I have had an interest in photography for most of my life, taking and sharing lots and lots of photos of my family and our adventures as our children grew up. I also take lots of photos of aircraft and aviation subjects such as airshows, aviation museums and other aviation events.
Often I’m asked about my photography equipment, specifically what camera and lens I used, so here’s a narrative history of my photography equipment over the years.
Kodak Beau Brownie No. 2A
Growing up as a young boy there always seemed to be a camera or two lying about. I began exploring photography using those cameras, first an old Kodak Beau Brownie No. 2A. Likely, it had been my grandfather’s camera that ended up at our place. It used 116 roll film on a wooden spool and had two viewfinders, one for portrait and one for landscape, along with a corresponding tripod socket for each orientation.
For exposure, the shutter speed was adjusted with a sliding metal plate. There was one speed for normal photos and another where you could hold the shutter open for as long as you needed – now it’s called “bulb”. For the aperture there was another sliding metal plate with three different sized holes. Exposure was trial and error.
No film was available at the local camera stores so I wrote to Kodak in Toronto and they sent two rolls, complimentary, and a letter with the history of that model produced in 1923.
I still have that camera as a collector’s item.
Kodak Junior 620
My family also had a Kodak Junior 620. That camera used 620 roll film and had modern adjustments for various shutter speeds and apertures, and a little built-in tripod leg. I used this camera to photograph family and some landscapes.
Those were the days of roll film and taking those precious rolls to the local drug store for developing and printing. With great expectations I would wait a week or so to see how they all turned out, some with success!
YASHICA LYNX 5000
As a teenager, in April 1968 I bought a brand new 35mm rangefinder camera, the YASHICA LYNX 5000. It had a 45mm f/1.8 lens with a between the lens leaf shutter with speeds from 1/1000 of a second to 1 second, plus bulb. This is the camera that I used to learn a lot about photography, including technical stuff such as ASA film speed, shutter speed, aperture, depth-of-field, hyper-focal distance, electronic flash, etc. I used an awful lot of colour slide film learning all this new stuff but most of all I learned about lighting, composition and framing for an uncluttered background.
After a few years with this camera I really got into photography and progressed to black and white film and my own darkroom for developing the film and making prints up to 16 x 20. I felt like I was becoming a real photographer!
I still have this camera and I just might start using it again.
Graflex Speed Graphic Press Camera
During high school I was a member of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets and one summer I spent six weeks with the Royal Canadian Air Force at the base at Camp Borden in Ontario. It was their first cadet “Technical Training Course” and the first two weeks were on photography. Just what I wanted!
The course was taught by RCAF photographers and we used the big Speed Graphic press camera. That’s the one you see in the old movies used by the newspaper photographers who had a sign in their hat saying “PRESS”. It used 4×5 sheet film which you had to load in the darkroom. The film carrier on the back of the camera had a sheet film negative on each side, and it had to be flipped over between exposures. After taking our photos around the Base it was back to the darkroom for developing and printing. I learned that I was developing a real interest in all this photography stuff.
In 1971 I bought my first 35mm Single-Lens Reflex (SLR) camera, the Minolta SRT-101 equipped with a 58 mm f/1.4 lens. I had searched and read magazine article after magazine article, visited several camera stores comparing various makes and models and finally decided on the SRT-101. At the time I was working in the camera department of a local department store. To my surprise, the buyer for our store got me a real deal on the price, and had my name engraved inside the camera. I took it everywhere; it was built like the proverbial “Tank” and it took a real beating.
I learned an awful lot more about photography like penta-prism viewfinder, inter-changeable lenses, focal-plane shutter, through-the-lens metering, depth-of-field preview, mirror lock-up, infrared film and filters – lots of filters, and shooting night photography and fireworks. The Minolta SRT-101 served me well for several years, then it was time to upgrade again so it was sold to make way for my next SLR.
My next Single-Lens Reflex (SLR) was the new Nikon FE when it was first released to the market in 1978. It had a NIKKOR 50mm f/2.0 lens. The Nikon FE was considered an advanced semi-professional camera that introduced me to aperture-priority auto-exposure mode, exposure compensation, multiple exposures and the extensive family of NIKKOR lenses. The light meter in this camera is exceptional and I would mount the camera on a tripod and take night photos. The camera would automatically calculate a correct exposure time of up to several minutes!
