Going Back in Time

I have found shooting 35mm wet film again, a uniquely engaging experience though this first stage of getting familiar again with the whole process from start to finish and resetting my mindset means that it may well be some months yet before I start producing the quality of images that are obviously “B&W” in terms of the results and quality I'm after.

However in the process of all this and reflecting one of my favourite thoughts that “Life is a journey rather than a destination”, this revisiting of my 35mm past threw up a series of unexpected thoughts from the more recent period that led to yet another camera acquisition though with a very different purpose and intent.

A quick synopsis of my photographic past might seem appropriate here. I started shooting “serious” wet film cameras back in the 1970s however a divorce in the mid 1980s led to a suspension of all “hobbies” as I embarked on financial survival and rediscovering just who the heck I was. It wasn't until the late 1990s that I started taking an interest in photography again but the real turning point came in 2000 when I was sent over to the USA to live and work for a time. It was effectively the start of the age of consumer digital photography and I bought a small Fuji digital camera specifically to attach small (640 x 480) still images of where I went to share my experiences with friends and family back home via my regular emails.

Enter the D30

However, this proved enough to reawaken my interest in photography proper so that on coming back to the UK for the Christmas holidays, given that my birthday is just after Christmas and I was earning well at the time, I decided to buy a “good” digital camera because 'digital' was obviously where it was going. At the time the only two consumer models available and both over £2,000 body only, were one from Nikon and the other from Canon and frankly because I hadn't a clue what I was doing, I decided on the Canon D30 because “it felt better in my hand”, yes that is a bit embarrassing to have to own up to now but it is the truth.

The D30 had a grand total of 3.1 mega pixels and whilst Canon released the 6.3 mega pixel D60 in 2002, having looked at it and not been impressed, I decided not to bother with it as an “upgrade” and instead opted for a 5 mega pixel Canon G5 to use alongside my D30. This arrangement worked for me up until 2005 when I bought the 8 mega pixel Canon 350D and I in effect stopped using the D30 which eventually got given away. As one of my Sons told me many years ago, there is no value in old technology however in experiencing the three 35mm cameras recently, I started to think back to that time and just how I had used that D30.

My 35mm cameras come from three different eras and decades, the 1970s, 80s and 90s and each model shows the increasing use of electronics in even “wet film” cameras back then. Of the three, the simplest to use for someone used to digital cameras today is the one from the 1990s, a Canon EOS 1n. It takes modern Canon lenses and has auto focus. But the really fascinating thing is that as per photograph of three bodies from the back, there is an all too obvious design DNA at work here from the 1994 EOS 1n 35mm camera, through the 3.1 mp 2000 D30 right up to the 51 mp 2015 5DS. Now that may seem all a bit nerdy but I find that interesting however I will not blather on about that here and now because there is something else...

Looking Back

As I owned up to earlier, when I bought the D30 back in 2000, I really didn't have a clue about what I was doing and the more I thought back to that time, the more I realised the depth of my ignorance. Although it may seem funny now, the D30 came with a 16Mb CF memory card in the box, I can remember that I bought 128Mb and 256Mb CF cards and they were considered to be of “mega” capacity back then. In these days of super fast multiple gigabyte memory cards that are so cheap, I can actually remember buying two 1Gb CF cards in 2005 at a shop in Bristol and they cost me £50 each which was the going price at the time ! I can even remember that having come from a world of 36 pictures on a roll of film, it took me an age to realise that the limit lay in the card capacity and how many spare cards you had plus I hadn't a clue about what RAW was until 2005, I shot jpegs only and most often likely on AUTO...

But there were other aspects to all that too which I suspect you often see in the “fanboy” consumer mentality of today, I wasn't really doing photography, I had a good income. If I am honest with myself, I was being a consumer and was as intent on buying the bolt on “toys” such as battery grip, spare batteries, external flash unit and so on than in actually using the camera, true I did have a busy working life but even so. Over time I got some good images but often frankly by accident rather than design and it was probably only when I moved down to Somerset (see The Photographers Friend) in 2004 that I really started to work at photography once again and developed my eye for a picture.

This Led To...

Although I certainly didn't need another camera I suppose my conscience pricked me, I decided to have a look on Ebay to see if I could pick up a working D30 body. I got lucky with a Danish gentleman who deals in photographic gear, for under £70 including shipping, I picked up a D30 in excellent condition complete with battery grip, all I needed were a couple of new compatible batteries for it and once that was done it worked a treat ! From a nerdy perspective it is an interesting camera to add to my collection but I was not interested in it as a paperweight or something else to dust, it had to work.

My primary purpose was to use it because there is a part of me that wants to know exactly what I missed back then, using what I now know, can I get this quite humble camera by today's standards, to produce good images ? My view being that whilst there are obvious limitations, it should be the person behind the camera who is more important than the camera itself when it comes to results. Does this mean that I will use this in preference to my 7D MkII or 5DS ?

Hardly but just as I am shooting 35mm in B&W or 120 reversal film, it is another dimension to making me as a photographer work on my creative and technical abilities rather than letting the “gear do the work” which very modern cameras can do for you. I suppose a side effect is to make me appreciate just how far we have come technically whilst reminding myself that however “clever” cameras may become – AI autofocus aids and such things, it doesn't change what makes a good or even a great photograph.

It is not just the “nerd” in me but handling this camera today, I can see how Canon have evolved their camera design, improved it and that reflects both the thinking and expectations of the market. Because this is the first version of a consumer focused DSLR, whilst it is 'missing' features we take for granted today, it is also in a user sense, uncluttered and highly functional in what it does do and that in its own way is very enjoyable.

Below are some images from the D30 from my initial outings despite the very variable light this time of year and whilst pushing the envelope too far will demonstrate that it lacks the dynamic range of modern cameras, under the right circumstances this 20 year old camera can still deliver a picture and I will be playing with it further as we move into Summer.

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