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An Ode to My First Film Camera
Tuesday, June 9, 2020

They say you never forget your first love. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was walking through my local thrift store, hunting for buried treasure, when I saw a large, brown leather case over by the purses. “Huh, that’s kind of a weird looking purse” I thought. I wandered over, picked it up, and was shocked at how deceptively heavy it was. What the hell was in this old purse at the thrift store? 


Opening it it felt like one of those classic scenes from a movie, you know where a character is opening a treasure chest slowly and all you can see is the magic golden glow illuminating their faces. In front of my very eyes I discovered this was no purse, this was a camera case secretly hiding a beautiful old SLR camera with the word “Canon” etched in the front and a plethora of accessories. I was shocked. I knew immediately I had to have this. I didn’t know a thing about cameras, or even photography for that matter. The most I knew about photography at that point was snapping photos on my iPhone. But I knew at that moment this was the most beautiful thing I had ever laid my eyes on. It was love at first sight. We were meant to be together and I had to rescue this before someone else discovered this hidden gem in the aisles of Goodwill.


I quickly searched the case for a price tag and was shocked even more when I found a tag that humbly said “$9.99”. WHAT. How in god’s good earth could this only cost a mere $10. I opened it again and futzed around with the camera. It looked absolutely pristine, no rust, no scratches. You could have told me it came off the assembly line that very day and I would have believed it. 


I closed up the case, looked around, and then headed to the cashier. As I waited in line clutching my treasure find, I became more and more nervous. What if the cashier opened the bag, saw the camera, and decided to have a supervisor review the pricing. Clearly whoever did the intake of this had no clue what they had. Hell they placed it over in the purse section, they probably didn’t even look inside the bag to know there’s a camera in there. As it became my turn I felt the sweat building on my brow. I rushed over and prayed they’d just scan the tag and let me go.


I was out of the store and hurried out to my car, feeling like I had just gotten away with some sort of robbery. Once inside my car I opened the case again and just stared at my new camera in awe. I held it in my hands and kept turning it over and around. It was absolutely gorgeous and wonderfully heavy. I hadn’t shot film since my flimsy point and shoot camera I had as a young bebop in elementary school, but I figured you must still be able to find film somewhere in the world, right?

My Canon on their first day home

I got home and excitedly started researching. I quickly discovered it was a Canon AE-1 from the late 1970’s, and something of a real go to nowadays for new film hipsters. What luck. I became a film camera stereotype on my first go without even trying. At my birthday a few days later, my dad surprised me with a trove of Superia 400. He used to be in his high school’s camera club and was as excited for me about my new camera as I was. 


I went on a hiking adventure at a local State Park and shot a whole roll. I had no idea what I was doing. I barely grasped the concept of shutter speeds at the time (I started out on the Canon AE-1’s only semi-automatic mode: shutter priority), but prayed I would get a few usable shots. I kept meandering through different speeds and crossed by fingers. I had no idea what the needle was inside the viewfinder, and had to keep reminding myself to look that up in the manual when I got home. What a laugh. 


I sent off my first roll to be developed and got the prints back about a week later. My heart squealed with delight. They were better than I could have ever hoped. I couldn’t believe it, lightyears better than any photo I had snapped on my phone. I was officially hooked, and couldn’t wait to shoot more. I read the manual more and more and checked out about 20 different books about photography from my local library (libraries FTW!). I started to understand the exposure triangle and experimented with all manual shooting. With every piece of information I learned, I couldn’t wait to digest more. 


Now well over two years later my love has turned into a healthy obsession with over 40 cameras in my collection. Sure, some might have more features, higher shutter speeds, half and third stops, but nothing beats my Canon AE-1. Every time I pull it out it just feels right in my hand, like an extension of myself. It reminds me of how I got into shooting and helps me focus on what I really love about the art form. It will always be my one, my only, OG camera.

All the pictures shown in this article were taken by Danielle Wrobleski. To see more, please head to the links below:

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