Even though I’ve been actively shrinking my camera collection through Operation Thin the Herd, I still like trying new-to-me old cameras to see what kind of images they make.
I especially love it when I discover a sleeper, a camera that makes images far better than you’d expect. Such was the case with the Argus Argoflex Forty I tried recently (review here). I even enjoy the process when a camera disappoints me, as the Kodak Retinette II did (review here). In the wide world of old-camera sports that’s the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
After a dozen years of reviewing old cameras, however, I feel like I’m running out of new ground to cover. It’s not that I’m running out of cameras to try, but that I’m running out of genuinely new experiences with them.
I prejudge all sorts of cameras now. I can tell a lot about what they’re like to use just by looking at them. Thanks to all my old-camera experience I know what I like and don’t like.
Let’s use that Retinette II as an example. It has a tiny viewfinder. My first experience with one of those was my Kodak Retina Ia, early in my camera-reviewing days (here). I learned right away that its tiny viewfinder was unpleasant to use. I generally pass by cameras with such viewfinders unless there’s something else about it that’s incredibly compelling, or unless the camera is donated to my collection, as the Retinette II was.
In my early days, uninformed curiosity drove most of my buying decisions. It was more of an adventure then, and I enjoyed building experience with each new camera I tried. I had a lot to learn and made rookie mistakes, which often led to unsatisfying images. Happily, I’ve learned a great deal and have built good skill.
I still have a few cameras to put through Operation Thin the Herd. At the front of the line is my Kodak Monitor Six-20 (review here), a lovely World War II-era folding camera. Mine has a crackerjack 101mm f/4.5 Anastigmat Special lens. But it is also fussy to use, and something’s wrong with the linkage from the shutter button on the body to the shutter itself. I’m not sure whether it will survive the culling.
Several other cameras have been donated to my collection that I have not shot yet. A longtime collector sent me a giant box of goodies three years ago now, which is where the Retinette II and the Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F (review here) came from. He also sent me a couple Kodak Brownie Hawkeyes, a Tower Flash 120, a Toyoca 35-S, and a thoroughly delightful Graflex Miniature Speed Graphic. And my sister in law gave me the Kodak Retina Reflex III that had been her father’s; it appears to be in good working order. I look forward to trying them all.
I’m not sure what cameras I’ll be buying to try going forward. I could move into high-end gear, which I’m sure I’d go gaga over, but I’m still averse to laying out that kind of money. I’ve enjoyed shooting old box cameras; maybe I could specialize in them for a while. There are a few specific SLRs I’d like to try, such as the Canon F-1 and the Minolta XD-11.
But mostly, I just want to shoot the cameras I’ve kept and really enjoy. My Yashica-12 has gotten a lot of exercise as I’ve been learning how to develop black-and-white film, and I’ve loved having it in my hands so often. I left my backup (battered, brassed) Olympus OM-1 body in my desk drawer at work most of the summer and made a bunch of wonderful images with it. This is where I am now as a camera collector and photographer, and it’s a very nice place to be.
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