Monday, July 22, 2019

From the Brownie to digital ~ my column from Sunday

I took my first picture at the age of 8 years old. 
My sister Mary Lois let me use her Brownie camera. Taking pictures with the Brownie was simple. You cranked an empty frame of film into place with a knob on top. You pointed the camera, clicked the button, and voilĂ . Cameras and photography have changed since then.
One of the biggest improvements has been with the delivery of the photograph. Unlike today’s instant digital gratification, it took a while to get your hands on the pictures taken with the Brownie.
For one thing, we didn’t take as many pictures. I don’t remember seeing a lot of pictures of the food we were eating. Come to think of it, I don’t remember anyone taking a selfie, so I’m not sure how we updated Facebook back then.
The point I’m trying to make is that it often took upwards of a month to take all 12 pictures on a roll of Kodak film. Then once the roll was full of memories, it took another week or two to have them developed.
My first picture was of Boss. He was the old dog that made every step with me. Waiting for that developed picture was like waiting for Santa Claus. Mary Lois picked them up a few weeks later. Those pictures were 3x5 inch slices of life stuffed into a cardboard envelope.
I must have shaken the camera when I pressed the shutter button because the image came out fuzzy, but I loved that photograph. I thought cameras were magic.
The Polaroid camera changed the game, but I never was a fan. After the camera spit out the picture, you had to wave it around like a church fan to dry it off.
Fast forward to 1971 when Uncle Sam sent me to the Panama Canal Zone. I bought my first camera in a duty-free zone. It was a Canon FTb.
The delivery time for pictures improved significantly because I could shoot a roll of black and white film and develop it myself in the darkroom.  
When the first digital photos came on the scene, most of us old photographers were skeptical. We didn’t think that digital pictures would ever be a match for a hand-printed photograph. Some people
will argue that they still aren’t, but I’ve since changed my mind.
My first digital camera was a used Canon 10D. I was hooked. The pictures were very good, and the camera was fairly simple to use.
Last year I began saving my mad money. That’s the money I make writing this column. My goal was to upgrade my camera. I looked at catalogs, read specs, and customer reviews. I decided on a Canon 80D. It cost more than the Plymouth Valiant I bought when Jilda and I first married.
The camera takes incredible images. The only drawback is the learning curve to use it is steep. It’s more complicated to operate than the International Space Station. 
One morning this past week, I pulled a folding chair down to the backyard fence. With me, I had a cup of coffee and my camera with a 250mm telephoto. On the other side of the fence is our flower garden with sunflowers, zinnias, and other flowers I couldn’t name if my life depended on it. 
We planted the flower garden for our bees, but one benefit that we did not realize is that our garden is hummingbird heaven. 
I’d barely set my coffee down before a female hummingbird buzzed within inches of my face. I sat statue still. For a moment it seemed the tiny bird was going to stick her beak in one of my ears. Fortunately, she zipped back over to an orange sunflower. 
After snapping off a bunch of pictures, I headed inside. Viewing the images on the tiny camera screen made me smile. I was pretty sure I could not have taken the pictures with a Brownie.


  1. I remember the old cameras. And saving up to have them developed, and paying for the duds.

  2. Had a brownie also. The most fun was when the pictures came from the developer like you say, we could not wait to see what we had taken several months ago...always lots of laughs and memories.

  3. I still have a Brownie Holiday Flash camera. It hangs in the pumphouse gathering webs, but I can't bring myself to discard it. When I got into photography in my teens I used a Yashica-A twin lens reflex --because of big negatives, photographed 2 HS yearbooks and sold teen fashion (willing seamstress-models in senior year) photos to S.F. Chronicle. At that time photography was a lucrative recreation. And yes, I loved doing stinks in the darkroom. I hope young folks have as much fun with digital cameras. I leave that technology to Norma now. She's better at it than I know how to be.

  4. I remember using a little 24mm camera. My dad bought it for me to use when I got a job taking photos for the car trader. I remember turning in the film hoping the photos were good enough. We always had to take a 3 or 4 shots of the same image just to make sure. I also remember getting my first digital camera and thought it was the neatest little gadget! My phone has taken over them.

  5. Great column Rick. Good history compacted in these words. I definitely remember those steps. I fell out of step with you at your 'duty free' camera and YOU learning to use it. I did the same for a NIkon. A REAL photographer suggested I buy the Nikon when he saw my instamatic and me at a motocross track taking pictures. I got out of step because I never took the time to really LEARN to use it. One of my regrets. BUT this is a good read dude!
    Sherry & jack back in North Carolina

  6. It was also quite expensive to buy film and then have it developed back then. I loved Polaroids. Then I sadly discovered that they pictures deteriorate over the years and often you can't even tell what they are pictures of. Digitals are the best so far.

  7. Rick, I like all of your columns, but to special note of this one because I am just now at the point of making that digital jump. I'm still shooting 35mm with a Canon AE1 which I have loved using. Because of price, I think I am always going to be using an "entry level" camera. For something comparable to what I have enjoyed with the AE1, I am now looking at the Canon Rebel T6 and the Nikon 3500. I'm leaning toward the Nikon. Wondering if you or you blog followers have any advice?

  8. Good memories of the old brownie. Looking back at some old photos I (an 8 yr old), they were surprisingly clear. Love b/w.


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