My prehistory of photography runs from 1986 until 2000, the “year 0″. In 1986 (or the year 14 B.R. – before redemption) I had bought a simple compact camera (a Fuji DL-7) that had a whopping two buttons – one to switch the camera on and off, and one to take a picture. Shutter speed was set at 1/100 s, aperture at f/8. That was it. I was managing, poorly but defiantly, until after a short break with my girlfriend in 2000, to Prague, most of the pictures I had taken there were, quite frankly, shit.
That made me think – such a beautiful city, and hardly any good pictures of it to show for it. Shortly afterwards, my girlfriend split up with me and as part of an effective retail therapy :P I bought myself my first SLR.
2000-2004: Bronze Age – a simple Minolta
Limited by a second-year PhD salary the choice was quickly limited to two options: a Canon EOS 300 or a Minolta Dynax 404si. The Minolta it would be, for two reasons. One, I don’t like to side with the biggest (of anything), I like underdogs, and two, it seemed slightly better value for money with somewhat more options, slightly easier to control, and a better lens – a 28-105mm Tamron instead of a 28-80 that came with the Canon.
This camera served me well on many occasions, an ideal easy-to-use beginners’ piece of kit, but of course not without flaws. Autofocus was a nightmare in low light and the heavy lens made the whole thing front heavy, resulting in an annoying zoom creep.
In this period I also bought two lenses that I am very pleased with until this very day: the trusty old Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 telezoom and the standard Minolta 50mm f/1.7. Also an external flash (a simple but effective Minolta 3600) was added to the set of gear.
The Bronze Age came to an unfortunate end when my camera was nicked from a bus stop :-(, but I took the opportunity to upgrade equipment…
2004-2008: Iron Age - more tools = more fun (?)
After the sudden disappearence of the 404, I was left with a choice. Replace with a similar or slightly better body, like the Dynax 4 or -5, or the “flight forward”: improve. Given my enthusiasm for photography at this stage (and my now substantial postdoc salary) I decided to move on, and bought a €500 second-hand Dynax 7 with a 24-105mm Minolta lens. Shortly afterwards, I bought a reduced (€250) Tamron 24-135mm SP - a great lens, by the way, which I recently “rediscovered”, see below - but by this time, my hobby was in decline for various (personal) reasons.
I also did something that, looking back, was pretty stupid – I bought another body, a cheap second-hand Dynax 5, because I thought the risk of damage to my 7 was too great, and I found it too heavy to carry on long hikes. Not only did this cost me more money whilst giving me no better pictures in return, I also should have realised that the 7 is rugged and simply good great and well worth the extra weight. As a result, I never learned to fully appreciate the 7 and never used it to its full potential. Indirectly this also contributed to a further loss of interest in photography as a hobby.
2005 – present: the Middle Ages & a digital interloper
The final nail in the coffin of the Dynax 5 and -7′s, although the 7 was to have its Swan Song in a 2006-07 trip to Budapest, was the arrival of my first digital camera: a Canon Powershot S60. I bought this mainly to keep in touch with my parents in Holland whom I could now easily send pictures of the activities I and my girlfriend undertook. Despite it being a fairly advanced point-and-shoot, and seeing good use, I hardly was able to use it as a tool for photography for photography’s sake – the best I ever got out of it were fairly good record images of the stuff we saw and the things we did.
On Boxing Day 2006, this camera was nicked (another one bites the dust) from the train but given its proven worth I replaced it with a virtual identical camera, the Powershot S70. Business continued as before. As we (my girlfriend and I) were headed for Budapest a few days after, I was lucky to have the Dynax 7 still with me. It served me well in Budapest although I was frustrated not to be able to use it as well as I should have.
2008 - present: Modern Era - my first digital SLR
Around September ’08, a glossy folder dropped onto my doormat of a certain photography shop nearby. Browsing quickly through it, I noted the Sony Alpha DSLRs (Sony is the company that bought the Minolta/Konica department wholesale after it went belly-up, but that is a rather boring story of economy I’ll not relate here). Somewhere in my brain, a coin dropped onto a switch that clicked, setting off a buzzer… et cetera. I realised I wanted needed to buy a digital SLR – now. Well, soon.
A short bit of research eliminated my initial choice, the A350, as being too basic – essentially a follow-up of the 505si/5/5D line. The A700 was what I needed. The good thing about Sony is that they have a limited range of DSLRs (4 at that point), so there was no need – actually it was impossible – to look further than the A700. The same company that brought me the flyer also had a pretty good deal on a body + lens (a 16-80mm Carl Zeiss which from reviews promised to be a world apart from the standard kit lens) so that was sorted, too.
One very rainy Sunday afternoon, when Network Rail were, as usual, “maintaining” the tracks between Brighton and Haywards Heath, I made my way to Burgess Hill, using what trains did run (one an hour). Three hours later, one grand lighter, and because of the weather and shitty connection not immediately a whole lot happier, but with a feeling of potential fullfilment, I was back home. Since then, my journey with the A700 has been indeed, ever more fulfilling, as evidenced by a rapidly expanding Flickr-account.