Ode to the Plain Camera

Added on by Shawn Poynter.

I recently read a review of a pipe by famed tobacco blender Greg Pease (more about my pipe obsession later). Something he said about the pipe he was reviewing struck a chord with me.

"Why did I choose this particular pipe, out of all the Comoys in my collection, for the review? Because this pipe isn't anything out of the ordinary. It's not a highly prized, unusual or rare shape. It's not an ultra-rare Specimen Straight Grain. It's not very old. It hasn't been pampered and lovingly cared for throughout its life. It's just an old Comoy Tradition, representative of the breed. It's typical, and I wanted the review to present fairly what these pipes are, not just what they can be. Old Comoy Traditions are not difficult to find, and are not terribly expensive. Almost anyone can get one if they peruse the many estate pipe mailers and sites."

Well said. And applicable to a lot of the things we interact with every day. Probably because of the ridiculous number of cheap, old, plastic cameras in my 'collection,' it made me think of a camera I've been shooting with lately.

The camera is a Tower 10B rangefinder. You've probably never heard of the brand. I hadn't until I bought it from a friend on a whim. It's interesting because of how plain it is. It isn't expensive, rare, or of exceptionally high quality. It's just an old, random rangefinder. You can find cameras like these by the dozen at thrift stores and flea markets in your town. Just like Mr. Pease's pipe.

What's fun, though, is actually using these little buddies. The focusing mechanism and light meter no longer work, so you have to guess the distance to your subject and set focus on the barrel and either guess exposure or carry a hand-held light meter (usually the latter for me), but everything else seems true. It exposes well, no knobs are loose, and the winder acts as if it were assembled last week. The photos are surprisingly sharp and contrasty (click on the picture to see a couple pictures from the first roll I shot with it) and have the warm look/feel that keep pulling me back to film from time to time.

Most importantly, it's tiny and compact. That's more than I can say for my cumbersome sack of digital gear. I just need the camera and a light meter and I'm in business.

Is it tack sharp? Nope. Is it a little difficult to use? Yep, especially when you're spoiled by a camera that lets you check focus and exposure on its back. Will it ever supplant my Leica in the corner of my heart that loves cameras so much it makes me feel a little creepy? Never. But it, or a camera like it, will always be in a the back seat of my car or a bag I've packed for a trip.