Friday, August 25, 2023

Insight: Placing the proper focus

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Back on Christmas Day 1978, I was given a gift of a Minolta Hi-Matic E 35mm camera and thought it was a tremendous step up from the Kodak Instamatic that I had been using previously. Both color and black and white 35mm film were plentiful and inexpensive and nearly every store that sold film had the capability to develop it fast and produce exceptional photographs.

Ed Pierce recently purchased this Minolta 35mm film camera
on eBay after having used a similar camera for 23 years as
during his career as a newspaper reporter and sportswriter.
This Minolta camera was highly affordable and very practical as I was just a few years into my journalism career. I learned all I could about my new camera and quickly mastered how to load the film, use the light settings, and add a flash if needed. Best of all, I discovered that this camera had a timer, so I could arrange everyone for a family or group photo, set the timer, and then run and be included in the photo too.

On the job, I found that this camera was best suited for portraits or still photography as it came with a fixed lens and didn’t really lend itself to exceptional photographs of action or for sports events. I adapted to its limitations though and began carrying it with me everywhere I went for work.

For the next 23 years, my Minolta Hi-Matic E was used for photographs that accompanied news articles about fires, ribbon cuttings, personality profiles, elections, summer harvests, bears at the zoo, the new merry-go-round at the amusement park and many more events. I used it when I interviewed University of Wyoming men’s basketball players who had just won the Western Athletic Conference championship and while covering a Space Shuttle launch in Florida.

Wherever I went during my career, the camera was there too, and it even helped me win an award from the New Mexico Press Association for one of the best photographs taken for a weekly newspaper in 1989. That was a photo of the first volunteer firefighter at the scene of an abandoned motel fire holding a fire hose that spewed a stream of water through a window with flames shooting out. The force of the water knocked her off-balance and her 8-year-old son standing behind her stuck out his arms trying to keep her upright.

The camera traveled with me for assignments in Frankfurt, Germany; Washington, D.C.; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Lemon Dam, Colorado; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Cape Canaveral, Florida. It went with me on vacation to the Cayman Islands and to South Beach, Florida.

But by 2001, my editors at the newspaper were advising me to ditch my 35mm camera in favor of going digital. With no negatives to develop print contact sheets for photo selections, digital photos could be uploaded right to my computer desktop. At first, I purchased a small Kodak digital box camera and used it for eight years until I had been promoted to an editing position and no longer taking dozens of photos every day.

In 2014, I knew I was moving to accept an editing position in New Hampshire that would require me to resume taking lots of photos once again. After doing some homework, I decided to purchase a Nikon CoolPix L820 and never regretted that choice. I have now gone through two of those L820s after the battery door on the first one became bent and couldn’t be straightened properly. The camera is bright red and is lightweight. Best of all, the photos it captures are exceptional.

When I did make the move to digital in the fall of 2001, I set aside the Minolta Hi-Matic E and every so often, I would pull it down off the closet shelf and compare the difference in weight between it and my Nikon. Somewhere between packing up in Florida for a move to New Hampshire, the Minolta camera disappeared. Through the years, I came to rely on my iPhone camera as my primary backup camera for reporting assignments, but I never forgot what a great camera that Minolta Hi-Matic E was to use and what great photographs it took.

Earlier this summer, I was on eBay and found a like-new Minolta Hi-Matic E in remarkable shape for sale for $35. Before deciding to purchase it though, I researched where 35mm film could be found and what stores still process 35mm film. I also read several articles online about how film photography, like vinyl record albums, is making a comeback. I ordered the camera and used it for the first time to take photographs of the grandkids and family visiting us several weeks ago. Even the patterned black, orange and red camera strap resembles the one that I had on my original version back in the 1970s.

Several friends asked me why I would even want a film camera again after using digital and I explained to them how much better quality that film photos are compared to digital.

It’s said you can’t go home again, but finding my favorite camera again is like traveling back in time and meeting a cherished old friend.

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