Film cameras: when every image was precious

Handwritten letters, fountain pens, rotary phones, typewriters, Walkmans, movie cameras, VHS tapes – are these things of yesteryear? An essential yesterday, forgotten today? Have they lost their charm and usefulness over time, leaving only lingering memories?

A time before digital cameras and cell phones made film cameras redundant when memories were stored in every precious frame – outdated gadgets and their impact in bygone eras make for a fascinating keepsake. Find out – with a piece of history and some quirky facts.

This is the fourth in a six-part series of stories. Part Three: The Age of Cassette Player, Betamax and VHS

My first camera and memories of another day

Image credit: Seyyed de Llata/Gulf News

By Shyam A. Krishna, Associate Editor

The routine is fresh in my memory. I turn my back to the sun, and in the shade of my body, the leader is extended and the sprockets placed in the grooves. Roll it up a bit to make sure the film moves smoothly. Voila, the movie is loaded. It’s time to start shooting.

Wait. Not so soon. You have to be careful because you only have 36 images. Every image is precious and every exhibit requires planning. The right composition, the right aperture to set the depth of field, and the optimal shutter speed should be considered before pressing the camera’s shutter button.

It was the era of film cameras. Now I own a DSLR, a Canon D60. But a Minolta X-700 holds a special place in my heart. It was the first camera I bought. I pampered it with additional lenses: two telephoto lenses and a Hoya zoom and filters.

I learned photography in my late teens with a borrowed camera. First, it was a Brownie 127mm film camera; then an Agfa Isoly 120mm. Later, I counted on the gratitude of a friend who lent his Minolta SRT Super. It offered full control over overexposure and even had a light meter that helped eliminate exposure calculations. A lot of my shooting skills were honed on this 35mm camera.

Ten years after my first job, I owned my first camera: a Minolta X-700. Unused today, it is stored in a box in the closet. I miss it: the feel of the thumb on the rewind lever while looking through the viewfinder and pressing the exposure button, followed by shutter and mirror noise.

It helped capture memorable moments in my life. My son’s childhood and my daughter’s misdeeds are all there in the film – in the negatives and the prints. In between, there were still life and landscape shots.

When digital arrived, my interest in photography had faded. I still shoot, but very rarely. But the passion is alive in my daughter. My Canon D60 is safe in his hands.

The bygone days of film photography stored in my mind


Image credit: Seyyed de Llata/Gulf News

By Faisal Masudi, Deputy Editor

Smartphones have made everyone an instant photographer today. When I was a teenager in the mid-1990s, photography was an opportunity in itself; something I had planned and looked forward to – and pictures meant “real” photographs that I held in my hands, like a keepsake I could literally keep close to me.

I’m talking about the bygone era of film photography, suppressed by point-and-shoot digital cameras.

The film was special; it was limited (and still is today). When you looked through the viewfinder of the film camera, you knew it had to be for something interesting, because you only had a limited number of exposures in the camera. I had to be selective about what I would like to see again, like a photograph.

We all had to create this moment with our friends and family, inside the frame, playing with the sets.

Once the roll of film inside the camera reached its limit (usually 24 or 36 shots), I used to protect my dad’s Olympus film camera (and even plastic disposable ones) lest all those memories inside the chamber be lost forever if the camera inadvertently flips open before it reaches the darkroom for development.

After the trip to the photo studio, I looked forward to a day or two to collect the envelope of processed photos to see how they had gone; to relive those captured scenes. These occasional blemishes of “red eye” and “light leaks” added a touch of surreal effects to the people or scenes in the photographs, which seemed like a step closer to my dreams, the memories in my head and heart. . The technically perfect, razor-sharp endless images on our smart displays these days only get a fleeting glimpse as we move on to the next, then the next, then the next…

A ruined photograph was a ruined memory, and no one wanted to lose it forever.


Image credit: Seyyed de Llata/Gulf News

Tomorrow: Walking with the Walkman, which puts music to your ears

About Debra D. Johnson

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