Tuesday Titans: The Contax 645

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The almighty Contax 645 and 80mm f/2 Carl Zeiss lens. I took this shot when I had to sell this dream combo. Perhaps one of the greatest camera systems ever made?

Wow, what can I say about this one?

The Contax 645 is a Medium Format autofocus film camera introduced by Kyocera in 1999. It was part of their 645 system, an ambitious foray in the (then) professional portrait and wedding world where medium format was king.

I got the Contax 645 in 2008 and had the pleasure of using it for a few years, but eventually had to sell it. I’d always say that I would only sell this camera if I had to pay the rent. Guess what? I had to pay the rent 🙂

I had actually gotten the camera initially because I had done a couple of weddings, was thinking of going down the weekend weddings path, and was thinking of adding something different and unique to my wedding portraits. Looking back now, it was just another excuse for G.A.S. but man, if you have to have an excuse for another camera, the Contax 645 is IT!!

I apologize for not having more photos of the camera. When I sold it years back, I never thought I’d be writing about it one day on a blog 🙂

This is by no means a complete review of the Contax 645, just my memory and experience with it. I do have photos made with this camera and will be updating this article, once I can rescan and put them together. I couldn’t write enough to do the camera justice.

THE CONTAX 645 BODY

The Contax 645 is a modular system with removable backs, prisms, and lenses. You can even add a nice (but expensive) accessory battery holder/vertical grip (the MP-1).

The body when fitted with AE prism and film back feels very solid and is as beautiful to look at, as it is to shoot. The viewfinder is beautifully bright and contrasty. I believe there was actually a waist-level finder for this camera.

From the shooter’s perspective, the top right of the camera contains the shutter speed (32-1/4000 in AV mode) and exposure compensation dials. The mode (B/X/M/TV/AV) dial and AE lock is also located on the top right.

The left side does not have a top “plate” so to speak, but it contains the dial for drive (single or continuous at 1.6 fps). The camera runs on one 2CR5 battery, but can run on four AA batteries with the optional MP-1 grip.

The Contax 645 is still popular with wedding and portrait photographers today due to its ability to use compatible digital backs and if you’ve got this setup, this would be the ultimate digital portrait system in my view.

PERFORMANCE

Ergonomically, I had no complaints. It’s a Contax and all the controls are well laid out. It’s one of those cameras I could use without a manual and that to me is always a sign of a good camera.

The Contax 645 is an autofocus camera and unlike the Contax AX 35mm camera I wrote about, the AF on the 645 is quite good and definitely usable.

While there were quite a few lenses for the 645 system, I only used the 80mm f/2 Zeiss Planar so I speak only to my experience with the camera and this lens. I do not know how it performed with any other Contax lenses.

It was not an EOS or Nikon speed demon, but I did not remember having issues with it, except in very low light conditions. I think you’d be fine with this for those wonderful outdoor wedding portraits.

The 80mm f/2 Zeiss Planar is one of the fastest lenses available in the 645 format. I believe only the manual focus Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 was faster.

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The lens, as expected, made for wonderful portraits. The lens was beautiful wide open for portraits with bokeh that seemed much smoother than other Zeiss lenses I have used. Perhaps it was the extra shallow DOF that you can get with medium format, but the bokeh on this lens was not quite as “nervous” as the Zeiss lenses I have used in the 35mm format.


BOTTOM LINE

If you’ve ever read any of my articles on Contax, you will know that while I love Contax cameras, I’ve always blasted their electronics as brittle and unreliable.

I’m happy to report that in the three or four years that I had the Contax 645, I never had that problem. Oh, there was one time when the camera started focusing erratically, but it turned out that it just needed a new battery.

It seemed to me that Kyocera put everything they could into making the Contax 645 the best camera that they could make.

The Contax 645 is a highly desirable camera. With its usable AF system, and an arsenal of superlative Carl Zeiss lenses, it is an incredibly capable image maker. To this day, it is considered one of the premier systems in all of medium format photography. It is a camera that can take film or modern digital backs making it versatile enough for the old school film die-hard or the modern digital artist.

The Contax 645 is without a doubt a Camera Legend and perhaps one of the greatest cameras ever made.

WHERE TO BUY?

If you’re thinking about a Contax 645, I have to burst your bubble a little bit and say that with Kyocera out of the camera business, buying a Contax 645 is a bit of a risky gamble.

