Film Photography: Reaching Capacity

Self-portrait in the bathroom at APEX with my Olympus 35RD rangefinder. 10 February 2021. Film: Ilford FP4.

For a brief moment a couple weeks ago, I was in possession of an Olympus Pen D camera. When I got hooked on half-frame photography I decided to look for a “better” camera than my Olympus Pen EES-2. The EES-2 is a great little camera, but it lacks any true exposure control. The idea of one with more manual control intrigued me. I set my sights on a Pen D since it has a sharp and fast lens and full aperture and shutter speed control. (The Pen F SLR cameras are supposed to be the best, but the price tag on most specimens turned me off.) Somehow I found one that was not only being sold from the US (most found on eBay are coming from Japan), but also had a low starting bid. I managed to win it for just $26 plus shipping! Score!

Then I got it. Yeah, it was sold as “Nice Clean Olympus Pen-D 35mm Camera w/ Original Leather Case!! Got 2 See It!” Externally, maybe. (Not as clean as they advertised, but okay.) But the shutter lagged, most likely a victim of Sticky Shutter Syndrome. And the selenium-cell light meter was dead. Meh. Sure, if I wanted to spend the cash I could get the shutter repaired. But there isn’t much to be done about the meter. Despite the item being sold with no returns, since the seller indicated that the camera was working, I requested a return and got one. Out of my hands and back to the seller it went. Whew.

And to be honest, I was a little relieved when the camera turned out to be a bust. Why? Well, pretty much right after I won the auction I had a twinge of remorse. I had my replacement Pen EES-2 in the shop, getting CLA’d. What role was the Pen D going to fulfill? Yes, it had a sharper and faster lens and manual control. But it wasn’t much smaller than my Olympus 35 RD. And the Pen D lacked a rangefinder, accessory shoe, and self-timer, things that the 35 RD all had. The selling point of the Pen D over the 35 RD was that it was half-frame. But do I need another half-frame?

It seems as if I’ve reached a breaking point, or a maximum capacity of cameras I’m willing to have.

There’s a world of good film cameras out there for cheap if you are willing to look and are patient. I haven’t spent more than $50 on any one of my cameras, not counting shipping, accessories, or service repair done after the purchase. After a year I have five good 35 mm cameras in the stable. Another five have passed through my hands. After a year I realize what I want in a 35 mm camera: mechanical cameras either with full manual exposure and focus control, or auto-exposure with manual focus. I’m drawn to Japanese cameras from the 1960s through the 80s. I’m not that interested in electronic cameras with auto-exposure and autofocus. The five I’ve kept make up a well-rounded stable: one SLR, two rangefinders, a half-frame, and a compact point-and-shoot that has electronics. (Sometimes I contradict myself a little.)

And I’m glad that I’ve realized that I’ve reached my capacity. It’s easy to amass quite a collection of film cameras without really thinking about it, especially if they’re cheap enough and you’re tempted by good things you’ve read online. But I don’t want to have a big camera collection, just enough. And during the past few months I’ve become less interested in trying a bunch of different cameras. Yeah, there can be nuances between two different brands of a particular type of camera, or even slightly different models from the same brand. But as someone said about fingerprints: “The differences are minor compared to the similarities.”

Nor am I going to keep on trying out a bunch of cameras in pursuit of “perfection”. None of my cameras are perfect, all have some “defect” or something I wish would be different. But they get the job done and more importantly I still enjoy using them. There’s probably no such thing as a “perfect” camera out there* so I want to stay happy with what I have already. It’s a similar situation with my bikes: no one is perfect, not even the custom I had built to my exact specifications, but I enjoy them and they get the job done. If I kept going down the “road to perfection” with either cameras or bikes, I’d be constantly buying and selling, still unfulfilled, then I’d eventually realize that the bike or camera I had two years ago was good enough after all.

I’m currently in the process of making sure that the 35 mm cameras I have are all in good order. Four out of the five have either been CLA’d (clean, lube, repair) or are in the process of. These maintained cameras should last me a while. And doing this upkeep is a good way to suppress my appetite for more cameras. I’ve already invested in the ones I have, and if I resell them now I’m going to basically lose the money I put into them. I only have so much money to spend on photography, I don’t want to waste what I’ve already spent by losing out on a resale or buying additional cameras.

Does this mean I won’t ever get more cameras? Heck, no. I’m sure a few cheapies or choice deals will pass through my hands. And there’s still the whole business of getting a decent 120 camera. What this means is I’m not going to be “on the quest” all the time. I’m going to do my best to stay happy with what I got.

Olympus 35RD/Ilford FP4

*I’m sure Leica owners would beg to differ.

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