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My First Camera: What was yours, and how did it frame your photography?

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My first camera came with a recommendation from one of the foremost technical journalists of the age. I was lucky to know Amateur Photographer’s legendary technical editor, who was also a well-known author. He listened to my needs, considered my budget and came up with what he considered to be the best mid-range 35mm camera of 1963. I couldn’t afford the camera I really wanted, an Asahi Pentax SV in stealthy black. I certainly couldn’t afford a Leica M3, which was considered to be in the Rolls Royce category. No, I had a budget, but I needed a bit of help in reaching a decision.  

Buying my first camera:

Box Brownies and old folding cameras were my photographic fodder as a child and into my teens. All were family cast-offs, and I had never considered actually buying a camera. The fact that my first camera came so highly recommended is a bonus. The choice is a good indicator of what the industry considered to be a superior, relatively inexpensive mid-range camera of the early 1960s, just before the SLR swept all before it and, within ten years, had even brought the mighty Leica to its knees.

At the time, I was a budding young journalist at the weekly technical magazine Motor Cycle. I led an exciting life, road testing all types of powered two-wheelers, writing articles and getting to know an industry that would feature large in my entire working life. In fact, my years at the magazine are among my happiest.

Our editorial offices were at Dorset House, on Stamford Street, not far from the bustling Waterloo Station in London. We were part of the giant Iliffe publishing empire, and Dorset House was home to a vast array of technical publications, including Autocar, Flight International and Amateur Photographer, all of which are still thriving.

My First Camera: Advice from AP

Amateur Photographer‘s offices were just two floors below my lair at Motor Cycle, and I was always popping in for a bit of advice from the legendary technical editor, Neville Maude. Watching the professionals from the photographic department at work spurred my enthusiasm, and I lusted after a “proper” camera.

At that time, too, I was working with a youthful Don Morley, who often accompanied me on road-test photo shoots and who later went on to much greater things in the world of news and sports photography. But it was Neville Maude who guided me to my first camera.

I wasn’t expecting to produce pictures for publication — we had a photographic department for that, and there were some pretty strong union rules about journalists taking pictures — but in an emergency, my photographs could be used.

If there were ever to be a chance of getting a picture published, I needed something half-decent. Yet with an annual salary of just under £500, my choices were limited.

As I mentioned, I couldn’t run to the Pentax SLR, which is perhaps as well since the market-beating Spotmatic was still a year away, and I would have felt short-changed after a few months. And a Leica M3, which cost a staggering £125 with a 50mm Summicron, was totally out of the picture. My first camera was doomed to be of a lesser breed. AP’s Neville Maude sorted out the wood from the chaff, however, and persuaded me that the Agfa Silette would make the ideal device for a young journalist.

My First Camera: The Agfa Silette

To make the Agfa Silette my first camera would cost a month’s wages. A massive decision. Eventually, after my birthday in 1963, I scraped up enough cash. Neville Maude gave me an AP purchase order on Westminster Photographic, just across the Thames from Dorset House, and I scurried over Waterloo Bridge one lunchtime to do the deal. I think it must have been the first trade discount I ever enjoyed.

The little 35mm Agfa Silette cost twenty-four pounds, nineteen shillings and sixpence (about £24.97), and the leather ever-ready case set me back a further £2 15s 6d (about £2.77). And what’s the use of a camera without film? So I added in a roll of Kodak for 5/1d (about 25p). That would have left a potential hole in my finances of over £28. Fortunately, thanks to AP, I got a discount of £2 8s 0d (£2.40).

My First Camera: The insurance

I couldn’t wait to return to the office and load that first film. And that was the start of my photographic career.

The Agfa’s list price of £25 is equivalent to £750 in 2023. This was no small decision and needed a lot of thought. In fact, though, the price is not far off the mark for a starter camera in 2023.

It was such a lot of money for a young Evans that insurance was warranted. I was ever cautious and decided to shell out a further 7s 6d — about 37p — for a year’s all-risk cover. Unknown to the National Parcels Insurance Company was that I was planning a late-summer road trip to Germany on my old Matchless 350cc single-cylinder motorbike. They did not appreciate the full extent of the risk when setting the premium. I wouldn’t have touched it with a bargepole. Fortunately, though, the Agfa came to no harm, and I never had cause to claim on the policy.

My first camera: The results

Sadly, I cannot find negatives or prints from the Agfa Silette. It would have been good to unearth a picture that had actually been published, but the archives are silette on the matter. I do, however, possess scans of a few snaps taken on Sunday, 28 August 1963, just over a month after I bought the Agfa. How do I know the date? Well, on the following day, August 29, I was a press guest at the Charnock Richard services station when the Minister of Transport, the Rt. Hon The Lord Marples, PC (Ernie Marples as was), opened the Preston to Thelwall Viaduct section of the M6 motorway.

A youthful Mike Evans and budding journalist (left) is pictured above with a friend, Janice, on the road test Lambretta Li 150 scooter in Lancashire,, just a couple of miles from the new motorway. The busy backdrop gives an example of urban architecture in South Lancashire at the time. Wielding the Silette was another friend Frank who subsequently went on to marry Janice. They have been lifelong friends. And here is the happy couple, Janice and Frank, aboard the Lambretta Li 150 and photographed on the Agfa by editor Mike. After all these years, I wonder if I should have chosen a more neutral background!

Scooters were big news at the time and were seen as the future of motorised two-wheel travel. At The Motor Cycle, we tried our best, but we didn’t really like them. Scooter riders were known as “mods” because of their modern gear, in contrast to the oily “rockers” who rode the more traditional motorbikes and wore black leather jackets. This Lambretta was featured in a road test which was published in the magazine on 5 September 1963 (below). I am aghast to see that I completed 1,400 on the little beast, which had a top speed of only 55 mph and a comfortable cruising speed of 45 mph. I must have been a patient soul in those days.

