Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

How to be Internet famous in film photography

Yashica MG-1

When I collected cameras in the 1970s and 1980s, I bought gear only as I found it at garage sales and in junk stores. Information about what I had just bought was extremely hard to come by. When I restarted collecting film cameras in 2006, the Internet had transformed the hobby. Not only could I buy cameras online, but I could research them there as well.

Yet even in the early 2000s few people wrote about old cameras. My searches kept leading me to the same names, the online titans of camera collecting: Karen NakamuraMike ElekMatt DentonRick OlesonSylvain Halgand.

If they could do it, I reasoned, so could I, and so I started writing camera reviews on this blog. I’ve been deeply pleased that online searches for this gear have brought thousands of visitors here. Many of my reviews are among the top five results on Google. Here are the ten most-viewed camera reviews of all time on Down the Road:

  1. Yashica MG-1
  2. Minolta Hi-Matic 7
  3. Kodak Pony 135
  4. Kodak Duaflex II
  5. Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80
  6. Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK
  7. Canon Canonet QL17 G-III
  8. Canon AF35 ML (Super Sure Shot)
  9. Kodak Junior Six-16, Series II
  10. Yashica-D

Am I now one of those names budding collectors keep coming across? “Oh, it’s that Jim Grey guy again.” I sure hope so!

But in the last couple years or so a lot of people have started writing online about the old film cameras they collect and shoot. I share all of the reviews and experience reports that I find in my Saturday Recommended Reading posts, and it seems like the number just keeps growing.

Was there ever a surer sign that this hobby, once odd and lonely, has caught on?

But it’s got to be challenging now for anyone to become one of the well-known film-camera collectors or film photographers. I’m sure that most of the new crop of writers don’t care at all about becoming Internet famous in the hobby. I didn’t when I started reviewing film cameras here. It was a nice bonus that searches started sending me lots of visitors.

Yet the growing number of reviews available online makes it challenging for any one reviewer to keep rising to the top of search. It’s reduced the number of views I get for common cameras like the Pentax K1000, because so many people have written about them now. I keep seeing it in my stats: 2015 was the high-water mark for the cameras everybody wants to try.

PK1000stats

Yet my reviews of off-the-beaten-path cameras like that Yashica MG-1 keep getting more views every year.

YMG1stats

I really admire Casual Photophile, the film-photography site run by James Tocchio. It is everything I wish my blog could be: interesting gear, fine photographs, sparkling writing. But don’t let the “casual” in the site’s title mislead you: James is very intentional about his site’s vision and execution. He carefully selects top-flight photographers and writers as contributors, is willing to spend serious coin on cameras that will interest a wide audience, writes crisp analysis of film-photography news, and spends considerable effort promoting each new post. His efforts have made Casual Photophile popular and respected in our community.

I’m envious of his success, but I’m not so ambitious. I recognize the irony in that statement — I spend up to ten hours a week writing this blog. But I’m not willing to give up writing about personal topics and esoterica like old road alignments to focus this blog entirely on photography. I remain too frugal to be buying Leicas or Hasselblads. I usually can’t pause the rest of my life quickly enough to write timely commentary on industry developments. And I have neither the time nor the stomach for the social media efforts necessary to build this audience further.

If that sounds like you, find film gear few others have reviewed, and review them. Internet search will reward you. The audience will come.

Or just shoot the cameras you want, write about them as you will, and enjoy the hobby. Internet fame might not find you, but at least you’ll have a lot of fun.

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25 thoughts on “How to be Internet famous in film photography

  1. Great post Jim! I think you are definitely one of today’s new titans of film photography blogs! I have read an admired all those good folks you mentioned from the early days, they were the pioneers! I was one of those who probably used, collected all the same cameras and lenses they did but was too shy to ever write about it. Late bloomer you might say. I would say you are today’s King of film blogs and I love your work, keep it up! 😊

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  2. Very interesting post Jim.

    The problem today I find as a reader, is so many blogs are so dry and dull when talking about film cameras. There just not interesting or engaging!

    You mention Casual Photophile and yes I do read most of their posts, and the writing there is amongst the best I’ve found, in terms of being more interesting and humorous.

    The problem I have with CP is that virtually every camera they talk about, they gush over like it’s the best thing they’ve ever used, then conveniently place half a dozen links in the post to eBay or camera stores or their own online camera store where you can buy the camera they’re currently lavishing praise on. It just makes the recommendation seem biased and not objective enough.

    Also, to be frank, I don’t see a lot of photos on CP that make me want to rush out and buy the cameras. Their writing, for me, as far better than their photography.

    What works for me on blogs is when you see stunning photographs made with a certain camera/lens, plus some feedback from the photographer about how and why they use it. Rather than regurgitating the spec from the manual and sharing some mediocre images.

    I would like to see more posts/blogs where people talk about the feelings and experience of shooting film and using old gear. There’s too little of this for me, and as I said, too much boring dry info about the range of shutter speeds or ISO etc.

