What is your favourite 35mm camera?

Posted by on December 2, 2009 at 9:53 pm.

eos1Next to guitarists I think photographers are the most gear-obsessed group of professionals in the world. Not so much because they always want the newest and greatest stuff (though that’s also true) but because they become inexplicably attached to gear that for any layman can appear old, broken and more akin to junk. And I’m not ashamed to admit I’m one of those crazy gear junkies.

I own 5 professional cameras, only one of which I regularly use and three of which are of the old school film variety – two 35mm and one medium format. Asked why I hang on to these antiquated relics I answer either that I might need them at some point or that they have some immesurable intrinsic value that makes them worth keeping. The truth is I hang on to them out of nostaligia more than anything. This is especially true of my massive Canon EOS-1.

The camera that went to war

eos1DetailJust so it’s clear right off the top: I never went to war myself. But my EOS-1 did. And it has the scars to prove it. Back in 1997 I was working at a photo store in Oslo, Norway and quickly becoming addicted to taking photos of pretty much everything. Back then working in a photo store with a developer was a bit like having your very own dark room. This was pre-digital days and normal people couldn’t go out and blast off a couple of hundred shots just to see how they would trun out. But I could. And I did. So much in fact that the shutter in my first real SLR – an EOS-600 (marketed in Canada as the original EOS Rebel I believe) – broke.

At the time I was totally obsessed with getting that perfect shot of a duck coming off a lake. Not an easy task at the best of times but a real challenge when you have a camera with a slow motor drive. So I decided I’d upgrade to something much faster. Hours of research led me to the Canon EOS-1 with the extra motor drive. A massive hunk of a camera but blazing fast at 9 frames per second. There were other options like the EOS-1N but they were way too expensive.I wanted something used.

For months I trawled the want ads in papers looking for an EOS-1 for sale with no luck. Then one day a friend told me that he’d seen an ad on the internet. It was for a “badly damaged EOS-1 with new backpiece straight from Canon” at a more than reasonable price. I immediately called the guy for an appointment.

Badly damaged is a relative term

The seller turned out to be a professional war photographer who had done a stint in Yugoslavia during the worst of the fighting there. At one point he had come under fire and, doing what any sane person would, thrown himself to the ground. Unfortunately his trusted EOS-1 came between his flac jacket and the pavement and took the brunt of the force of his fall. The lens was crushed and the backpiece broken. When his stint was over he brought the wrecked camera home and forgot about it. Then about a year later he needed funds for a new camera and decided to get the old one fixed. “It’s actually good as new” he said. “It’s been 100% overhauled by Canon. Lens rign realigned, new backpiece and all. It just looks like crap is all.” He pulled the camera out of his desk and I was immediately drawn to it. Not only was it the camera I wanted, but it had so many scars and scrapes on it telling its history. Needless to say I had to have it and bough it on the spot.

My heavy companion

For the next 8 years the smashed up Canon EOS-1 was my trusted companion pretty much any time I left the house. I must have shot well over 2000 frames on it in that period of time. My parents have cases of pictures in their loft right outside Oslo to prove it. I took it to Greece, Ireland, Scottland, Denmark and everywhere in between. It was heavy, hard to pack and left bruises on my hip. But the shots were amazing. Something about the heaviness made it easier to hold stable and I could do longer exposures without a tripod. And the super fast motor drive made rapid shooting a blast and film unloading and reloading a 30 second process.

But in 2004 the romance was over. I started shooting concerts in Vancouver and realized that film was an expensive and dying technology. Reluctantly I bought an EOS-10D to replace it – a camera that for all its technological advancements had none of the charm of my EOS-1. I actually tried to sell the old clunker at one point but my price – for sentimental reasons I later realized – was way too high and I had no buyers.

Today I’m happy we never parted ways.

What’s your favourite 35mm (or any other for that matter) camera? Do you have a story to tell? Share your thoughts in the comments below or send us your story via the contact page.

8 Comments

  • Tyler says:

    I guess my favourite 35mm SLR would be the Pentax Asahi I have. I don’t remember the last time I used it though. It was my grandfathers and he got me hooked on photography back when I was in the 6th Grade.

    It sits on my desk along side the Zenit 35mm SLR I have as well.

  • Trevor says:

    How can I pick one camera as my favorite? Impossible! Like the author of question, I also worked in photo retail and later in my own pro studio. And how do I pick which film format? To keep this novel a short one, and to settle on One manufacturer, I will pick Nikon. I’ve had several. The first, an F, with standard prism, w.l. finder, and a clip on meter. A beaut! Tragically, one nite the strap on tripod broke, and the pavement violently assaulted my sleeping partner. She survived admirably.

  • Eric says:

    My everyday camera is my Pentax ME Super, it’s a great camera. I always poke fun at my digital friends how they would be hard-pressed to find a lens faster than my 1:1.4 50mm. But the camera I would never sell is my Yashica Electro 35. It’s just a good, honest rangefinder. What more could anyone ask for?

  • Sam says:

    I would say that it a tie between my Nikon FE, Nikon F100 and my Minox 35GT. Each has a different feel and flavour. There are lots of digital lenses as fast as f/1.4 or faster.

  • Andrew says:

    My old Canon AE-1P which I got back in junior high. As a student, I shot many boring and subject-less images with it. Eventually my shooting got better and, after switching to slide film, I forced myself into better landscape photography. After several thousand shutter clicks, the foam in the camera disintegrated two years ago. So I bought a used AE-1P. Wanting better optics than the FD lenses, I switched to a Zeiss Ikon this year. Still, the AE-1P is a sentimental favourite (and much easier to use than the Zeiss in many ways).

  • Laurie says:

    I have an Olympus OM-2 which is automatic with manual option. Only way to play!

  • Jason says:

    My favourite 35mm camera that are still used quite frequently are my Minolta Maxxum 7 and my Leica M6 titanium + titanium 35mm f1.4.

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