A brief history of my life with cameras

Since I’m now getting more into photography with my growing collection of film cameras, I figured it’d be a fun time to visit my history when it comes to cameras. If you’ve read this blog long enough, you’ll have some knowledge of my life with bicycles, so I figure this would compliment that.


I was born in 1975, peak Gen-X time. As someone who grew up in the ’80’s and came of age of the ’90’s, I knew film cameras first. Digital cameras didn’t really become a thing until the mid-90’s (when I’d be 20) and didn’t become “the” thing until the mid-aughts. As such, I definitely owned a few film cameras in my youth.

From flickr user roadsidepictures

The first one I remember was a Kodak Instamatic, most likely an X-15F, most likely a Christmas present when I was four or five. This camera was a simple focus-free point-and-shoot that used 126 film. Now a dead format, 126 was the first “cartridge” based film format: plop it in, wind, shoot. It was designed to be fool-proof, so a great starter camera for someone who was kindergarten aged. I used it a bit back then.

The next camera I remember owning was a Polaroid 600 or the like. This would have been a Christmas present around 1983, when I’d be 8. I had fun with that instant camera, but the pics were pretty crappy. Plus, I remember the film costing $7 for a ten pack in 1983 dollars, which, adjusted for inflation, would be $25 today! So, my parents didn’t buy a lot of film for that camera.

Something like this.

After that, a whole lot of nothing. It didn’t seem like I was super interested in photography through my adolescence and teens. Which is interesting, since my dad was a photographer. Not super-professional, though I do remember him shooting a few weddings when I was pretty young. He had a Nikon SLR (probably an F2 or maybe an F3) that he used quite a bit. Now Nikon was definitely a “pro” level company. And while the family was definitely working-class, my dad had an appreciation for nice things, like quality stereo equipment. So it’s no surprise that he owned a Nikon.

I remember the “photographer’s vest” he owned, with Nikon patch on it. I also remember that he built a room in the attic (when my parents were still together) that he intended for a darkroom. He had gotten a bunch of equipment, including an enlarger, but never really got it together. (I’m pretty sure my mom’s disapproval had something to do with it.) So he sold the equipment and after that he didn’t seem to take as many pictures as he had used to.

When I got in my early twenties, I did think about getting into photography and getting another camera. Not any camera, mind you, an SLR. (Guess something from my dad rubbed off on me!) So in 1997 I went down to Milford Camera and plunked down a deposit on a Canon SLR.

A Cadillac Cimmaron like the one I owned. (Or did it own me?)

I had fully intended on picking it up in a month or two, but something else happened: I got a new car. Well, not brand new, a 1988 Cadillac Cimarron. It was the “nicest” car I had ever owned, but it cost $4,000 from a used car dealer. I was making weekly payments of $50, which was quite a chunk of a paycheck that was about $200 net weekly. What I didn’t realize was leasing a car would significantly bump up my auto insurance premium. I was shocked when I got my first insurance bill! My monthly payment doubled from $75 to $150! Now my car cost about half as much as I made, not counting things like gas or stuff breaking to the car. (Which happened, and was expensive.) It never seemed like I was going to get ahead, the nice SLR became a distant dream. Months later, I walked into Milford Camera and sheepishly asked for my deposit back, and got it.

The ironic thing around this time (1997) is that I worked with cameras. I was the Electronics Manager at the local Kmart, and the Electronics Department sold cameras. So every day I was selling a camera to someone, stocking film, and handling the processing (which was shipped out.) Of course at this time, the camera selection was primarily auto-focus point-and-shoots. While in retrospect the technology of these cameras was quite good, none of them excited me. I wanted to be a “real” photographer, I wanted Single Lens Reflex.

Then one day we got an SLR in stock. I couldn’t believe it. I’d never think I’d see one in Kmart! (We also got a turntable around the same time.) It was either a Nikon or Canon, and it was probably the most basic of the line. I think it retailed for around $400, which meant we didn’t really sell any. And man, I thought about getting it, but $400 was a lot of cash (see my woes above). We didn’t get any real employee discount, just 10%, so besides a five-finger discount (which I would have been too scared to even think about trying), I would have paid about half of my monthly salary for it.* So, it never happened.

So that was pretty much it for film cameras for me. I remember borrowing one or two, or using a disposable. But there was one exception:

One day when cleaning out some junk drawer at my mom’s house, I found an old range finder camera: A Honeywell. It definitely was 70’s vintage. I guess my mom used it a bit for trips, then abandoned it. I put some film in it, shot a test roll or two. It took okay photos. So I used that for a few years. It came with me on my first cross-country trip by train. I definitely used it a bit during the first few years in Portland. It came out when I needed some reference photos. Eventually, it stopped working, I think it was the winding mechanism got jammed. I was broke and lacked knowledge, so I scrapped it.

By this point, we’re in the mid-aughts, when digital finally took over. The idea of buying a film SLR was no longer present. I borrowed a digital camera for a few projects and trips, but it wouldn’t be until 2010 when I’d finally have my own. Someone left behind a Kodak Easy Share V1233 camera at the hostel. I waited months, no one contacted us about it. (Looking at the photos on it, it seemed like someone young who took unmemorable pics, so the “loss” was probably an excuse to ask their parents for a better camera.) So I claimed it, and used it for a few years. It came with me on the Cross-Continent Tour of 2011 and was a daily companion otherwise. It met its final fate in November of 2012.

From there, I got my first crappy smartphone, so that was my constant companion. I did get another digital camera, a Canon Power Shot. It took the best pics of any of the digital cameras I owned, and had a powerful zoom. But it was also big and bulky, so it wasn’t the constant companion like the Kodak. It got stolen on Election Day 2016 (go figure.) By then, I used my smartphone as my basic camera, but I still got a compact digital camera, a used Lumix. This was smaller and took okay pics, but it never grabbed me in the same way as the first two. I barely used it, especially when I got an iPhone 8. The camera on the iPhone took 12 MP photos, the same size as the Lumix, though lacking the optical zoom. The Lumix was doomed.

So this is where we are now. I got rid of the Lumix and bought the Minolta Hi-Matic 7s. And my new strange journey of embracing film again begins…

*Kmart did offer layaway, which was pretty good: 10 weekly payments of 10% plus a nominal $3 handling fee. Don’t know why I didn’t go for it…


3 thoughts on “A brief history of my life with cameras

Add yours

  1. Great article! It reminds me of my own journey through photography. My father was an amateur photographer and he bought me a few cameras as I was learning and starting out. I have had my share of crappy cars as well lol.

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