Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Musical Cameras

Play Rug
An advertising assignment in my studio.
Two young "real people" models.
Mamiya RB67, Sekor 127mm f4.5 lens, Fujichrome 100

 One of the photography blogs I read regularly and highly recommend is Kirk Tuck’s Visual Science Lab. Yesterday he wrote a post about his enjoyment in owning and using a wide variety of cameras. In fact, in the ten years I’ve been reading his blog he has bought, used, and sold complete camera systems numerous times. Olympus 4/3s, Olympus and Panasonic micro 4/3s, Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, and now Panasonic full-frame and an oddball Sigma, plus an array of m4/3s and Canon point-and-shoot cameras that he pulls out and takes for a walk when it strikes his fancy.

 Kirk can afford to play musical cameras if he wishes. A highly accomplished and successful commercial photographer, he could, if he wished, spend his money on cigarettes, whiskey, fast cars and wild women. However, I doubt if he smokes, since he is a dedicated athlete (makes me tired to read about his swimming and long walks), drives a run-of- the-mill Subaru, and has been married for many, many years to a lovely lady. The booze? Probably just a little now and then. You can’t hold a camera steady while experiencing delirium tremens.

But he loves to play musical chairs with his cameras.

Me, not so much. My first “good” camera was the original Nikon F, which I acquired second-hand in 1969. (I could have purchased a Leica M3 with a 50mm Summicron in perfect condition for the same money, but went with the Nikon because I could get it and a pair of Tamron lenses for that amount. I have often wondered how my photographic life would have been different if I had started out with a rangefinder system.)

I started my own business in 1978 and stuck with Nikons until '79, when I was seduced by the photographic love of my life, the small, light, precise and lovely Olympus OM system.

I was faithful to Olympus for 13 years, but life intervened, as it so often does. Aging eyes demanded a switch to autofocus. Olympus didn’t have it, and didn’t appear to be planning to have it anytime in the near future, so I began a brief fling with my old love, Nikon. Alas! Nikon’s autofocus system was about as functional as a hound dog with a bad cold in its nose.

Meantime, I had been reading good things about Canon’s autofocus system, so I bought a body and lens to try it for myself. Hot dog! That thing locked on focus like a pit bull! I wound up with a pair of Canon EOS A2s that served me very well until the big switch to digital in 2003. Along the way I tinkered with various Leica, Canon, and Olympus rangefinder cameras, but Olympus OM and Canon were always my money systems in 35mm.

With medium format, it was a different story. In my studio I used 8x10, 4x5, and medium format cameras, as client needs required. But while I was long-term faithful to my 35mm cameras, I changed medium format systems almost as often as I changed my socks. Mamiya C-series twin-lens reflexes, Bronica S2a and EC SLRs, Hasselblad, Mamiya RB67, Hasselblads again, and finally, the monster Fuji GX680, which I sold to finance my first digital camera, the Canon EOS 10D. But parallel with these was the Pentax 6x7, which was the last medium format camera to go, and which I believe gave me the highest percentage of keepers of any camera I've ever owned.

So, I've mostly been writing about film cameras. What can I say? I shot with film for 35 years, twice as long as digital. Digital is probably better in most ways, but with film, there wasn't much pressure to upgrade our cameras ever year or two. Want a different sensor? Just change to a different kind of film.

(Photograph copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

Soli Gloria Deo
To the glory of God alone


  1. I have two Olympus OM-1s and a ton of lenses. Except for the shutter speed control being on the lens barrel, I love these cameras and the lenses are generally outstanding.

    I've never warmed to the look I get from Canon lenses. I let all of my Canon gear go over the last few years. But I've kept my Pentaxes, Nikons, and Olympuses. The Pentax and Olympus lenses are just wonderful and the Nikon bodies are terrific.

    My eyes are finally starting to go. Among my manual focus cameras I find those with a microprism screen to be less and less usable as the years roll forward. I can still work a split screen however. I hope I have a decade or more before even those start to be problematic.

  2. I was 55 when I began to lose my ability to focus my OMs. But I used grid screens, which were probably the hardest to focus. If I had changed to a different screen I could probably have stayed with Olympus a few years longer, and I've often wished I had. However, I got along fine with the Canon A2s, and their automatic features helped ease the transition into digital.