Your First Camera – By Dan K


by Bellamy /

10 min read
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Your First Camera, by Dan K

Dan seems to be on a bit of a roll at the minute, and who are we to complain? This time he talks about his beginnings in his photographic journey, and how things have changed for the current generation. I still have my first camera, and it is still working!

I come from a long line of enthusiast photographers, so while my parents didn’t do much coaching, they had good intuition as to what camera I should use. Around when I was 7, they bought me a Polaroid One Step and gave me enough pocket money to buy one pack of film per week. Flash bars were something I saved up for.

The advantage of the Polaroid was that I had instant feedback as to whether I took a good photograph or not. Being a full auto camera, I concentrated entirely on subject, composition, timing, context, angle and having sufficient light. That’s already a lot for a child to handle. Focus and exposure and the rest of the operation process differ between cameras anyway, and I might have lost interest if I couldn’t get any to come out right.

With only 10 shots per week, I wouldn’t spray and pray. Every photo had to be a keeper and I took my time over it. If there wasn’t enough light or if the subject was wrong I just wouldn’t shoot. It slowed me down and made me think. Today, I take one shot. I’ll take another if someone insists, but I know I already have the shot, and the second will be the same, except less spontaneous.

Years later, I have tried a variety of Polaroids but Impossible Film would jam or burst or not come out right and I never felt the same joy that I did before. Instax comes close, but I miss the square format and the excellent detail that I used to get. We do use Instax at my kids’ parties, because nobody wants to wait for scans and everyone cherishes a physical photo.

Today’s Child

Today’s typical child is exposed to photography at a younger age. Usually the first camera they use is a parent’s smartphone or tablet. There is nothing wrong with that and indeed I think it may be the ideal start. Just as with my Polaroid One Step, the child will concentrate on timing and composition and the overall effect visual effect it has. Feedback will be instant and that is the best way to learn, especially if you are there to guide them and provide feedback. Teach them what a good photo looks like and don’t be jealous if they take a better photo than you got with your Leica Monochrom.

I’m OK with kids using face distorting filters and stuff like fake cross-processing and even HDR (a pet peeve of mine). It just adds to the enjoyment and they will learn that post-processing changes the feel of a photo.

For my kids, the next step was a basic digital compact, because they are cheap enough to lose and there’s no risk of them draining your battery playing games. I gave my daughter a Yashica that was on sale, then a Pentax Optio for the same reason.

Once they could pre-visualise a photograph, I let them borrow my film cameras. It’s definitely a step up, because you have to wait to get the film back before you can see the results and the child has to be cognisant enough of what they did in order to learn from mistakes. But, me being the film fanatic that I am, it had to be done.

Let me tell you a story about when my daughter was six or seven. She approached me as I was getting ready for work with an important question to ask.

“Daddy, will you live forever?”

“No, love we all pass on sometime, but I expect to live for many years yet.”

“OK, but when you die, can I have your Canon P? It’s got a great finder.”

So that’s a camera I can never sell…

When my daughter went to her primary school leaver’s dance, at the end of the party her friend’s dad passed her his heavy M240 and asked her to take photo of the parents group shot. Poor girl stood there trying to get it to autofocus in live view. My daughter took it from her and nailed it. “It’s just like an M4”, she explained, as if that made any sense to her friend. My point is, if you don’t teach your kids how to use your camera, they’ll have to learn it all from scratch themselves. My daughter can’t ride a bike properly, but she can rock a Noctilux. 

Even her little brother, who is not as technically inclined as his sister did awesomely well at three, street shooting in Macau with a Zeiss Ikon ZM rangefinder and a pre-zone-focussed and stopped down 35mm. He has no social anxiety and would just walk up to girls on the street and say “Smile!”. He returned half a roll of pretty women giving adorable smiles.

I also started teaching my kids about the workings of a camera because I think it helps them to understand better what a camera actually does and how to make a picture with it. I started by building a kit camera a plastic Recesky TLR. My daughter actually got pretty good at it, which is amazing because even I can’t shoot it well.

