I got my first camera when I was 22. I’m not counting the Brownie camera I inherited from someone when I was a kid. It had a lens that I think was made from the bottom of coke bottle, but was not as sharp. My father took a lot of pictures, all of them awful. My mother painted, but I never saw her pick up a camera. In those days, cameras were either very expensive or junk. Typical, middle class families didn’t usually have “real” cameras, but everyone had a Brownie box camera. The quality of which might be okay or horrible, depending on luck of the draw.
I had a friend who was a photographer. He even went to a real photography school. I got interested in pictures. Started looking at books of photography. I learned how to process film (though I never learned to like the chemicals) and make prints in a dark room. As I was about to leave on my first vacation to Martha’s Vineyard — before it was “the hot” destination it later became — my friend gave me a camera.
It was an old Praktica with an f2.8 Zeiss lens. No automatic anything. Manual film loading. No light meter. There were three settings: film speed (now ISO), shutter speed, and f-stop. Since the lens was a fixed focal length, telephoto meant running forward for a closeup, and back the other way for a wide-angle view. Agility and speed counted, especially because focusing was manual too.
That trip to Martha’s Vineyard with that first of many 35mm cameras was the beginning of everything. You can read more about it on ALFRED EISENSTADT AND ME.
I’m amazed my pictures came out at all. But they did. Not only did they come out, they came out amazingly well. From that point on, I was hooked. Throughout the 48 years since then, I’ve stayed hooked on photography. I have a decent eye for casual portraits and landscapes. I’m getting better at other things and modern equipment makes experimenting with various types of pictures easy. Which is good because running back and forth would not work for me these days.
Even relatively cheap modern cameras have more technology packed in them then the most expensive cameras had “back in the day.” The only thing that has not changed and cannot change (because there are physical laws that apply) are optics. Lenses. Glass. There are properties attached to a lens that are immutable. Optics are. You can’t negotiate them. They are a physical fact.
No camera, no matter how advanced, will ever be better than the lens through which you take the picture. That’s why your phone is not as good as a real camera with a good lens.
It doesn’t have anything to do with software or any of the bells and whistles modern photographic technology tries to sell you. Bottom line, it’s all about the lens. If you have a good eye and a sharp lens, you’re in business.
I work at photography, but mostly, I play at it. It’s fun. I know many photographers who are better than me. Some of them are not merely a little bit better, but a lot better. I am awestruck by the work they do. Most of them have far better technical skills than me and frequently, better equipment than I can ever hope to afford.
But I really love taking pictures. Photography has been my hobby my entire adult life. It has saved my sanity when everything else in my life was going horribly wrong.
Of all the hobbies I can think of, it’s the only one for which you will never grow too old. It never gets boring. You can take it with you wherever you go. These days, you can share your pictures with the entire world online. It gives you a reason to get out of the house when you ordinarily wouldn’t bother. It’s a way to be creative without needing a special room or expensive equipment. Because even if all you have is a cell phone, you can always take pictures. A good eye can overcome mediocre technology … and no amount of great equipment or software can make up for a poor eye.
So grab your camera. Go forth and take pictures!