More photographer than camera collector

24 comments on More photographer than camera collector
3 minutes

It feels weird, but I’m becoming less interested in buying new old cameras. Instead, I want to put more film in my favorite old cameras. I’m starting to enjoy making images more than playing with equipment.

I still troll the auction sites looking for cameras on my to-buy list. But that list has gotten mighty short:

  • Canon Canonet – The first Canonet, from 1961, a 35mm aperture-priority rangefinder camera with an f/1.9 lens.
  • Rollei 35 – This is among the smallest 35mm cameras ever made, and should be incredibly solidly made.
  • Yashica Lynx 14 – A typical large, heavy 1960s 35mm rangefinder, but with an enormous f/1.4 lens.
  • Yashica Mat 124 – I loved shooting my similar Yashica-D so much that I think I’d like to have a Mat 124 for its built-in light meter.
  • Olympus 35 RC or RD – A small but mighty 35mm rangefinder. The RD has a better lens than the RC.
  • Olympus Stylus – The first of the Stylus line, from 1991, it’s a marvel of miniaturization.
  • Nikon FE – I want a mostly-mechanical Nikon SLR and this looks like a good compromise.

Some of these cameras (notably the Rollei, the Yashica-Mat, and the Nikon) will cost more than my usual $50 limit. But they will complete my collection, and so I’m willing.

I’m not closed to buying other cameras that charm me. I’m just becoming ever harder to charm.

Waiting its turn

A number of cameras are in a queue awaiting a test roll and should keep me busy for many months. The best of them are a Pentax Spotmatic SP, a Polaroid SX70, a Kodak Retina Reflex IV, and a pristine Kodak Pony 135 Model C donated by a reader.

But I am finding it hard to wait until I finish shooting all of those before I go back to cameras I want to try again. I have film in my Kodak Monitor right now, for example. I keep eyeing my Olympus Trip 35, my Kodak Brownie Starmatic, my Minolta XG-1, my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK, and others, wanting to shoot with them again.

Maybe some of those cameras will join my vintage-camera inner circle, that set of cameras I really enjoy and will use over and over. Here’s that inner circle today:

  • Yashica-D – I have a five-pack of (now discontinued) Kodak Ektachrome E100G chilling in the fridge just for this camera.
  • Pentax ME – This is my go-to SLR, and I’m having a great time with the f/1.4 prime lens I recently bought for it.
  • Olympus XA – I have film in this one right now. It’s got a great lens and it’s so easy to take along.
  • Canon Canonet QL17 G-III – I finally have new light seals to put into this otherwise great performer.
  • Polaroid Automatic 250 – I remain charmed by instant photography, and this is the finest Polaroid I’ve used.

Given that I’ve been buying old gear since I was nine years old (with a hiatus and a collection restart during the divorce years), this is a strange transition for me. But I’m looking forward to becoming a better photographer as I shoot the same cameras repeatedly and they become old friends that I know how to handle well.

I can see that nearly forty years of camera collecting has really been about finding a few cameras that I was always meant to use to make images that please me greatly. I’ve just about accomplished that.

Fortunately, shooting film has never been less expensive. Read why.


24 responses to “More photographer than camera collector”

  1. Geraldo Avatar

    I feel pretty much the same as you. I’m not interested in collecting cameras for the sake of it, I’m interested in taking photos. I feel the same way about Vinyl records. I don’t want to pay huge sums of money for a record that someone has deemed collectible; I just want to listen to music in the format it was originally published, on my beautiful old 60s record player.

    On the subject of having several cameras to test, to speed things up I’ve shot a single roll of film across several 35mm cameras. Just rewind the film half way through and retrieve the leader with a film retrieval tool which costs just a few bucks. Pop film in your next camera, and in a dark room with the lens caps on, fire and wind on the right number of frames to get to the unexposed section.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Well, this is really quite a change for me. For years, I could enjoy a camera for its own sake, appreciating the engineering, design, and manufacturing that created it. But when I started collecting again in about 2006 I purposed to buy cameras I could shoot, and to shoot with them. And out of that I’ve figured out a few things about making a pleasing image, and *that* has now taken over as my primary aim!

      Neat idea about using one roll in multiple cameras. Next time I use a camera that I’m not enjoying, I might try it.

    2. stillthrill1 Avatar

      I agree with the general statement that its more about the photo than about the camera. I really love old cameras (as objects on a shelf), but I love using them more and looking at the photographs they make even more-so.

      At some point, having so many options and cameras can distract you. I think the best photos can only be achieved from someone who has practiced with the same camera/lens combo for years. I know what the results will look like from my Pentax 67 and 105mm lens like the back of my hand… and I love those results.

      You’re making me want to walk outside with the gear I just mentioned and go for some street shooting…

      1. Jim Grey Avatar

        I agree that sticking with one camera and lens can really improve one’s work because they know it so well they don’t have to think about it. It can become an extension of them.

        I’ve narrowed down to a handful of cameras I’ll keep using. Maybe in time I’ll choose just one.

        1. stillthrill1 Avatar

          Try and stick with one for a month or even longer. It becomes a different experience when you shoot with something you trust so well.