The Lambretta cost £179 17s 6d, which is seven times the price of the Agfa and equivalent to £5,000 today. The annual road tax was just £1, incidentally. While it isn’t obvious from the picture, I see from the article that “the test model’s colour scheme is an attractive light grey with emerald green side panels and steering-head shroud. Alternative combinations are ruby red-light grey and navy blue-light grey”. You got a lot for your £180 in those days…

Historical Note: The Strand, which runs between Aldwych and Trafalgar Square in London WC2, was quite a draw for photographers in the 1950s and 1960s. Westminster Photographic was at 81 Strand and, I believe, became a branch of Dollands and then R.G. Lewis. Perhaps readers can confirm this and give us some dates. Today, there is just one camera store in The Strand, the London branch of London Camera Exchange at No. 98, just a few doors up from the former site of Westminster Photographic.

What was your first camera, and how did you come to choose it? What did it cost, where did you buy it, and do you still keep the receipt?

My Agfa Silette comes back to life after 50 years (Macfilos)



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65 COMMENTS

  1. For reasons unknown I did not know what I wanted for Christmas (When I was seven) …Santa left me a Brownie 127-only once in the next few years did I forget to “wind on” I then progressed to my first adjustable camera-“dial the weather” Instamatic 200 My next, after saving my Paper (boy) earnings added to Santas contribution was a Zenit(h) B with the better Helios lens Also at this time I inherited and old 1920’s Zeiss For out bellows 120 camera which still takes excellent B & W
    Starting work I traded the Zenit for a Practica -not sure of model but it was manual with a built in meter. Over the years on meagre wages I saved for Nikkkormat (manual) >>Nikon FE2 >>Nikon FM2 >>Nikon FM3a >>Nikon D70>>Nikon D80 >>Nikon D300 >>Nikon D750
    (I have borrowed Leica and Voightlander during this time) Now I am saving (and waiting?) for a Q3 or SL3S and can’t make my mind up (Please help!!!)

  2. Mike

    My first camera was a Kodak F104 Instagram. When I was in High School I traveled to China with it and it was a great small tool for documenting everything happening around you. My first “serious” camera was my Dad’s Argus Argoflex Model E TLR; yes, I still have it. This camera used 620 roll film and gave a nice square image, which made a big impression on me. To this day, regardless of the format I use I am trying to document what is happening and I want to crop my images square.

    PaulB

  3. Except for professional photographers, new cameras were unobtainable in the 1940s. It was a decade of recovery, after WWII. So my first camera came from the pool of much used and neglected stock, originating from the 1930s. I visited London with a knowledgeable colleague, looking for a Kodak Retina like his. I was wildly optimistic and quickly discovered that my savings totalling ten English pounds would buy little more than a battered box camera. But I struck lucky in a branch of Dollonds in New Bond Street when a salesman pulled an old rollfilm camera from somewhere under the counter. It was an Agfa Speedex ‘0’ which had an excellent Solinar lens with Compur shutter, and recorded 8 pictures on a roll of 127 rollfilm. It cost just £10. A folding glass Albada-type viewfinder aided framing. Sadly, most of my early pictures were lost during a house-move, but I may have one surviving contact print of Fangio racing at Silverstone soon after the war ended. I was ambitious in thinking I could freeze the racing car, but by panning I got an acceptable result. I sold the camera to a friend when I had the chance to obtain a 1930s Voigtlander Bessa 66 with a Skopar lens. I was able to buy it from Customs and Excise for the price of the tax due. But that is another story.

    • Fascinating stuff, David, and you get the prize for the earliest first camera. Do tell us in an article about your adventured with HM Customs & Excise as was. They’re now renamed Revenue & Customs with no regard for history. As usual.

    • Yes, David, yours seems to be the earliest purchase on this thread. Your reference to taking a panned photo of Fangio with an Agfa Speedex 0 rang a bell for me. If your camera was a pre-war one, it may have been an Art Deco item. Art Deco cameras sell well at auction these days.

      I take my hat off for you as regards taking a photo of Fangio at speed with a folder camera and a Compur shutter. That bell that rang for me also reminded me of a book I have from 1956 which is is called Racing Sports Cars and which has photos by Louis Klemantaski and text by Michael Frostick. Mike or yourself may have come across these gentlemen. Klementaski was a legend when it came to photographing motor racing. In the front of the book there is a photo of Klementaski kneeling at the edge of the track, so close to the cars that he could have touched Fangio as he drove past. He is photographing the speeding cars with a Leica 135mm LTM lens and over is his shoulder is another Leica LTM camera with a US made Haber and Fink 3 lens revolving turret – I had to go to one of Jim Lager’s books to confirm that. In the introduction to the book it is stated that ‘most of the photographs were taken on a Leica (a Rolleiflex was used occasionally) and in nearly every case the film was Ilford’. I imagine that the Rolleiflex was used in the pits and paddock as using a TLR to capture speeding cars going by would have been difficult. So, this actually increases my admiration for you in getting an image of Fangio racing with your Agfa Speedex.

      I am sending Mike a copy of the photo of Klemantaski , so that he can forward it to you and, hopefully, bring back happy memories. I suspect the photo was taken in the early to mid 1950s.

      William

      • Thanks, William. I will forward the photograph to David. I don’t remember Klemantaski but I think I once met Michael Frostick – at least the name is familiar to me.

      • Thank you for your promised photo, William. I do remember that photographer and his turreted Leica camera. Your picture also reminds me of the lack of protection for onlookers. At best there was a single barrier made of straw bales. Safety precautions were extremely rudimentary. As were the limited temporary stands.

        An abiding memory is that of a team of men assembling a simple elevated platform from Dexion. Each member of the team brought a few pieces. The team then constructed the stand, just like a giant Meccano set, they took turns to gain a place above the picnicking crowds. You could wander freely around many parts of the track, which was a recently vacated RAF airfield. I am fairly certain the first race there, which I attended, was in Autumn 1948. Maserati was a dominant force at that time.