The reason for this is that if something goes wrong with the camera, Kyocera’s contact in the USA, Tocad, will no longer repair them. I’m not sure who does.

The good (or somewhat good) news is that there are not many reports of these cameras needing repair, just do a search. However, as these cameras approach twenty years on the market, they are getting older and as with any camera, there’s bound to be many ready for retirement or in need of repair.

I would imagine that since the camera is incredibly popular with pros, there should be someone or some place out there repairing these cameras. But in my research, I haven’t found any. I believe they still repair them in Japan, but I will have to do more research.

When I got the Contax 645 in 2008, I paid $1200 for the whole outfit with 80mm f/2 lens, film back, and AE prism. A complete outfit in the same excellent condition today runs for $3000 or more. I’m glad I sold it when I did and made a little profit from the sale 🙂

A Mamiya 645 AF or AFD system is probably a better alternative if you are looking for a similar medium format system that will still be supported.

Now, if you still have your heart set on the Contax 645 Kit (body, 80mm lens, AE prism, back) is trending at $3000-3500. I have seen the kit on eBay with the 45mm f/2.8 Zeiss lens going for around $2300.

For this camera, with its delicate electronics, I would definitely recommend buying from a place with a good returns policy. For that you may try HERE and HERE.

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The Best Camera I Never Knew Part III: The Contax Tix APS Film Camera

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The Contax TiX from 1997. Perhaps the most beautiful Contax point and shoot, but doomed by being born an APS film camera.

I have to admit I’m a big fan of Contax point and shoot film cameras from the 90s. There was just something special about the whole series.

While I stand by what I wrote in earlier articles about the fragility of Contax cameras and their brittle electronics, I loved the concept, the feel, and execution despite the feeling that I could never really rely on them completely.

THE CONTAX Tix

The Contax Tix (pronounced T…i…x as opposed to Tix, I think!) is a high quality point and shoot camera introduced by Kyocera in 1997.

The camera featured a Carl Zeiss 28mm f/2.8 Sonnar T* lens and used the infamous and now defunct APS (Advanced Photo System) film system. The camera was the smallest of the Contax film point and shoots.

The camera has autofocus, a shutter speed range of 15 seconds to 1/1000, and came with a data back for date imprint. It was powered by one 3V CR-2 battery.

WHY IT DIDN’T JIVE WITH ME?

The last two cameras I profiled (Rolleimatic and Rollei A110) didn’t jive with me because they didn’t work. That was NOT the case with the Contax Tix.

A little history…I got my first Contax point and shoot, the original Contax T, in 1997. That was a superb little manual focus rangefinder and I got some wonderful shots from that thing. Basically, after the Contax T, I was hooked on Contax for a while!

I got the Contax Tix some time in the mid 2000’s, mainly as a curiosity and to add to my collection. I did not expect to use it often because even at the time of the introduction of the APS film system in 1996, I was never really interested in that format. Even back then, I wondered why would anyone bother with this over 35mm?

The 35mm format already had its limitations vs medium and larger formats and I felt like APS was a step backwards.

The negatives were smaller and despite the stuff you were able to do with it, ie, the three image formats, 16:9, 3:2, and 3:1 aspect ratios, as well as the quasi-panoramic mode, I wasn’t into it. I just thought they were gimmicks, but even if they were useful to some, I would take the larger negative of the (already relatively small) 35mm standard over APS any day.

So back to the Contax Tix. Yes, the camera worked and worked well. I used it for two or three rolls of snapshots expecting good quality, but most of the shots from this camera looked excellent!

I’m sorry I have no pics to show you now because as mentioned in the last couple of postings, I am without my main working computer and using a 10′ Chromebook. I would still need to scan these prints.

My assessment of the 28mm f/2.8 Zeiss Sonnar on the Tix is this…The lens is excellent, as expected. It is very sharp. Not as bitingly sharp as the lens on the Contax T3, but still sharper than most point and shoots. But my favorite part is that the lens seemed to have more of a classic look, a soft/sharp kind of thing like the 38mm f/2.8 Sonnar on the original T or T2. So, in my opinion, the lens on the Tix was in between that of the T3 and T/T2. That’s almost perfection right there!

So the camera itself was never a problem. The fact that it used APS film was what didn’t jive with me and why I got rid of it.

