View Full Version : The Path Not Taken

Drew Bedo
25-Feb-2017, 08:02
The Path Not Taken . . .

Back in the mid 1990s I belonged to a local camera club. I was relatively new to LF photography and slowly feeling my way around on a boot-strapped shoe-string budget. One club meeting took place at a member's home where he showed us his newly completed showroom for all his cameras.

Wow: This was a dedicated room, maybe 20x30, with built in glass display cases full of minty to pristine examples of notable cameras from Minox, through Leicas and Hassle lads . . .and every odd-ball model and format imaginable. Cabinet space below held seconds (and thirds) of the items under glass.

Displayed the center of the room were two huge ultra-large format studio cameras. Yards of bellows held up by intermediate adjustable frames. Everything was glowing wood and leather. Each had a ground glass measured in square feet. Well, this was twenty-five years ago . . .my best memory now is that they were just sooooo BIG. They dominated the center of the display room like the guns of Naverone.

Weeks later I ran into him at a local camera show. I suggested that we could make a few pictures with one or both cameras. He hesitated. I told him that I was worrking at a major teaching hospital where I had access to X-ray film and MRI materials in large sizes. He was not enthusiastic. I told him that I could get the films developed in their appropriate chemistry in the dedicated automatic processing equipment at the hospital.

His eyes began to scan left and right like he was reading something above my head, His blink rate went above 120/mion and he broke out in a cold sweat and blurted, "You mean take pictures?" Then turned his back and walked rapidly awau.

Now THATS a collector. . . .Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Tin Can
25-Feb-2017, 08:09

I have been accused of being that guy.

Collecting cameras is a harmless activity and perhaps aids the sport going forward.

Everybody dies and their collection of dollar bills, homes, cars, prints and cameras are recycled.

I am trying to move. LOL

I do capture souls. :)


25-Feb-2017, 08:16
I remember going to camera shows years ago, and seeing tables covered with black velvet, with impressive collections of large brass lenses for sale (with LOW prices compared to now)... I was talking to a serious collector there, and mentioned that I would love to shoot any of them... He looked at me in horror, and said "you are a user!?!!!", and shut me off right there... :<O

Steve K

bob carnie
25-Feb-2017, 10:19
One of my main cameras is a 100 yr old Century camera , I ripped out the shutter use a lens cap to expose at f22 and I have to put a blackout cloth over the bellows to avoid light leaks.. It has a wicked 480mm lens , (probably worth 5 x the rest of the camera... Ugly setup, not perfect but I love using it.
A collector would say its crap.

25-Feb-2017, 12:53
I amassed a pretty nice collection of folders (mostly 6x9) and box cameras--there's a soft spot in my heart (and head) for those! However, I came to realize that it's a lot of money tied up that could be put to better use. So, I decided to round up and sell anything I haven't used in the past year. (Unless it's just too cool.) I also realized I have about four more 6 in. Petzvals than I'll ever use. I love the old stuff, but in the end I love using it more than I do looking at it. I rarely buy things in new/mint condition because I know there's a chance I reduce the value by simply taking it out and shooting with it. Most of my stuff is in simply very good condition, not mint. After a 2 am trip to the hospital two weeks ago and a big scare, my inclination is to open my closet and cull the herd, keeping only the very best stuff and stuff I actually will use. It's a quality over quantity thing.

Kent in SD

25-Feb-2017, 16:14
I once showed my beat-up old ROC Universal with mismatched wood repairs and taped bellows to one of those 'whole room is a glass showcase' guys. He was polite. I sell to him occasionally at the local camera show, he buys on average 1 camera a year from me. When I get a pristine odd-ball I show it to him first.

25-Feb-2017, 22:38
Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Well.......maybe :)

I have bought at least 3 lenses from people who preferred they went to me as a user, rather than a collector. I have little understanding for collecting tools of a trade or mass-produced items. That said, occasionally I can understand collecting items with serious heritage or stories attached to them, or sometimes exceedingly rare items / prototypes that never really made it in the market, such as the Canon lens I have which is the only Canon-made lens that natively fits a Nikon camera - a photographic oddity with an interesting relation to modern corporate rivalry.

