Features

Relive the good old moments with vintage cameras

Professional snapper Stephen Waters explains the charms of classic photography kit and a DSLR-free life outside the studio

Lomo cameras have sparked a big analogue revival in recent years, but they’re not the only way to get into vintage photography.

I started buying classic cameras five years ago and now have around 50, dating from between 1900 and 1960. I’m a user rather than a collector, though. The thrill is in producing amazing images with something that has been gathering dust in someone’s attic for up to 100 years.

It all started for me when my daughter bought a 1950s ‘Grey Baby’ Rolleiflex. Watching her process the negatives and sharing the excitement of seeing the film come out of the developing tank soon got me hooked. The next weekend I picked up a 1955 Kodak Brownie Cresta in a charity shop, and the rest is (slightly costly) history.

Yet you don’t need a fortune to get started. Now is a good time to buy vintage cameras, provided you haven’t set your sights on classic Leicas. Rarer Rollei TLRs can cost around £3000 (~S$6080), but you can find pre-WWII models for less than £50 (~S$100) on eBay. And ’50s Bakelite Kodak Brownies, which you can pick up for a fiver online, are a great alternative to Dianas and Holgas for ‘Lomo’ work.

So why bother when a DSLR is so much easier? Sure, there is no instant gratification with vintage photography – just loading the film can be tricky on some early cameras. But it’s way more exciting not knowing what you’re going to get until you process the negatives.

Scanning the negatives does take a bit of practice. For high-end results you need to invest in software like Silverfast (silverfast.com) or VueScan (hamrick.com), both of which demand some time investment. But it is also pretty easy to get acceptable results with an Epson Perfection Photo series flatbed scanner (from £100 (~S$200), epson.co.uk) and its bundled software.

My dream camera find would be a Reid III Rangefinder. This British Leica copy was produced in small quantities in the 1950s using German designs obtained by the Allies during WWII. But with those fetching four figures, I’ll be happy sticking with these three classics for a while yet.

Purma Plus 1951-1959 - The gravity camera

The British company Purma Cameras Ltd was founded in 1935 by Tom Purves, a commercial artist, and Alfred Mayo, the engineer responsible for this camera’s unique gravity-driven shutter. The shutter speed was determined by weights and springs that sped up or slowed down the mechanism according to the orientation of the camera.

Held horizontally, the camera would default to ‘medium’ (1/150sec); a turn to the right would produce ‘slow’ (1/25sec) and to the left ‘fast’ (1/500sec). The 127 roll film produced 16 4x4cm square negatives, so composition was not compromised. Genius!

Rolleicord I (aka ART DECO) 1933-1936 - The steampunk pioneer

This nickel-plated beauty was the first Rolleicord twin lens reflex camera from German firm Franke & Heidecke. This model is considered to be the most innovative of the classic Rolleis, with its advanced focusing system, wheeled frame counter and parallax correction.

Pristine samples can be pricey, but this well-worn example cost just £30 (S$60) on eBay. The corners have been repaired by a previous owner with hand-painted riveted panels, which, together with the brass showing through the nickel plating, give it a wonderful steampunk chic.

Keep it simple

There are some real bargains to be had on eBay by searching for basic terms. Many eBayers don’t research the names and models of what they’re selling, so simply ’old camera’ or ‘old film’ can often strike gold.

Go off-piste

Charity shops are also great for classic cameras and have the advantage that you can check before you buy. They’re a safer bet for folding cameras, where a tiny pinhole in the bellows can cause infuriating film fogging.

Ignore sell-by dates

Defunct film formats can yield surprising results. The photo of the Lennon statue in Liverpool (see opposite page) was taken in 2014 on film that should’ve been binned five years before the Beatles played there.

Roll your own

If you can’t get unexposed vintage film, another way to make your camera usable is to tape modern 120 film (in total darkness!) inside an old 116 backing paper to produce a panoramic negative.