    I guess there’s an audience for this, but I would like to see more of a balance of colourful interesting prose, combined with useful info about how a camera actually feels to use, plus impressive images.

    You can have one that looks perfect on the spec sheet but is very disappointing to use. (The much hyped Mju 2 / Stylus Epic comes to mind).

    Conversely there are cameras that are very basic but a joy to hold and use.

    Anyway, I’ve rambled enough! Thanks for writing this!

    PS/ 10 hours a week in my eyes is quite a commitment, well done! That’s over 21 days a year of solid blogging! I would like to continue to grow my readership, but just cannot currently find that kind of time, maybe three or four hours a week is more realistic for me right now.

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  3. lmstevens0724 says:

    Nice article Jim. I got the photography bug back in the day when we dropped our film off at the local Fotomat. I also jumped on the digital train, having been lured by the instant quality, same as I was with Polaroid.

    I too gathered a small collection of film cameras, most of which were given to me by family. Over the past 2-3 years I have returned to film and find that I enjoy it much more than I had in the past, for two good reasons I believe. One, for the 20 or so years I spent studying photography in the digital realm I really honed my skills and began to developed a voice with the camera. And two, I believe we are in the same age group so you may understand this, my wife and I have come to the end stage of our parents life. With all that comes with it, it is a strange and precarious place to find oneself. To help me get through the emotional aspect of this stage I have taken a deep dive back to film. I bring with me my years of experience and my need to process life experiences using the film medium. The wait and see aspect of film is exactly what I need right now. It slows me down and has me thinking and shooting with more intent. .

    I enjoy the posts that you make in the same vane (life experiences). And, I believe it may have been a camera review that brought me to you site originally. I would say I have spent a considerable amount of time chasing the internet fame. Only to find that not everyone is meant to be internet famous. And that’s ok. It’s all about the journey for me.

    Keep up the good work Jim !!

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    • I’m absolutely at the age where parent end-of-life matters consume a good amount of my energy. That is one of the “life challenges” to which I have recently vaguely referred. It’s actually been quite challenging to get away to make photographs. I have film in my Konica C35 at the moment and it just goes with me everywhere I go, in hopes I can find five or ten minutes for some quick shooting.

      I’m very happy that you enjoy my life-experience posts! I enjoy writing them.

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  4. Andy Umbo says:

    Always love your stuff Jim, and yes, like others say, you have a good enthusiasts look at film cameras worth reading!

    The thing I see at a lot of the other sites, is huge inaccuracies concerning both film and film cameras, and how they were used; something you seem to avoid! As a guy who’s been shooting film since 1966, and professionally since 1970, lots of others have glaring mistakes. Sometimes when I e-mail to “lightly correct” misstatements, I’m deleted from the comments section; I guess they really don’t want to be accurate?

    Anyway, keep it up Jim, it’s not only your love of cameras, but the stories always seem to encompass taking them someplace interesting as well!

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    • That’s exactly it: I’m just an enthusiast, and I don’t pretend to be more. So where I might lack in depth, I try to make up for it in interesting writing.

      I hope you will always gently correct my mistakes here. I do make them. I want to get it right.

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  5. Christopher Smith. says:

    I really like your photography posts/camera reviews. I am an avid collector but not a writer but I could talk the hind legs of a donkey talking about camera gear that I have and used. Anyway keep up the good work Jim writing reviews and I will keep reading.

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  6. SilverFox says:

    A good post JIm and I can only dream of reaching your dizzy heights, 10 hours per week is more than I am able to commit to this blogging thing so I will have to be content with my lowly readership.
    I looked at my stats a few weeks ago and I was surprised to see that apart from ‘Home’ and ‘About’ my number one all time most visited post is one I did in May about the Pentacon FM which is a pretty obscure camera really; so some of what you say above holds true and this weird hobby of ours is certainly more mainstream these days.

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  7. Hey Jim. I read your site pretty consistently and was surprised to see CP mentioned. Thanks for the kind words, my friend. I like reading your thoughts on cameras (and life) and wish I had more time to browse.

    I would love to address Dan’s comments if you’ll allow it. If it’s not the right place, honestly, just edit or delete the comment.

    I can see the point that it might seem like we love every camera we try. This isn’t exactly true, as I pretty well hated the Rollei B35, Josh has written about the Mju being garbage, and we specifically published a “Cameras We Hate” post, but I can see that if you didn’t read everything we’ve published you might come away with the feeling that we’re soft on cameras. It’s true that sometimes we shoot a camera that ends up being really bad, and a lot of the time we simply scrap the writeup. This is for two reasons – the mission of the site is to talk about special cameras that are worth talking about, and we try to keep things positive.

    That said, check out my article on the Fuji GW690. I trashed it for 2,000 words.

