As a boy I’d love to toy around with my Dad’s camera equipment; (only when he was not around, for he was strict as hell!). Later in college I’d use these cameras at functions, parties, picnics etc.
His favorite cameras included an Agfa Ambiflex with interchangeable lenses (a 35mm and a 70 mm telephoto, if my memory serves me right), a Canon AE-1, and a Roleiflex.
Though the Rolei was originally designed for 120 roll film, Dad had a kit that converted the camera to take 35mm spools. I still have this camera and will occasionally load in a spool of film just to keep the mechanism going.
The Rolei has a simple chart behind it that helped with exposure settings.
Based on light conditions and the ISO of the film, the appropriate settings were read off the back of the camera and inputted via the two small dials in front; one for aperture the other for shutter speed.
That done, one adopted the unique stance of cradling the camera at the bottom, holding it at waist level and peering into the opened viewfinder on the top.
The knob on the side brought the image into focus. Only when satisfied with the overall composition did one dare to depress the tiny button on the bottom right that released the shutter.
Purely by trial and error was I forced to learn the association of film speed, aperture and shutter speed. And gradually, over time, began to appreciate the finer points of photography like compensating for shadows, for instance, or the perils of shooting into the sun.
This was film photography and even simple screw-ups could lead to disastrous results and, believe me, I’ve had more than my fair share of disappointing, often embarrassing, mishaps.
A roll of film had only 36 exposures, and each photo opportunity needed to be carefully considered. Was the photograph worth taking…was the light sufficient…which was the best position to shoot the image from? Exposure settings were checked and double-checked. Once the shutter was released, not only would there be one less available exposure but it would also take days to confirm if the photograph was acceptably taken!
I used these cameras from the mid 70’s through the 80’s. These are a few examples of my initial photographs:
I can still recall the feeling of excitement and (often nervous) anticipation on my way to the local camera store to collect the prints I gave for development.
All I could afford those days were black and white prints, 2½” x 2½” (120 roll film; the ones on the top) and later 3½”x2½” (35mm film; the ones at the bottom). These were so small that it was often difficult to recognize individual people let alone read their expressions!
All said and done, however, tiny though those initial photographs were, bereft of color and now, weathered with age they would, and still will, unfailingly release a flood of memories each time they are viewed.