One Photographer's Gear Journey – Volume I: Humble Beginnings
At KEH, we see this situation all the time. A seasoned photographer who's been shooting professionally for years will come across a vintage camera on our site and say "Hey! I used to have one of those!"
One of the perks of carrying all types of photo gear throughout history is that, occasionally, you'll get to reunite someone with a replacement of their very first camera. Any shooter worth their salt will tell you fondly about the cameras they've used in the past, what they liked and didn't like, and whether or not they'd go back to the way they used to shoot with that old gear.
There's something of a journey to the way that photographers progress their skills and, accordingly, their gear. The vast majority of people who take photos or videos end up making several upgrades as technology improves and the need arises for better resolution, more control, or brand new features.
Because every shooter's progression is different, every photographer's gear path is different as well. This is the first in a series where I'll share my own journey, from my family's first camera to my latest modern mirrorless. I'll even add in a few thoughts and quips along the way. See if you can spot some of your favorite gear from years gone by.
Before I was born, my father bought himself a Minolta XD-11 and a 35-70mm kit lens. To this kit, he added a few special effects filters and a fancy leather carrying satchel. Maybe it all came in a big package deal.
My dad was never a pro photographer, but like all of us, he knew the importance of preserving the moment. He loved being able to freeze the memories that might be important in the future. He's on his own photographer's gear journey, in fact. A few years ago, I talked him into buying his first digital camera kit, with a Canon Rebel T5, 17-55mm and 55-250mm.
This Minolta camera wasn't my first piece of gear, but it'll come up later a few times, so remember it.
In fact, the first camera that I remember shooting was a Kodak Tele-Instamatic that shot on 110 format film. It was incredibly simple, with a fixed-focus lens and absolutely tiny exposures. It was essentially foolproof–a family camera for people who just wanted vacation memories.
These 110 format film cameras are somewhat rare to find these days, as their film is exceptionally difficult to track down. Analog-loving company Lomography is the only manufacturer I'm aware of who currently produces new 110 film.
Our family did eventually upgrade to a Kodak Advantix camera, although I can't for the life of me remember which model it was. What I do remember is that it gave us the option to change up the size of our prints when getting our film developed! The downside, of course, was that these photos were really just selective cropped areas instead of being a true use of the film like the Hasselblad Xpan does.
My First Film Cameras
I've said before that the majority of my coming-of-age memories lie in photos that were taken with disposable point-and-shoot cameras. These are not only incredibly convenient, but they also had the benefit of being exceptionally cheap. This means that if I accidentally dropped it in a puddle, it wasn't as devastating as if I dropped a real camera.
These one-time-use cameras were seemingly everywhere in the late '90s and early '00s. Heck, they used to give them to the students on school field trips or High School Graduation events. I've still seen them used to this day as wedding guest favors, and many companies like Ilford still produce these single-use cameras preloaded with their own films.
Like many others, I learned the basics of composition and exposure through a high school photography class. Most of my classmates shot on a loaned Canon AE-1 or Pentax K1000, but I was able to learn the basics on that Minolta XD-11 I mentioned above.
A great camera to learn on, the XD-11 was in production between 1977 and 1984. With fully manual focus, this was actually the world's first camera with both aperture priority and shutter priority modes, as well as a metered manual mode. This gave the shooter tons of creative control for depth of field and shutter speed effects with incredible ease of use.
My First Digital Point & Shoot
Technically, my first digital point and shoot camera was attached to a cell phone. Try not to judge too harshly. It's likely that anyone born after 1985 will end up having their first digital camera be built into a phone. That's right, I had a state-of-the-art 1.3-megapixel digital camera built right into my handheld device, capable of taking photos as impressive as this.
Soon, however, I wanted something a little more purposeful and upgraded to the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-W50. This 2006 budget camera was small enough to fit in your pocket but packed in an impressive 6 megapixels and a Carl Zeiss zoom lens equivalent to a 38-114mm f/2.8-5.2.
An impressive array of six different ISO levels up to 1000 allowed you to take images in every situation from broad daylight to, uh, moderately well-lit indoor scenes. Four color modes gave you creative options and MPEG video encoding gave you the option to shoot your own home movies at 16fps up to 640x480 resolution.
You couldn't separate me from this camera that most photographers these days would scoff at. I carried it everywhere. From the coffee shop to coastal road trips, I began to snap photos and take videos of everything.
This digital point and shoot carried me for years, through film school and across the country twice before another groundbreaking camera came along that would give me more freedom, more options & more control over my images. My first DSLR.
Everyone starts somewhere. Some gear journeys start in a photographer's youth with a camera handed down from a relative. Other photographers may not start until they retire and decide they want to start taking photos of their grandchildren. Whether you're just starting out or you're thinking about your next upgrade, our gear experts at KEH can help.
Simply give us a call at 1-800-DIALKEH or browse through our Spotlight blog to learn more.
Continued in Volume II: From Point & Shoot to DSLR