SOUSA: Bulky film cameras bring old memories

09/20/2013 12:00 AM

09/22/2013 11:37 AM

A recent lecture I delivered to my Beginning Film Photography students at Merced College on the various types of old film cameras made me start to think about all of the different types of cameras I’ve owned over my 40-plus years of photography.

I must have been around 14 when my parents gave me my first real camera. It was a Minolta SRT 101 35mm-film camera with a standard 50mm lens. Before getting this camera, I remember running around with a little Kodak Instamatic snapping pictures of friends and family.

The Minolta had all kinds of dials and adjustments that I had to learn, and I spent every dime that I could beg, borrow or earn to buy film and darkroom supplies so I could practice with my new camera. I was very protective of it, always keeping it in its brown leather case, which I was constantly struggling to remove from the camera from before I could take a picture. I am sure that I missed a lot of great shots trying to get that darn case off.

I remember a horseback ride that I went on with my oldest brother, Joe, when I was 15.

My brother was a seasoned cowboy, but I had little experience riding a horse.

Of course I had my trusty Minolta slung over my neck by its strap, and in its case, of course, so I could document the ride. But my horse suddenly broke into a run at breakneck speed.

As the horse galloped faster, my camera began to swing wildly from my neck.

Thinking only of the camera, I removed my hands from the death grip I had on the saddle horn to grasp the camera. I can still remember my brother yelling at the top of his lungs to forget the camera and hold on to the saddle horn.

All the while worrying that our parents were going to kill him for getting his baby brother killed by a speeding horse, they might have taken solace in knowing that the Minolta survived.

My brother was eventually able to get close enough to my horse to grab the reigns and bring the beast to a stop. My only regret was that I could not get the case off in time to get an action shot of the rescue.

The next camera that I added to my collection, which became my constant companion for the next couple of years, was a Yashica D twin-lens reflex camera. These cameras used 120 film that produced a two-and-a-quarter inch square negative. This large negative made ultra sharp, detailed prints.

However, here were two downsides to this camera.

The first was that as you looked down into the viewfinder everything was backward, and the second was that it only had a fixed 80mm lens. I liked the large negative so I upgraded to my next camera, a Mamiya C330, which also had the large negative but had the ability to change lenses so I could have a wide angle and telephoto lens at my disposal.

In 1978 I was off to Fresno State to major in photojournalism, and my parents gave me a Nikon F 35mm camera.

The Nikon F series was the industry standard for newspaper photographers at the time and was a great camera. It had a very sophisticated light meter, great lenses and was very rugged. I fell in love with the Nikon line and for the next several years as I worked as a photojournalist.

The Nikon F series cameras were my tool of choice.

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