Hapo Balda Baldix folding camera
I took my first shots as a child with my father's German, Hapo folding camera; a rather beautiful construction that I now regret selling at a car boot sale many years later.
My Dad liked photography, including the whole darkroom thing. I suppose when I turned up it put paid to these more intensive interests of his, but I thank him for passing on his love of photography: it stayed with me for the rest of my life.
Zenit E SLR
For the first of my own cameras, I discovered the allure of the SLR, and the Zenit E in particular, which I bought for myself in the 1970s – at an incredibly cheap price for what it was capable of. You could hammer nails in with one of these: a hefty build quality that matched the style of the Lada car, also Russian. It suited my approach: straightforward, a bit clunky, but capable of taking good photographs.
When I finally got fed up with closing the aperture by hand after focusing, before every shot – not to mention carting around something the weight of a brick – I moved on...
Pentax ME Super
...to a second-hand Pentax ME Super: far smaller, far lighter, neater and more adaptable. This probably kicked off my love of the more compact, lighter camera designs. It lasted me for years, until the back clip gave out and I was reduced to keeping it lightproof with masking tape. The tape occasionally came off, giving the odd, interesting shot flooded with abstract colours. But these accidents taught me the appeal of the unexpected, partly abstract, photograph.
The Pentax did me well – and I used it for longer than I should have done really since, when digital photography finally took off, I dithered for a long time (a 'late adopter') to see if DSLRs were going to get serious. They did, and I finally plumped for a Nikon D40X. It was quite a weight compared to the Pentax and I never bonded with it – an essential relationship if you're ever going to really enjoy the whole experience. So I sold it fairly briskly and went back to the comfort of a compact.
Canon Powershot A80
Wanting a lightweight camera that I'd be happy to take anywhere, I went rather to the exterme and bought a very small, compact Canon Powershot A-something-or-other. It took great pictures, for what it was, and I liked the format, but the tiny, rear screen soon proved too small for my long-sighted eyes. After a few months use I lost this camera – a subconscious act perhaps? – before upgrading.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ7
Camera model numbers got really silly by this time. This was another compact, but with great picture quality and a zoom that was hard to believe for such a small device. But this screen too, while bigger, eventually became a strain, and impossible to see in bright light, so I passed it on to my daughter, who loved it. So she should – it was one of the best compacts on the market and, for its very reasonable price, reminded me a little of the Zenit in the sense that you could purchase such an amazingly well-made camera for such a small amount of money.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5
It was obviously time to move on to a camera with a viewfinder, so that I could actually see what was going on, and I opted for a Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5. It was probably overpriced for what it was, but I was happy to pay for a very decent, almost-DSLR camera in a small, light body. Once I got to grips with the slightly overwhelming number of functions, and customised these to my liking, I bonded with it and I carried it everywhere.
I realise that Panasonic aren't considered a major player when it comes to the very best in cameras, but they do seem to have the edge when it comes to ramming high quality, and a mass of features, into a small, light package.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000
I was getting a little disappointed with the occasional lack of sharpness of the Panasonic lens on the G5. I was also keen to get a camera that performed better at lower light levels, and ideally with more heft in the zoom department. After a lot of research into the just-released models, and toying with the idea of defecting to Sony, I realised that, although the FZ1000 was now a model two-and-a-half years old, and with a single, fixed lens, it ticked all the boxes.
And it didn’t disappoint. Although it broke my weight restriction – it’s virtually the size and weight of a full DSLR – it was worth it: it’s still just comfortable enough to carry all day on a hike. The Leica lens is a delight, and the 25-400 reach of the zoom adds another element to what I could do with a camera. It’s fast, in every sense, and the viewfinder is sharp - as are the pictures that it's capable of taking.
OK, so I did get fed up lugging the weight of the above around. Something a little smaller, a little lighter, was in order. Having spent some months trawling the latest camera releases, as you do, it suddenly dawned on me that an older model ticked every box currently unticked, and I went – almost on impulse – for the (slightly retro) Fuji.
And, once I'd finally mastered the bewildering menus and possible custom settings, it felt right. Sharper and more responsive than the Lumix, it delivered results almost every time. It suffered from a couple of missed opportunities, in my opinion: a fully articulating rear screen would have been welcome; as would an HDR function, but I could live without those. The pin-sharp focus and generally higher quality images were what really counted.
With several walking holidays approaching, I realised that the Fujifilm X-E3 offered the same image quality, and included virtually all of the above features, but in a lighter body, so I made a quick switch to that, keeping the excellent 18-55mm lens.
Once I'd suitably customised the controls, and got used to the viewfinder being in the 'wrong' place, I loved it – especially the lightness. A remarkable camera in a very tidy body. Should have bought this years ago!