Analog Cameras are not Props – Photographic Tools from Yesteryear


This is a rant dedicated to all the people who are missing the main focus of the primary photographic tool.

This is a rant dedicated to all the people, especially photographers, who are using analog cameras as props, as vintage decorations, and not giving them the respect they deserve.

This is a rant directed at all the people who worry about having the latest and greatest camera gear, even when the history of photography has shown us that the camera is just a tool a photographer uses to capture meaningful work.

using analog cameras
Image from Unsplash

If you’re passionate about photography, it’s highly likely that at some point you’d have been curious to know how images were captured before digital sensors existed.

The beautiful thing about analog gear, no matter how old it is, is that light is captured using the same physical principles. So it really doesn’t matter what camera you stumble onto – you just need to know the mechanics of the tool to achieve the desired result.

Main Focus of the Tool

using analog cameras
Image by Jessica Monte

The main focus of every photographic tool is, and always will be, to reproduce reality through images that depend on exposure calculations that exceed the capabilities of the human eye.

Therefore, it's pointless to think that meaningful work depends on having the latest and greatest gear out there. Use whatever you have when stumbling into those moments.

My Own Experience Using Analog Cameras

using analog cameras
Image by Søren Astrup Jørgensen

My experience with analog photography came after the onset of digital, so I did things the other way around. My everyday camera is still a digital one.

But analog gear has given me extremely joyful experiences thanks to its therapeutic, slow-paced way of producing a tangible image. After watching a movie, I got pretty interested in how pictures were made before photographers couldn’t see anything on an LCD screen.

I researched a bit and was given a camera that was wrecked – with one condition: to get it repaired. I asked a few questions and got to meet a camera restorer in my country.

After the camera’s resurrection, I started snapping some black-and-white film using the same exposure logic I’d learned with digital. The results were decent – but my craving didn’t stop there. I learned to develop film. Nowadays my scope reaches print, and I love it.

using analog cameras
Image from Tookapic

This rant was born thanks to the many pictures of photographers using analog cameras as props, when they could also be enjoying the brilliance of analog photography.

I’ve never stopped feeling a sense of magic when I develop a film.

Especially when I get my roll of film out of the developing tank and start seeing those images with my eyes. I enjoy it so much that I taught my friends how to develop film, for free, some had never seen the process with their own eyes.

My prime goal is not to be a purist. My main objective is to invite you guys who are using analog cameras as props for your portraits and related stuff to actually use one of those beautiful cameras to make pictures.

using analog cameras
Image by Sacha Styles

To this day, I use three analog cameras to make images that give me joy in addition to my regular street work:

Camera as an Object

It’s fascinating to see how people can transform almost anything into a camera. People like Carlos Jurado take the premise of “every exposure setting will work on any camera” to the next level by transforming almost any object into a camera.

A Camera’s Archeology

It’s interesting to learn how the famous images we most admire were made using less-capable technological tools. It’s still easy to get a secondhand analog camera on eBay or some local shop.

I'm not advising you to migrate from one format to another – I'm just saying that different formats can coexist in a photographer's life, and the results can be rewarding in terms of creativity, self-expression and self-imposed challenges.

Examples of Fine Artwork

Some great examples of people making fine artwork with analog gear (there are a lot, but for illustration purposes, I'm just mentioning three) are Chema Madoz, Alexey Titarenko and Michael Kenna.

  • Chema Madoz: Surrealism is not some weird abstraction for me. For me, surrealism exists when an artist gets to see mind-blowing juxtapositions or personifications that seem so obvious, but never cross our minds. Chema Madoz is one of those artists, and his favorite tool for creating his art is a second-hand Hasselblad medium-format camera he bought back in the ‘nineties.
  • Alexey Titarenko: Alexey Titarenko is another photographer who uses a Hasselblad film camera, as you can see in this But the scope of his passion covers everything from the shot to the last print.
  • Michael Kenna: Everything has probably been said about this magnificent contemporary photographer, but what he has to say about photography and about all the beautiful things surrounding it is priceless. We tend to forget about connecting with other cultures, and I’m sure this guy enjoy his travelling more because he doesn’t have to worry about carrying several camera bodies and lenses. A minimal setup is key to enjoying photography.
using analog cameras
Image by Camila Cordeiro

So, if you have access to analog gear, don’t limit its existence to prop usage. Give it a new opportunity to play a role in your creative life. If it works by itself, good. If it needs a little love, get it repaired.

These bad boys were made with such enviable quality mindsets that they could last forever after some minor restoring maneuvers!

Further Resources

About Author

Federico has a decade of experience in documentary photography, and is a University Professor in photography and research methodology. He's a scientist studying the social uses of photography in contemporary culture who writes about photography and develops documentary projects. Other activities Federico is involved in photography are curation, critique, education, mentoring, outreach and reviews. Get to know him better here.

I did emulsion based (film/analog) photography for years prior to going digital and I will make NO apologies about displaying my old Nikons as collector items. I celebrate some of them in prominent places around my home. I have every (save one) old filmer I ever owned, from my first SLR, Nikkormat FTN to my latest film body, Nikon F100…all still in perfect working condition. I do NOT miss the long nights processing, the wait to see a shot, the smell, wet hands, etc. I still have film loaded in the F100, but doubt its going to see any more use, except maybe for a couple long exposure night photographs.
I again, make NO apologies for moving on….

A joy, to see someone using a Twin Lens Reflex. Takes me back to my days as a trainee industrial/scientific photographer!

As a high school photography teacher, I was pleased to move from analog to digital. Selfishly, I don’t miss having excited students dripping chemicals on my clothes and shoes. I don’t miss the smell, mixing chemicals, or setting up and tearing down the darkroom. However, I did set up a mini darkroom for interested students. My assumption was that no one would be interested, but since we had the equipment, why not? Interestingly, there is a group of students who want to learn the analog and are forming a club to support it! So I will have a foot in both camps (and happy that I kept a few of my developer stained shirts for when, not if, I get dripped on).

I did analogue for over half a century – then started paddling in the digital pool, while running bother – then thought “what the hell”, quit all the analogue gear (except for a Pentax setup that I forgot about – it’s still here) and went totally digital. Why? Because it’s interesting, with all its pluses and minuses, and I want to explore it, now – not alongside analogue, but instead of analogue. At my age, I won’t be around too many more years, and this is the only chance I have of seeing what I can do with digital. I appreciate both – but I’m running out of time to give digital a serious run, so I left its competitor & switched.
And I had a WONDERFUL run with analogue, so I do appreciate what you’re saying, Federico.

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