    As for the affiliate links and links to our camera shop – well, this is the only way to keep CP in existence. Even so, we’ve really resisted splashing ads all over every page, even though this would be a big help, and the cameras we sell in our shop are all in excellent condition and ready to shoot, so I think we’re adding some value to the hobby in that way while also keeping ourselves alive (which is personally important to me).

    Last thing I’ll say is that I started CP with the single goal of adding something useful or entertaining to the hobby. I’ll be passing your feelings (both good and bad) on to the other writers and we’ll keep trying to make a better site for you guys.

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    • Hi James, thanks for your reply. Jim, sorry to jump in your post, but I’m sure you’ll see this all being in the spirit of the conversation about what/how we like to read about cameras online, and what attracts us most to read photography blogs?

      James, I hope you take the positive, in that I said your site is one of the most well written and interesting blogs about cameras I’ve discovered, and I have been a regular reader for probably three years now because of that. As I said above, so many sites are dull and just reiterate the specs of the camera. You do this to an extent – so we know what the technical limitations of the camera are – but with far more flair and interest surrounding it.

      I appreciate the point that some cameras just aren’t worth writing about, so you mostly just feature the ones about which you have something positive and enthusiastic to say.

      I know it’s very difficult to try to write in an interesting and engaging way when you feel indifferent at best about the camera! Sometimes though it’s good to hear if someone really didn’t get on with a certain camera and why – especially the kind of cameras that on the whole get (overly) hyped.

      In a way the quality of your good writing is almost your downfall compared with the pictures. I remember reading a review of the Nikon L35AF on your site when I was thinking of getting one, and the words resoundingly praised the camera, and especially the lens. Then we got to the sample photos, and to me they weren’t anything that couldn’t have been created with any half decent P&S from the same era. I just couldn’t see what all your praise was about.

      Please bear in mind this all my personal view and preference. Mostly in the past when I’ve been looking at a different camera, I’ve sought out photographs made with one that highly impress me. If the very best images I find online with a certain camera are still pretty mediocre, it doesn’t encourage me to rush out and find one, however much someone might rave about them. I hope this makes sense.

      That said, your pictures OF cameras are generally fabulous, and I love how your feature them with different backgrounds and environments, rather than just sat on a kitchen table for example. This is again one of the things that puts CP near the top of the pile.

      Something else I appreciate about CP is that you seem to have a pretty core team of writers and obviously put a lot into the site yourselves. On another blog, which I won’t mention, I used to read virtually every post of, but in the last six months maybe the original writer has posted maybe only one in 10 posts. This might be ok if all the guest writers were great, but they don’t tend to be! So it dilutes the quality of the blog overall, in my view.

      By keeping a core team, the standard and the overall “voice” of CP remains high, and this is a big reason to keep returning.

      A final thing I thought of is there are two or three other photography blogs I follow that look near identical to CP. I guess you all use the same WordPress plug in. I appreciate you have your distinct CP logo at the top, but once you scrolled past that it looks just like the other blogs. I wonder if there was something you could do on that front to make yours more original and stand out? So the look of the site reflects the quality of the writing.

      James all of these of course the opinions of just one person. Hopefully you’ll take on the positives (I think there are lots!) and maybe appreciate that the constructive criticism is based on my personal preference on what I look for to make a photography blog worth keep coming back to. Thanks for listening!

      Jim, thanks for letting us chat!

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    • James, I think I see pretty clearly what you’re trying to do with CP and I support it. I especially appreciate how well written every post is. Keep on keeping on, my man.

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  8. I have enjoyed the articles you have posted. I like checking out other reviews of cameras I have shot. I also appeciated the link to my review of the Olympus OM-1. I enjoyed your review of the Canon AE-1 Program. I have used several of them, and I really like them. The “sport grip” was a godsend. I do prefer the advances of the Canon A-1 over the AE-1 Program, but for the simplicity the AE-1 is great. Your writing is easy to read and I am thankful I found your site. Keep on doing what you’re doing and things will work out!

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  9. Really interesting post Jim and I love that you have people talking about it here in the comments too! Internet fame is a bizarre thing and its been especially odd seeing it grow in the last few years with film photography as you say. I’ve been plodding along with my blog and sharing photos for 8 years now and I’ve seen people come and go – but those that stick around for longer than a year or two are either the really ambitious people that put in the hard work (and hopefully don’t burn out which I’ve also seen) or those like myself who share the things that they want and love and enjoy it as a hobby. I don’t have the time or ambition towards internet fame myself either – and I often wonder if the rewards are worth all the effort and time that I see others put into it – I don’t think they would be enough for me. I do admire all the hard work others do though and I love the passion too, so I’m happy to sit back, do what I do and enjoy others content including yours :)

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    • Rhianne, yes, I’ve seen them come and go, as well. I still miss a few film-photo bloggers who quit blogging.

      If film-photography Internet fame could pay me as well as my day job as an engineering director in a software company, I might be willing to put in the effort!

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  10. Pingback: How To Create An Amazing Photography Blog – 35hunter

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