If looking for one of these, prices have been trending steady for years at a low of $70 to around $150 with an average of around $90. The camera came in silver or black which is a bit more rare.

If I were to seek one out today, I don’t think it would take me too long to find one. And there are apparently places that will still develop APS film if you send the film out to them. But I’m already dealing with enough dead or outdated systems like Polaroids, 127mm, 110mm, etc that I wouldn’t bother with APS film right now.

BOTTOM LINE

The Contax Tix is a beautiful, jewel-like camera. I feel that this camera could’ve been THE best of all the Contax point and shoots, but unfortunately it was and will forever be hindered by the format it was born with, the APS film system, which is probably one of the biggest flops in film history.

Now before any APS film fans get mad at me, I want to say the concept, and indeed the quality of APS film was not bad. If I recall correctly, there were even some APS films that equaled or exceeded its 35mm equivalents in magazine tests.

In many ways APS was “pre-digital” film. It wasn’t designed for ultimate quality, but instead was made for easier development (with machines specifically designed to take APS film, of which one can guess the companies also hoped to make money selling) and promised smaller, lighter cameras. It foresaw almost all that we see in digital point and shoots today!

But APS wasn’t friendly for the home developer. I’m sure someone must have done it, but I haven’t met anyone who actually home developed APS film. You actually had to bring that film into the store as each film cartridge was locked and coded. The main problem for APS film was timing. It was introduced in 1996 right around the time the first wave of digital cameras were coming in.

In only a few short years it was killed by digital, but somehow managed to hang on till 2011 when Fuji and Kodak, the last two APS film manufacturers ceased production of this film forever.

Again, in many ways, APS had some key concepts that made its way into digital such as switchable aspect ratio, smaller cameras and lenses, and of course APS lives on in our memories by the APS-C sensors which is approximately the same size as APS film. This is the lasting legacy of the APS film system I guess.

The Contax Tix was one of those cameras that I loved as a camera. It had a wonderful lens and beautifully small proportions. The Tix is probably at the apex of APS point and shoot cameras. It is no doubt a camera that added to the Camera Legend of Contax/Yashica.

It is a camera which was only held back by the APS format that it was created for and a camera of which I was never able to realize its full potential. The Contax Tix is a superb camera that unfortunately became one of…the best cameras I never knew 🙂

Note: Still waiting for my Mac in repair, but the show must go on! While I have created a workflow with this Chromebook, I have noticed it is becoming painfully slow the more I use it. Thanks to all who continue to visit, I appreciate it, and I continue to write about cameras for you my friends.

The Best Camera I Never Knew Part II: The Rollei A110

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The Rollei A110. One of the Best Cameras I Never Knew 🙂

I will have more from this year’s PhotoPlus Expo I promise you, but today I’m going back to the core of this site, which is classic, collectible, and interesting cameras.

The first in this series was a camera from Rollei called the Rolleimatic. It was a camera designed by Rollei camera design legend, Heinz Waaske.

Today’s “best camera I never knew” is also…a Rollei! And also designed by Mr. Waaske and his design team 🙂

It is called the A110 and it is a super cool looking miniature, pocket camera that takes 110 film. I know a lot of people who think 110 film is extinct, but you can still readily get it through Lomography or Amazon.

Lomography will also do the developing if you send the film to them or drop it off in one of their stores.

THE CAMERA

The Rollei A110 was introduced by Rollei in 1975.

The camera is a funky little thing. The camera relies on scale focusing and has a focus range of about 3.2 ft to infinity. There is an orange focusing slide below the 23mm f/2.8 Tessar lens. In the viewfinder are symbols to give you an idea of what you should choose to focus on depending on how far away your subject is. The symbols include one person, a group of people, and a mountain (infinity).

Pulling the camera “apart” and closing it advances the film and cocks the shutter. This is definitely a Waaske design trademark!

The camera is auto exposure only and originally took a 5.6v PX27 battery. The modern day replacement for the battery is a S27PX silver battery that is 6 volts. This small difference could effect the exposure, but with the wide dynamic range of most films you should still, in theory, get a usable shot.

WHY IT DIDN’T JIVE WITH ME?

