My first serious camera was a Mamiya-Sekor 1000 DTL; I guess that was in 1972. I ordered it from 47th Street Photo in New York. There was something about the viewfinder, the fresnel screen: When you snapped something into focus, it was like looking at a 3D finished print right there in the camera. It was a slice of irreplaceable time.
I loved that camera. I took a lot of pictures of my toddlers, and a lot of my camping trips. Some of those photographs still exist, grainy black and white prints I produced in a laughably primitive home darkroom. Any iPhone would be better, of course, complete with Instagram-style filters that can faithfully replicate every freaking mistake I ever made as a fledgling 35mm photographer. But I didn’t have an iPhone then. In a way I’m glad I didn’t. I wouldn’t trade one of my crude black-and-white prints for one million Instagram photos of a sunset or somebody’s lunch.
A couple of years later, I bought a Canon Ftb, black. I kept that camera for 30 years. I shot so many photos with it that the black finish was worn down on the edges to show the brass underneath. I liked that. It made me look serious. But then I went digital and sold everything on eBay.
I still wonder sometimes if that wasn’t a mistake. Actually, I know it was. Because I’ve bought — let’s see — more than a dozen different digital cameras since then. Each time I paid more than I did for any of my film cameras, and each time it was with the conviction that all the new technical features would make a world of difference in my photography.
They never did. They never do. Somehow I’ve managed to preserve maybe half of the photos I shot during the 70s, the ones on slides that I was later able to scan. They suck, mostly, but there’s no irony about them. They’re pretty honest. It’s impossible to tinker with the exposure. And I don’t need any filter to impart nostalgia. Thirty or forty years later, the nostalgia arrives unbidden. I have three or four thousand slides. Shot over thirty-odd years. That’s about how many photos your average digital photographer takes in a week.
Back to the new camera. The one I’m looking at is a real starship: image stabilization, 10 frames per second, color that’s realer than real. Auto-focus at the speed of thought. It’s weather-sealed too, to endure those camping trips I no longer take. Do I need this camera? No way. But still I want it.
A serious man would ask why. Since there are no serious men around, I guess it’s up to me: I want it for the same reason anybody wants any material thing: Somewhere down deep, I believe that the barrier between me and my old, best dreams can be solved by hardware. Never mind all the imperfect cameras later, all the evidence to the contrary. I still believe it.
So this is a cry for help, I guess. I don’t need any new camera, but I’m afraid of what it means if I admit that’s the case.