One day I brought back a Rollei 2.8GX and handed it to her to check out. “Oh. my. GOD!” she exhorted. “It’s so easy to focus (compared to her Recesky). It’s even got a split prism and a meter. This is cheating!”

Here’s a picture she took of Eric Kim that same night.

I have also demonstrated and tried to get my kids involved in black and white film processing, but they are currently too easily distracted by the telly to do the agitation and chemical changes at exactly the right time, which is a shame, because employing child labour would save me a lot of work. Let’s pretend that’s a joke.

If in doubt, just get your kid a means of making a photo and teach them how to use it. Share the joy of taking photos and coach them. Whether they follow in your footsteps or just take in the experience, you’ll probably get more joy out of their achievements than you receive from your own.

Other People’s First Camera Experiences

Here are some experiences submitted to me on twitter:

Box Cameras

  • Brownie. Hadn’t taken pics before & only shot a few snaps. 1st that I used seriously was Dad’s Yashica-Mat. Loved it. Duck to water. Did it [tried shooting as an adult] recently. Same model Brownie, better eye for picture. – ‏@ozalba

Rangefinder and Viewfinder

  • First camera I used: Olympus 35RC. First camera I owned: Pentax SP. first camera I bought: Rolleiflex 3.5F. – ‏@xbleh
  • Olympus trip 35 – 8yo. Just bought another one. Love it. – @MyDarkroom
  • I got my Smena8 when i was 10-12 something and i forget it in the train to Kiev with half roll exposed inside. Sadly but fact; -))) – @victorbezrukov
  • A friend’s dad gave me an Argus C3 kit when I was about 14. I grew to hate it pretty fast. The viewfinder sucked, & lens vignetted. I got a Kodak law suit instant camera (Colorburst 250) for Xmas in 1980, but only might have shot 3 packs of film because it was so much $$$. – @TheAgeOfAnalog

Twin Lens Reflex

  • I was around 8 or 9 years old when I got my first a Kodak Duaflex II followed by a Kodak Instamatic X-15F, then my Canon AE-1. I had a Canon AE-1 passed on to me by my dad, jammed in 2003 or so. 2013 got one from Dan and still love it. – ‏@ianchristieinfo
  • Coronet D-20 TLR. I was 7 or 8 yr old. Hated the strap, loved the pics. Haven’t used it last 40+ yrs. Just found out it still works. Now want to shoot it but I’ve only got 35mm film and the shops are closed. Thanks Dan! ;) – @Hier_komt_Alex

110 and 126 Cartridge

  • At about 6 I had this beauty [a blue Fisher Price 110] from Santa, then I started using a Pentax Spotmatic at around 10 – @giacomofrullani
  • ‏Pretty sure my Gran’s 110, Halina(?) make. I still have it. Many heads not in frame. Probably about 7? there were also disposables along the way. Then the Advantix and Polaroid Joycam. – @elsiexzero
  • Kodak Ektralite. It was a hand me down. I shot terribly with it but kept shooting anyway. I was around 10. #happyface – @jenquest
  • Kodak Instamatic X15. Loved it. I was a little kid and wondered if it was named after the hypersonic jet. – @kieranwagner
  • Kodak Brownie 110, aged 8. Loved it and have now bought one for my 3 yr old daughter. – @westen30
  • A clear Vivitar focus free camera (you could see the wires & such inside.) I was 10, & I got on with as well as a 10 year old could. – @amanda_raney
  • Agfamatic 126, age 6. Used it for years – @takgyver01
  • Mine was small and red and produced oddly-sized square prints. No idea of the brand. I took photos of the Crystal Palace dinosaurs, the floor, and pigeons. I think I was about 7. – ‏@mothdust
  • I got my first camera why I was 7-8 years old. It was a basic Kodak that took 110 cartridge film :) – @SteveMoose76