Why? Why you ask? I got two of them from eBay. Both didn’t work! 🙂

The sellers swear they were working, but I suspect both sellers did not know much about the camera. Many are probably found in their parents or grandparents camera collection and being auctioned off by people who have no idea what they are selling.

Fortunately, I got both of them cheap. First one for ten dollars, second one fifteen. If seeking an A110, they usually run from $10-50, with an average of around $30. They usually come with a presentation case and a cool chain. If you’re lucky, you can get the whole shebang with presentation case, leather case, chain, and flash.




WHY BOTHER?

With the exception of hardcore film lovers, and I do count myself as one, this camera doesn’t make a lot of sense.

It takes 110 film which is not widely available and of which development is only available in select speciality stores.

The image quality will not exceed what you can get with 35mm film or even today’s higher end cell phones.

So why did I want one? First, I am a camera hunter and I love old, classic cameras, and even more so if I can find them cheap. The A110 fits that bill. The very first camera I ever used was my Mom’s Kodak 110 camera from the 70s, so there’s a bit of nostalgia in it too.

Secondly, I’m a fan of Tessar lenses, so again, the A110 fits that bill. And lastly, even if the image quality would be less than 35mm, the A110 could possibly give me a unique film look, which is something I’m always after.

So guess what? I’m on my third A110, which I got for $30 and this one IS working! Got film in it now, but it is unfinished. Then when the film is done, I still have to send it out for developing and that might take a while.

So until that day when I can see the results from the quirky, eccentric, classic camera, the Rollei A110 will remain…The Best Camera I Never Knew 🙂

Note: If you want to see a great review of a WORKING sample of this camera, please check out this review at DOWN THE ROAD a great blog by Jim Grey who also reviews classic cameras with excellent photo samples, as well as elegantly and honestly sharing his personal life experiences. It’s a great blog worth checking out!

Some Film Images Part I

No dear friends and readers, I have not run out of Camera Legends to profile for you. However, from time to time, I’d like to put up some images I’ve taken over the years, if only to remind myself that I still love photography and also so that readers of this site can see that I actually DO use the gear profiled 🙂

Like many of you out there, I really love cameras and lenses. But just as importantly, I love the equipment more if it helps me take a decent picture.

The photos below are a random sampling of the gear and the photos I’ve taken with them. Some of the cameras used to take these shots have been profiled. Some are previews of possible future postings.

They are not masterworks or anything. Many are from my attempts to learn or test equipment. Most were taken for just the pure joy of photography.

I thank you for taking a look. And not to worry, I have more great gear to profile and review for you coming soon 🙂

Note: Most of these images were posted elsewhere on the web years ago, long before I knew anything about WordPress. As such, some were resized to dimensions much smaller than I’d like to show you, but as I cannot find the originals at this time, this is what I can post. Sorry about that.

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“Mom in DC” 1984. Kodak Disc Camera. This image represents one of my earliest attempts at photography, at least the ones I could find. Shot with the long defunct and defiled Kodak Disc Camera, a camera that was bashed by critics and consumers alike. However, I have to say, I really loved that camera and this image brings back a lot of memories.

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“Ghetto Blaster” 1985. Minolta X-700, 50mm f/1.7 MD lens. My brother and father with our Cutlass Supreme which we called the “Ghetto-Blaster” with its missing hubcap 🙂 Thirty one years in time, but I’ll be darned if that golden light on the print doesn’t still look as golden as the day I took this shot.




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“Bangkok Bride” 2005. Olympus Stylus Epic, 35mm f/2.8, Kodak High Definition 400 film. Shot in Bangkok, Thailand.

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“Holy Petal” 1995. Contax G1, 28mm f/2.8 Zeiss Biogon, Fujichrome Velvia. Taken at a temple in Bangkok, Thailand.

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“Portrait Of An Addict” 1997. Olympus OM-1, Zuiko 50mm f/1.8, Kodak Tri-X. An attempt to self document one man’s horrible addiction to cigarettes. This photo was accepted to Flickr’s “Film Is Not Dead It Just Smells Funny” group, which is quite a selective bunch so I was honored by their acceptance of this pic.

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“Mannequin Fantasy” 2006. Ricoh GR1, Fujicolor Press 800.

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“Lots Of Love” 2008. Leica R8, 90mm f/2 Summicron-R, Ilford XP2. I was honored that this image was profiled on Leica’s LFI “Analogue Masters” Gallery a few years ago.

