As a camera collector, I love vintage equipment, the different types of camera, the way they work, their individual eccentricities. But for my day-to-day photographic work, I went digital years ago – and if my recent experiences are anything to go by, that’s the way it’s going to stay.
A few weeks ago I acquired a Zenith 80. It’s a copy of one of the first Hasselblads and, for a collector, it’s great. You can sit there winding it on, cocking the shutter, firing the shutter, changing the lenses, changing the film backs, screwing on filters, screwing them off again, winding and firing again. It’s what camera collecting is all about. Where I made my mistake was thinking it might be a good idea to use it.
First I had to find a few rolls of 120 black and white film. Not the sort of thing you buy easily off the shelf anymore. Eventually I got some old out-dated stuff from a mate who runs a market stall. Then I had to load it. I had two film backs for the purpose, and when I opened one, it already had film in it. Trouble was the previous owner had managed to load it back to front, so the backing paper was facing the lens and the film was facing the window in the back of the body where you should read the frame numbers. I should have taken that as an omen.
I downloaded an instruction book from the internet and got loading. It took me half an hour to load the first film, due to the way it had to be threaded through various guides that I kept missing, pushing the backing paper into a slot on the take-up spool, then doing it again when I wound it and it popped out again. Eventually I got it loaded and onto the camera. But when I turned the film wind knob the film did not advance. So I took it out and loaded it into the other film back – only five minutes this time, since I now had the knack. That one wound okay, so I set out to take some pictures.
Arriving outside a nice old church, I took the camera out of its case and the film back fell off. Luckily it had a dark slide over the film, so the film wasn’t ruined. I fitted it back on, removed the dark slide, measured the exposure with my digital Nikon (cheating I know) and took the picture. I put the dark slide back in and the back fell off again. I re-attached it and went onto to my next location, a lovely little village green with beautiful trees, a duck pond and ancient cottages around the outside. Lovely.
I removed the slide and took the picture and, miraculously the back stayed on. Then I wound the film and it fell off again, this time without the slide in place. One roll of film ruined.
I loaded my second roll of film into the other back. This one fitted tightly to the camera, but the film still wouldn't wind. I swapped the internal mechanism from one back with that of the other. The back that stayed on the camera wouldn’t wind. The one that wound the film okay kept falling off the camera.
I gave up, packed everything away and went home. But I forgot to latch the lid of the case securely. As I got out of the car and lifted out the case, the lid flew open and the camera fell out. It’s only a little dented and really doesn’t notice when you put the camera on a shelf and look at it from a distance. Which, in my book, is what old cameras are for.
I like old cameras. I like playing with them and displaying them, fondling them and polishing them, researching them and writing articles and books about them. But what I won't be doing anytime in the near future is taking pictures with them.