        I am fairly certain there was a roped off Press Enclosure, which I could not enter. But Speed Graphic plate or cutfilm cameras were much used by the press for sports events at that time. Ex-RAF reconnaissance lenses were adapted to give better detail at range. The use of 35 mm cameras at sports events such as motor racing, was in its infancy. I don’t recall the turreted Leica being a production model. Almost certainly a special build. But I cannot be sure. Our colleague Don Morley will surely know the facts.

        • Don does have some good anecdotes, including an occasion at Oulton Park when a wayward car hit the mound he was standing on and buried his two Leicas (one colour, one mono). But perhaps we will add to this here.

        • The turret was not made by Leica, but by an American firm called Haber and Fink. There was a later similar 3 lens item, made by Leica for M mount cameras, which was called the OROLF. I have an advertisement from 1949 for the Haber and Fink item. I will forward it to Mike for you.

          William

          • Many thanks, William. It was a very specialized variant which was eclipsed by zoom lenses, when they settled down and became excellent alternatives to prime lens swapping.

  4. My first “real” camera was an Olympus OM2 bought with precious savings that could have been spent on booze and clothes.

    It was the perfect camera: light, compact, easy to use and produced great images. Selling that camera for something newer and more complicated is still something I still regret as a folly of impatient youth.

    It also taught me that great light makes great pictures, and that getting closer to photograph people is a lot harder than you think. And I’m still learning…

    • I have always regarded the OM1 and OM2 as quintessential camera designs — small, neat, and ergonomically satisfying. A bit like holding a Leica in some respects. So the OM2 was a brilliant choice as a first camera. I’m glad you avoided the temptations of the bottle and the clothes rack…

  5. My first proper camera was a rangefinder, the Canonet QL17. It was my dad’s camera, which I mostly used. He must have got it sometime after it came out in the latter half of the sixties. I knew nothing about how to take photographs, except that I had to get the needle in the middle of the exposure scale. I must have been pretty crazy back then with my ideas of subjects to photograph because I still have a photo lying around somewhere of a flower pot that I stuck into the pot in the loo. It did get a few raised eyebrows. But it was with the Canonet I took pictures that were printed up by a friend in his college lab for a student exhibition and won first prize in the portfolio category. Some cheeky bloke even nicked one of the prints on display. That was the last time I won anything with my photos. Soon after I lost the camera. It’s been downhill ever since.

  6. Dear all,

    what a wonderful discussion. So many experiences, options, memories. It seems first cameras have a certain magic to many for us. I am among these people. I still own my first camera, a Olympus OM-1 that I bought second hand in 1988 with a 50/1.8 for 150 DM. It was CLAed a few times and works flawlessly to this day, a 50 year old camera! I went for Olympus back then because my dad also used the system, and the idea of borrowing the one or the other lens seemed attractive.

    Professionally, I worked with both Nikon and Canon later, by deep in my heart the small and beautiful OM lenses and cameras were what I liked most. Today, I would consider them design icons; the old Olympus OM system and the Leica M system have more in common that many may assume – I wrote about it here: https://www.macfilos.com/2021/11/19/om-system-old-memories-optical-masterpieces-and-obscure-mistakes/.

    In addition to some OM gear (later, a wonderful OM-4Ti was added to the kit; the camera with the best exposure measuring system ever), I also have the first cameras of both my parents: My father bought a Zeiss Ikonta in the late 1950s, my mother got a Rollei 35 for her graduation in 1970. The Zeiss is featured here (towards the end of the article): https://www.macfilos.com/2022/05/06/decent-exposure-part-1-attachable-external-light-meters-and-where-they-help/. The Rollei is one of the protagonists in this Macfilos story: https://www.macfilos.com/2022/11/18/40mm-compacts-from-ancient-to-modern-with-the-rollei-35-and-ricoh-gr-iiix/. By the way, both cameras are being used from time to time, and they are in good working order.

    Which brings me to the question: Which camera that can be bought new today has the chance to be in good working order in 50, 60, or 80 years? Right: A Leica M6, M-A or MP…

    JP

  7. Hi Mike – I have a two generation first camera tale.
    I purchased my first camera in the late 60s at Reid Sweet Camera in Halifax, Canada. As an impecunious 13 year old with a new darkroom but no enlarger, I opted to go with a 6 x 6 TLR so I could make contact prints that I could actually see. I chose a used Yashica C (no receipt but I still have all my negatives!). My photo advisor, a dear family friend (with a brand new Leicaflex SL2 and mint M3) was somewhat disgusted – ‘you should have bought a used Rollei’.
    Shortly after getting an enlarger, I moved to 35mm and over the years moved through Pentax, then Nikon, finally Canon systems. These were purchased, added to and finally traded-in. (sadly I also sold a Leica M4 too – it was a brief fling but its sale proceeds helped with my first house purchase). I’m currently very happy with my Fuji XPro3 and Fuji X100V.
    The only 35mm camera that I kept was my Nikon FM2 – it was a workhorse that I dearly loved, it travelled around the world with me, joined my wife and me on our honeymoon then was put in a cupboard for safekeeping. When our son graduated from high school, we congratulated him with a DSLR gift that he took with him when he left the nest to study for an art degree. On his first Christmas visit he said he needed a film camera for a photography course and asked if he could borrow my Nikon. It became a fixture around his neck through his university days and afterwards. Naturally, I couldn’t ask for it back. This past Christmas, he and his bride had just returned from their honeymoon and when I asked what camera(s) they had used to record the spectacles of New Zealand, his answer was simple – ‘the FM2 had just returned from its 2nd honeymoon’.

    • “No receipt but I still have all the negatives”. Now that’s where we differ, I have the receipt and no negatives (or prints). At least you got your priorities right!

