This is what started it all. A Conley Junior folding camera, ca 1917. It is one of the earliest roll film cameras. The leather cover over the case is pretty beat up and the bellows has a lot of pinholes, so it's not well-suited to take any photos now. I found it in an antique store near the Oregon coast. (Conley Camera Company was founded in 1899 in Spring Valley, Minnesota, and the plant later moved to Rochester, MN. Conley supplied cameras to the Sears Roebuck Co for many years during this era.)
Another of my favorites, the Auto Graflex Junior, made by the Folmer & Schwing Division of Eastman Kodak (Folmer & Schwing was founded in 1887 and was owned by Kodak from 1905 to 1926). The Auto Graflex Junior was introduced in 1914. This is one of the early versions of a reflex camera, with which one looks down and through the lens from the top via a mirror that flips up to expose the film when the shutter release is pressed. It also features a focal plane shutter. The film is a plate-type with a cartridge that clips on the back. The lens retracts and the leather hood on top folds up and closes into a compact box about 8 inches in all directions.
This is an Ansco Speedex 4.5 Special folding camera, made by Agfa/Ansco in the early to mid 1950's. Ansco is the merger of Anthony & Scovill in 1901. Both companies predate Kodak by almost 40 years and are among the oldest photographic names in North America. Agfa of Germany bought Ansco in 1920. This camera was manufactured in Germany. It's a medium format camera that produces larger negatives than the standard 35 mm film cameras. (Larger negative size is comparable to modern digital cameras with higher pixel counts). This camera has a roll of film in it, that's waiting for a good day to shoot.
Why the fascination with older cameras? I think it's a reminder of when photography was more an art form that also involved science. One had to know the principles of light and exposure, and an understanding of the relationship between aperture, shutter speeds and film speed was necessary...things that modern cameras with their computerized settings take care of for us. The intricate mechanisms that control how fast the shutter opens, or how the film is developed, all without any electrical controls of any type are engineering marvels of its day. They seem crude by modern standards, especially when I set my Nikon next to them. Yet it could be argued that the images taken with those cameras tell of our history, our world, and the lives of those around us. Photography documented much of the people...and the horrors of the Civil War, and later images by the likes of Dorothea Lange left us with stark images of the Great Depression.
Today's images are so easy to obtain and so plentiful, they almost become cheap and routine. Just look at an Ansel Adams photo and see the grandeur of nature. Those images were few and far between, and it took a lot of hard work to capture them. These old cameras help to remind me of those efforts and the artists behind them.
(I was tempted to seek out and copy some of those images onto this blog, but I don't want to run afoul of any copyright issues. Instead I will add a couple of links for your perusal: