Classic Cameras – Collectible Gems or Dated Junk?

This past Saturday I picked up a Rollie 35 in my favourite camera shop and was joined in conversation by two other gentlemen – who frequent the store – on the wonder of this little “Gem” that has been a long time member of the Rollie line. They commented on the superb optics and sharp results they had seen or got out of this little camera in the time they owned one. Yet there was a flaw that was raised in the course of that conversation, a flaw that would have crossed this camera off most peoples lists, even in the days when it was at the top of its game, and it was that conversation that brought this topic of debate to mind.

Though the little Rollie 35 has superb optics, its weakness for many was the lack of a rangefinder focusing system, instead it works on a guesstimate principle. I am certain that it would be near impossible to make the camera the same size had they made it with a rangefinder, not to mention the difficulty that the collapsible lens would have added in that small body. While this manner of focusing is troublesome to many, those who favour this camera do so with great enthusiasm. Why?

I guess I should not judge. One of my most recent purchases is an old beaten up Pentax Spotmatic with a few lenses, and while it is a bit worn it is fully functional. Using the camera a few weeks ago in some underground cave, I realized just how dim the viewfinder in this camera is! I don’t expect it to be on par with my IST*D but I think at times that it would be easier to focus manually on that than the Spotmatic. So why do I keep it? I cant explain it, I just feel more attached to the ancient, film using, battery discontinued, rusting Spotmatic which will land up taking fewer photos by far than the digital simply, because its slower and more costly to run.

As we discussed the Rollie on Saturday, one of the gentleman in that conversation had dropped off a Rollieflex twinlens for one of the Salesman to buy… why? Why if he owns a Nikon D200 would he desire an old Rollie which shoots 6×6″ images and has parralax error thanks to its seperate viewing lens? I guess its a great improvement on his Holga, but still, wasn’t digital going to replace all of this?

So at the end of all this, I guess the question really is, What’s the fascination of many of us with the ancient, aging and near extinct cameras of the past? Is one’s man gem another mans paper weight, or are we just struggling to let go of the good old days? Maybe it’s a large scale revival for the classics as hundreds of thousands seek the nostalgic highs that made photography magic! Or maybe it’s just a few frantic photographer who – try as they may to profess changes to modern marvels – are inwardly fighting the advances of the future on the past.