My life behind a camera

The beginnings

If we discount the Fisher-Price toy, with rotating flash cube and built-in slide viewer, then the first camera I regularly used was my father's Voigtländer Vito-B, a 1950's fixed lens 35mm compact. With no meter and manual focusing, it wasn't particularly quick or easy to use, but it taught me the basics (At the risk of sounding like the old git that I'm undoubtedly becoming, I don't know how a photographer starting out these days can pick up the same skills using a modern camera.)

In those days, aged nine, I was mainly interested in aircraft, so I took pictures of aircraft. I took them mainly when they were on the ground because, with only a standard lens, aircraft in the air were usually beyond it - although it didn't stop me trying at the 1976 Farnborough air show. My liking for the Red Arrows was probably as much due to the fact that having nine of them provided an almost decent sized subject as it was to their aerobatic prowess. By shooting black and white and enlarging the negatives (a lot) some vaguely recognisable results were obtained. It's only real foible was the ease with which the shutter delay was engaged. My father told a story about trying to photograph a sea-gull when it cut in. I laughed at the thought of him chasing it around the sky trying to keep it in the viewfinder while waiting for the shutter to fire ...until the same thing happened to me.


I migrated to a 35mm SLR at the age of 15 with the almost obligatory Zenith, which also had the luxury of a built-in exposure meter. Later I went via a couple of Prakticas - an LTL3 and an MTL3 with the advantage of TTL metering - to a Ricoh XR-7. This was an automatic, aperture priority/manual model with a Pentax 'K' bayonet mount, which was pretty much the state of the art in the eighties. I continued to use the Ricoh for many years, along with a variety of 35mm compacts and a brief period with a Pentax MX while at university. When I bought a house in 1990, I turned the back bedroom into a darkroom and processed my own black and white films and prints. By this time I was mainly using the Ricoh at motor sports events, specifically hill-climbs and, somewhat unofficially, at a couple of weddings.

Early Digital experience

With my background in IT and having realised that owning a laptop PC was just not enough to fulfil the need for 'toys', it was inevitable that I would end up buying a digital camera and, in 1998 I did. It was a Ricoh RDC-5000 2.3 mega-pixel zoom compact style affair with an unhealthy appetite for AA batteries but a good lens and the ability to produce quite respectable results. The fact that the images were available for immediate viewing rekindled my interest in general photography, which had started to falter as it was taking me too long to finish exposing a film.

Onwards and upwards

Pleased though I was by the Ricoh, I missed the degree of control I had grown used to when using my older cameras, so I swapped it (plus a large sum of money!) for a Fuji Finepix 6900Z, which, with it's 6x zoom and electronic viewfinder, performed much like an SLR, only lighter. The results from this were even more impressive and it had enough operating options to keep me bemused for quite some time. I joked that I would spend years taking practice shots and only realised as I was about to move onto a fully fledged digital SLR that I had in fact got the hang of it!

Pentax *ist D - My latest toy

Using this camera re-ignited an old idea of trying to sell some of my work, so I decided I needed another equipment upgrade. I first tried the Pentax *istD when I went looking for a Sigma SD-10 and was immediately taken by its combination of compactness and solidity. It reminded me of the MX in that respect and it would apparently work with my old 'K' mount lenses, so (hoping that it wouldn't follow that former model into a canal, as mine had done) I ordered one. Having used it for nearly a year I have to say that I'm very pleased with it and, although I still haven't completely mastered it, I find it quite natural to use. I have to agree with what others have written about the way the compact flash cards are difficult to remove but I for one like the fact that it runs on AA's, rather than more expensive bespoke items, as some other digital SLRs do. To be fair, the support for manual focus 'K' mount lenses is limited to a form of stop-down metering, and only then with the latest firmware upgrade (version 1.11), but it's a potentially useful back-up and I think the camera justifies itself regardless of that. I know that digital SLRs are still seriously expensive, but having missed out on the later 35mm cameras, I'm happily playing with the autofocus and multi-mode exposure options!