the smallest pocket. Its quality and value are similar to disposable cameras, so you can go anywhere without worrying about losing it or breaking.  

If this were my priority, I would go for something more sophisticated. There are thousands of similar sizewise cameras on the market. Most of them much better than IC100. Not even saying about hi quality but also pricey ones like Rollei 35 series, Olympus XA or Mju or other. The possibilities are endless.

If I had to choose one from all the above, It would probably be Canon A-1. If rangefinder - FED. These two deliver images with a character and unique for each of them look. It’s an essential factor for me. Speed is irrelevant.

Also, it looks like I will be up for hunting another 35mm camera soon.

It will have to be something small and preferably mechanical. I just got from a friend of mine a bag of expired, but excellent 35mm films and I can’t wait to use them. I think I am mature enough to reconsider such a small format as an alternative (in some cases) in my creative process, especially if I appreciate more and more small and light cameras.

Next week I will make a list of all medium format equipment I was using.

In the meantime, I am happy to answer any questions about listed cameras or their alternatives… If I will be able to ;)  And remember - we all use cameras for different types/styles of photography; thus, our experience and requirements may be completely different. 

But once you find the right tool - focus on your creativity and make the most out of it. GAS may still, however, keep waiting over the corner to hit unexpectedly ;)

Using Format