I'll never understand the folks who have hundreds if not thousands of cheap point and shoot cameras and the like.

Mark Sawyer
26-Feb-2017, 13:53
I'm in a similar "camera collecting" club, but it's evolved over the years as more and more members have figured out it's fun to use the old cameras, even if it's just for casual snapshots. But twenty years ago, most of the members thought of photographs as "camera excrement"...

Dan Fromm
26-Feb-2017, 15:05
Not all collectors are like that. My friend Charlie Barringer had beautiful pristine pieces of equipment and badly worn ones. I recall a gigantic mirror lens with what looked like a bullet hole in the primary mirror. And he used what he had. Did crazy things with them. Once took a trip with only a Contax Aria and a bellows-mounted 100/6.3 Luminar, took a lot of pictures with that unlikely rig.

Richard Wasserman
26-Feb-2017, 17:39
Some are like that. I once had dinner with Sherry Krauter, who is one of the preeminent Leica repair people. She told me that she was invited to see a major private collection of Leica cameras. She was ushered into a darkened room, velvet curtains were pulled to the side, lights slowly came up revealing glass fronted cabinets on all 4 walls of the room. The owner very proudly asked her what she thought, and she replied "you're sick and need help". She did allow that there was some rare and fabulous stuff there, but the overall experience felt pretty weird.

Fred L
26-Feb-2017, 18:29
...The owner very proudly asked her what she thought, and she replied "you're sick and need help"...


Mark Sawyer
26-Feb-2017, 18:37
"It cleans, lubricates, and adjusts the Leica, or else it gets the hose again..."

27-Feb-2017, 09:28
Some are like that. I once had dinner with Sherry Krauter, who is one of the preeminent Leica repair people. She told me that she was invited to see a major private collection of Leica cameras. She was ushered into a darkened room, velvet curtains were pulled to the side, lights slowly came up revealing glass fronted cabinets on all 4 walls of the room. The owner very proudly asked her what she thought, and she replied "you're sick and need help". She did allow that there was some rare and fabulous stuff there, but the overall experience felt pretty weird.

Bwahahaha! Sounds like a Sherry comment alright! Now, going back to my darkened room with glass cases full of lenses.

27-Feb-2017, 09:32
With LF even more than 35mm, it's common to find collectors that love the equipment, but don't use it. I talked to a guy the past few weeks that has several antique wooden cameras, complete. He's had them about 15 or 20 years as decorator items, never used them. But did serious photography back then, had a studio, published, etc. Just liked the history of the big ones. Nothing wrong with history.

I like to use what I collect of course. This weekend I used an early Lerebours et Secretan I hadn't touched in 4-5 years. But there it was, waiting patiently for it's next chance to make a photographer and subject happy. That's the difference, a collector makes one person happy. A user makes two.

Tin Can
27-Feb-2017, 09:39
Actually 3.

The current owner.

The person captured.

The next owner and there is always a next owner...

27-Feb-2017, 12:40
I would also hope for many happy viewers of the photos created through these collectors items.

David Lobato
27-Feb-2017, 18:55
Drew, didn't you once say that we are only caretakers of our cameras and lenses, for the next owner who has them? Or something like that.

I'd feel better if articles in a collection would have a chance to be used by their next owners/caretakers.

28-Feb-2017, 07:18
Drew, didn't you once say that we are only caretakers of our cameras and lenses, for the next owner who has them? Or something like that.


That's the way I feel about my historical stuff. Modern Nikon digital equipment, not so much.

Kent in SD

28-Feb-2017, 13:11
I wonder what our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be collecting.

Having just read "Revenge of Analog : Real Things and Why They Matter" by David Sax, it's clear that more and more people are recognizing the personal enjoyment analog provides and what digital doesn't.

