The Woes of Using Seven Kinds of Cameras

I have seven types of cameras: AF SLR, Manual SLR, P&S, rangefinder, TLR, folding, and digital. I count the Pentax 645 as a manual SLR. There was a time when I had only AF Minoltas. They all work pretty much the same, with the higher-level models having more features. As I have gotten deeper into the VMLP and added other camera types, I am noticing more shooting mishaps.

When using manual cameras,  usually I begin setting apertures and shutter speeds as soon as my eye meets the viewfinder.  Autofocus cameras remove the need to set aperture and shutter speed for every shot, which is nice at times. Lately, when using AF cameras after shooting manually, I tend to rely too much on the AF camera and stop paying attention to shutter speeds.  I lift the camera and fire on hearing the focus confirmation signal.   As a result,  occasionally I get blurred images because I shot at 1/30 sec without realizing it.   The 700si gives a noticeable camera shake warning; the others do not.  Making matters worse, the Maxxum 7D has image stabilization, which allows me to shoot at 1/30 sec with no problem.  After using the 7D, I am even more absent-minded about shutter speeds.

AF cameras rewind the film automatically. When switching from AF to manual, I have made the mistake of popping open the camera without rewinding the film. That way, I ruined most of a roll in my XG-M.

Another problem is the minimum focus distance (MFD). AF cameras will not fire if the subject is not in focus. With manual cameras, one has to be mindful of the MFD, especially when the camera lacks a split-screen focusing aid. I have been burned more than a few times by standing too close to the subject.

Going from digital to AF film cameras also has its pitfalls.  I have no idea what ISO my digital cameras are set to because I can change it on the fly. That flexibility is missed when I load 100 ISO film and then realize I need 400 (or vice-versa).   If I remember the need for ISO flexibility ahead of time, I load two cameras.   Of course, switching from a digital to a manual camera is just as bad.  More than a few times, I have completely forgotten to set the ISO.

Many SLRs have film windows where one can see what type of film is loaded.  My 1950s cameras typically do not have this feature, which can lead to a game of “guess what’s inside.”  The 50s folding cameras have that little red window in the back, but in addition to keeping one informed of the film frame, they can let in light, which a few of my negatives attest to.

All SLRs make it easy to see what is included in the frame. Rangefinders are less helpful, and when using folding cameras without rangefinders,  what appears in the frame can be a surprise.  I’ve shot more than a few frames using my folders where the subject’s edge was cut off when it looked well within the frame in the viewfinder.  Also, with my Minolta Semi folders, I have to guess and set the subject distance—which is very easy to forget.    It’s also easy to forget to take a meter reading for them. At least a few frames per roll are blank, double exposures, off-center, or out of focus.

When I started the VMLP, I had a few AF cameras. Now that I own so many kinds of cameras,   my shooting time with each is limited and happens in spurts.  Between the VMLP and other photography projects, I am constantly moving between camera types, so I need a better way to ensure my head is in the game. One tactic I will try is choosing the specific camera well in advance and then reading its manual the day before.   Hopefully, that will sensitize me to the camera at hand.   During this time, I will also load the camera and make sure the ISO is proper.   If it’s not a VMLP shoot (e.g., around the city posts), I’ll take a backup P&S camera.   For VMLP shoots, I’ll take two of the same camera.   If two of the same cameras aren’t available, then I’ll take extra rolls of 12-exposure film in both 100 and 400 ISOs.   Taken together, these strategies should reduce the number of mishaps.

Of course, one way to solve these problems would be to shoot one camera for a week or two before switching.  That only works in theory because sometimes I’m testing/reviewing a camera, while at other times, it is a film, a lens, a technique, or a capturing a place.  Spending one week per camera would take over a year and a half.  Add in the lenses, and that goes well into three years.   The VMLP was intended to be a fun experience —and that it is.  But fewer mishaps would be nice.


  1. I guess I’m fortunate that I only own one AF camera, and it’s so radically different from my other cameras that I don’t get confused. But forgetting to focus with a rangefinder can also happen, too. Perhaps concentrate on one type of camera for a while, like “For the next week or two it’s only rangefinders”?

    1. Author

      I’ve come up with a system that has five units: camera, film, lens, location, technique. The goal is creating a schedule 3-4 weeks in advance.

      Part of the reason I have this problem of so many items to shoot, is that many of them became available at ridiculously low prices faster than I expected. Some like the V2, IIB, and V3, I never ever expected to own.

    2. I feel like you’re confusing two things in the first part of your article: AF cameras and program/auto exposure cameras. While most cameras that can provide autofocus also have program exposure, there are plenty of manual focus cameras that also can set shutter speed and aperture for you.

      1. Author

        You are correct. My cameras such as the X-700, X-570, and X-GM, and XD11 can set shutter speed. However, my SR-Ts, SRs, Yashica Mat 124, Autocord, Minolta A,Minolta A-2, Super A, A5, AL, Minolta-35, and folding cameras. “Manual” in this post refers to this specific collection of cameras.

        Moving from my X-700 to a Maxxum 7 rarely causes mishaps, because I am aware that the X-700 can set shutter speed. But in this post, the manual cameras I am referring to are those listed above. Moving from one of these cameras, which require me to do everything to a AF camera, which I can set to aperture priority and fire at will, makes me less mindful at times. That is the point of the post.

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