      • And ironically, I opted for a career as an accountant rather than a photographer! PSB

    • “I also sold a Leica M4 . . . its sale proceeds helped with my first house purchase”

      Something wrong here – either the house was too cheap or the camera too expensive . . . {:-)

  8. My first camera was aRondine Ferrania Singola, bought for me in Aden in the early 60’s. I then had a Voigtlander Vito B with the clip-on rangefinder. I still have these. Then I went to art school, where the school’s cameras were Rollei (flex or cord, can’t recall) and also Pentax Spotmatics. When I went to work, I desperately wanted a Pentax, but too expensive, so I bought a Praktica SLR. Come promotions and pay rises, and it was on to Nikon FM, and then the Nikon F2 series, of which I had F2A, F2SB, F2AS and then lastly an F3, along with lots of “glass”, winders, databacks, focussing screens, releases, finders, bulk magazines etc. I still have some lenses, and a Nikon TW zoom, which went everywhere with me. I also had my own darkroom setup at home, with all the gear to process and print anything I wanted, colour and b/w. In those days, I worked in advertising, and had the opportunity to commission and to see work from some superb professional photographers, and to do a little (perhaps a lot) of “Brain-picking”; one of whom was James Cotier, who turned up in a car worth about £100 at best and cameras (Hasselblad, I think) worth several cars. For a while, my father also had Godfrey Argent, the portrait photographer, as a neighbour, but I don’t recall any photographic discussions on the few occasions I met him.

    Then along came digital, but that’s another story.

    • There’s another one that hasn’t crossed my path, the Rondine Ferraria Singola. It’s a wonder I ever ended up with the Agfa Silette given the vast range of interesting and excitingly named competitors at the time. Thanks for bringing the 60s and 70s back to life. Mike

  9. Mike
    I bought my first camera a Finneta in 1952 I think I paid £15 for it. It was rivaled at the time by the Paxette but the Finneta had an interchangeable lens, not that I was interested in the “tellefoto” available but having a detachable lens enabled me to use it in the home made enlarger I made under the guidance of a keen photographer much older friend who owned a single lens reflex Exacta. He favored the Contax over the Leica because its longer rangerfinder base would be far more accurate. I did change my camera to Voiglander Vito that I bought at the shop in Fleet Street in the mid 1950s when I was on day release classes at the London School of Printing in Stamford Street from my lithographic seven year apprenticeship at Oxford University Press. Like you Mike, I also bought a Lambretta in 1958 during my army National Service. I bought my first SLR in the early 1960s—a Pentax and a few years later another Pentax with a built in exposure meter. I remember being amazed at the first film I developed from this camera where I could see all 36 negatives perfectly exposed. I got involved with stereo phones and had 2 Olympus cameras wired together and although I still belong to the Stereoscopic Society my main interest is standard 35mm photography always processing my own in black and white as well as colour both prints and transparencies but colour processing became tedious because unlike black and white you could see nothing during the processing. It wasn’t until digital photography came along that I could really enjoy photography again. Photoshop enables me to do all I could every do with film and chemicals and not only a lots more besides but all without making any permanent change to the original image as well as being able to step back from any changes that were made. Added to that RAW images can have the exposure changed after the picture has been taken!
    The digital cameras I used were Canon until I changed to the Lumix, much more compact and now for the past three or four years I almost exclusively use just my iPhone which is now the 14 Pro, a superb camera capable of 48M pixels, never have to worry about white balance and it’s always with me.
    I did buy a Leica A a few years ago because it was not only the classic but it was made in 1936, the year I was born, but I have yet to put a film through it.

    • Good to hear from you again, Maurice. Brings back my memories of the London MUG (Mac Users’ Group for the uninitiated). I hope all is well with you. Thank you for this overview of your early days in photography. With a first camera in 1952 you have one up on me. I thought 1963 would be the earliest recollection! Incidentally, I didn’t buy a Lambretta, it was a borrowed road-test model. I never did take to scooters and nor did my colleagues on the magazine. I was the junior road tester, so that’s why I got the Lambretta while the others were out on their Triumphs, BSAs and Velocettes.

    • Excellent, Maurice. The Finneta is a German camera which is very interesting and was eventually given advanced features for the day such as clockwork wind on, focal plane shutter, hot shoe and interchangeable lenses. The ultimate version the 99 was sold in the US as the Ditto 99. Your camera seems to be the earliest purchase here, although my father’s camera which I have today was purchased by him in January 1940.

      I belong to a wonderful organisation called the Photo Collectors Club of Great Britain (PCCGB). Some time ago we had a show and tell type Zoom. One chap commenting on a particular camera, which another member had just shown, said that he had one of those, but had sold it around the time of the Queen’s Coronation (1953). We were all suitably impressed, but a few minutes later another member held up a camera and said “Here’s a Leica which I bought in 1947”. We all nearly collapsed. He did not buy in new, as it was a I Model A from the 1920s. I have shown photos on Macfilos taken with a couple of Leica I Model As from 1926, one of which was ‘sent back to Herr Barnack’ in 1927, according to the Leica Archives. I have shown photos here which I had taken with a 1915 Vest Pocket Kodak, but I have also taken photos with a Grubb brass lens which was finished on 23rd January 1877, according to the factory records.

      All this is by way of suggesting further development of this article such as which camera has been in your family the longest and do you still use it today? Also, what is the oldest camera or lens that you have used to obtain pictures? Another strand could be, do you have a camera which was owned or used by a famous person other than a family member? Or better still has your camera been used to photograph a famous person?

      In a way cameras have lives too and have seen a lot of things in those lives. Mike might recall how, as part of the Swiss Photos research, I found the details of the early life (in 1935) of one of my cameras written in Swedish inside a box which came with the camera. Mike and others helped with translation from Swedish. I later found a photo of the Crown Prince of Sweden which may have been taken with the camera as the writing inside the box lid mentions that it was at the event where the photo was taken.

      Then there are cameras with a military or commercial provenance.

      There are endless possibilities in this, Mike.

