This young scholar with chocolate ice cream smeared on his face was waiting for his mother just outside of Harvard Yard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I shot it with a Canon 7s rangefinder loaded with Kodak Tri-X. How can you not love a camera that makes it easy to get photos like this?
Out of simple curiosity, I decided to make a of list every camera I remember owning. The list came to 30, starting with the Mamiya/Sekor 500DTL I used in high school and ending with my most recent purchase, the Canon EOS 30D. To some of you this may sound like a lot. Keep in mind, however, that I'm in my mid-50s, so this didn't happen in a year or two; I've had almost 40 years to buy and sell. Mostly sell, because I only own half a half-dozen cameras now. Most of them are film cameras I keep around for nostalgic reasons and, to be honest, because I enjoy using them a lot more than my DSLRs.
But this post isn't just about enjoyment. It's about love. It's a ode to the cameras I bonded with, if only for a year or two; the cameras that helped make me a better photographer; the ones that made me look at the world differently, learn new techniques, and realize that the only limitations on my photography were not the camera or the lens, but me.
One early example was the Canon 7s, Canon's last 35mm interchangeable lens rangefinder. I used it during my first two years in college. It was completely manual. The meter was a CdS cell stuck onto the front of the body and did not read through the lens. Its readings were easily fooled by bright objects and you never knew for sure about its angle of coverage. Speaking of which, the frame lines weren't automatic either. You had to turn a dial on top of the camera.
As a result, the Canon 7s made me think about what I was doing, and fortunately there wasn't much to think about. I had only one lens (a 50mm f/1.8, not the huge 50mm f0.95 you see here) and shot only in black and white, so shutter speed, aperture, and focus were all that was left. The camera became a part of me; something I could set in an instant, effortlessly and without looking. Try that with any of today's DSLRs. Hell, it's hard to set some of them even when you are looking!
At the opposite extreme in size though similar in simplicity was the Pentax 67 I owned when I was in my late-twenties. The Pentax 67 took 120 rollfim, produced a 6x7cm image and looked like a 35mm SLR on steroids. Because the reflex mirror and shutter were so large, the noise and vibration were alarming, to say the least. Most Pentax 67 afficionados mounted it to a heavy tripod and used mirror lock-up to ensure vibration-free photos. That's certainly what I did when I used it for interior photography. I skipped the mirror lock-up for portraiture.
Common sense would dictate that the Pentax 67 would be one of the worst possible choices for street photography--and yet it was one of the best street cameras I ever owned. Was it small? No. Was it quiet? Hardly. I therefore had to abandon all pretense of being discrete. Instead, I had to get comfortable with walking around in public places with a huge conversation-starter. People took it for granted that I was "serious" and that if I pointed it in their direction it was for good reason. Most were flattered. Attractive women asked for my card. Men looked with envy at the size of my lenses. The lesson-learned was that it was up to me to decide what camera was most appropriate for my needs, not tradition, popular opinion or accepted wisdom.
I could go on, but I'm sure by now you get my point. Different types of cameras encourage different ways of seeing and photographing the world. Every now and then if you find yourself in a creative rut it may help to try a camera radically different from what you're used to.
Finally, I can't be the only one who has fallen in love with a camera or two and learned something from the relationship. Feel free to share a brief tribute to past loves or flings of your own--but don't be too surprised if you're not the only one who's fallen under the spell of some of the great cameras of the past.