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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Photography

My first book! Exceptional Ordinary: Everyday Photography with the Pentax ME

Exceptional images can be made with even the most ordinary 35mm SLR. The Pentax ME certainly qualifies as ordinary, with its middling specifications and features. Yet I’ve done some of my best work with this camera and the great Pentax lenses that mount on it, and I want to share some of that work with you.

That’s why I’ve assembled 30 images I made with this camera, images I like best, into a book — Exceptional Ordinary: Everyday Photography with the Pentax ME.

BookPromo

It’s easy to forget that for most of photography’s history, a photograph was a physical, tangible object. Even now that film photography appears to be finding a new niche after years of decline, so many of us film photographers scan our negatives and work with the resulting digital images.

I wanted both to hold prints of my photographs in my hands and to share them with you. That’s why I collected them into a book. And in the book I described each photo with the same kind of words you’re used to finding here on my blog. Click here to see a preview. Click my book’s cover below to buy one (either paper or PDF) on Blurb.com.

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Photography

Kodak Six-20 Brownie

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Somebody gave me this box camera, a Kodak Six-20 Brownie with an Art-Deco-inspired faceplate, a few years ago. The timing was bad: I had just decided to swear off 620 film and cameras. I had neither the patience to spool 120 film onto 620 spools, nor the willingness to spend 12 bucks and up for pre-respooled film. But a couple months ago I discovered a pile of eBay Bucks near expiration. And then I found a roll of Verichrome Pan in 620, expired in 1982, that those Bucks paid for. Free film!! So I dug out this old box.

Kodak Six-20 Brownie

Kodak puked out box Brownies by the legion during the first half of the last century. This model was made from 1933 to 1941. Original price: $2.50. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that’s equivalent to $46 in 2016.

Kodak Six-20 Brownie

As box Brownies go, this one had some unusual features. Almost all the box cameras I’ve known come apart at the back for film loading and unloading. This one comes apart at the front. You pull out the winding knob, pull up on the knob that anchors the carry strap’s front end, and tug on the camera’s face.

The Six-20 Brownie has two apertures, controlled by the tab atop the faceplate. Down selects the larger aperture; use it for most shots. Up selects the smaller aperture; use it for extremely bright conditions such as beach or snow scenes. The camera also offers a single shutter speed plus timed exposures. The tab on the faceplate’s side controls it; pull it out for timed shots. I’m guessing that the shutter operates at somewhere between 1/30 and 1/60 sec., and the two apertures are something like f/8 and f/16.

And while the camera’s lens (a simple meniscus) is inside the box, an external lens focuses the camera for shots at beyond 10 feet. For shots from five to 10 feet, move the lever below the lens opening to move the external lens out of the way. Release the lever and the external lens springs back into place.

This camera was filthy when I got it, so I cleaned it up as best I could. The pitted faceplate was beyond help. The viewfinders had gone opaque with crud, so I dismantled them and cleaned them. One of the mirrors was loose, so I superglued it back into place. Then I spooled in the Verichrome Pan.

The best shot on the whole roll is of my sons. That kills me, because it’s long been my policy not to show photos of them here. I should write in detail about why someday; a couple of principles are involved. And it’s the only shot I took with the front lens moved out of the way. Darn.

But here’s the second best shot on the roll. I don’t know how this Verichrome Pan was stored, but it sure behaved like fresh film. This was the only shot affected by light leak. I wonder if it might have happened while I removed the film from the camera, as I fumbled it a bit and the end of the roll came a little loose for a half second. This was the last photo on the roll.

Mass Ave and a light leak

I don’t know why I persist in using box cameras to photograph distant subjects. They’re meant to take photos of Aunt Martha and the nephews at closer range. When I framed this, the main part of Leon’s filled the viewfinder. But I shot it from across the street. Oh, and by the way, I recently bought a suit from Leon’s. It was a great experience.

Leon's

I had the Brownie along one day when I took my son to dinner at an outdoor mall in Noblesville. Sharpness and contrast are pretty good here, despite a little haze in the sky around the tree branches.

Parked at the outdoor mall

A couple photos were pretty muddy. I worked them over pretty good in Photoshop to improve contrast. Here’s one of them, of the mural is on the back of the Indianapolis Public Schools administration building Downtown.

IPS mural

This was the muddiest photo of them all, of the three trees on the golf course behind my house. The front ash tree has been dead for at least a year; the bark is starting to fall off. Anyway, Photoshop restored reasonable contrast to this scene. At full scanned resolution, a little motion blur becomes apparent, convicting me of moving the camera slightly as I made this exposure. But at print size, you’d probably never notice it.

Golf course trees

To see more photos from this roll, check out my Kodak Six-20 Brownie gallery.

It’s charming to shoot with simple cameras like this Six-20 Brownie. Even when the results are so-so, it still always pleases me that I got images at all. It’s easy to forget that a light-tight box and the simplest of lenses — even a pinhole — will make an image. And these turned out pretty well. You’d never guess that I used film expired for more than 30 years.


Do you like old cameras? Then check out all my vintage gear reviews!

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