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 Nakamura, Mike Elek, Matt Denton, Rick Oleson, Sylvain 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:
- Yashica MG-1
- Minolta Hi-Matic 7
- Kodak Pony 135
- Kodak Duaflex II
- Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80
- Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK
- Canon Canonet QL17 G-III
- Canon AF35 ML (Super Sure Shot)
- Kodak Junior Six-16, Series II
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.
Yet my reviews of off-the-beaten-path cameras like that Yashica MG-1 keep getting more views every year.
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.