The Classic Camera Enthusiast

IF CLASSIC CAMERAS and films are your thing, a time comes sooner or later when you pause to wonder about the underlying reason for this quaint fascination when everything around is taking on a digital turn.

Is the production of photographic prints by the silver process the sole reason why I dabble with film photography? Many of my friends who are enthusiasts themselves tell me that the pictures, though important, are only a by-product, that the fascination of film photography lies deeper within. It all lies in the mind, where thought processes combine with imagination to form the well-defined view that the silver halide process is something special for its own sake, that the technique being of vintage origin carries a charm which can never be surpassed by modern electronic photography.  The classic camera enthusiast is the photographic equivalent of the steam train hobbyist, they tell me. And I fully go along with this view.

I have been a classic camera enthusiast for longer than I care to remember, and my favourite pastime is to imagine myself living in the 1930s or thereabouts. As for taking pictures, I load up my humble reflex only occasionally when going out on a holiday trip or a visit to the nearby park. At other times, though, I prefer taking a trip down memory lane browsing through heaps of old photo books and magazines, soaking in the atmosphere of the good old days. So what if I can’t actually use an old accessory I have read about—I can with equal pleasure imagine that I am doing so !!

Did you know that when photo-electric exposure meters had made an appearance, there still lingered a quaint little device called an ‘Extinction Meter’ ? A number of different makes were on offer. The ‘Dremoscop’, the ‘Practos’, and the ‘Justophot’ were three among the many on sale each costing just a little over a pound. You merely aimed the device at the scene, peered through the viewfinder, turned a little knob to darken the view until a figure seen through the eyepiece just vanished, and read off aperture stops and speeds from a scale engraved on the side of the device. If you are lucky enough, you may still come across some of these quant little gadgets in vintage camera stores.

Even more quaint was a device known as an ‘Actinometer’. This was a pretty little instrument where a strip of sensitized paper was allowed to darken under the action of the light falling on the scene, and the time taken to arrive at a pre-determined shade of grey used as an index to read off camera exposure settings printed in a table.

Is there anyone out there busy collecting old instruction manuals? Call it crazy, call it weird if you like, but I won’t mind showing off my tiny collection of camera manuals and guide books. You have to search around for them. Some are bought for a price, others can be requested from the firm which issued them.  Exakta, Zeiss Ikon, Praktica. . . . Ah, those revered names of old !! I remember to have once written to Pentacon GmbH, Germany, and the firm very kindly sent me a copy of an old Praktica MTL-3 camera manual together with photocopied material from their archives.

Then there is the joy of reading old photo books. Kodak, in days gone by, published two charming little books, now a collector’s delight: ‘How to Make Good Pictures’, and ‘How to Make Good Movies’. No photo enthusiast should be without these profusely illustrated books. The Focal Press Camera Guides, many of them authored by W D Emmanuel, were legendary guide books in their day, and copies may still be found in second hand camera stores.

Just look at those advertisements in old photo magazines—pages and pages of them. Some people find them rubbish, I never tire of studying these classic ads. Ever knew that when Gevaert launched its Gevaluxe photopaper, it was advertised as “the Stradivarius of Photopapers” in the thirties? Home movie makers in those days brightened up dull evenings with Pathescope 8mm and 9.5mm projectors (no cable TV or fancy CD players then). And if you dropped into the nearest camera store, you would find enthusiasts arriving in droves to take a look at Zeiss Ikon’s revolutionary ‘Contaflex’, the only twin-lens reflex camera the world ever saw taking pictures on 35mm film . . .

And on goes the story. It is all there for us to behold, and study, and delight in, in the browned, cracking pages of old books and periodicals.

Ravindra Bhalerao