The Nikon FE was used at many airshows in the Hamilton area. This is the camera I used to take most of the photos of our children when they came along and for all our years as a young family. I still have my FE and it still works 100%. Recently, I bought some Fuji film to try at the Abbotsford Airshow but with all the smoke from the forest fires this summer I put that off until some other time.
After taking my camera along to so many aviation events and family adventures, I began to realize that I was spending too much time looking through the viewfinder rather than seeing and appreciating what was happening in front of me. My camera was used less often now and eventually hardly at all.
Several years passed, decades, and film technology was dying being replaced with digital cameras. These new cameras have so much capability, produce pretty good results and require very little effort to operate; or so most people think. I regard these new digital cameras as “advanced computer systems that can also capture an image”. One must take the time and effort to learn the myriad of options available to get the most out of these cameras. Almost every time I use one, I learn something new.
Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FZ20
In 2005 it was time for my first digital camera; the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FZ20. The lens was made by LEICA and had a 12x “super zoom” optical range (36-432mm equivalent) with a constant f/2.8 aperture. This camera has an amazing zoom lens with great close-up capability, along with auto-exposure and optical image stabilization.
This camera kind of got me back into photography and airshows. The children were now grown up and on their own so I had more time to learn this new technology, which I quite enjoyed.
After several years it started to show missing pixels, then died. The cost of replacing the motherboard was almost the same as a new camera, so now it sits on a shelf at home next to the Kodak Beau Brownie No. 2A.
Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FZ100
In 2010 I bought an updated LUMIX with improved capabilities, the DMC-FZ100. This model had an even better lens than the FZ20 with greater zoom capabilities, and captured higher resolution images.
I used this camera for various aviation events and family functions for several years. It was still a good camera but after visiting the Heritage Flight Museum in Skagit, Washington, I decided it was time to have a more capable camera. The FZ100 was sold to upgrade to a Digital Single-Lens Reflex.
Nikon D7100 DX
In January 2016 I bought my first Digital Single-Lens Reflex (DSLR), the Nikon D7100 DX crop-sensor camera with a NIKKOR 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. Nikon regards this camera as an “enthusiasts” camera. It was a big step up from the Panasonic LUMIX cameras. The D7100 has more advanced features to enhance the taking and the making of the digital images.
In addition to auto-focus, “Vibration Reduction” technology is built into the modern Nikon lenses. I could still use my old lenses from my Nikon FE that I purchased in 1978! They mount perfectly, manual focus of course, and when the D7100 is in aperture-priority mode the shutter speed is adjusted automatically by the camera for the correct exposure. Not bad for a modern camera working with a 40 year-old lens!
After four years the D7100 DX was traded-in for a just released full-frame Nikon FX DSLR.
Nikon D90 DX
In 2018 I bought a used DSLR camera off craigslist, the Nikon D90 DX crop-sensor with an 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. It had a very low shutter count and came with an extra battery and camera bag, all at a very good price. It has proven to be a great DSLR for airshows and some family photos.
Looking back I probably should have bought a new D90 in 2010 rather than the Panasonic FZ100. I have used the D90 a fair bit with good results but will likely be selling it soon.
Nikon D610 FX
In September 2019 I bought another used camera off craigslist, the Nikon D610 FX full-frame DSLR, (body only). Again this camera had very low usage, shutter count 1780, and it came with an extra battery and a 128GB SD memory card.
I hadn’t really planned on this FX model as I had been eyeing the Nikon D750 FX full-frame camera and was waiting for its replacement. The D610 FX was such a good deal I couldn’t pass it up.
My Nikon D610 FX now is normally paired with an AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR lens.
Nikon D780 FX
I had been using a DX crop-sensor DSLR camera for four years and wanted to upgrade to an FX full-frame DSLR. The wait was on for the replacement for the D750 FX full-frame camera. In January 2020 Nikon announced that the long awaited replacement will be known as the D780 FX full-frame camera, to be available in February. I purchased my D780 (body only) in mid-March. Since I also have the D610 FX, I traded in the D7100 DX to ease the blow on the purchase price. Just two days later the COVID-19 lockdown came into effect.
A couple months later I added the AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR lens.
Due to COVID-19 all the airshows for the 2020 season have been cancelled so I expect less usage this summer than anticipated. The Nikon D780 FX will likely be my last new camera. I hope to learn it well, then try to wear it out!
All these cameras may sound interesting but they are just tools. I try to remember that it’s not all about the “focal length and f/stops” in front of the camera that counts, it all depends on what’s behind the camera that really makes a difference.