Film Camera Provenance

Film cameras have a provenance.  And that makes buying them fun.

Provenance Defined

You’ve heard the phrase provenance on many TV shows about auctions, art, collectibles.  This is what Wikipedia says about provenance.

Provenance, from the French provenir, “to come from”, refers to the chronology of the ownership or location of an historical object.[1] The term was originally mostly used for works of art, but is now used in similar senses in a wide range of fields, including science and computing.

In plain English, “who owned your camera”.

Uncle Paul, the Africa Camera, the Nikon Nikkormat FtN

My very good friend Paul died at the age of 50.  My kids called him Uncle Paul.  Knew him for 23 years.

When he was alive he showed me his Nikon FtN and telephoto lens that he took to Africa around 1971.  He was about 22 when he saved up enough money to visit Africa before his first year in college.  He didn’t go on safari.  He hung out in Africa, walking around, taking pictures of lions, dining with cannibals (honest), and drinking Coke at a local fast food stand.  Great stories.

His camera was an Nikon Nikkormat FtN.  Its original price in the late 1960’s was $279.50.  Paul purchased the FtN, a 50mm lens, and a telephoto zoom lens.  $400 solid.  I wonder how many hours he had to work as a school janitor to afford that camera gear?

His camera is alive and well, and recently tested.  Here’s one photo in my Chicago, IL backyard.

Nikon FTN, Flowers and Bokeh

Purchasing a Film Camera, Think Provenance

Anytime you purchase a film camera, find out if it has a story, a provenance.

On TV, people do this to increase the re-sale price of the object.  If you’re purchasing a 100 year old camera that was used to photograph World War I, you may have an incredibly valuable camera.

Even if the film camera is from a garage sale or Craigslist, it still has a provenance, a history.  So when I purchase a film camera, I enjoy the camera’s story.

Film camera provenance is just another reason why collecting film cameras is fun.  Ask someone where the camera has been, who owned it, what it was used for.  You may enjoy film camera provenance as much as I do.

Selling your Dad or Mom’s Cameras, Think Provenance

If you’re thinking of selling all of your dad’s cameras, stop a moment and think provenance.  Nobody will ever treasure that camera like one of your grandchildren might treasure it.  Keep at least one film camera from your parents, and sell the rest, maybe.

Uncle Paul’s Africa Camera

And by the way, Uncle Paul’s Nikon Nikkormat FTN that went to Africa sat in my basement for 7 long years after his death.  One day I went looking for it.  I found it.

I’ve been collecting and shooting film cameras ever since.

Zeiss Ikon Contaflex IV

I love this old camera.  It brings out the German-American in me.

Thank you to Karen Nakamura of Photoethnography

I learned of this German delight courtesy of Karen Nakamura’s Photoethnography website.  If you like film cameras, especially film cameras, you need to visit the Photoethnography Equipment page.  Very good technical details of this camera are found at Ms. Nakamura’s website at Zeiss Ikon Contaflex IV.

Richard’s Reasons to Purchase a Zeiss Ikon Contaflex IV

Here’s one reason to purchase a 55 year old Zeiss Ikon Contaflex IV camera.  Taken in my back yard in Chicago, IL, USA.


Zeiss Ikon Contaflex, Flowers w Bokeh

Beautiful Bokeh

This camera is why I purchase old film cameras, test them, and show photos to friends.

It’s a beauty.  The light meter still works and yes its uncoupled.  You flip the light meter cover, check your settings, think and adjust aperture/speed, then press the shutter.

And the shutter makes a wonderful sound.  I can easily take photos at 1/30, maybe even 1/15 and have no camera shake.

$12 dollars on eBay for this wondereful camera.  Looks good, feels good when you shoot, still works like it did in 1956 when it was made.

This is why I purchase old cameras, learn how to use them, and shoot film.  Here’s a quirky shot taken during a torrential downpour in my car going northbound on Milwaukee Avenue around 8:15 AM.  It may look underexposed, but it actually is a good photo.  Enjoy.

Zeiss Ikon Contaflex, Underexposed, Gloria on my Dashboard

Gloria the Hippo in a Chicago Rainstorm

Beware of Film Transport Problem (Germans make mistakes)

Many older film cameras present a problem (or two).  That’s just another reason I like film cameras.  I learn their “interface” (I’m a computer guy, kind of) and learn how to use the camera.  Some cameras are easy to learn, some are hard, and some are buggy.

As I recall I had trouble advancing the film on the Zeiss Ikon Contaflex IV.  Silly me, I followed the manual.

