If you haven’t already, go check out the first post Going Analog. The epic number of choices available in the digital photography world made me happy. They also made me unhappy. There was no way I was going to make up my mind. I knew that I would get the best out of whichever camera I eventually picked up, but that first step itself was nerve wracking.
I had given up trying to decide on a digital camera and had resolved to find an analog film camera. I decided to go for a fixed lens film camera. These cameras are purportedly versatile for street photography and portraits – a good genre to experiment with in a big city. Google led me to various offers on new and used and refurbished cameras. Some age old, some crispy new, some camera bodies sans lens – ranging from 20 to 1000 dollars in cost. There were many configurations to choose from. My skill level in these matters was right next to none-at-all. I had not an iota about what to look for in a film camera to ensure full usability.
Browsing dozens of sites through multiple nights helped me create a roughly detailed checklist about the things to watch out for. Oh Internet! Thou art a life saver!
By this point in time, I had crammed my head with (at the time) useless specs about focal stops and ISO and depth of field and all that jazz. What I wanted to do now was simplify things. Go for a nice and easy to use camera without all the bling features in a modern digital camera.
Random fact: A 35mm film meant for beginners, like FujiColor 200 or Kodak 200, is known to have about the same resolution as a 17 megapixel digital camera! That’s more resolution than what an average flat-bed scanner would be able to use.
I began by narrowing down my search to rangefinders. Specifically from the golden age. Leicas and Ricohs were the first to be looked at but even the second hand models were too expensive, that is, expensive for a 35mm analog camera. Keep in mind that these cameras are usually cheaper than their digital counterparts. The costs of buying, developing and printing/scanning your films eventually drain the wallet.
I decided to keep my budget low. Simply because I wasn’t sure if the camera I picked up would actually be fully functional even after I ticked all the boxes in my mental checklist. Eventually I managed to list down some standard things to look out for when buying a more than 30 year old camera.
The first few visits to the market were pretty much a joke. I got reactions ranging from pure surprise to unbridled laughter. One shop owner was literally offended when I asked him if he kept film cameras! This was obviously going nowhere.
I scoured dozens of auctions and online listings to look for a seller close to home. I wanted to physically see and hold the camera before the purchase. A friend managed to find a killer deal on a website I had not thought to check. The seller was practically next door and the price was unbelievably low. It was also the only analog camera up for sale on that website. This man was selling a 40 year old iconic camera for less than a hundred dollars!
It was a Yashica Electro 35 GSN. Widely popular for its easy to use nature, sharp lens and superbly accurate metering. A flash and a tripod were also being sold as a bonus. One phone call later, I was inside this guy’s apartment, looking at the camera. I fumbled with the controls initially but soon remembered the checklist.
Shutter fire visual cue – check!
Aperture blades functioning at all stops – check!
Pad of death clunk – CHECK!
Spot-free lens – check!
ISO dial moving freely – check!
Rangefinder aligns properly – check!
Metering responds to over/under exposure – check!
All of these and many more checks were carried out multiple times. I suspect that the seller was beginning to wonder if I really knew what I was doing. He kept repeating the fact that the camera had belonged to his father and was of immense sentimental value – as if to remind me to not drop it accidentally. For a 40 year old camera it was surprisingly well maintained. Complete with the original battery, a tripod an authentic leather bag.
After a little haggling, we reached a deal at 80 dollars and I went home with a brand new 40 year old camera! B)
It was a kind of euphoric paranoia. I didn’t truly know if the camera would actually work. But something about holding a marvel of human engineering put a smile on my face. The camera itself looked like a work of art, sturdy and firm. It exuded the reliability of a sibling even though I had only just laid my hands on it.
A camera doesn’t simply take photos. It *sees*. Every time that shutter flies open for a fraction of a second, it captures the landscape and along with it, a part of you. It observes the world as you see it in that moment. Energy flows from you into that section of 35mm – and that is where it stays – a piece of you forever lodged in that photograph, preserved from the degradation of time.
This series will be concluded in the next post where I’ll describe the process of getting the camera up and running and all the hurdles I faced on that path.
The next time you see a photograph, good or bad doesn’t matter, remind yourself that you are looking through someone’s eyes, you are touching their vivacity, you are looking at a part of their souls.