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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Ten Years of Down the Road

The whole point of blogging today is to build community

I had dreams of being well known, maybe even famous, when I started this blog. I hoped I’d say things so interesting, even so profound, that my words and pictures would go viral.

We all see how that worked out.

Me at Crown Hill

Not famous.

WordPress says I have about 2,500 followers. But realistically I think that if you read Down the Road at least semi-regularly you number among a couple hundred people worldwide.

There are two ways to look at this.

One: This is a pretty good result. The Internet is cram packed with voices hoping to catch your attention. You have only so much attention to give. I work hard to deliver good work here and an interesting way of looking at life, but so do many thousands of others, many of whom have better skills than me.

Two: This is a terrible return on investment. I spend an average of ten hours a week in front of the WordPress editor to deliver words and photographs to you Monday through Saturday. Those hours come only after the considerable time I spend out with my cameras and just thinking about what I’ll write here. That’s an awful lot of work for, frankly, such a small audience.

But this presupposes that the point of blogging is to reach a very large audience. I think it’s not. At least not anymore. As I’ve written before, the era of hugely popular bloggers ended a long time ago. If you start a blog today, unless you’re already famous for some other reason it’s never going to find a huge readership.

To find blogging satisfaction, you have to redefine the investment.

At Down the Road, you regular readers have become a community. A loose one, anyway — it’s not like Down the Road Appreciation Societies are forming, or all of you are secretly conspiring to fly to Indianapolis to take me out for a beer. (But if you do ever show up here, I prefer whiskey.)

But your interests overlap mine, and what I say and show are interesting enough for you to keep coming back. If you have a blog, too, I check it out sometimes and perhaps even include it in my regular reading list. We have conversation, here and on your blogs. We encourage each other and share our perspectives and even sometimes offer constructive criticism of each others’ work. I am absolutely a better photographer thanks to you. I hope you learn from me as well.

Community. That’s the point and purpose of blogging today. We might search for and never find that kind of community locally; few people around us might share our interests. But the Internet opens us to a much larger portion of the world. With a little effort, even the most esoteric interest can find community online.

I’ve put in that effort over the past decade, sharing my posts on social media and seeking out your work and interacting with you over it. And now here we all are, doing what we do and sharing the results with each other.

I still harbor a faint fantasy of fame. It’s incredibly unlikely ever to happen. But that’s OK, because this community is plenty satisfying. It takes the pressure off — I don’t need to be a guru or go viral. Nor do you. We can relax and just continue to share our mutual journeys of growth and fun.

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Life

No accounting for popularity

I’ve made most of my creative work (such as it is) available on the Web, starting with my first Web site in 1995. I’ve been prolific in the past couple years, having posted 1,739 photos to Flickr, 112 blog entries, and 10 detailed road-trip reports.

By a stupendous margin, the single most popular thing I’ve ever done on the Web is this, a piece of Flair I created two weeks ago and sent to a friend on Facebook. It has been added to 35,893 Flair corkboards and is the 420th most popular piece of Flair, placing it in the top 3% of all Flair! It is three times more popular than everything else I’ve ever posted to the Web combined! The next most popular thing I’ve done on the Web is a blog posting about my old car, which has been viewed a mere 1,936 times.

I created that piece of Flair in two minutes. Now if only something I put my heart into and really sweated, like pretty much everything else I’ve done on the Web, would take off like that.

I’m gonna be ticked if this piece of Flair eats up more than eight seconds of my fifteen minutes of fame!

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