Most of my darkroom work was black and white, but I did try color film processing and color printing. Dealing with chemicals that had very limited shelf life, processes that demanded temperature control to 1/2 degree F and endless color corrections complicated the process to the point that it all became less fun. I finally gave up on the color darkroom work and let Kodak do it. The sad part was that my new color equipment was not as good for B&W and some of that had to be relearned.
Like most people, I started out with a Kodak Brownie box camera. The Brownie images were blurry and poorly exposed, but the fun started there. My first real camera, however, was a classic Voitlander Avus, a 6x9cm (120) roll and sheet film folding type , dating from the 1920s. (I am not that old – this was a hand-me-down). The Avus is a true, small-sized view camera, with rise and shift for parallax correction. All manual, focusing is either by scale or by using the ground glass. Exposure is likewise manual, requiring a hand-held light meter. I mention all of this, because it was great training in the fundamentals of photography. I still have the camera. Voitlander is one of the oldest camera companies, first producing a daguerreotype-type camera in 1841. The name is still around, although they no longer produce cameras.
My first 35mm camera was one of my dad’s two Leica IIIb rangefinder cameras. Leica (E. Leitz), produced the first compact cameras using 35mm movie film. The model III, as did the model II, had a coupled rangefinder, interchangeable lenses and a high-speed focal-plane shutter. First produced in 1933, these cameras still work today. Leica has had a very well-deserved reputation for exceptional optics and jewel-like precision. Exposure is also all manual. The Leicas are very small, light and fun to use. Mine is still in excellent working order.
Single-Lens reflex cameras became available in the late 1930’s, but the first real System Camera was introduced in 1959 by Nikon. I tried out a Nikon F in 1965 and was hooked. I got a Nikkormat F with a 50mm lens and have been a Nikon fan ever since. Other Nikon bodies included FM (1977), FA (1983), auto-focus 8008 (1988), N80 (2000) and digital – D100, D50, D80, D300, D300s and now a D800. (My impressions of the D800 are in the D800 Article.)
Just like cameras, processing images has changed markedly over the years. Initially, only black & white development and printing was accessible to most amateurs. The film variables were selection of film & developer combination, dilute developer or not for finer grain, developing time to control contrast, and push processing to gain higher speed. Once the negative was produced, printing came with a whole new set of decisions: paper grade, paper finish, dodging and burning, on so on.
Once digital arrrived everything changed. I started out with a Nikon Coolpix, went to a couple of Sonys and then back to the SLR world with a Nikon D100. I still shoot black & white film once in a while, but digital is much superior in most ways. Photoshop and Lightroom allow the photographer so much more freedom to experiment and minipulate than did the film era. Being able to easily vary the elements like exposure, contrast, color balance, shadow and highlight detail, brings a new ability to create on paper or the screen that which was originally imaged.
The technology has come a long way since I started, but the principles of photography have remained the same. While I use auto focus and auto exposure, unfortunately the ease of using automatic cameras masks some of the creative tools photographers have to work with. Digital post-processing has automated creation of the final product, but also opened up many more creative avenues. Having learned photography the hard way has greatly helped in the use of the new tools. Much of the material on this site has been created to further the craft of photography that I learned using those great fully manual cameras and film processing and printing.