It has to make you ask where we go from here though. The cameras made today are more akin to computers - constantly replaced with the latest and greatest upgrades (ever try to sell your 286 or Pentium II?). Lenses are built for the camera system they're being used on with focus-by- wire and in-camera software compensation for lens shortcomings - you can't even fully test the lens on the optical bench without the camera and software attached. Somebody once said you can focus a pop bottle if you know the math and I think more and more companies are going that route to cut costs and size.

I wonder what the collectible from this digital era will be? Maybe it will come down to what you can still get a battery for.

Tin Can
28-Feb-2017, 14:12

Drew Bedo
28-Feb-2017, 14:57
All this deep sharing on using and collecting is great to read.

Yes David, you remember it correctly.

While I view myself as a user, my LF gear is vintage to antique. I have a Zone VI from the mid 1980s (the Wista made model) in 4x5 and a Kodak Eastman View No. 2D in 8x10. Both take great pictures when I do my part.

I view my possession of these wooden cameras to be more of a stewardship rather than owenership. I am just holding them for some younger photographer, perhaps not even born yet.

This is even more the case for the dedicated collector. Tjhose "Guns-Of-Navarone" ULF studio cameras will eventually (I hope!) go to someone else, having been stored on display in the center of their museum room.

All those brass lenses in glass cases will still be there for someone else. Sadly, the next generation in our family does not share my passion for these old cameras.

My hope is that my kids see that my gear all gets a good home if I have an unexpected health emergency. I have left instructions.

1-Mar-2017, 08:25
I have drawers and closets full of this kind of old stuff, but I consider myself as an accumulator rather than as a collecter. Each and every piece was bought to fulfill some need I had/have in making photographs. I just never got around to selling the stuff one it was used (or turned out to be not used) -- Most of it was bought expensively, but at the time couldn't be sold for anything worth fooling with. That was before ebay.
And just as the time was about to come when it might have been quite valuable, digital came along and most of the stuff is virtually worthless again.

1-Mar-2017, 08:51
I have about 60 (+-) cameras but have never thought of myself as a collector. I try to use (every now and then) all of them.

I have friends who are collectors and seldom (if ever) used any of the hundreds or thousands of cameras in their collection. I view them as more sane than myself.

They buy vintage cameras for the sole intention of adding to the variety already on their shelf - I buy vintage cameras with the sole intention of shooting some film through them, and hoping that the results are magical.

They always succeed - I seldom do.


Drew Bedo
2-Mar-2017, 10:59
Either way; Shooting or just holding, the end result is a camera or two( or ten) kept from the dumpster and a step closer to the next generation . . . .or the one aqfter that.

2-Mar-2017, 14:02
Unless someone is Looking for it now and can't find it.
Which is why the wanted section here and other places is so important, but I dont know that those 'storing' gear check there often enough to know what and when to pass on.

2-Mar-2017, 18:52
Those people that collect cameras and never use them.. I'm not one of them but I am very grateful for them. How else would I get 60-90 year old cameras that function like new without it passing through the hands of a couple such stewards? Those speed graphics that sat in collections or hoarded in attics and sold for $150 new in the 1950's are still worth $150 today (minus the light sabre) My $225 craigslist rolleiflex probably cost that much new 65 years ago.
Even with digital, my wife's DSLR broke after a long life and I bought a replacement for $50 on Ebay and it was good as new, barely used.

I think WTBs are an excellent idea here. I don't think personally checking the for sale section too often is wise me for though.

Mark Sawyer
3-Mar-2017, 12:25
As a side note, the vast majority of collectors concentrate on 35mm, or at most, medium format. Few collect large format because it's just too, well... large.

I have a "collection" of eight 8x10 studio cameras, mostly acquired for their lenses. Now I have that collection because I don't know what to do with them...

Michael Graves
3-Mar-2017, 12:36
I do. And as long as I don't have to liquidate some to pay medical bills I intend to continue to do so. I currently have three 8 x 10 cameras, 5 5 x 7 cameras, seven 4 x 5 cameras, 3 3 x 4 fours, and two 2 x 3 cameras. They do take up a lot of space, but they also get the most use. With 4 x 5, when I was still able to shoot, on some weekends I would use either a speed graphic or a crown graphic, on others I might use a busch pressman, but usually I use the horseman because it was my favorite. A couple of weeks ago I gritted my teeth and sold my Toyo.