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“Rainy Day Blues” 2009. Leica CL, Canon 50mm f/1.2 LTM, Kodak Tri-X 400 developed in HC-110. I was sloppy and something went wrong with the development and I got the blues after seeing the ‘damaged’ roll . But since photography is such a subjective, sometimes emotional thing, I developed a liking for the look of some of the ‘ruined’ images.

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“Masked Shooter” 2008. Contax RX, Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 lens. The man with the clandestine figure, the Masked Shooter, has probably shot nearly a thousand cameras 🙂




Flashback Friday: The Olympus M-1 Film Camera

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The Olympus M-1 35mm slr. Basically an OM-1 with a few external and internal differences. The most obvious give away is the “M-1” logo on the top plate of the camera. Otherwise, the M-1 and OM-1 are cosmetically and functionally the same.

The Olympus M-1 is a 35mm SLR introduced by Olympus in 1972. It is the original OM-1.

The M-1 was originally a part of the Olympus “M System” as they called it. They were all set to go, even having a full set of lenses made to support the M-1. Only one thing they forgot…Leica already had an “M System” out!

From all accounts, Olympus changed the designation of the M-1 to the “OM-1” because Leica protested the use of the “M” and “M System” as it conflicted with their M series rangefinders and their lenses.

The M-1 is basically an OM-1, which is among the finest and most iconic systems camera ever made. A modern masterpiece from the brilliant mind of the late great Yoshihisa Maitani, the genius camera designer of Olympus.

There are some differences between the M-1 and OM-1. Main thing you need to know is that the M-1 says “M-1” on the top plate and it cannot accept a motor drive.

There is a wonderful page that tells you everything you need to know about the M-1 if you google “Olympus M-1 film camera.”

As a camera, it has an all manual 1s-1/1000s plus bulb shutter and originally took a PX-13 mercury battery, which has long been outdated/outlawed. The battery is only needed for the meter and yes, the camera can operate without a battery. You can use a replacement battery and my recommendation would be the Wein MRB625 Zinc battery which at 1.35v is closest to the original mercury cells.

RARITY, PRICE AND COLLECTABILTY

This one is not as easy as it looks. While the M-1 is certainly not as common as the OM-1, I don’t think I would call it rare either. “Rarer” would be a better word I guess.

They don’t seem to come up for sale often, but you do see them at fairly regular intervals on eBay, usually by sellers who stress that it’s “RARE.” I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but you know what I mean 🙂

I got mine for $40. It is not in perfect condition, eyepiece and focus screen looks to need replacing, viewfinder needs cleaning, but the shutter works though I haven’t tested it for accuracy. It’s going to be a fixer-upper for me which should be fun.

I have seen people asking up to $500 for this camera, usually on eBay, but they ain’t getting $500! 🙂

Most camera lovers will know or search and find out that the M-1 is basically an OM-1, a camera you can get anywhere from $10-150 dollars depending on condition and how much you want to spend.

A more consistent and fair price for this camera I think is around $150-250 in excellent condition and preferably with a lens thrown in.

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“Zuikoholic” 2009. With the black Olympus OM-1 and 40mm f/2 Zuiko lens. As far as I know, the M-1’s were only made in chrome.

Of course, for a collector with money, and if you are a true Zuikoholic you probably wouldn’t mind paying extra just to have that “M-1” in the house 🙂

BOTTOM LINE

The Olympus OM-1 is one of my favorite manual SLR’s of all time. The beautiful styling, mechanical shutter and all manual exposure makes it a pleasure to use just for the pure joy of photography.

When I gave up on my Minolta X-700 from 1985 and after trying Canon and Nikon in the 90s, I settled on a couple of OM-1’s and it carried me through the rest of the decade giving me thousands of precious memories on film. And as the 90s came to an end and digital was dawning, my first digital camera was an Olympus C-3000.

The M-1 being the “rarer” version of the OM-1 makes it just a little more special.

These cameras live on in their OM-D incarnations although I think all the OM-D’s lack the true heft and feel of the classic film OM cameras. As imagers, I think the OM-D’s are great!

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“Generations” 2015. The Olympus M-1 film camera on the left and the OM-D EM-5 on the right. Yes, I know that OM-D needs a little dusting off 🙂

In closing, there is no doubt that the Olympus M-1 (and OM-1) is a true Camera Legend that inspired a whole generation of photographers and continues to influence photographers and camera designers, even today.