      William

      • Before the publication of this article, wandering down my own memory lane, it did cross my mind that it was perhaps a bit parochial and no one would be interested. However, no one has been more surprised than me at the tremendous response from readers. As I write this comment, we have topped 50 comments in a couple of days. It has obviously struck a chord, and I agree with you that we should consider articles on similar question-based material. I think in every case (including those you mention) we need someone to write their own personal story — perhaps, as you suggest, of a camera that has been in the family for generations — and to then draw out similar stories from other readers. It’s all fascinating stuff and, without a doubt, well received.

  10. My first proper camera was a Pentax K-r with a small 40mm/2.8 lens. I went to buy one of the canons or Nikons in Jessops at the tine when they had Jessops and Jacobs across the street at Tottenham Court Road.
    I played with the K-r and loved it’s ergonomics and bought that. I didn’t use to process any images at the time but the ooc jpegs were fantastic looking back. I still get tempted from time to time to buy a k3 iii because of that. Pentax of ahead of times then with IS in the body and small lenses. It is a shame that they have not come out with any new small apsc lenses. They haven’t gone mirrorless but their ovf in k3 iii is fabulous.

    • That brings back memories of Tottenham Court Road in the old days, Mahesh. It was once full of electronics, photography and audio stores. One could spend a whole day comparing products and checking for the best prices. Earlier, the Edgware Road, just north of Paddington, had been equally attractive, especially for audio equipment. But gradually, Edgware Road changed, the stores closed, and everyone moved over to Tottenham Court Road. Sadly, everything has now changed, and the most interesting camera stores (for me, at least) are scattered far and wide — including Red Dot Cameras in Goswell Street, City, and Aperture, just round the corner from Broadcasting House.

  11. My first camera was a present from my uncle for my first communion back in 1983. In Catholic countries like the one I come from the first communion is a big family event, my uncle was a passionate photographer himself so I guess the choice for him was easy. As I was 8 I was too young for a serious camera, so I got an instant camera (Kodamatic). I still remember that many people warned me back at the time. Colours of instant pictures fade quickly. After 40 years I must say it is just not true. Last Christmas, I visited my parents and took a look to the old family album. The pictures fully retained their colours, much better than pictures my parents shot on negative colour film.

    A couple of years later, I had to return the camera as Kodak lost a lawsuit against Polaroid for patent infringement. In exchange, I received a Kodac Disc. When I look at the pictures now they look extremely soft and grainy but I still enjoy watching them as they remind me of my childhodd.
    It took me much longer to get into serious photography but this is another story

    • Another good “first camera” story, Stefano — and a first Communion is thrown in for good measure! Thanks for letting us read your early photographic experiences.

  12. Mike, thanks for giving us the opportunity to take a trip down a “photography memory lane”. My first 35mm camera was a Vito B, with the big Balda bright line finder, which my father bought me from a chemist shop, near Hendon Central in 1958. Price, £28. I really had wanted a Retina with a coupled rangefinder and an f2 lens but obviously the budget didn’t stretch that far at the time. Sadly, I moved this camera on in the early 60’s once I started my working career. I traded it for a brand new Canon 7 with the f0.95/50mm Dream Lens. On reflection now, but out of necessity, I traded this for a Canon SLR, as this style became more and more in vogue. A year or so ago I re-purchased a Vito B in excellent condition for £30 to “complete the circle”. Sadly not so a Canon 7 with the f0.95 at current prices.

    • Strangely, I also bought a Vito B a couple of years ago at the Photographica photo fair in London…

  13. My first camera was a Boots Beirette with an E Ludwig 45mm f2.9 three element Meritar lens – purchased in 1974 on the recommendation of ‘WHICH Magazine’ – partly because the ‘real glass’ lens appeared to be ‘a cut above’ that of other budget price cameras. I loved the £12 / 10 shillings camera and with my KODAK “How To make Good Pictures” book, I set about becoming the next David Bailey :). The Beirette made by Beier in East Germany, served me well and is occasionally still used by my niece Colleen in Salt Lake USA. I may try and source another, salvage and modify the 3 element lens, and establish if it can match the sought after Meyer 50mm Trioplan’s ‘soap bubble bokeh’ when hitched up to a modern digital mirrorless ICL camera.

    • I can’t recall hearing about the Boots Beirette but the specification sounds half decent. Your mention of the Meyer Trioplan reminds me that we have a rather interesting article on old cameras coming up in a few days, possibly on Friday. Thanks for adding to this ever-growing discussion which has produced more interest than I could have imagined. Mike

    • My father – an avid ‘Which?’ subscriber – also bought a Boots Beirette ..which I have in my hand right now!.. on Which?’s recommendation, and shot many years’ worth of non-fading holiday Kodachromes (..which I have in a couple of big wooden boxes right beside me..) of their (my parents’) annual trips abroad to Sveti Stefan, Dubrovnik, Split, and other spots along the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, as it’s called now, but was then called ‘Yugoslavia’.

      He bought a simple, cheap hand-held light meter from Dixons to go with it (the Beirette has mechanical shutter speeds of only B, 30th, 60th and 125th, but apertures from f2.9 down to f22), and he got absolutely perfect photos in the bright European light there.

      I offered him a little compact Cosina CX-1 – which had auto-exposure, and would have saved him carrying around the light-meter – but he preferred his completely manual Beirette, which didn’t need any batteries.

      (I even drove from Peterborough to Manchester to take a shot of him holding his Beirette for a feature about cheap but very capable cameras for ‘Practical Photography’.)

      He was so enamoured of his Boots Beirette that I thought I’d write an article about how Boots chose what to stock and where they sourced their stock, so I went to Nottingham and was shown around – to my astonishment! – Boots’ Laboratory, where they froze and baked and tested to destruction (and examined the structure with an electron microscope!) a sample of every item they sold (this was around 1980) to be sure that it was fit for sale, wouldn’t snap, break or fail, had no hidden dangerous parts, wasn’t toxic or harmful, and wouldn’t fall to bits within its guarantee period.

