Invisible – More than 52 Years Behind the Camera

My wife always calls me the invisible family member, because I am typically the one behind the camera and seldom in front.

I got my first camera as a Christmas gift in 1965. It was a simple box camera from Eaton’s catalogue, but it was a shiny grey and black box and it could perform magic, or so I thought. You had to open the back in a darkened room to load a spool of film and advance the film manually for each shot, until the roll was done. Then you had to rewind  it manually, open the back in a darkened room, secure the film to the spool, so no light got in to ruin the shots. At 13, I was not always successful in this process. Framing your shot was through a simple viewfinder opening (no through the lens here).

I started taking photographs of stuff…landscapes, people, pets, green army guys, green army guys getting blown up with firecrackers and so on as any 13 year old would do. I did not have a lot of money for film and developing (yes, one had to wait to see the magic performed by their camera). Once the roll was full, rewound and removed, it was slipped into an envelope and mailed away for processing at the nearest Kodak processing center (Toronto). Some 2 weeks later, they would send an envelope back with the prints and negatives and I would eagerly rip the envelope open to see the results.  In those days, I shot only black and white. Little did I know or care that I was a purest in the day.

Here are some samples of the results (these may be bad, but they are the best of the lot).

We moved around a lot and I either lost interest or lost the camera, not sure which. It was not until I was about 17 before I got interested again and picked up one of the popular Kodak Instamatic 44 cameras ($12.95) that took 126 cartridge film and had a socket for flash cubes. I could now take colour photos and use the flash to improve my portrait skills (yeah, right!). There was also the phase when Triple Print film was invented and when developed, you got a regular size print and 2 wallet sized back. Looking back at the quality and size, it is easy to see why it did not stick around.



The above shots were taken on my friends SLR during a trip to the Rockies.

This was the same camera that came along on our 4 week honeymoon trip to the UK and Ireland. Now, I remember why those shots were all so crappy. Of course, it could have been me, too. It was also at this time that I became interested in moving pictures, 8 mm movie. My wife’s Dad lent us his Kodak Brownie wind up movie camera (see below for similar). We were all set.


We stayed with this combo for another year, before I got my own battery operated Bell and Howell silent Super 8 camera, similar to below.


You can see it in may hand in some of these shots.

In 1982, I decided to get a serious SLR and bought a Canon AE1. I dabbled with it and the 80-200 lens and sophisticated bounce flash which I also bought. When we went on our Orient Escapade trip in 1982, I also bought a very large, very square aluminum carrying case to take on our travels. What a mistake, huge, ungainly and always in the way, it seemed to shout…Hey please steal my valuable cameras.



But, try as I might, I just never got comfortable with my SLR and soon went back to a simpler, point and shoot Nikon 135. This camera took me through the years until the digital age.


In 1986, we were set to welcome our first child and my focus dropped back to movie er video. “Affordable” video cameras had just come out and I was determined not to let the opportunity to document my family’s life and exploits pass me by. Off to Krazy Krazy (Our prices are INSAAAAAAAAAAANE), the electronics dealer of the time to buy the required equipment. An RCA convertible VCR (using full size VHS tape) and a GE video camera were soon in hand for a total cost of almost $1,700. A lot of money in those days.

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What I did not know was that I would have to carry 14 pounds of equipment around with me wherever I went, nor did I grasp the concept of 1 hour of battery life. I thought, I am never going to shoot an hour of video, so I do not need a charger. The concept of standby time was new to me. About 4 hours into our first travel day in San Francisco, realization set in. I would need to go buy a battery charger and a spare battery.

Here is me with my 14 pound combo. One photo includes a few extra pounds of #1 son.


1992-08-01 Kaori, Brian and allan in Farmers' Market in Old Strathcona, Edmonton

This phase lasted until about 1992 when my back gave out and self-contained camcorders came into being. First came a Panasonic Palmcorder VHSC with Compact VHS tape similar to the one below…


and then a Canon ZR20 mini DV with digital mini VHS tape similar to the one below.


In all cases, the tapes were subject to a lot of damage during recording, rewind and playback. A good system but not perfect.