Point and Shoot

  • Barely remember having an Olympus mju-II zoom 80. Never really shot much with it, later sold it. Now looking for one again >_> – ‏@Halkotron
  • A Konica P&S with electronic zoom at 12. Didn’t get along cause I started being interested in photography 4 years ago ahha – ‏@joanolleb
  • My first one was a hand-me-down Kodak Disc camera. As for age…6? 7? I didn’t use it very long before I got a brand new Pentax P&S. – @fresnel10
  • Kodak disc, probably about 8, we got on fine I have no desire to revisit it, next was a Fuji 35mm P&S that I got as a prize – @The_Old_Penfold
  • I was 7, it was a little black square 35mm thing, not an actual proper brand (can’t remember what it was) & I used it ’till I was 16. My parents just wanted me to buy an instant camera I could get along with (my dad is all for encouraging photographic experiments) which means I am now on my 5th instant camera (considering I got on with 4/5 & still own 3/5 I’m not doing too badly haha). Still interested! I find it all very handy, bc my eldest niece is 5 & interested in cameras. Gives me an idea what to get her :) I don’t want to get her a digital kiddie cam, bc I think w analog she’d have much more value to the photos as it takes more effort – @HildeBCM
  • An Olympus superzoom, 14, and soon afterwards got published in Nat Geo material (not even joking ;)) – @darkhorse166
  • Mine was a Canon point and shoot when I was 14. Somehow, the screen broke. The next camera wasn’t until college. Fujifilm S1800. – @KristenWACamera
  • My first camera, I received from my father in 1995, it was a inexpensive Nikon point and shoot, I can’t remember what model it is. – @camerafilmphoto
  • Olympus AF-1 Mini; I was around 6-7 when I first used it – ‏@samsnch


  • SRT101, 13y/o, got on ok but had a great mentor. A few scratches here n there but otherwise the 30+ year oldie ticks over beautifully – @terryfinneysec
  • Nikon F3hp at 15.. my dad finally let me have it after years of begging to borrow it all the time. Electronics gave out last year :( – @OmarKenji
  • Nikkormat…my dad’s, but he let me start using it when I was around 11. First camera of my very own: Pentax K1000. – @marenphotog
  • First “real” camera was a Minolta SRT-101. Still have it, still love it. – @silverbullet_tc
  • Canon AE-1, passed to me from my dad, when I was around 10. still have it, and still love it. I still have and use my AE-1, though it’s starting to show some light leaks… – ‏@audioper
  • NikonF for me-saved a year for a used one. Same thing-picked my shots carefully. – ‏@bcli_photog
  • First camera: Minolta Maxxum 5000, it was my mother’s. I remember her saying “You don’t know what you are doing” but I did. Later when I needed an SLR for college, it became mine. Still have it. Repaid her by gifting my first DSLR back to her. – ‏@UNEXPhotography
  • Canon EOS 500D for my 18th birthday…came along great with it, especially after getting a 50mm f1.8! – @Olli_W_1


  • If we’re going to be technical my first camera was a Nokia 6225. I sometimes wonder where that phone is. – @InvisibleElvis

Disposable or Single-Use

  • Disposables until 18, then a pawn shop Canon T50 and 50mm. It worked well enough, lost it in a flooded basement. – @Uncl3Rick
  • Disposable Kodak camera, 10 years old, funny and great! Each time I shaked the camera, the flash fired! – @Bapteash

The responses show a great diversity of first cameras. What camera people received depends partly on when they were born and whether their parents were enthusiasts. Some had more success with their first camera than others did. The general theme seems to be that it was a major formative experience and a great joy that lasted for many years, up to the present day. 

YOUR Experience

I would love to hear about your first camera, and how you got on with it. Was it difficult or easy to use and did it start a life-long interest in photography? How have you introduced your kids to photography and how much success have they had to date? Feel free to brag ;-) as I found it impossible not to. Please share everything with us in the comments below. And if you fancy a challenge and inspiration, get a camera similar to your first one and shoot it! See how much you have improved.