      So (..a sample of..) Dunk’s camera would have been baked in Boots’ test oven for over an hour, frozen in Boots’ freezer, and had its strap – if it came with the plastic case and a strap – minutely examined with an electron microscope(!) – incredible, huh? – to make sure that it wouldn’t snap or fail! ..No wonder that it’s “..occasionally still used..” as that Beirette will probably still be going well for another 50 years!

      (I must scan my father’s Kodachrome slides one day and put them up on a page somewhere ..sometime ..someday..)

      • You don’t tell us the name of your first camera, David. Or maybe it’s in one of your articles. I can’t remember… Good to hear from you again, by the way.

      • David, Fascinating story about your father’s Boots Beirette. Coincidentally I also bought the cheap Dixons’ Prinz light meter, and, a Boots own brand ‘bulb flash’ which taught me the rudiments of flash photography. Happy days and the resultant prints were fine. I then ‘graduated’ to a half frame Canon Dial which I still have – likely one of the few still in working order but requires a PX625 mercury cell for its coupled CdS cell meter. The Canon Dial’s film is advanced by a clockwork motor enabling shooting at 2 frames per second.

  14. Mike,

    I think our age is showing here; it may be that in a few years. ‘first camera’ will be digital for most readers!

    In college, I was in a program to go from high school to a PhD in six years (The Ford Foundation felt not enough PhD’s were being produced and jobs were going begging. By the time I graduated, the situation had reversed 🙂

    In any case, we were expected to spend the summer between undergraduate and graduate school touring Europe. I submitted my itinerary (London, Paris, Hamburg, Copenhagen) and received in return $600 cash and a ticket on BOAC from New York to London. The Dean running the program, who specialized in 18th century British literature, had some ideas about the benefits of the Continental Tour. To document the trip; in 1970 I bought a Pentax Spotmatic and a number of rolls of Kodak slide film.

    Ever the nerd, I spent my 21st birthday in Blackwell’s, London. On the continent, I got a very nice picture in very low light in Notre Dame. While all my slides were lost over the decade, I still have that photo. Fortunately.

    I eventually gave the camera to a local nature conservancy. Later, I was asked to spend three months lecturing in Australia (Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide. Though, once there, one is going to take the Ghan to Alice Springs then Uluru). I bought an Olympus OM-2, though I only kept it for the trip, and remained sans camera until I found the Leica Digilux 2 on ebay. I’ve never looked back from that!

  15. The first camera that I owned was a Sigma Mk1 SLR with 39-80mm zoom lens, bought from Jessops original mega-store in Leicester and given to me as an 18th birthday present. But I’d used other family cameras before that. My parents were both keen photograhers and owned two cameras each – medium format folders for prints and 35mm for slides: a Voigtlander Bessa I, an Agifold, a Kodak Retina IIa and a Voigtlander Vito B. I also got my hands on my brother’s Praktica Super TL2. It was the Sigma that served me through my university days, where I learnt to process films and make prints during overnight sesions in the darkroom there. The Sigma has long since gone (except for the original lens cap and (n)ever-ready case), but I managed to find another in remarkably fine condition a year or two back and purchased it for old times’ sake.

  16. “My” first camera was my dad´s Balda Juwella; a rather simple folder using 120 film. I started using it in 1953 or so; very few shots survive today, but i did sell a couple to the local newspaper in the late sixties. Sadly, my late mother donated it to the local Lions Club Flea market, so it sort of flea-jumped out of my world…

    The late sixties was also when I bought my first OWN camera: a Voigtlander Vito B which I still have (and which misled my mom into thinking that my interest in the Balda was over..). It was soon followed by a Minolta SR7 SLR with 50 and 135 mm lenses, and I´ve been seriously hooked on Photography since then. Leica entered my world only in the late seventies, after a period of Rollei SL66 and Hasselblads. And now, it´s M9 and M9M that´s the center of my photo world…

  17. Great topic! I had one or two simple cameras at first, the names of which I can’t recall, but had my sights set on an SLR, and. eventually managed to buy a Praktica L for £43.50 in 1972, with a Weston light meter for c£13. It was great fun learning about the manual settings and guessing the exposure without the meter. It was capable of decent photos on a good day. Later, with young children, the lure of autofocus for snaps became too strong to resist, and I bought a Canon AF35M in 1982 (can’t remember the price). Zoom came next on the wish list: a Pentax Espio 115 in 1994 for £269.99. When it was time to go back to a ‘proper’ camera, the Leica X Vario was a natural choice, combining the manual operation, auto and zoom of the previous cameras. The topic has reminded me that I still have the Praktica (and the meter) in a box somewhere. Time to get a roll of film!

    • Indeed, get a new roll. Maybe you can show us the results… Do you still have the X Vario? I regretted selling mine (as always) and I am sometimes tempted to find another one at a knock-down price. Good to have your reminiscences and the prices are fascinating. Mike

      • I sold the X Vario in 2018 to help fund a CL, then two years later I had seller’s remorse, so bought one again on eBay in excellent condition, complete with EVF, at a great price. It even had the battery retaining button intact! Since broken of course . . .
        Just to tempt you, special edition X Varios are starting to appear on eBay.

      • There is a X vario at the Leicastore Konstanz. I’ve ordered a handgrip for mine and they were really quick to send me the order.

        • Good evidence for JP (to pass on to the store) that Macfilos exposure leads to international sales!