When I was still living in Vermont, my wife, who works at a high school, invited some of the students and teachers to join us on weekends. We would have theme weekends, where everybody would shoot the same format. I would loan them a camera, and a sheet film holder or two, and when we got back home from shooting, we process the negatives in my Jobo. I miss those weekends. We did the same thing with my collection of TLR cameras.

John Kasaian
4-Mar-2017, 17:32
Lots of people collect cool stuff they never use---cameras, classic cars, tools, guns, fishing tackle,saddles, fossils, Roman coins, swords and knives, walking sticks, hats, fine leather bound books, you name it. Legit museums are full of this stuff. Some things are too fragile, of course, but using some antique thing as it was meant to be used is about as close as some of us will ever get to time travel.

Robert Brazile
5-Mar-2017, 06:21
Some things are too fragile, of course, but using some antique thing as it was meant to be used is about as close as some of us will ever get to time travel.

Well said -- exactly how I feel.


Mark Sawyer
5-Mar-2017, 11:40
It's also nice to collect memories. You find yourself using them all the time, and rather than leaving behind a mess for your heirs to deal with, you take them with you to the grave...

Tin Can
5-Mar-2017, 12:29
The executor of my will is also an Estate seller.

He will convert whatever, to cash for my grandchildren.

I will be cremated without ceremony of any kind, as cheaply as possible and no one may retain my ashes. They are to be disposed of asap.

Earth is earth.

Fr. Mark
7-Apr-2017, 20:52
It'd be fun to collect a number of kinds of things for the sheer joy of the clever and well thought out designs and construction---Rollei comes to mind.
I know a camera collector who doesn't take pictures that I can tell. That's not me.
I try to keep it to things I will use.
I also try to keep in mind that photography is a hobby and that I have other things vying for my time, like my kids, who, so far aren't into photography and that I'm rapidly running out of time with them as kids living at home.
There are a bunch of lenses I've heard about and would like to try. I really need to finish restoring a light field camera with limited movements in 8x10, build or buy an appropriate tripod and see if I could live with just that and contact printing. Increasingly 5x7 is too small. I'd like to have an 8x10 rig for the Sinar and maybe make some odd formats for it for studio/close to car (panoramic, ULF, WP etc). I sometimes think my ideal field camera would be a whole plate, but that's a whole bunch more gear for not so much loss in size/weight v. certain 8x10s. I figure to make my own film eventually so the weird size of whole plate doesn't frighten me as much as it probably should.
I also recently located a ULF copy camera that the owners would love to be rid of...I might try to talk them into letting me use it in place...as I have no place to put it.
To sum up, I have way too much photo gear and supplies for what I'm likely to have time for the next 2-5 years and yet, if someone donates a Rolleiflex to me, I won't say no...

19-Apr-2017, 07:33
life is too short to hoard things, especially cameras. I think many collectors see it as their own unique 'business' investment and A bit of false superiority in that I have something that you don't. I don't see how a camera that you haven't used and bonded with and shared experiences with could be valuable beyond it's $ rating. Gotta go make a glass display case for my holga 120.

Drew Bedo
21-Apr-2017, 05:28
There is a place in the photo world for all of us.

I belong to a loose group of camera guys that includes nearly all of types described in this thread. They range from very active LF landscape shooters to digital artsy photography to alternative process with antique cameras restored to working condition by the p;ghotographer. Several only buy (and keep) really niced photographica. One or two know everything about Leica or Hasselblad. We suspect that some may never have actually taken a picture.

This is the Texas Photographic Collectors Association (TPCA). Everyone is welcome to drop in t every second Saturday at Professional Camera Repair at 10AM for Coffee Carbohydrates and Camera talk.

Professional Camera Repair
4410 Richmond
Houston Texas