Camera Reviews

Keystone XR308

I regret buying this camera. But I was 15, I was about to spend a summer in Germany, and I needed a camera I could count on. I wanted it to have electronic flash and telephoto. I also wanted to carry it easily, either in a pants pocket or in a small pouch attached to my belt. The Keystone XR308 was the only camera I found that checked those boxes within my tiny budget.

Keystone XR308 camera
Image credit:

The Keystone XR308 turned out to be terrible, but I didn’t know it at the time. It was a step up from the awful 126 camera I had been using, and I was happy to have it. I don’t have it anymore, though. It went away in 2003 with the about 150 other cameras that comprised my first collection. But here’s a bathroom-mirror selfie that shows it in my hands. I didn’t stop to think how the flash would ruin the photo!

The XR308 takes 110 film, which was still popular in 1984. There’s not much to the camera. Its lens is probably plastic, set in a simple leaf shutter. It has a preset aperture and shutter speed, adequate for decent exposure with plenty of depth of field in a wide range of daylight, optimized for the ISO 100 and 200 films of the day. When you turned on the flash, it made that whistling sound flashes used to make while they charged. The green light atop the camera would glow when the flash was ready.

I took several cartridges of Kodak color film with me to Germany, but it wasn’t nearly enough and I bought film there, too: Porst (the big German camera brand at the time) and Fuji because they were cheaper. Here is some of my exchange group at the Cologne Cathedral.

A couple buddies and I walked the 533 steps to the top of the cathedral’s right spire, where we could see for miles.

Softness. That’s the defining characteristic of photos from the XR308. That and graininess, which is enhanced in these scans I made on my el cheapo Wolverine Super F2D digitizer. It takes 110 natively; my flatbed scanner does not. Here’s the Berlin Wall, which was five years away from falling.

I made the best choice in camera I could, but I still wish I could have chosen better. Soft, grainy photos are better than no photos, however, and I have photos that record some incredible memories. Here’s a rare scene: of the Brandenburg Gate from inside East Berlin. I stood as close as the barricades would allow; from here to the gate was a no-man’s land. If I had stepped over I could have been shot without warning.

The XR308’s telephoto lens turned out to be terrible. It was a piece of cheap plastic that yielded even softer photos than the regular lens. Have a look; here’s a telephoto shot from the same location as the photo above.

Ooh, ooh, here’s a photo I probably shouldn’t have taken. It might have been trouble had I been spotted by officials. It’s an East German military parade in front of the Neue Wache.

Here’s another good memory: my first beer. My group toured the Rhenania Alt brewery in Krefeld, the town in which we lived. Thankfully, I didn’t photographically record my first drunk, which also happened this day. I probably had only three beers, but as a first-timer that was probably one beer too many.

I got to record the day I met my German pen pal, Annette. We’d corresponded for about five years already on the day her family drove her up from Frankenthal to meet me.

It also let me capture all the places we visited and the people I traveled with. Here’s Rolf in his Birkenstocks looking down the business end of a cannon at Krefeld’s Linn Castle.

The XR308 remained my regular camera when I returned to Indiana. I owned a hundred or more old cameras by this time, but none of them had that useful built-in flash. Here’s a photo of me with some high-school friends in our mathematics classroom. Check out the barrel distortion this photo reveals.

Oh, let’s stroll down memory lane for a minute. Here’s my dad. He loved to play video games! We had a bunch of game cartridges for our Commodore 64. I’d also laboriously type in the source code for games from the various computing magazines of the day. I learned some useful coding tricks from that, and my dad got more games to play. Dad’s about 45 here, which is younger than I am now.

Here’s mom banging away at the typewriter in the kitchen, where her desk was. My brother used to sweet-talk Mom into typing his essays for school. I typed my own. Yes, I still feel superior.

I took the Keystone XR308 to college. Here’s my friend Michael in my dorm room. I didn’t know then that we’d stay good friends for decades. I can’t imagine us ever not being friends.

My roommate and I painted the room ourselves, by the way. We were both Beatles fans, so we painted up the old Beatles logo. Our work remained for about 25 years.

The last photos from my Keystone XR308 are from 1986. Here’s a photo I made from the roof of my dorm showing part of campus. (See more of them here.)

From that summer, here’s my first car, a 1975 Ford Pinto. I call it mine, but it really belonged to my aunt Betty. I worked for the courier service she owned, and she let me drive it home at night. Here’s its story.

My mom rescued me from this crappy camera that Christmas when she bought me a 35mm point and shoot, a Kodak VR35 K40 (review here). It was terrific; the sharpness of my photographs improved dramatically.

Oh, to have dramatically better photos from Germany! I should probably get over myself and just be grateful I have photos from this era at all.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.

Film Photography, Travel

Captured: Kölner Dom

Kölner Dom

I spent the summer of 1984 in Germany on an exchange program with other Indiana high-school students. We spent a lot of our time in intensive language instruction, but we also traveled the country. One of our trips was to Cologne, where we toured the great Cologne Cathedral. The locals call it der Kölner Dom.

The cathedral is enormous; I couldn’t back up far enough to get it all in the viewfinder of my crappy little 110 camera. So I took a series of shots, left to right, bottom to top, hoping I had lined them up well and had captured it all. The cathedral is wider than this, but the shots lined up well enough. 29 years later, I can properly stitch them together with software.

I’ve written about my trip to Germany before, here and here.