  18. My first camera was a present from my grandfather, a lovely compact Olympus Pen EE, half format. I was about 8 or 9 years old. It was such a nice discovery that my parents had to calm me down after a dozen of 72 views rolls, taken in a few weeks 🙂
    I bought my first camera in 78. After lots of readings…and long months of savings, I could finally offer myself a brand new Nikon FM, with a 50mm 1.8 Ais…what a gorgeous camera. I still have it today and after all these years, it’s still fully operational.
    PS : thanks for all the great articles, Mike. This one was evoking so many fond memories that I thought I had to bring my first contribution (apologies for my “exotic” English)

    • Thank you, Alain, and your English is excellent. I bought an old Olympus PEN at a photo fair two or three years ago but I haven’t used it. It sits on the shelf looking wonderful and I am tempted to give it a run. Glad you enjoy the articles. Mike

  19. Hi
    My first camera…Kodak Brownie 44a (https://www.brownie-camera.com/9.shtml) given to me one Christmas, early 1960’s…
    A bit later, having grown out of the 44a, and while still at school, I started to use my fathers’ Agfa Isolette 120 film folder (with the Bakelite top – not metal), which had his name written inside the leather case, and a date 1940. I am not sure how he came by the camera in the war years, which were spent in London, some time suffering TB, and having a major part of this right lung removed, and working as a junior doctor (he later was a chest physician!). I still have the Agfa Folder, and serviced the shutter recently.
    A few years later working in Edinburgh (after my brief Banking Career) I found an old rather good looking camera in a junk shop, and rather too to its looks, and it was 35mm film, and just £30 with a 50mm lens, so I got it (and have the receipt!) and it turned out to be a Leica IIIb, and so the die was cast for my subsequent camera purchases.
    Well, I did not get so many, but later I was rather better off than before (and indeed since) I purchased a Leica R4s from R G Lewis, mentioned above as one of the shops that supplied a camera for Mike, and I part exchanged the R4s for a R6 and this was the last Leica I purchased.
    There is a little more to tell on the IIIb story, but that must wait for another time.
    And there are some other cameras to talk about, but also for another time, or this will be a longer article than the main story!
    Thanks

    • Thanks, Chris. At the time in 1963 I don’t recollect R.G.Lewis as a name over a shop, but I know that it was in existence in The Strand at the time. I really only came to know the company in later Leica years Len Lyons ran the store in Southampton Row in the Sicilian Avenue parade — enticingly close to the long-abandoned northern exit to the Kingsway tram tunnel. Thanks for your trip down memory lane. Mike

  20. When I was still a boy in high school I purchased my first “real” camera, a Rollei T from a local camera store in Toronto. It was a vast sum of money for a kid in school ($100.00)! I paid for it on the “layaway “ plan. Every week I would visit the store and put what ever I earned at my part time job towards the camera. Eventually (it seemed forever) I hit the magic number and they released the camera to me. I loved that camera! Many cameras came and went but the Rollei stayed. In the 1980s it somehow got lost, I wracked my brain trying to remember where I last used it… no luck. About twenty years later my wife “suggested” I go into our basement and deal with a number of cardboard packing boxes that we’re starting to smell musty. When I opened one of the boxes I came across something wrapped in tissue paper… my heart skipped a beat, is it possible???. YES it was my long lost Rollei!
    It has never been out of sight of it since.

    PS… Mike I start each day looking forward to reading your site.
    All the best
    Allan

    • Thank you, Allan, for another heart-warming story of “my first camera”. I think we could make up a book with all the stories. In fact, they might make another article.

      Glad you hear you look forward to our ramblings on various subjects. With the help of our authors from around the world, we seem to have a good mix of photographic subjects, plus a few off at a tangent.

      Mike

  21. Well there is a story in todays Daily Mail, on a Vietnamese US Navy admiral and The Defining Picture of TET VietNam Saigon 1968. My first camera I never even saw, a friend bought a PENTAX that I wanted at Saigon PX, brought back to our unit in Delta and left on my bunk! I was on last chopper into TanSon Nhut airport Saigon, when Airport conning tower took hits from 122 mm Rockets, TET had started. I had to go across Saigon to my Med Brigade HQ, I grabbed a not secured Jeep and took off.. CHAOS RULED white mice Vietnamese police had all sorts of roads closed. I was totally lost on the side of one of the streets when I saw the Whie Mice frog marching this Cong suspect across the street to this big guy that was obviously in charge. I got out Jeep and was walking over to this when big guy pulls out his 38 and blowsCharlie brains out other side oh his head. I was on right side of this photo out of camera view, and had wipe brain matter off my boots in ankle area. What the news did not tell you,but is the truth, Charlie had hit squads that only job was to take out White Mice and families. This Col. resettled in Cal or Virginia can’t remember, but that Mafia hit style was justly deserved. Meanwhile while I in Saigon my unit got hit and son a bitch, my hooch was destroyed by mortars. So that’s my story on my first camera that I never saw.

  22. Wonderful stories. Leaving aside the Kodak Holiday Flash Brownie (127 film) I received for my 8th birthday, the Minolta 16II my older cousin gave me to play with, and the Kodak Retina Ia my aunt loaned me for a while, my first camera purchase was a Miranda Fv w/50mm f1.9 Auto-Miranda.

    I was very much into model railroading as an older teen, and wanted a camera that would permit me to photograph both real railroads and model ones. Like everything else I am interested in, I thoroughly researched the subject matter and concluded I needed a 35mm SLR with interchangeable lenses. Further research indicated the Nikon F was the pinnacle of the type.

    This was in 1967 in my second year at university. Alas, the small budget I had (savings from my last summer job) was way too meager. I concluded the Miranda G was a poor man’s Nikon F, but that was still too steep, which is why I ended up with the Miranda Fv. While I do not have the receipt, I do remember the cost: $107 plus shipping. I took some great photos with it, but it soon proved to be a poor substitute for a Nikon, as some quality issues became apparent after a while.

    As as early as 1973 I replaced it with my first Nikon, a Nikkormat FTn. It was 1980 before I finally got my first “real” Nikon, an F2 Photomic. I still have two F2 bodies.

    As an aside, I took up photography and miniature machining to support the model railroading hobby. My involvement in model railroading did not last through university, but almost 60 years later my two hobbies are photography and miniature machining.

    • Thanks, Martin. I have a good friend, Ralf Meier, who runs a train website in the USA, Trainphilos.com and it might be worth a look for old times’ sake. It’s good that the article seems to have encouraged some long comments, almost little articles in themselves.

