The first ever film camera I ever bought was a Canon AE-1, and I loved it. Everything about it felt satisfying; I loved the resistance of the film advance lever, the sound it make when you pressed the shutter, and the weight of it in my hand. I shot rolls and rolls of film with it and enjoyed learning more about exposure, even if I didn’t always get it right.
One day, the worst thing that could probably happen to a film photographer happened. I finished my roll of film using my Canon AE-1 (opens in new tab) and excitedly set off for the developing lab. I dropped it off and couldn’t wait to see the images, so I even paid extra to have it done within the hour.
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With spirits high I waited patiently in a coffee shop next door, remembering all the memories that I’d captured on this roll. Holidays with my boyfriend (now ex), camping with friends, a festival in Croatia… it was one of those rolls of film I had used over a period of months, but only for the most important moments.
Just before the hour was up I eagerly returned to the lab. “Maybe it’ll be ready early,” I thought to myself. I skipped up the stairs two at a time and thrust my slip of paper with my order number at the man behind the desk. He went out back to grab my photos and came back empty-handed. Obviously they weren’t ready yet, that’s fine, I was early.
When he returned he said, “I’m really sorry but the whole roll was blank.” What?! How could it be? I knew I loaded the film properly, the shot number was increasing and everything felt as it should. Luckily I had my camera on me, so I gave it to the man in the shop to have a look – and he told me my shutter mechanism had broken.
I was beyond devastated. So many memories were lost, I cried there and then in the shop, probably making the man behind the desk feel pretty uncomfortable. He offered some advice about fixing it, but I was too busy mourning the photos I’d lost forever.
A few weeks later I finally took it to a repair shop and was basically told to buy a new one, as it wasn’t worth fixing. So I did just that – I searched Gumtree, second-hand shops and eBay to find one that I could afford. Eventually, I got lucky and was given one by a customer when I worked at camera store Wex. I’d told him about the fiasco and he felt sorry for me, and he said he had one lying around that he never used.
That was three years ago, and I still haven’t put a roll of film through it. Not long after he very kindly gifted me the Canon AE-1, another customer lent me his Nikon FM2 (opens in new tab). Even though it was very similar to the AE-1 there was something I preferred about it – but maybe that’s because I was a Nikon D750 (opens in new tab) user at the time. I also had a lot more lenses to use with the Nikon, so it quickly became my main film camera.
Months went by, and every time the customer who lent it to me popped into the shop he’d ask me how I was getting on. I told him how much I’d used it and that I would definitely buy it from him and he just said, “Don’t worry, it’s yours – I’m just glad it’s gone to a good home.”
I have spent obscene amounts on 35mm film (opens in new tab) and developing costs since. I get so much joy from using my Nikon FM2, I’d shoot with it all the time if I could but sadly my bank is not a bottomless pit and some jobs require digital.
Since that fateful day, I still can’t seem to bring myself to use my Canon AE-1 out of fear of it malfunctioning. In my heart, I know that the chances of the same thing happening again are slim and that it could even be happy next to my Nikon – but I’m not prepared to risk it when I know my Nikon works, it takes beautiful pictures and it’s never faltered.
Perhaps I am being slightly unfair towards the AE-1, and maybe one day I’ll start shooting with it again, but for now, I’ll opt for my Nikon and hope it doesn’t do me a disservice.