My first camera was a Nokia E51 phone. It had a measly 2MP camera at the back, and took atrocious pictures. Still, I was happy enough with it that I brought it on my first 2 trips to the US, and took lots of grainy/blur tourist pictures, opened a picasa account and proudly displayed them. A few months later, I traded up to a Nokia N82, which had a dedicated xenon flash and 5MP pictures. I took this to my first (and only) Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC in 2008, and proudly told my then-girlfriend, “Why would I possibly need your 3MP P&S camera, when I have an awesome 5MP camera???” How ignorant I was.
Soon after, I purchased a Canon Rebel XS (aka 1000D) and a kit lens, and started my photographic journey proper. Now, this was my first dedicated camera, and what a big jump it was! I went through the normal gear-acquisition-syndrome wherein 2 more lenses and an expensive (but lousy) flash were purchased. The first six months, I took pictures of everything I can think of – leaves, snow, cherry blossoms, birthday parties etc. Looking back, I must have taken more than 5,000 frames in those 6 months.
Then in the summer of 2009 came my “Strobist” phase, courtesy of David Hobby from the strobist blog. Funny thing, we actually live pretty close to each other, not that he realizes. Got myself a Sigma 500DG Super, a Canon 540EZ, and a el-cheapo Blazzeo wireless trigger. Cheap, but it was lots of fun. Light stands, umbrellas etc were next on the list.
2010 was the year I was to wed, so a wireless shutter release and a new Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 were purchased for me to take ‘engagement’ shots with my fiancée. Taking self-portraits was not easy, and certainly a lot of work. Got myself a copy of Adobe Lightroom 3 beta to process the files effectively. It was then that I realized I had taken over 10,000 frames on my trusty Rebel! *Pops champagne!*
The Next Big Thing for me was really the Previous Big Thing for most people – Film cameras. With professionals turning digital in droves, these erstwhile tools of the legends could be had for a song. Except no one told me, and I picked up a Pentax Spotmatic F w/ 55mm f/1,8 SMC Takumar for a princely sum of $200! I loved that camera, but it’s not seen much use of late. More on that in a bit.
I went through no less than 20 cameras in the next 3 months. Buying old cameras is strangely therapeutic. Every camera I get, I look up online and read about its history, and that of its maker. I began to explore the different camera types, including rangefinders, SLRs, TLRs, and various medium format cameras. I also got my hands on a almost new enlarger, and for the first time reconciled my photographic experience with that portrayed in pop culture (dark rooms, safelights, and chemicals). Developing my own film necessitated the acquisition of a quality scanner (Epson Perfection v500), which has regrettably seen little use since I have been shooting with different cameras which often did not perform up to expectation (mostly due to inaccurate shutter). Nonetheless, so taken have I been with film cameras that on a trip to the Netherlands, I brought with me only a point-and-shoot, and a Yashica Electro 35 GSN.
Getting into film was the first time I experienced the rich heritage of photography. I became aware of Life magazine, and the beautiful pictures its staff photographers took. I read about people like Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson (a personal hero) and many more in the book “Life Photographers: What They Saw“. For my reading material, I moved away from technical books (by authors like Bill Hurter, Michael Freeman, etc) and towards monographs, narratives, and even old Life magazines from the 50s.
An observation I made was that so many of these great photographers shot with Leicas, and I knew that I really wanted one too. Now, up to this point, the film cameras I had purchased were mostly cheap (<$50). Then at the end of 2010, I got my first (and so far, only) Leica M2 + 50mm Summicon Collapsible for ~$800. This was the beginning of multiple >$100 lens purchases that’s set me back some. I’ve since added 2 more M-mount and 2 LTM lenses to the line-up, and also a Voigtlander Bessa R as a second body. Missing the convenience of digital cameras, an Olympus E-P2 was obtained with an M-adapter to couple to my Leica lenses. That’s a pretty nifty set-up for street photography.
I will end this rambling post here, and write more about my thought process and post a few pictures in the coming weeks. Let’s hope my enthusiasm for this blog does not die off soon.