My Ten Dollar Camera
How a thrift shop introduced me to film photography.
Taking photographs has been a hobby of mine for over a decade and I am only 18. Clearly photography has evolved from a hobby of mine to a passion in that time. I began shooting with anything that had a camera whether that be my parents' cell phones or even my Nintendo DS. I moved onto taking photos with my iPod Touch when I wanted an upgrade. Within a few years I had a Sony Cybershot because it was my chance to take photographs on a device meant to take photographs. When I saved enough money, I then purchased a Nikon D3200 and thought I was a professional all of a sudden. Around this time I was also beginning to take photos on my first iPhone. By the time I was 16 my Nikon broke where the lens attaches to the body, so I had to save for and purchase a new one. This time I switched to Canon, and purchased a Rebel T6i. Since then, I have not purchased another digital camera, unless you consider iPhone upgrades.
The hiatus I took from upgrading to a new camera was unintentional, but very much so necessary. At 18 years old I can easily tell you I cannot afford a camera with better specifications than my current DSLR. Prices for a camera body alone can soar above $2,000. Imagine a high school graduate dropping almost $6,000 for a camera body and a lens or two; not happening.
By mid-August it dawned on me that I may actually have to upgrade once again, even though I just told myself in June I am fine with my entry level, soccer mom camera, because I was about to move to Manhattan to attend art school as a photography major. Of course, I tried to persuade my dad into adding a few thousand dollars to the student loans to let me buy a more professional camera to use at school, but he refused. Turns out college is really, really expensive. When I was denied access to professional equipment I doubted that I would succeed at college. I thought everyone would have a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV or something expensive like that.
In my first three weeks at college, I have not even touched my Canon DSLR. It is not because I refuse to or because I do not want to, but because I made the greatest accident earlier in August.
When visiting my cousin Willow at her mom's house in Jersey, we decided to spend some summer-job-money well. Where else to do so then at Goodwill? I searched the store for fun graphic tees, records of older artists I may or may not know, and some kitchen supplies for my dorm. It was at checkout that I found what I did not know I was looking for for so long.
On the top shelf of the glass checkout counter sat dusty old jewelry, some other accessories, and, lo and behold, a 35mm film camera bearing the Minolta logo I had only seen once before. I quickly recognized the "passed" sticker on its hot shoe and looked for a price. On a faded red sticker I saw the surprisingly low price of $9.99. I told the cashier right away I'd like to see that Minolta on the shelf there. As I did, the man behind me interjected with "I was just going to ask the same thing". Talk about good timing on my part.
I brought the camera into my car and checked it out a bit. It looked like I was going to need a rare battery and some 35mm film. I went to CVS that night to find out the battery is not sold there—great. The next afternoon I went to Best Buy and could not find the battery again. I asked a sales associate and she checked the stock status of the battery online. Turned out it was in the back. She went back and came back with nothing around five minutes later. I thought I was out of luck, but she wrote down a few more numbers that must have been part of identifying the product number when she got back to the register. She went to the back once again, and came back with my special battery. What a relief.
I got home and got straight to work. I threw the battery into the camera body then fondled with the side to try to load film. Yes, it required a YouTube video for me to realize how to open the film holder. I popped open the back of the camera, loaded film, and turned on the camera. Its one by one inch screen lit up a few numbers representing ISO and aperture, but the film that was supposed to load automatically did not move a millimeter. Luckily, I had only loaded the film too modestly. I pulled the film leader further and onto the sprockets of the camera's leader. I shut the back and it began to automatically load.
Since purchasing my Minolta Maxxum 7000, I have shot four rolls of film. I bring my camera to special locations, shoot unique photos, capture candid moment of my friends, and forget about everything I shot. My second two rolls were strictly self portraits for an assignment in college. I developed my first two rolls at a place in Chinatown because of how inexpensive and quick it is there. Boy, did I love what I got out of it. My second two rolls I developed myself in my college's darkroom with some instruction from my new friend.
What I realized after my first few weeks at college is that a film camera is actually required. Not knowing this, because colleges do not send out supply lists like middle schools, I found myself extremely lucky to have stumbled across the Minolta I did at Goodwill. I have not seen another working 35mm film camera at any other thrift shops. I realized how much I actually lucked out when I accompanied two other students in purchasing some camera and darkroom supplies. Turns out, 35mm film cameras in New York City sell out fast this time of year because there are so many art students in need of one. There was one left at each store we went to, and they retailed at over $200 for just the camera body and over $100 for the lens. The students I was with bit the bullet and bought the last 35mm film cameras at B&H and Adorama, but I stood there in disbelief at their purchases because of my preconception that film cameras were supposed to be super cheap.
The morals of this story are simple, and yes, there are a few. The first is to never overpay for a camera; it is the talent of the photographer that makes a photo great, not the camera. The second is to value photography more; shooting film has made me recognize when it is appropriate to take a memorable photo. Being used to shooting digital, whether it be on my DSLR or my iPhone, I have always shot the same scene at least five and up to 50 times because I could easily go into my library afterward and remove the shots I do not want. On film, you get one shot and you are finished. Unless you can afford to shoot the same scene or subject several times, film photography gives the photographer a sense of speciality; making each photograph something unique and something to remember.