Saluting the original film-camera reviewers of the Internet

The first time I wrote about old film cameras on this blog was about a month after I started it, in 2007. You can read that post here.

It’s remarkable how much has changed in film photography since then.

In 2007, as film stocks kept being discontinued we worried that falling demand for film would kill the business. All of our great film gear would become paperweights and doorstops.

Certo Super Sport Dolly
The Certo Super Sport Dolly, still an underrepresented camera on the Internet.

By the mid-2010s, the Great Analog Resurgence had breathed new life into film photography. Demand for film has slowly increased. It will never return to former heights, but it is enough to keep emulsions flowing from the factories. A few new films have been introduced, and a couple discontinued films have come back.

In 2007, only a handful of people wrote about their gear online. Some wrote full-on reviews, some wrote usage impressions, and some just listed specifications. I was grateful to all of them as they helped me figure out which cameras I might like to try, and to figure out whether to click Buy It Now on a camera that tickled my fancy.

I started writing about my old cameras here because I wanted to be as helpful to the world as these “OG” film-camera reviewers had been to me. I kept using their sites as I researched my own reviews. And then many of my reviews began to lead search results. I felt satisfied — and guilty, as my reviews began to outrank those of the good people whose shoulders on which I stood.

Argus Instant Load 270
Only a couple sites say anything about the Argus Instant Load 270 and my blog is one of them.

Since then, dozens of others have started film-photography blogs where they write about their gear. Many of them even do video reviews on YouTube! The Internet is awash in good information about even the most obscure cameras. So much so that many of my former highly ranked posts have fallen in the rankings. It’s personally disappointing, but I suppose what goes around comes around. What we all get in return is a thriving film-photography community.

I want to salute the people whose sites helped me so much when I began researching old cameras in my blog’s early days. Many of their sites are still up, although most of them are not still maintained. Many of them have the same design as when they started 15, 20, 25 years ago; a few appear to be straight HTML! I’m listing these sites in rough order of how often I visited them.

Photoethnography — Collecting and Using Classic Cameras: Karen Nakamura is a professor of anthropology at UC Berkeley who has used film cameras in her work documenting cultures. She built a large collection and wrote good reviews of her gear, offering usage and repair tips. For years, every time I was interested in a camera, my Googling led me straight to Karen’s pages. I took it as a sign that I had good taste in cameras.

Matt’s Classic Cameras: Matt Denton shares impressions of his classic cameras with usage and repair tips. I modeled my early camera reviews after his site.

Junk Store Cameras: Marcy Merrill loves the crappy cameras you find in junk stores. She makes lovely images with them. She appears to still add to her site, and she occasionally blogs here.

Photography and Vintage Film Cameras: Mike Connealy likes to find out what kind of images a simple old camera can make. He took this site down a few years ago but offered it to anyone who might like to host it. Fellow collector Mike Eckman resurrected it at his site. Mike Connealy is still active, and blogs about film cameras and photography here.

Random Camera Blog: Mark O’Brien has blogged about film cameras and photography since 2004. His blog is still active and regularly updated.

Collection Appareils: Even though it’s mostly in French, Sylvain Hagland’s site remains a key source of good information about classic cameras. Google Translate will put it into English for you in a jif.

CameraQuest’s Classic Camera Profiles: Stephen Gandy is a Voigtlander distributor who has written extensively about classic Voigtlander, Nikon, and Leica cameras, especially rangefinders but also SLRs.

Photography in Malaysia: Don’t let the site’s name fool you, Leo Foo has extensively documented several key classic 35mm SLRs.

Camera Manual Library: Mike Butkus has collected camera manuals for a very long time, and has scanned them and uploaded them to this site. It’s hundreds of manuals, to be sure. When you Google a camera name plus “manual,” the first result is almost certain to be Mike Butkus’s site. He’s done an enormous service to all us collectors and photographers.

Rick Oleson: Rick’s site is still hosted at Tripod, one of the original free hosting sites from back in the day. He offers usage and repair tips on a number of cameras, plus essays on how to make the most of your old gear.

Ken Rockwell: While Ken primarily focuses on new gear, he has reviewed several film cameras. They’re blended in with everything else so you have to hunt around to find them.

The Brownie Camera Page: Online since 1994, the Web’s earliest days, Chuck Baker’s site catalogs Brownie cameras and Kodak history, and gives useful information about how to clean up and use these old cameras.

Yashica Guy: Joe Marcel Wolff catalogs Yashica rangefinder cameras and offers usage and repair tips. He also makes and sells an adaptor that lets you use common batteries in these cameras.

Mamiya 35mm Cameras: Ron Herron collects Mamiya 35mm cameras and writes about them here.

Alfred’s Camera Page: Alfred Klomp shares information about his collection, including usage and repair tips. It hasn’t been updated since 2006 — it was already on ice the first time I visited it!

Roland and Caroline Givan’s Cameras: Roland and Caroline are fans of Agfa cameras, but they also enjoy Russian and half-frame cameras. They document their collection here.

TLR cameras: Barry Toogood documents his TLR collection.

Manual Cameras: N. Maekawa shares his impressions of using several all-manual film cameras.

Guide to Classic Cameras: Specifications and photos of dozens of classic film cameras.

Camera Collecting and Restoration: Dan Mitchell’s site of usage and repair info about many classic cameras.

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13 responses to “Saluting the original film-camera reviewers of the Internet”

  1. Marc Beebe Avatar

    Man I missed out! Bad timing, Kismet, whatever … if I’d known about this film interest before clearing out the estate I could have kept all 600 cameras and accessories and written one helluva series on my experiences with film.
    C’est la vie.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I wish I’d started five years sooner! But in 2002 I was locked in a dreadful marriage and was in the middle of losing my mind. By 2006 I was free and started looking for things to restore me to sanity. Film photography and blogging were one of those ways and here I still am doing both today.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      How could I forget about Rick Oleson? I’ll add his site to the list above. I don’t recall ever coming across the pheugo site but I’ll add it anyway on your recommendation.

  2. Mike Connealy Avatar

    Oops. I see now you already had Marcy.
    There are some useful early sites which can now only be found through the wayback archive. I need to review my own links list pretty often to keep current.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I love how Marcy is still actively at it.

  3. mfobrien1956 Avatar

    Photoethnography and Camera Quest were two sites that I used a lot back in the day to find out more about cameras. Marcy is a gem, and a good friend, and had it not been for Junk Store Cameras, I never would have met her. I like how we all share our knowledge, and that’s a unifying theme among film shooters! Thanks for the mention, too!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m sure we were all using the same sites back in the day, because there were so few to choose from! Now, there are lots of us doing this.

  4. Sam Avatar

    A great tribute to these awesome OGs! I remember almost all of them! Karen’s site was one that always showed up on searches. Slyvain started on Pbase I think cause I remember his camera collection there.

    Rick’s site go way back and I think we’ve corresponded a couple times though I’m not sure he’d remember me.

    The MIR site looked awesomely like a catalog and I remember always being impressed that it was based in Malaysia of all places!

    The one that you should include for the next wave of OGs is Jim Grey’s “Down The Road” cause it’s easily one of the best and most prolific!! 😎👍🏻

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Aw gawrsh Sam, I’m a latecomer compared to many of these giants! I’m merely standing on their shoulders.

  5. […] all the cool kids are doing it, which I know is a silly reason to do anything, I have been rediscovering film […]

  6. Kodachromeguy Avatar

    Hi Jim, this is a late update. You can add to your list. Various contributors have reviewed or used all sorts of unusual and usual film cameras.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you!

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