I try and carry a camera with me in my laptop bag on my commutes to and from the office each day. My drive takes me from the coast through 25 miles of rolling Sonoma County hills into town and back again each evening. From morning ground fog to gorgeous sunsets, there's always a chance there will be a photo opportunity.
Once at the office, whatever old camera I'm using spends the day on my credenza and often generates questions about its vintage or, more often, about why I still shoot film. For the last week or so, I've been putting my first roll of film through a newly acquired Pentax ME, so it has been occupying the place of honor at the office. One afternoon, the commercial photographer we use for product shots saw the ME and said "You really love those 1970s SLRs don't you?" I hadn't thought about it that way before but, yes...I guess I really do seem to bond to the cameras of the 70s.
When I think of the cameras I really love to use; Nikon F2, Olympus OM-2, Pentax SPF, Canon F-1n, Pentax LX, they are all essentially 1970s cameras, give or take a few years. These were cameras made during the last gasps of the mechanical era, honed from chunks of metal, some still assembled by hand. The world's leading camera manufacturers were pushing the technology as far as it would go with built in, through the lens metering, titanium shutters offering faster and faster speeds and, around the middle of the decade, automatic exposure modes. Olympus introduced the OM series, driving Nikon and Pentax to release smaller, lighter bodies as well. And because the Japanese cameras companies had only recently gained ground over their German competitors, quality was still job one. I am always amazed that I can pick up a 40 year old camera for fifty bucks on eBay and it still works superbly. I get such a kick out of unwrapping an old camera, inserting a battery and looking through the viewfinder, watching an analog meter or LEDs come to life.
There is, for certain, a bit of nostalgia to all of this. These were the cameras that I drooled over in the pages of Modern Photography as a teen. Cameras that, working for minimum wage after school and on Summer vacations, I could never afford when they were new. However, there's more to it than a pining for the past. These relics of the analog age are still very capable cameras today and deeply satisfying to use. Take this little ME I am shooing right now. It's a great camera. And when you consider that it's a platform for a huge selection of incredible Pentax lenses, I can't think of a more affordable way to shoot film in 2017.
So, while I listen to my Fleetwood Mac Rumors album on the turntable, here's my list (so far) of "Cameras Conceived or Built in The 1970s That You Should Try Before You Die."
NIKON F2: Hand-built, mechanical masterpiece. A heavy hunk of a camera. Gorgeous!
PENTAX SPF: 1973's evolution of the amazing Spotmatic. Open-aperture metering and stunning Takumar lenses.
OLYMPUS OM-2n: A camera that begs you to pick it up and shoot it!
CANON F-1n: Released in the Bicentennial year. You could hammer nails with this camera and the FD lenses are extraordinary.
PENTAX LX: Made its first appearance near the very end of the decade, but a 70s SLR all the way. The only Pentax 35mm with interchangeable finders.
NIKON FE/FM: Back-up bodies in the camera bags of most professional Nikon shooters. Excellent build quality and spot on metering.