Film Fridays: Requiem for all my broken analog cameras
Another one of my film cameras has died and now my drawer of working ones is looking bare while my junked camera drawer is crammed full. Loss seems to be an inevitable part of the experience of collecting, using and appreciating old analog gems. So what can we learn from this?
For starters, it teaches us to accept the fact that most film cameras, especially those with plastic components, will eventually break beyond repair with frequent use. And so we must avoid paying sky-high prices for something that won’t last (looking at you, Olympus mju-ii). We can also prepare for inevitable loss: if you own a film camera you love (and the price has yet to inflate too much), snag a couple minty ones and set them aside for posterity. Even if you never use them, they will almost certainly appreciate in value. Likewise, hang on to broken models to harvest for parts.
But perhaps the most important lesson shooting with old analog relics teaches us is to enjoy our time with the cameras we love! Baby them if you must, but not to the point of leaving them at home or in your bag. With that said, what follows is a requiem of sorts, for some of my favorite film cameras lost in the line of duty. Some of these served me well, some didn’t even make it through their first roll. But all of them brought me joy and / or taught me lessons. None were babied…
Above: My sad collection of busted film cameras. The XA (lower left) died this past weekend.
Cause of death: Beer festival ‘mishap.’ Maybe still works (info LCD fried)
The year was 2012, I was in my early 20’s, had just moved to New York City and was ready to dream big. At the time I naively thought that by searching long and hard I could track down a bargain on a fully-functional Ricoh GR1, the hottest little film compact camera I’d ever laid eyes upon (despite knowing that most have faulty LCDs). These cameras were already fetching too high an asking price at the time, but I was determined.
Eventually I hunted down a sweet deal on Ebay and pulled the trigger on the one you see above. The top LCD worked for the first two weeks then fried out. The seller refunded me some of the cash, and I kept on using it, that is, until one revelrous evening with some friends in Philadelphia, and we’ll leave it at that.
Sweet Ricoh GR1, you taught me to be realistic in my quest for film cameras, to avoid to-good-to-be-true deals and to be wary of overpriced, trending models, especially ones with known faults.
Cause of death: manual focus jammed shortly after purchasing
Shortly after the GR1 fiasco I became fascinated with rangefinder cameras after spending a little time with a Leica M Monochrome (for work). I loved the ability to see subjects before they entered the frame. So I set out to find a budget Leica-like model and ultimately settled on the Yashica Electro-35.
The first two copies I picked up both ended up being duds with various issues. One had completely fried electronics despite the sellers’ insistence it was ‘fully-functional.’ I should’ve taken those experiences as a sign that perhaps this wasn’t the model for me and given up, but I was stubborn.
The third Electro-35 appeared fully-functional upon its unboxing. I loaded it up with film and shot maybe three frames. On the fourth frame the manual focus locked up completely, never to budge again, despite various lubrication attempts. It’s now a big, lovely-looking paperweight.
Dearest Yashica Electro-35, I barely knew you but taught me the valuable lesson to trust my instincts and give up on cameras with too many quality issues.
Cause of death: Slipped in rain, smashed to ground, film advance broken
Several years after the Yashica debacle, the urge to once again shoot with a film rangefinder became too much to bare. I spent considerable time doing my research this time around and settled on the Leica CL (Leitz Minolta CL).
I quickly found a solid deal on one that included a mint camera and a Rokkor 40mm F2 for just under $500 (circa 2015-ish). I can only guess that the lack of ‘Leica’ branding on the camera helped save me a few bucks. I gobbled the deal up quickly and proceeded to shoot with the combo for several years. Eventually, though, one dips one’s toes in the Leica tide and is swept out to Leica sea: And the time came for me to upgrade my CL to a Leica M6.
But one fall evening I was feeling nostalgic and decided to toss the 40mm back on the CL and take it for a spin. A little later that evening I slipped on wet leaves while walking up a steep incline (damn Seattle hills) and the camera hit the pavement hard, busting the film advance mechanism. Fortunately, the 40mm Rokkor escaped unscathed (they now go for nearly $500 on their own in mint condition).
Sweet Leica CL, you taught me to look for camera models listed / sold under their less-obvious names. You also lead me to my Leica M6 and Rokkor 40mm combo, thank you.
Cause of death: Flash bulb died (I may yet try to fix this one)
Many years after first getting my hands on a Ricoh GR1 I once again became intrigued by Ricoh point-and-shoots while testing one of their modern GR’s for DPR. After some heavy research I learned the GR1 lineage began with the Ricoh R1, which has a 30mm F3.5 lens and fewer features.
I was able to find one for around $100 and was blown away by its sleek design and outstanding results, even it the body felt like it would crack if you pressed the shutter release too hard. I love this style of camera for low light photography, but when the flash died one day, so too did my interest in shooting with it.
Beloved Ricoh R1, you were a real pleasure and maybe some day I will fix you.
Olympus mju-II (Stylus Epic)
Cause of death: Shutter stopped firing ‘out of the blue’ after one two many drops
Oh Olympus mju-ii, how can I count the ways I love thee? Once my R1 died I decided it was time to find a film point-and-shoot with a better reputation for reliability. After much reading, the Olympus mju-ii / Stylus Epic seemed to be the camera for me, with its weather-resistant body and sliding lens cover. I picked up two for a little over $100 a piece (haha).
This was in 2015 and the price of these cameras has skyrocketed since. The one shown above died only a few weeks prior to my most recent camera loss. But I will say, in the 5 years I had it, I easily sent 60 rolls through the camera, many of which from the pit of rowdy concerts (not the most gentle conditions). So I think I got my money’s worth with this one.
My cherished mju-ii, you are probably my favorite film point-and-shoot I’ve ever owned. I’m glad I was able to get past your hideous 1990’s-era design to find true love. And I am even more glad I hard the foresight to tuck away a third minty one before the price got insane.
Cause of death: Film no longer advances, gear slipping.
Last but not least is my dear Olympus XA, which just died a few days prior to publication while out on a kayak trip. I was photographing some crazy teenagers jumping off a bridge into Lake WA (if your friends jumped would you? ) when the film advanced suddenly locked up and then slipped. I rescued the roll, but the camera will advance film no more.
This loss is still a little too recent and I do not have words for my loved Olympus XA at this time. Please check back later.
Losing a camera sucks and it’s easy to get caught up on a particular model, but the world is filled with a seemingly endless buffet of used film cameras, just waiting to be uncovered. And nothing beats stumbling onto one you’ve never heard of and being delighted by its quirks. So the next time one of your cameras goes to the big Yodobashi Camera Store in the sky, I implore you to not replace it with a carbon copy. Use it as an opportunity to try something new.
When my aforementioned Olympus XA died, I used it as a chance to get my hands on a half-frame camera, something that I’ve long wanted to try. Now I’m happily shooting with a Canon demi EE17 and couldn’t be more excited (though I still purchased a minty XA to save for some time far in the future). Ultimately life is full of fleeting moments. Good times come and go, as do good film cameras. Enjoy them while they’re here and be excited for what’s to come!
Do you have a favorite film camera that died a noble death? We’d love to hear about it, share your story in the comments below.
Above: My latest acquisition, a Canon demi EE17, procured for about $100.