Kids these days have it too easy. With their new-fangled Snapchats and their Instagrams, they can take all the pictures they want, and add all sorts of filters, and the result is…
A photo that looks like it was taken in the 1950s.
Okay, maybe I’m a little crotchety. But the fact of the matter is, vintage technology—the kind that naturally makes images with sepia hues and solar flares and the like—still exists. And it can be found at estate sales!
I’ve always had a soft spot for film cameras. I am a photographer only in the sense that I know how to push a button and hope for the best. Focus, composition, and all the technical bits about shutter speed and whatnot are foreign to me. But that doesn’t stop me from coveting every estate sale camera I find.
So, mainly as an excuse to purchase multiple cameras, we decided to test out a few estate sale camera, and give them a shot.
That pun was not intended, but I feel I should apologize anyway.
So four of us went out into the wild—that is, to our local park—to see how these older cameras held up.
Keep in mind, one of the four of us takes pictures professionally. Cut the rest of us a little slack.
The Diana-F Camera (“With Synchronization”) is essentially a toy camera. It’s unbelievably light. It’s made of plastic. It uses 120 film, which is difficult to find in stores, but not impossible to find online.
It also is so cheaply made that light gets in through the seams of the camera and affects the image. It’s such a novelty, this feature, that if you have a photo app, you might find there are specific filters called “Diana” or “toy camera”—it’s trying to recreate these effects.
Either a *lot* of skill and know-how is required to work one of these cameas, or none at all. I wasn’t sure which, and frankly, I still don’t know.
Since you advance the film yourself, it’s also possible to double-expose your photos. Ostensibly, this means you’re taking a picture on top of a picture. Some people can do this to great effect.
I am not one of those people.
This camera also allows you to manually open and close the shutter, determining how much light comes in when you take the photo. Or maybe the shutter was broken. Honestly, I’m not certain. But what I am certain of is that some people could use this to great effect.
I am not one of those people.
But I like my photos anyway. They look like they could go up on my Instagram and fit right in...well, if my dog were in the picture, they would fit right in. (I take a lot of pictures of my dog.)
OK, I’m going to be honest here. I bought an old Brownie camera with the intent to repurpose it. I thought the giant flash that accompanied it was just begging to be converted into a lamp.
But apparently, I was wrong. I posed a question about it on Facebook and you made it pretty clear that repurposing the camera would be a crime against humanity. So we looked online to find some retro-fitted film that would allow us to take photos with it—the film it uses is no longer made. It cost more than I would ever want to personally spend, but for the good of the blog post, I put in an order.
“The camera felt so light, I was worried I wasn't taking any photos at all,” Erica, who was in charge of the Brownie on this outdoor adventure, said. Much like the Diana, she felt like she was playing with a toy camera.
“But in the end, I had lovely photos that I'm extremely proud of,” she said. “I love photos that look like they're from decades ago.”
I, too, was impressed by the resulting photos. The mechanics of the camera are so incredibly simple, but aiming the thing is not. And given the age and the retro-fitted film, I just figured there was no way the photos would be good.
But I’m kind of in love with the results. Not enough to buy my own film and pay to have the images developed. Just enough to sing their praises on this blog post, and to reconsider upcycling it...though I do still want a camera lamp...the universe owes me one now.
Estate sales are full of surprises, including this camera, made by a company I’ve never heard of.
“Since it was a 50+ year old camera,” Matt said. “We were unsure if the internal light meter was correct or not. This unknown kept us guessing as to how well the photo's exposure would turn out.”
The Mamiya, by the accounts I’ve read, is a very simple manual camera, which makes it similar to the previous two cameras. But it takes 35-mm film, which makes it far more accessible.
There was a struggle to advance the film—we unintentionally ruined an entire roll, under the impression that it was advancing. Focusing, too, was more difficult than we originally thought. “Focusing was harder than you would have thought,” Matt said, “and some of the images that were produced had a soft focus or flat, out-of-focus look,” Matt said. But that could be explained by the expired film we used...but we had to use it—it came with the camera!
This is a much more contemporary camera than all the previous models we’ve discussed. It’s a well-known brand, though the company no longer produces cameras. When it was producing them, they did a fine job.
Added bonus: their lenses are still easily found in resale markets. Since many of them are compatible with newer cameras (I have a Sony, for example, that works with old Minolta lenses), you can grow your camera kit cheaply and easily.
Kyle said the built-in light meter making exposure settings a breeze. “This was my first time using a camera with a split screen focus and I really enjoyed it, though not as much as my auto-focusing digital camera,” he said.
“It had been years since the last time I had shot anything with a film camera. I had forgotten about the fun and anxiety that follows every shutter release.”
And that's the magic of vintage film cameras. It forces you to slow down and really consider if your subject is photo-worthy. You lose the instant gratification of confirming after each shot that your picture turned out, but you gain that wonderful and substantial button-press. the release of the shutter. The antici...
...pation that follows, waiting to see how your photos turned out.