Featured in B+W Magazine Issue No: 154

Friday 14th Mar, 2014

Caveat Vendor: The Cameras I Should Never Have Sold

MAMIYA 7

Mamiya 7. Medium format perfection.

Mamiya 7. Medium format perfection.

I’m sitting in my car and I’m folding over stacks of waxy £10 notes. I feel a little richer and a little poorer all at once. Honestly, I feel a bit sick. The only other car in the rest stop car park is driving away and it‘s got my Mamiya 7 onboard. Except it’s not my Mamiya 7. Not anymore.

It wasn’t even a pristine model. The viewfinder was wonky. There were obvious felt-tip marks along the rear of the body where the word LENSCAP had bled through the masking tape – placed there for years to help me remember to remove it before taking another picture of the inside of the cap (one day they  will make a book). The wind lever stuck every third frame in the cold weather and the rubbery bits collected gunk like it was their only food. I told the buyer this: pointed out all its flaws. He nodded politely, handed over the cash then made his getaway. The bounder.

La Défense. Paris 2000. Mamiya 7 Featured in B+W Photography, Issue 55

La Défense. Paris 2000. Mamiya 7
Featured in B+W Photography, Issue 55

I loved that camera. 6×7 negatives from a body barely bigger than an SLR with a motor drive. Are you kidding me? Fast and accurate ranger finder focusing. Get out of here! And near silent operation. And lightweight. And glorious optics. And nobody thought of stealing it. And oh god what did I do?

“He nodded politely, handed over the cash then made his getaway.
The bounder.”

Nikon F90x. The ‘microwave’ of cameras

Nikon F90x. The ‘microwave’ of cameras

NIKON F90X

I’m sitting in my car and I’m looking at the semi-new F90x I’ve just purchased. It’s got buttons. Lots of buttons. This is the camera that will make me a real photographer. Buttons can do that.

I drive it to my parents’ house and place it with ceremony on their kitchen counter.

“It looks like the microwave.” they say.
“It doesn’t”, I say.
It does.

This is the early ‘90s and cameras looked like microwaves – all pushy buttons and plasticky nodules. Weirdly scalloped angles and blinky lights. Pretty darn cool.

Microwaves couldn’t take pictures though. Not like the F90x anyways. That camera had the perfect meter. Infallible.

Even with flash it nailed the exposure time after time. All those pushy buttons and plasticky nodules helped you change modes and settings without thought or pointless menus or need to remove your eye from the finder. Even the green glow inside from the LCD readout was comforting. It just worked.

And it did make me a better photographer because I enjoyed using it so much. I’d even run it without film just to experience the tactile, sensory joy of the autofocus whir and the snappy shutter release mirror flip combo.

Featured in B+W Magazine Issue No: 154

Caravan Park, Devon
Featured in B+W Magazine Issue No: 154

So I would never sell a camera that gave me such a feeling would I?

Yes. Why? I don’t know. I certainly can’t remember what I did with the money I got for it. Assume it was something I neither needed nor kept.

I shot professionally for years with the F90x until I dipped my toe into the digital waters. The future had arrived. The old, worn Nikon jived its last jive in New York.

“Cool camera,” said a passerby.

Yes it was.

Contax G2. The little black number

Contax G2. The little black number.

CONTAX G2

Time passed in the digital world. I was working with a Canon 1D II and a 5D as back. Lovely cameras. Did what was required of them without fail.

But…

Maybe I had missed the thrill of car park bartering or maybe there was something more fundamental going on. I was technically a few years shy of a justifiable midlife crisis, but there I was, again, horse-trading for a camera that was already a decade out of date.

It was my ‘weekend’ camera, but I admit to using it whenever the mood took me – which was often as it fitted neatly into a jacket pocket.

The thing just smelled of precision. Street photography was a breeze with this pocket rocket. No one gave it a second look as it flicked up to my eye and gave its customary electronic buzz to tell me my subject was in focus and would I please be inclined to take the shot. That camera had impeccable manners.

Early Ride. Norwich 2005. Contax G2

Early Ride. Norwich 2005. Contax G2.

Its weekend abilities soon crossed over to my professional outings and the Contax went with me to events and some other commercial shoots. It was not well received.

“Why are you using a compact?” came the question.

“It’s not really a compact.” I countered.

“What’s the matter, can’t you afford a real camera?”

“It was actually quite expensive and has amazing lenses and is probably one of the best cameras ever made and you should be honoured to have your likeness reproduced by its hidden mysteries.”

“Hey Uncle Tony, you’ve got a better camera than the pro!”

I gave up proselytising on behalf of the heavenly little camera. Some fights are not worth the price of admission. As my commercial work took over my time completely the camera got left behind more and more, not even taken for a stroll on Sunday mornings.

The ‘idiot’ part of my brain spoke to me again, “You should really sell that G2 if you’re not going to use it regularly, shouldn’t you?”

I listened.

This time I couldn’t bare the face to face. I posted the G2 off to a more sensible member of the human race. I hope they use it every day.

What do these vague ramblings tell me?

I’m more of a camera fetishist than I had imagined. But is that a bad thing, maybe it’s essential to being a photographer.

A lot of love went into those cameras and they gave a lot back. It would’ve been nice to pick one up every now and again and let the memories appear through the viewfinder. At the very least, they could be sitting on my shelf gathering dust and keeping a watchful eye over me as I tap and click, copy and paste.

There is a school of thought that maintains that it is not the camera but the photographer that makes the picture. But to ignore the sensory, tactile nature of making those pictures – the interaction with a particular tool – is to make the process sterile and inhuman.

That contact is why certain people prefer certain cameras irrespective of their faults or deficiencies. Photography feels better when the camera fits.