Flashback Friday: The Linhof 220

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From 2009, with a Linhof 220 and Tri-X 400 film. This one definitely flew over the cuckoo’s nest! 🙂

Originally written in 2009…

Note: I done told anyone who would listen that my film cameras are far more interesting than my digital gear, and this camera might well be the ‘oddest’ in my collection. It is a Linhof 220, a medium format camera that shoots 6×7, and comes with a fixed 90mm f/3.5 Linhof-Technikar lens.

It’s ‘weird’ not only in its looks, but for a few reasons. For one thing, it’s set up for use mainly for vertical photos, hence it’s more of a portrait camera than it is a landscape camera. I believe it was meant to be a press camera. Of course, you can shoot horizontal if you’d like, but it’s quite cumbersome. It’s also ‘weird’ in the fact that the shutter is a trigger on the pistol grip.

It’s quite a rare bird, but I got her very cheaply (as in less than $100) because she’s got “issues” so to speak. The rangefinder is a bit touch and go, and the camera has a real problem with film spacing, both of which I am trying to repair in my spare time. The times when I can get a good shot out of it, I’m impressed with the sharpness and contrast from the lens, it’s tack sharp.




Update 2015:

Prices for these in good working condition are usually around $400-500 USD. I was able to fix the spacing problem, but the rangefinder is still touch and go. It’s not the most fun camera to use which is why you haven’t seen me post a lot with it, but in my film camera collection it is a standout.

Your best bet to find one of these is on eBay. However, you may also find them through private sellers on Amazon while searching for Medium Format cameras.

The Canon AT-1: The Greatest Camera I Never Knew

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In a hazy cloud of memories, I still clearly remember the first SLR I ever touched, the Canon AT-1.

This is IT. This is the camera that sparked an obsession with cameras that continues to this day. But first, let me introduce you to the camera…

The Canon AT-1 is a 35mm SLR released by Canon in 1977. It is part of the long defunct, but still highly popular Canon FD system.

The AT-1 uses the Canon FD mount and is a no frills, manual exposure only camera. It does however need a 4LR44 battery to operate, which is probably one reason it seems unpopular or overlooked by the “all manual” club of camera lovers.

The AT-1 is probably at the very low end of the classic Canon FD camera lineup, if not the lowest.

However, I have noticed a slight increase in curiosity and desirability for this camera in recent years. It could be due to the low prices these cameras command or the fact that it’s a good learning tool for the novice photographer or any number of things, but this is what I see.

I do have to admit, I am not fond of manual cameras that need batteries and the AT-1 does not just need batteries for the meter. It needs a battery to work at all 🙂

All that said, I love this camera! This is the camera that changed my life, although not necessarily for the better.

This post is not strictly about the Canon AT-1. It is not an official review of a camera a lot of people don’t know, or don’t really want to know about. It’s the story of how this humble “Plain Jane” camera played a key role in sparking the gear obsession that you see today.

FIRST ENCOUNTER

My first encounter with the Canon AT-1 was in 1981. With the help of a family friend, my parents bought a Canon AT-1 so they could take nicer pictures than what they got with their Kodak 110 camera. The funny thing is, they really weren’t interested in photography, they just wanted nice photos.

The family friend had a nice Canon system built around the highly acclaimed and (at the time) hot Canon A-1. He was really a photo-bug and was always showing people his pictures and telling us of the competitions he entered, etc, etc. He was really a very good photographer.

But to this day, knowing what I’ve come to know about cameras, I still find it questionable why this man would select the AT-1 for his friends knowing full well these two people (my parents) could not figure out an aperture or shutter speed from a door knob. Anyway, there’s more to this, but that’s a story for another posting.

Back in 1981, if any of you remember, cameras before the digital age were considered luxury items. Not everybody had a camera, and certainly not everyone could afford them, especially the SLR’s which made you look “serious.”

Today, as you can see, everyone and their Mom has a camera. Everyone is a “pro” with their DSLRs and battery grips 🙂

But back in the early 80’s this was not the case.

If you look back to cameras from the 40’s up until the mid 90’s, before the dawn of digital, you can see that many people treated them like precious jewelry. That is why you find so many with engravings.

