For a short time I also had a well-used Periflex. Built by Corfield, it was one of Britain’s answers to the Leica, and it took Leica screw mount lenses. I managed to find one in Germany; for some reason there seem to be more examples of these cameras available there than in their native England. This one was made, I believe, in 1959. It’s very robustly constructed and works beautifully. The Lumax 50mm f1.9 lens focuses to less than two feet and is so deeply recessed you really don’t need a lens shade.
The Periflex owes its uniqueness to its focusing system; although it looks like a rangefinder, it actually has a tiny periscope that is lowered into the area behind the lens. You use this to focus and then it swings out of the way to take the shot. In some ways this was a 35mm predecessor of the SLR. I shot the record cover below with it in 1965.
I remember very well the first camera I bought in Canada in 1966 (once I got a job and paid the rent) – a Yashica J5.
The Yashica was the first new camera I ever owned, and the first for which I owned more than one lens. It had the Yashinon f1.4 standard lens, which was also the fastest lens I had ever used. This camera gave me yeoman service – it traveled Canada with me from Nova Scotia to the Yukon and I still have many great Kodachromes from it. Eventually it started over-exposing due to a shutter curtain problem, and I moved onwards and upwards.
Screw mount Yashicas are pretty easy to find and very cheap on eBay. I got one for just five dollars that had a mint body but a malfunctioning shutter. I found another with great innards but poor cosmetics. I moved the top and bottom plates from one to the other and with a few other tweaks I now have a very clean, functioning camera.
Collecting from a base of nostalgia doesn’t mean you can only acquire cameras you used to own – you can acquire those you yearned for but couldn’t afford. The ad below comes from the British Journal of Photography Annual 1964. Man, did I lust after that Canon 7!
So, over 40 years later I decided it was time to slake my thirst. These cameras are highly collectable and thus very expensive. An article on the camera in a recent issue of Shutterbug magazine hasn’t helped – prices rose after it was published, to roughly 150% of what the columnist thought you’d have to pay!
I got the body at a pretty good price on eBay and then found a dealer in Calgary who was prepared to sell me the lens alone. Yes, I know the lens is not a great performer by today’s standards, but it is the fastest production lens ever made for a still consumer camera and it sure looks and feels impressive.
Canon 71 Camera
For everyday photography with the camera (B&W film) I’ve also acquired the Canon 50mm f1.4 and the 35mm f2 – each of those lenses used to challenge Leica for sharpness.
The last camera in my collection – for now anyway – is a Canon AE1, which I first acquired in 1976 when it initially went on sale. It was one of the most successful cameras Canon ever launched and it’s easy to find quite presentable specimens on eBay. Mine came from a lady in Ohio who claimed the only marks on it were her fingerprints. She was right.
This was my first electronic camera – indeed the first camera anywhere controlled by a CPU. It is also partly the reason I use Canon cameras for some of my work today.
The background to this is a lesson in customer service from which many companies might learn. My AE1 broke down after a few months, so I took it back to Canon Canada to have it fixed under warranty. The technician took a look at the camera while I waited at the service desk. After a few minutes he disappeared, to return a moment later with a brand new, boxed AE1 which he handed to me with an apology for the breakdown. No nonsense, no discussion – just a new camera.
I wonder if he realized he was probably creating a customer for life?
Canon AE-1 Camera
For the moment these seven cameras complete my nostalgia collection. The cameras that succeeded them all have a place in my heart, but most of them are still pretty current and don’t evoke much of a sense of the past.
I had a Mamiya 645 – but I’m using its grandchild, the AFD II, today. (What a contrast – going from a glorified box camera with two speeds and two f-stops all the way to an autofocus electronic camera with a 39 megapixel digital back!)
I’ve had a Practica, a Canon F1, a brace of Leica R4s, a Hasselblad 2000FC and some Rollei 6008 gear. They were (and are) great tools– but none of them bring a lump to my throat.
The only exception might be a Leica M6, which I wish I had kept – it got traded when I went back to medium format for the second time. I think I might have to indulge that growing nostalgia by getting an M8…. some day when my wife isn’t watching. (Buying an expensive camera as a tool is easily justified – buying a camera just to have it is a tougher sell. But of course I would use it.)
It is possible that an example of my first digital camera, the Canon 1D, might find a place in my collection in another decade or two – now there’s optimism for you!
In the meantime, I get a great kick out of looking up at my sentimental collection of old cameras on the shelf above my desk – and an even greater kick out of reliving the past by running a roll of film through them.
(I originally wrote this article in 1984 for Seasons magazine. I understand it was subsequently used by Cornell University as part of one of their courses. I reprint it here because the message is now more relevant than ever.)