Old Cameras - Black Rocket Photography, LLC

This page is dedicated to three of my old film cameras.  These cameras were my mentors.  They taught me how photography worked.  Unlike today, you did not get to see the image as soon as you took it.  You got to see it when the film came back from the lab.  If it was out of focus, or over exposed, there was no software to quickly adjust it.  Basically you got it right, or you didn't.  You either learned how the camera worked, and understood what went into getting a good picture, or you wasted a lot of money paying to have bad pictures developed and printed.  If you really want to understand photography, grab an old manual film camera and let it teach you. 

My three "besties".  A Kodak Pony 135 Model C, a Ricoh TLS-401 and an Olympus omPC.

The picture above shows three of my film cameras.  My father's Kodak Pony 135 Model C, my Ricoh TLS-401 and my Olympus omPC.   What follows on the rest of this page is a bit of my personal photography journey.  These are not all the cameras that I own.  But these were among the first, and they each have special significance. 

Kodak Pony 135 Model C

My father bought this camera around 1956. It was used to take hundreds of slides of your truly as toddler. Dad purchased the whole set-up, including the bolt on Flash. As you can tell, she has seen a lot of wear.

When I was 16 years old I took part in a coast to coast bicycle trip.  Along with a group of other young men I rode my Schwinn Super Sport from Lincoln City Beach, Oregon, to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.  The trip covered 3,375 miles and took 33 days. 

Dad let me take this very camera on that trip. I took about 6 rolls of color slides. It was my first adventure into photography. After the trip I loaded the slides up into a carousel projector and went around to churches and community groups and told the story of my trip.  I just wish I could find those slides today!  

The Pony was totally manual, and pretty much an exercise in guess work.  You focused it by estimating the distance to your subject and set that distance with the black dial on the front of the lens.  You then chose a shutter speed and aperture based on what film you had loaded and whether it was sunny or cloudy.  These were set with the second dial on the lens and the lever on the top.  Looking at the top view of the Pony, the dial on the left did nothing for the pictures. It was just to remind you what film you put in the camera. The dial on the right counted the times you wound the film, but you had to remember to reset it when you loaded a new roll. The lever on the left of the lens is the shutter. You have to cock it each time, and if you forget to wind the film you will double expose your shot.

Alas, the pony has taken its last picture. After years of being in a drawer at my parents house, the focus no longer works and the shutter is a bit "iffy".  Perhaps some day I'll see if I can get it repaired, but for now it has been retired.  Below are a few pictures from my childhood that were taken with this camera.  You can see that if you guessed well on the settings it could take some pretty nice shots.

Ricoh TLS-401

My next camera was the Ricoh-TLS-401 shown above.  I learned more about photography from this camera than I have from any camera since.  Although I still liked taking pictures, I would not say I was a very serious photographer in high school.  Kodak had come out with these clever little "Instamatic" cameras that used a drop in film cartridge and took decent pictures.  So most of my photography in high school was done with one of those. 

Near the end of my freshman year in college one of the guys on my floor was in debt to the bookstore and he was not going to be able to graduate until the debt was paid.  To remedy this he held a "sale" out of his dorm room, basically selling anything and everything he owned.  He had a pretty impress impressive music collection (remember LPs?), but he had sold most of them and still needed a bit more cash.  I noticed that his camera was also for sale, so I asked him how much?  "Fifty bucks?" he said.  Now I had no idea if that was a good price or not and I really knew nothing about the camera, but the deal included the camera in a leather case, a telephoto lens, a 2x converter, and the camera bag, so I went for it.  It must have been a good deal, because the camera still sells on eBay for about what I paid in 1976.

The Ricoh was my first SLR, and was a big step up in terms of quality and capability.  Like all cameras of that era, everything about the camera was manual.  It did have two neat features.  First, there was a light meter in the viewfinder.  So you could look in the viewfinder, and adjust the exposure until the little needle moved to the center of the meter and be pretty sure of getting the right exposure.  It also had a viewfinder in the top of the camera, so you could hold the camera up to your eye like any other camera, or you could turn a knob on the side and look down into the top viewfinder if you had the camera on a tripod.  

The built in light meter created another "feature" of this camera.  As you adjusted the aperture, the blades actually closed.  Even the Pony did not close the aperture blades until the shutter was pressed.  I assume this was because for the light meter to take its measurements, it needed to close the blades.  This resulted in the view finder getting very dark if you stopped it down very much.  Since it was a manual focus camera, taking pictures outside on a sunny day required you to open the aperture, focus the camera, then stop it down, often to the point where you could barely see the subject in the view finder.  If the subject moved, you had to open the aperture, re-focus, and the close it down again.  Needless to say, action shots were not a strong point for this camera.  :)  You can see the aperture blades partially closed in the pictures above.

It was with this camera that I really got serious about photography.  I purchased a flash and some filters for it and started taking pictures for the yearbook.  The first photos I ever sold were a set of black and white shots of campus speaker.  I was taking pictures of him for the yearbook and he needed some shots for the jacket of a new book.  After getting permission from the yearbook I sold him a few of the shots for $50.  So in one go I made back the cost of the camera! 

The camera came with a 50mm f1.7 (that is not a typo) lens.  The telephoto was a 135mm f2.8. I don't recall using the extender much, but it does still work.  I took a lot of portraits and few engagement pictures for college friends with this camera.  I plan to take this old girl out again this spring.  I'll post the results here when that happens.

Olympus omPC

My last film camera was this Olympus omPC.  I graduated from college, got a job, got married and kept taking pictures with the trusty Ricoh.  A couple years into my new job I was asked to go to our site in England and conduct two weeks of training for the staff there.  I thought this might well be my only chance to see Europe, so I made arrangements to tack some vacation on to the end of the trip and made plans to pay my wife's way so we could enjoy a European vacation.  

The Ricoh was bulky and heavy and I was not looking forward to hauling it around Europe.  Since I now had an income I thought it was time to get myself a new camera.  Auto focus cameras were just coming out, but they were expensive and required special lenses.  I decided to stay with a manual focus camera, and settled on the Olympus.  It was a good value and the PC in omPC stood for "Program Camera".  In program mode the camera would decide the aperture and shutter speed needed to get the right exposure.  All you had to go was focus the lens and shoot.  There was still a manual mode if you wanted control, and that little needle in the viewfinder of the Ricoh was replaced with a digital version in the Olympus.  We took the omPC on the vacation and shot an album full of memories.    

I ended up buying a Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm f2.8 telephoto zoom lens and a motor drive.  With the "film burner" attached I could shoot 3 frames a second!  Of course, with a 36 exposure roll of film that meant I could shot for about 10 secs.  :)

The Olympus served as my primary camera until I bought my first digital.

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