As a collector today, I personally hate engraved cameras. Unless it was from a famous person, the engravings devalue these cameras in my opinion and makes me feel like the ghost of the person who engraved it is there with me and that’s a spooky feeling 🙂

They may still be considered luxury items today, yes, but today’s digital cameras, from the lowest to the highest of the high end cameras are known to be “disposable” inherent to their digital DNA.

My parents apparently felt the camera was so precious, they had relatives look after it and it stayed in its case and in the closet most of the time.

When we took our summer vacation in 1981, I saw the camera and asked my Mom if I could play with it. She said to “be careful” but yes.

It was one of those feelings in life that you can’t describe, that money can’t buy. It was priceless. There I was turning the shutter speed ring, twisting the knob, focusing the lens and seeing things come in and out of focus in that beautiful and bright viewfinder. Wow.

FLASHBACK TO 1982

So on our return to New York in 1981, we were allowed to bring the camera back home with us and I was thrilled.

But once back home, still a young boy not a teenager, the camera stayed again in its case in a closet for almost another year.

Now, we’re in 1982 and I was more interested in the ColecoVision video game system we just bought in the summer of 1982.

It was a clear and sunny September day in 1982. My brother and I took a ride from our humble Bronx abode to our family friend’s house in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

We always looked forward to getting away from the inner city neighborhood in which we lived. Our friends had a nice house with a backyard, plenty of space to walk and run, and the complete feeling of safety, at least to us inner city kids.

Only folks who have lived in the inner city can relate to the feeling to “being trapped” in your apartment once the night arrives. No one dared to venture out. NYC had a reputation for being BAD in the late 70’s and into the 80’s and yes, New York earned it 🙂

Anyway, after a wonderful day in Jersey, we arrived at our apartment, I’m guessing around 9-10pm.

When my mom opened the door, she was surprised it wasn’t locked. She was sure she locked it, she always did. When she flipped on the light, (whoomp!) there it is…

The house looked empty. We looked on the coffee table, the ColecoVision, gone. We looked at the stand; the stereo tuner, turntable, cassette deck, all gone.

I looked in the closet for my precious AT-1…gone.

THE TRAUMA AND THE AFTERMATH

Yes, as you can tell, we were robbed. We all stood there in shock. The place felt empty, it felt “dirty.” We were violated. Our privacy had been broken, and our property, taken.

For my brother and I, it was a shocking arrival at the reality of the world which has an effect to this day.

We all know the effect that crime and vandalism can have on our feelings of security. And we all know how much more magnified this effect can have on children. This is what happened to me.

In some ways it made me better, wiser. I’m always looking over my shoulder. Even today.

THE LEGACY OF THE CANON AT-1

So how does that Canon AT-1 fit into this? Well, after the theft and for over thirty years now, I’ve been completely infatuated with cameras.

If I were to take a psycho-analytical look at this, I would say it’s like winning a million bucks, but never getting to use even one dollar. It’s like having a fabulous meal in front of you, but dropping the plate. It’s like tasting the fruit, but getting only one bite. You want more.

So as an adult, after I started working, I started picking up cameras here and there until it got entirely out of control. I tried to remedy this by selling a bunch of cameras on eBay, but then when got the itch, I’d start buying again.

In the recent years, I have tried to curb this “sickness” with modest success. I have pretty much cured myself of the “latest and greatest” syndrome, so I’m not spending a lot of money, but I still fall deeply for old, weird, and decrepit classic cameras 🙂

In all those years that I’ve been without the AT-1, I never had a desire to buy another one until recently. I got one in 2012 for $10 bucks. I have yet to use it.

Not because I don’t want to. It feels fantastic, solid, great viewfinder, etc, etc. But at any time, I find myself using much more interesting cameras, and the AT-1 gets put in the back burner.

The Canon AT-1 is a member of the legendary Canon FD line of cameras, but it may never be a true Camera Legend as its famous and much more popular sibling, the Canon AE-1 is. However, the AT-1 had a more profound effect on me than any camera, past or present. Even if you take away the trauma of the theft, the feeling of holding my first SLR and looking through its glorious viewfinder still resonates strongly in my head today.

Still, until I am able to put a roll of film in it, you can say, without a doubt, the Canon AT-1 is the greatest camera I never knew 🙂