IN THE past, the camera was a luxury product used only during special occasions. However, as cameras adopted sleeker designs and became somewhat affordable, they became more accessible to the general public. Although digital cameras have made photography even more convenient than before, some still choose analog cameras in order to savor the pure naturalness of the pictures that cannot be replicated by their digital counterparts. As film cameras are taking the spotlight again these days, The Yonsei Annals explored the evolution of cameras from the past to the present.
As I pushed open the doors, I was awestruck to see the dimly lit camera shop filled with hundreds of vintage cameras neatly lined in rows on every bookshelf. The insides displayed a Victorian interior design: floral and lace table sheets, mahogany wood furnishings, and vintage photos on the walls fits perfectly with the shop since the owner only exhibits and sells analogue film cameras from the 1800s to 1900s from Germany, England, and the U.S..
The invention of the camera added new dimensions to news media and gave birth to the film industry. According to the shop owner, one of the most iconic press cameras is the Graflex model, a rectangular box figure which was first released in 1898 in the United States. This medium to large-sized camera was a must-have device for most photo-journalists in the first half of the 20th century.
If the Graflex model was used for making news, there were separate cameras devoted to movie production. Movie cameras, or cine-cameras are much bulkier in both size and shape. Introduced in the mid-1900s, these so-called movie cameras were equipped with an 8 mm film that recorded different movie clips which were later assembled into black and white movies. While other typical movie cameras resemble a briefcase, the Zeiss Ikon Movikon 8 model is different in shape and is fit for making silent movie clips.
Another popular camera in the media industry is the Argus. As a rangefinder camera, it allows the photographer to measure the distance between the object and the camera. As seen in the picture, the flash is attached next to the camera and interestingly, the lightbulb is disposable, meaning it needs to be changed after taking each photo. This model is also famous for appearing in modern film productions. Colin Creevey uses the camera in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets while Therese Belivet uses it in the Oscar nominated movie, Carol.
The miniature camera
Upon first glance, many might walk past this miniature camera mistaking it as a mere decoration. However, this camera is in fact one of the pricier cameras out there. Labeled the “spy camera,” this camera was introduced for the first time in 1950 by Japan after World War II. Despite its tiny appearance, the camera can take actual photos with a clear image resolution.
The underwater camera
First introduced in the late 1900s, this Canon Sure Shot WP-1 waterproof camera captures vivid colors even inside water while adding a vintage feel to its photos. Similar to its contemporary automatic cameras, these waterproof cameras are lightweight and easy to carry around on trips. Unfortunately, this model is water resistant only up to 1 m. Still, the camera can be quite handy when taking pictures on a rainy day.
An ever-popular model among photophiles, the polaroid camera has its own history before becoming the camera it is today. In the 1950s and 60s, polaroid cameras like “The 800” were so big that they had to be set up on a platform when used for taking photos, unlike their portable contemporaries.
In 1970, Polaroid introduced a lighter version of the Polaroid Land Camera. In the form of a folding camera, the new model allowed people to change the focus of the picture. Although it is 50 years old, it is rather impressive to see how the camera can still print pictures with such vibrant colors.
Also introduced in 1970, the Onestep polaroid camera is even lighter than the previous two models and is more similar to the modern-day polaroid camera. This camera is famous for being the inspiration of the Instagram logo.
After looking around the shop, I finally decided to experiment with the Ihagee EXA camera model, recommended by the owner. Created in the 1950s by the German camera manufacturer, Ihagee, this medium-sized camera model uses a 35 mm film, which is typically only used for smaller cameras. This camera also has a unique structure as the viewfinder is located on the top of the camera. To use this camera correctly, photographers must place the camera near the waist and bend their heads downwards to take a picture. The shutter release is also placed next to the lens on the left instead of the top right, which is the typical spot for modern day cameras.
Each person who rents a camera must take a one-hour training session to properly use all the special features of the camera. The first half of the lecture involves learning about the basic mechanism of the camera, which can be separated into three features: ISO*, aperture, and shutter speed. The second part is comprised of taking practice shots to make sure that the renter is familiar with the camera.
After all the training, it was finally time to go outside the store and experiment with the camera. Despite having much experience in using digital cameras, I found taking pictures with the film camera more difficult than I expected. It was interesting how fragile and delicate the camera felt despite its heavy weight. Since the shutter of this camera acts as a mirror, the picture in the viewfinder is flipped, which made it tricky for me to find the angle I was looking for. However, all difficulties aside, this experience allowed me to have a greater appreciation for the photographers of the past as well as technology that we take for granted today. Also, since the camera does not show the result of the picture right away, not only did it build anticipation and excitement, but it made me concentrate harder and plan more carefully about how to take each picture.
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From heavy box like cameras in the early 1900s, to microscopic camera lenses attached to our smartphones, we can also observe the improvement of technology. Compared to taking pictures with digital cameras, it was significantly difficult to take pictures using analog film cameras. Taking one picture requires you to move yourself instead of the camera, adjust the aperture and lighting, and lastly hold your breath for a steady picture. However, the sound of the shutter clicking, the anticipation that builds after taking one picture, and the devotion put into each picture, make the efforts worthwhile. It also allows you to reflect on how precious it is to capture that one moment in your life.
* In photography, ISO measures the camera’s sensitivity to light. If the ISO is low, the less sensitive the camera is to light.