  23. My first camera was a Minolta SRT 100X that came along with a Minota-Rokkor 45mm f.2 back in 1979. I was more into painting and music at the time and not really into photography. It was a former resistant who owned a small record shop in the centre of France that talked me into buying a camera. He himself was more into stereo photography, particularly slides which he would show me at his home. Seeing his steroscopic slides on a large screen convinced me to have a go at photography. He had gone through many offers at the time when one day he told me we were going to buy a camera some 50 miles from where we were living then. I had saved enough money as the camera with the lens cost 990 francs (about £1050 at the time). he told me which film to buy (Ilford FP4) and when I had the first rolls processed he constantly gave me pieces of advice regarding framing, light and how to expose skies correctly. I used this combo for a few years till the winding lever went faulty. I then moved to a Minolta XGM with a 35-70mm I bought at Dixon’s when I was living in Aberdeen in the mid1980s. Apart from the Leica CL, I then moved to a Contax 139 and a variety of lenses, then moved to the Contax G1&2 with all the primes and finally to Leica with the R9 and then M8 and Ricoh with the GRD, GR and GXR system. I’ve recently sold some of my gear to buy a mint X Vario which will be paired with the X2 when the latter goes into repair at the end of March. I love the images these 2 now vintage cameras produce.

    • Quite a journey, Jean, and thanks for letting us share your photographic progress. By the way, I think you might have the decimal point in the wrong place on the price of your Minolta in 1979. It probably did cost 990 francs but that would have been about £100, not £1,000 at the time. £1,000 would have bought you an M4 and several lenses…

  24. My first camera was a GAF Memo 35ET that I received as a gift from my father when I was 8 or 9 years old. It was one of those ubiquitous compact manual rangefinders from the 70s. It was small and only had programmed aperture and shutter speed selection, but its meter was fairly accurate and it had a reasonably sharp lens. I used it exclusively for over 10 years, before switching to a Nikon AF SLR. I still used it occasionally when I needed a smaller, lighter camera, although it was soon replaced in that role by another classic – a much better Canonet QL 17 (my wife’s first camera). Both of these cameras – the GAF and the Canonet – still work very well and are probably to blame for my penchant for (much more expensive) rangefinders.

  25. What a walk down memory lane. I bought my first camera in 1971. it was a Zeiss Ikon 35 S TM (for thread mount, M42), with a 50 mm lens. At that time I still went to school, working as a stringer for a local newspaper on the side. It was a bulky camera with a rather dark viewfinder. The price must have been around 250 Euros in today‘s money. In 1972 I sold the Zeiss Ikon and bought a Canon FTb with a 50 mm lens instead. That investment set me back by 698,00 German marks (357 Euros) but I didn‘t keep the receipt. In 1975 the FTb was replaced my first Canon F1 which I still used joining the aforementioned newspaper as an editor in 1980. Later on I replaced the SLR-system with a Leica M5 and two M6 models and a handful of fine lenses. In 2001 the newspaper turned to using digital equipment. I set off with Olympus bridge models and then switched to the bulky E-1 and E-5 models. In 2012 I began using the MFT-models from Panasonic/Lumix. My current camera which I still use professionally nearly every day is the Lumix DC-G9 with a range of lenses between 6 and 400 mm.

    • Ralph, thanks. Your memory lane is longer than mine. While I can construct a list of all the cars I’ve owned, I find it difficult to come up with any sensible progression in photographic equipment. Thank you for the fascinating account.

      Mike

  26. Nice topic, Mike. My father’s camera, a Balda Super Baldina, was probably the first one I ever used. He bought it for nine guineas on 30th January 1940, over 83 years ago, and I showed the receipt, complete with a stamp, for that in my first article for Macfilos, just over 8 years ago. I don’t recall having a camera of my own in my youth, but just after I got married in 1974 my father bought me an Agfa 110 camera. It broke down after a short period and had to be repaired. The photos I got with it, mainly of my older daughter, were OK, nothing spectacular. My first 35mm camera was a Rollei 35 and the improvement in quality was astonishing to my eyes. I paid about 60 quid for it in 1981, but a year later I sold it and bought a Nikon SLR and from then on I was on the slippery slope, although I did not have multiple cameras until the 2000s. In 2019 I bought another Rollei 35 at Photographica. To bring the thing full circle, I still have and use my father’s Super Baldina and another article I wrote for Macfilos gives details of that.

    {Here is a link to that original article – Ed]

    https://www.macfilos.com/2015/02/23/2015-2-20-the-1940-super-baldina-for-nine-guineas-and-red-sails-in-the-sunset/

    William

    • I too inherited my then late father’s camera, an Ensign Selfix 16/20 from 1954. I’ve no idea how much it cost, but when asked my mother said it was a fortune. It wasn’t really up for what I needed for art college. Limited aperture, a handful of shutter speeds and I had guesstimate the focus but my dad did provide a handy photo guide wedged inside the ever ready case. It did for a year however until I got the Rollei. I still have that (the Ensign) too.

  27. Mine first proper camera (besides a Halina 126 Instamatic which I’d had since I was 14) was a Rolleicord VA which my mother bought me so I could have decent tool for Art College. It was £75 and we bought from W A Brady & Son on Smithdown Road in Liverpool in April 1975 for my birthday. That day mum and I had been to every camera shop in Liverpool City Centre looking for a Rollei without success. The last port of call was Brady’s within walking distance of our house. I saw it the window, I thought my mum was going to deck me “You mean we’ve trailed all around town and it’s here”. Any we bought it, I still have it.

    • Thanks, Philip. That was a good “proper” camera for starting. I am impressed that so many readers still have their first camera. I was never one for holding on to cameras and would always seek a way of part exchanging or selling. For instance, I have no idea what happened to the Agfa, but I feel absolutely sure that I part exchanged it for an SLR sometime in the mid-sixties. Unfortunately, I cannot remember. I really wish I had kept the Agfa and other cameras I’ve owned, but I’ve had to console myself with buying replicas from camera fairs.

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