What happened to the camera? 126



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Do you remember your first camera?

This is a question that may only appeal to those who have always been interested in the hobby, unlike today when everyone is a photographer, all waving their digital cameras, iPads and iPhones about, taking shots of everything from their cat sitting on the dog’s head to the moment of impact in a failed skydiving attempt!

My very first camera was one of those folding Kodak ones where I flipped open the front panel and a set of bellows followed with the lens on the front. I had to hold the thing about waist high and peer at my subject though a tiny mirror mounted just above the lens, before pushing a rather large lever down the side, to operate the shutter. There was no focusing or exposure control, I just had to rely on the smallness of the lens aperture and the speed latitude of the film to get something approaching a reasonable picture. All cameras took size 120 or 620 film that was black and white, because colour film for domestic use hadn’t been developed as yet.




Even at that early age, when I was only just a teenager, I was interested enough in the hobby to make myself a tiny darkroom under the stairs of my parent’s house and produce contact prints from the films that I had developed myself. I was very proud of my results, blurred and often badly exposed as they were, and small too because this was a long time before I obtained the luxury of an enlarger!

The only other popular size film you could get in those days was 35mm, which had many advantages, but required a camera vastly more sophisticated than my little folding Brownie! The top of the range was, (and still is to a certain extent) the Leica, widely used by professionals because of its smallness, exposure and focusing control and the length of film it carried, allowing 36 pictures to be taken instead of the 8 in my camera. It took some years for the format to come into general use, but it happened when the Japanese manufacturers started to produce vast quantities of them, to a standard almost as high as the Leica. Top of the range was Nikon, closely followed by Minolta, Canon, Olympus and several other makers, all looking for a share of the fast growing photography market.

The growth in popularity of the 35mm camera also led on to the next major steps, colour film, both for prints and transparencies, automatic focusing, (though in the early days this resulted in a very large ‘lump’ screwed onto the base of the equipment), and automatic exposure control. No longer did the experienced photographer need to carry a separate exposure meter with him, there was one built in to the camera that set the shutter speed for you!

This was also the time when the manufacturers experimented with all sorts of weird size films, like 110, tiny disc films taking pictures about 8mm in size, and panoramic cameras. In the long run, none of these proved to be very successful, especially as the next, (and last, for now), great leap forward took place at about the same time – digital photography.

Suddenly, everyone could be a photographer, a retoucher, an artist and a technician, all rolled into one; film was instantly obsolete, you could see immediately whether the shot you had just taken was any good and get rid of it if not, before trying again. Lenses, exposure and focus were more accurate and automated than ever before and, if you owned a computer, (who doesn’t these days!), you could do all sorts of wonderful things with your masterpiece once you got it home and downloaded it.

The most recent step has been to make the camera part of just about all the equipment we now carry around with us. Our telephones are also cameras, so are our mini-computers and our pocket radios – you can even buy ball pens that also include a secret camera at the top end!

I can’t imagine where the camera will pop up in the next generation, but you can bet your last dollar there’s someone, somewhere working on it right now!

Do you enjoy photography? What was your first camera? Tell us in the comments below… 

Brian Lee

  1. YES… my first camera was a Brownie Box. It cost me a Guinea.(one pound and one shilling)
    I loved it as it could take black and white or colour photos.
    The film cost 3 shillings so I had to save up for quite a while to afford film. I only got sixpence a week pocket money…

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