  2. Richard Avatar


    The Nikon FE is silky smooth. I took mine to a Chicago basketball court and took some of my best sports photos ever. Even on my first try, the weight was just right and it felt natural in my hands.

    Ken Rockwell writes that it can take night exposures up to 30 minutes. I can’t wait to take my Nikon FEs for a night stroll. That’s right, I purchased a 2nd one for $25 on eBay.

    Nikon FE bargains are scattered on eBay and on Craigslist. They have an electronically controlled shutter and only work when the correct battery is used and inserted properly. The eBay seller thought they were selling me a broken Nikon FE. I guessed right and won a Nikon FE body for $25 (free shipping). My first Nikon FE with lens cost me $5 earlier this summer. Amazing.

    The Nikon FE is a wonderful camera. Thanks for your blog as always.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Richard, thanks for the report on the FE. “Weight was just right and it felt natural in my hands” — sounds perfect!!

      1. Richard Avatar


        Search for “Nikon FE repair” on eBay and you’ll find one. I also use to search Craigslist for bargains. But you probably knew that already.


  3. urbanhafner Avatar

    Same here! I’m slowly trying to trim down my collection to the bare minimum. I have managed to sell quite a few cameras in the last months, but now and then I have a relapse (very recently I bought ~ 10 cheap P&S camera), but overall it’s getting better.

    1. Richard Avatar

      Relapse is a very interesting phrase for your camera collecting. I too suffer from such relapses.

      1. urbanhafner Avatar

        Yes, relapse! Because I know that I do my best work with the cameras that I know well so trying out new cameras left and right means that I don’t get to know my cameras well.

        On the other hand you sometimes find new cameras that you love and that ends up in the “inner circle”.

    2. Jim Grey Avatar

      I get that. Sometimes you just come across a camera, or two, or 10, that charm you and that you can afford, and so you do it.

      I’m probably going to start selling or giving away some of the cameras I won’t use anymore, or that I won’t display (I have a few cameras I’ll never shoot again but I like the way they look on a shelf).

      1. urbanhafner Avatar

        Yes, cheap cameras FTW :) The most expensive of my recent acquisitions did cost 25€.

  4. Christpher Smith Avatar
    Christpher Smith

    Not quite got to that stage yet as I still have the collecting bug but most of the cameras I would like to get are out of my price range, I think I need to win the lottery to full fill my whish
    list i.e., Leica, Hasalblad, Contax, Rollie etc. I can dream. I have cameras that when I was a Lad I would drool over in photo mags but could never afford but can pick them up now for peanuts on eBay. But I still like taking photos with them as well.

    1. Richard Avatar


      I know this is Jim’s website but just wanted to respond to your comment. I never dreamed of owning a Leica, Hasselblad or Contax when I was younger so I seem immune (so far) to wanting those cameras.

      I wanted Nikons and Canons. My first purchase at age 27 was a Nikon EM. That was a while ago. So I’m pretty happy finding a good, used camera at an affordable price.

      As with everyone, I appreciate Jim’s blog and a chance to hang out with other photographers and collectors.

    2. Jim Grey Avatar

      Christopher, I’ve always felt like those lofty brands were out of my reach. And I’ve had a soft $50 upper limit on what I’m willing to pay for an old camera. But that said, a buddy of mine has a nice Hasselblad and it really is sweet.

  5. pesoto74 Avatar

    Must be something that is catching. After seeking out cameras for a while I realized I have many more nice cameras than I can possibly ever use. And then there are the ones that aren’t so nice. So now I am in the process of trimming down to the stuff that I will actually use and spending my money on taking pictures rather than cameras. Although if everyone goes in this direction there might be some very good deals on cameras out there.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, sometimes it’s fun to use a not-so-nice camera once, but then what do you do with it?

  6. Derek Avatar

    You can have a OM Stylus infinity. I have several, let me know where to ship. You can borrow my rollei 35, FE, 35 RC, Lynx 14E if you want. I can also locate you one of those canonet. Granted you pay for postage.

    1. Derek Avatar

      On a second note, i just remember who has the Yashica TLR you’re looking for too. haha.

    2. Jim Grey Avatar

      Derek, I’d be delighted to have the Olympus Stylus. Do you still have my address? I’m more than happy to pay shipping. You rock, sir; thank you! As for borrowing cameras — I’d hate to do that and have one damaged in transit, or for me to damage it in usage, or something like that.

      1. Derek Avatar

        I am pretty sure I do in my email, I will look it up and let you know after i send it, maybe this week or early next week. And that one(shipping) is on me ;). About borrowing the cameras, I’m not afraid, offer stands open for you, if you change your mind in the future let me know. I believe in” try it before you buy it”.

  7. Christpher Smith Avatar
    Christpher Smith

    There’s still an area open to you for collecting, have you tried any APS cameras I know the film format is defunct but you can still pick it up. I have a few APS SLR’s and a few compact
    APS cameras, they can be had quite cheap these days.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Christopher, I was trying to stick with folders and 35mm rangefinders in my collection, but let 35mm SLRs and instant cameras creep in, too. I’m sure APS cameras can be had for cheap, but I do need to draw the line somewhere!

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