There is a shelf above my computer desk, and from it four cameras peer down at me. Occasionally an upward glance brings back some of the memories associated with the cameras. Most peoples memories are reinforced by their collections of snapshots whether still lounging around in shoe boxes, albums, or saved on hard drive or ‘in the cloud’. It occurred to me one day, that the cameras all have their own histories.
The four cameras are a Pentax Spotmatic, a Pentax K1000, a Nikon E5700 and a Nikon D40x. Of course, many other cameras – handy little point and shoots, an underwater camera; full frame SLR, and smart ones that involve long zooms and macros, have passed through my life, but for the moment I’ll stick to those on the shelf.
The Pentax Spotmatic
I bought the Pentax Spotmatic for John in the 1960s from a pawn shop. Black and white prints were the go, and John would develop them in our Auburn flat kitchen on Friday nights, but colour transparencies soon took over. Anyway, it accompanied us everywhere – including a four month ‘around Australia’ trip around 1974. There was nothing fancy about it – nothing in the way of electronics (except the light meter). John would set it up – I’d compose the photo – and that way we more of less got what we wanted. The camera bounced around in the Landrover with the rest of us (John, myself, three kids – and a smallish Corgi). Somewhere up towards Cape York it bounced right out of the Landrover. Fortunately it lived in a tough leather bag, and equally fortunately landed on a soft dusty road where a passing motorist picked it up and returned it.
The bouncing life continued into the 1980s when John and I and the Pentax Spotmatic moved on to Burramys Parvus – a 34ft steel cruising sloop. A seafaring life in Melanesia wasn’t ideal for a camera – damp, salt, humidity and heat – and inevitably mould would take up residence in the lens. However, it did last the cruise and take the photos for my cruising magazine articles. It probably became part of our life more than any other camera.
The Pentax K1000
By the 1990s John had build a bigger boat – Burramys, a 40 ft steel cutter. However, the new camera was pretty much the same as the old one – just a newer model. We’d stuck with the lack of electronics in preparation for a world cruise and many more years at sea. Strangely enough – the boat would end up full of electronics. Times had changed. Our day to day life was generally recorded in coloured prints via our compact cameras, so the K1000 became more dedicated to the slides required for the photo journalism side of cruising. Not that I was a journalist – but having a handle on your camera looks convincing!
Less dinghy hours kept it in better condition, however it did get ashore at times and I do recall clobbering some pickpockets in Italy with the camera bag, and it rolling down a hill (camera going one way and lens the other!) at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. It wasn’t misuse that sealed its fate – but the digital revolution.
The Nikon Coolpix E5700
Buying the Coolpix E5700 was a total extravagance for two yachties who were only half way around the world and whose budget had been set back $30,000 by a dismasting in the Atlantic the year before. We probably had no idea on whether we had enough money to sail home, but in 2000 we met an enthusiastic Italian in Brazil with a digital camera and liked what we saw. So, when we sailed into New York we gravitated to the camera shops and were given the run around by a string of nasty operators – so we ordered online. $2000 later our purchase caught up with us at a friends place in Virginia – perfect day, fall colours – and I fell in love with it at first shot. It was small, light, with 8 megapixels and took beautiful pictures with spot on colour.
As much as I loved the freedom of digital photography I quickly ran into a problem with sailing magazine editors – they were in no way happy about digital. They still wanted colour transparencies that gave them great two page colour spreads. The Pentax had not lost is job!
The Coolpix found its niche – it gave me the opportunity to have a binge on ‘Jenny pics’ which till then had been somewhat rare. They were more arty shots, or just details on just about anything. Snippets; blurry shots; just waving the camera around shots; playing around with light- it was the fun side of photography and I still do it. It is the sort of thing you do when you don’t have to worry about the cost of developing and printing – although I could have had a lot of prints done for the price of that little camera.
The Nikon D40x
After 14,000 shots the Coolpix recorded everything in the world as pink – so it was replaced by a Nikon D40x, which coincidentally also took 14,000 shots and then flatly refused to take anything. We moved back to Rockhampton in 2004 and I later joined the Rockhampton Photography Club and also did the Introduction to Photography unit with RMIT. I became as interested in what the camera could do as composing the picture. I took my first star trail photos with this camera, and I know I was very much into long/short exposure shots and experimenting with depth of field and different points of view.
I’ve now moved on to a bigger, heavier camera with a lot of pixels, and to another with a great zoom and macro capabilities. Whatever I take with these will owe something to my old friends up on the shelf.
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Terrific article Jen. It’s been a while and I always enjoy what you write and your images. Thank you! I too have my Pentax Spotmatic and my Dad’s Pentax Spotmatic F. I moved to a digital Canon when the Spotmatic seized up with the semi-tropical damp which was very sad. (I now have a climate control cabinet). I always felt that I knew what I was doing with the Pentax, which I don’t with the digital. I even have the Kodak Box Brownie that I started out with when I was a kid and would love to get some film for it.
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My grandson also has a Spotmatic – so it was somewhat ironic that two generations apart we start with the same camera. Probably the first camera I ever looked through was a Kodak Box Brownie – I think it belonged to my cousins or their parents. Thanks for the comment.
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