1996-03-21 Allan, Brian and Liam at Home Improvement display at MGM Grand Studios, Disneyworl, Orlando, Florida

Fast forward to 2000 and the “modern digital age”. I was still using my camcorder of the day for video, but I tried out my employer’s Sony Mavica digital camera with resolution of 1.3 Megapizel (640 x 480) and video resolution of about half that. The photos were OK, but not the video.


Eventually, I upgraded to my own Sony Cybershot with 5.1 Mp similar to the one below…


and then DSC H5 with 7.2 Mp,


but they still did not shoot video, so I still had to carry 2 cameras.

Determined to change this I sought out a video camera that took good photos as well as HD video. My first had resolution of 6.1 Mp and shot onto mini proDuo sticks.


The 2nd had a resolution of 12 Mp and shot onto a 120 G flash drive


I had achieved the single camera goal, but, despite the still photo resolution, the video quality was not always there. The change to the Sony G lens from the ZEISS was a mistake in my mind. Even at twice the resolution, the newer camera never took as good a photo as the old. The other drawback was the shape and weight. After years of lugging around heavy cameras, this one was difficult to hold steady at first.

In 2016, I renewed my one-camera quest. This time, I opted for a still photo camera that took really good HD video and landed on the Sony HX400V with 20.4 Mp resolution, a huge image sensor, a ZEISS lens and a 50X zoom.


This is the camera I am using for most of the shots you see on my blog. So, as you see, while my cameras have changed dramatically over 52 years, the photographer hasn’t. Now, where did I put those glasses………………


What was your first camera?


12 thoughts on “Invisible – More than 52 Years Behind the Camera

  1. You are welcome. I just wish I could find a picture of my first camera. It must have been pretty unsophisticated not to be in the web somewhere. Thanks for reading and commenting Lynette. Allan


  2. Oh my goodness Allan – you went through a lot of cameras. I remember most of them. We too have the little itty bitty photos – and also went through the video stage (with unfortunately no stills during that period). I see you included the photo of you standing on the rock in Banff. Exactly the same way Brian was standing on the rock in Jasper. He just didn’t have a camera in hand. Thanks for taking us down memory lane.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Every time I saw a photo of me with a camera in my hand, I put it in a folder on my desktop. I must have missed the one on the rock. Yes, you do not think time passes until you do the math. Thanks for reading and commenting Ann. Allan


  4. I love this story Allan! I don’t recall my first camera but seems to me it was a Kodak Instamatic, with the twisty flash bulbs. I snatched it from mom until she bought a Polaroid. Thought I was big time. Truth be told, the 35mm self winder took better pictures, but did not have the instant photos. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Got Paul Simon’s Kodachrome stuck in my head now, lol! Have a nice weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As always Peter, thanks for reading and commenting. I enjoyed your story as well. Kodachrome is a good one to think of. Hard to imagine one of the largest companies n the world could just fade away. Best regards. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Too true. I read a story recently about an engineer at Kodak building a prototype of the first digital camera. Management laughed it off as a fad. They did not pursue it for fear it may cut into their film profits. They were right of course, and didn’t see it coming until it was too late.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You might remember the early ones better than I… But I recall a series of disposables and terrible webcam-type cameras (including the one I took to New Zealand, and accidentally opened the battery door on our last day with M&P which wiped the photos I had taken up to that point). First real camera was the incredibly pocketable Fujifilm FinePix V10 in 2007 which even the mother and brother loved to borrow, even if photos were horrendously soft from noise reduction at all but the lowest ISO. Finally rediscovered my interest with a Lumix ZS50 in 2016 which I loved until it took a tumble in Peru and the photo quality was far surpassed by my stupid smartphone only 10 months later. I’m curious where the technology will have evolved to in a year or two when I will buy a new camera for our next travels.

    PS I can’t stop laughing at the 200x digital zoom on that silly Cannon mini DV. I bet that image was crystal clear haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahhh, yes. Disposables and webcams. The technology may be different, but, I recall forgetting to go into a dark room with the before opening the door and wiping all images. Also, thinking the the 35 mm roll was not attached and opening the door to find it had been attached to the spool, but the counter was not working. Nowadays, you can blow everything away by not watching when deleting one photo and clicking delete all. The mini DV shot video in 640 x 480 or about .65 MPx. 200x digital zoom just made up a bunch of stuff and filled a very tiny frame with garbage. Thanks for sharing. Dad


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