A Mr. Butkus has many old, film camera manuals on-line.  Visit the manual he posted at Zeiss Ikon Contaflex IV manual.  As I recall from looking at it, the instructions on page 28 of the manual were wrong.  Wind the film “opposite” the German instructions.  My best advice, what I always do, is take old expired film and run it through the film transport for practice.  (I purchase old expired 35mm film at garage sales just for this purpose.)

If you visit Mr. Butkus’ website enough, make a PayPal payment as your way of saying thank you.  He does good work.

Will you purchase a Zeiss Ikon Contaflex IV ?

Mine cost $12 on eBay.  It was a bargain.  And yet I’ve seen them “sold” on eBay for $40 to $50.  It’s always nice getting a bargain.  This Zeiss Ikon Contaflex deserves another photo.

Zeiss Ikon Contaflex, Flowerpot

This is fun telling stories about my old film cameras.  I hope you’re enjoying the journey.  Tell your friends about what is a film camera and leave a comment if you have time.  Thanks.

Why do people collect film cameras?

Why do we collect cameras?  Like many things, it is both simple and complex.

Camera Collecting is Simply Fun

How do you define fun?  Ask a kid, what does he or she say?

When I was older than 5 but less than 10 years old, I would play “fort” with my friends in Skokie, Illinois.  We played in the empty lots or prairies of Skokie digging holes, making little tunnels, covering our holes in the ground with dead tree branches all in the name of fun.  I’d come home filthy with reddish dirt all over me and my parents would tell me to take a bath.

Luckily, they never asked me why I played “fort”.  It was simply fun.

Why is the Canon Auto 35F Simply Fun?

What a sweet little camera.  Was it simply fun when I found this little camera at an alley garage sale on Chicago’s northwest side during the late summer of 2010?  Was it simply fun when I thought the camera looked familiar and later realized it was the offspring of the well regarded Canon Canonet G-III 17 that cost me $120 that same summer?  Was it fun when I purchased it for $5 not knowing if it would ever work (like many garage sale cameras, it needed batteries)?

Was it simply fun when I came to realize my Canon Auto 35F took photos every bit as good as its older brother, the Canon Canonet G-III 17?  Here’s a wonderfully crisp photo taken with the Canon Auto 35F.  Notice the lateral streaks in the pond?  They were there that day and they certainly appeared in the photo.

Canon A35F, beautiful pond

Since I am new to camera blogging I’ll borrow from others on the Internet who have come before me.  These remarks on the Canon A35F come from The Other Martin Taylor with my thanks.

The Canon A35F is an all but forgotten 70’s, consumer rangefinder.

Here’s a camera you might just find in among the plastic disc and 110 cameras at your local thrift store. For a cheap, true rangefinder experience the A35F is pretty hard to beat.

If you’re looking to begin with a film camera, you could do a lot worse than purchasing the Canon A35F.

  1. Very nice “glass” as they say.  A nice lens that gives you very good photos.
  2. Feels good.  It has a nice heft to it, made primarily of metal.
  3. Kind of manual.  You do need to focus the camera.  Sight through the rangefinder.  It will show you the aperture selected (not the shutter speed).  If there’s not enough light, you can’t take a photo, no manual override.
  4. Looks good.  It’s black and looks nice.  Really.
  5. Cheap.  I found mine for $5.  Even though I like this camera I wouldn’t purchase it for more than $10.  Why?  Because if the battery is dead, you don’t know if the camera is working.  Even after purchase you’ll need to buy a battery for $5 to test it.  Tell the seller, “I don’t know if your camera works.”.  And mean what you say.

I collect film cameras because…

Yes, it’s fun.  But the answer can be simple to complex for each person.  My various reasons for collecting cameras are:

  1. An early hobby.  When I was about 30 I was pretty interested in photography and owned one camera with 2 lenses.  It was a Nikon EM I believe.  Now I have more time and a bit more money to devote to something I enjoyed.
  2. Good machinery.  Most of my cameras are examples of good machinery that still work.
  3. Provenance.  Each camera has a story, a provenance.  I think that’s the fancy name for it.  Each camera that I purchase has its own story, and I write down those stories.  I especially enjoy Chicago area garage sales where I can chat with people, ask if they have a camera, and then tell them what kind of camera they own.
  4. Quirky interface.  Since I am part computer guy (software training), I do enjoy that each camera has an interface that I need to learn.
  5. Photos.  And yes, I actually take film photos (and a few digital).  And my film photos are becoming better and better.

 Why will you collect film cameras?

In time, people asking “What is a film camera?”, soon find themselves purchasing film cameras.  And then the fun really begins.