Dan K is a life-long enthusiast photographer. He celebrated his return to film by collecting just about every quality camera and lens that he could lay his hands upon. Along the way he has developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of film cameras and film processing. Follow him on twitter for a humorous look at photography techniques and technology from all eras. Follow him on Tumblr for his images, journey of photographic discovery and a generous helping of gear-porn.

Past articles that he’s written on similar topics:

Text © Dan K. All rights reserved.

He was also on ‘In your bag’
You can read all of Dan’s other articles here


11 comments on “Your First Camera – By Dan K”

    Dan Castelli December 20, 2015 at 3:36 am / Reply

    Wonderful article; I love how your daughter is not intimidated or afraid to handle equipment.
    Great line “It’s just like an M4.”
    I grew up in a home surrounded by camera equipment. My mother ran a portrait studio in the 1940’s [the war years] in Connecticut; that is how she met my father. He took pics as an amateur all his life. I ended up teaching photography & graphic arts for 35 years.
    My first camera was a Honeywell Pentax H1a. My daughter told me that when I die, she’s taking my M2. I told her it’s coming with me…great pics in the afterlife! She can have the CL.

    Kevin Thomas December 20, 2015 at 8:38 am / Reply

    First camera I used was a Kodak Instamatic my parents owned back in the late 60’s. I remember doing some work for a neighbor and buying slide film and taking a bunch of pictures of classmates. I should hunt down those slides to see how good they were.

    Floyd Takeuchi December 20, 2015 at 1:58 pm / Reply

    First camera (1962): a Kodak Brownie Fiesta, a 127-format box camera in ehich I usually exposed Kodak Verichrome Pan. It had a clip-on flash unit that used bulbs, which I thought was pretty cool. I am in awe of your young daughter; I don’t think I thought about Leucas until I was well into my 20s, and even then would gave been hard pressed to tell someone the difference between an M3, M2 and a IIIF.

    Hilde Heyvaert December 21, 2015 at 2:31 am / Reply

    Love the article! Actually you make a great point about getting direct results, it’s made me rethink getting my niece an regular analog camera and maybe get her a cheap second hand instax instead.
    Probably a 7s, because whilst they are definitely not the best, they are sturdy enough to survive a child :)

    Ralph Hightower December 22, 2015 at 10:02 am / Reply

    My parents had a Polaroid Land Camera, with bellows focusing, that I took a few photos with. In high school, they bought me a Polaroid Swinger camera.

    After graduating from college and a few years into marriage, I bought a Canon A-1 camera in 1980, which I still use today. Back then, it was state of the art with shutter-priority, aperture-priority, plus program mode, as well as manual and stopped-down metering.

    Ulrich Haeuser December 23, 2015 at 1:06 am / Reply

    My first camera was a Voigtlaender Vitoret. It was a birthday present from my father and my uncle to teach me the basics: Combination of ASA, Time and Aperture and to estimate distance. Still a part of my camera collection. The first camera i bought was a Leica M2 – still in use sometimes. I still catch myself checking the figures from my todays automatic cameras. My younger son started to document our holiday trips with my back-up R3 – at this time a Little boy with a Hügel camera. Both sons like to take pictures with different tools – mobil => semiprof. cameras. I

    Alex Ibasco December 23, 2015 at 10:55 pm / Reply

    My first camera was the Minolta XD-11 and truly enjoyed its compact body, Smooth sounding shutter, Bright Acute-Matte Focusing Screen, On Screen Aperture/Speed and metering info plus multimodal Aperture/Speed and Manual Modes – a nice combination of features in those days.

    I still have the XD11 together with an assortment of Rokkor Lenses that I also use with a Sony A7rii via adapter. So this combo allows me to enjoy 35 mm film and Digital Photography on the same set of Minolta lenses.

    ZDP-189 December 27, 2015 at 5:39 pm / Reply

    Kevin, I have recently restored a few rolls of my parents’ photos taken with Kodachrome on a Kodak Instamatic. The square format (and lack of critical focus) was a giveaway… but these are precious memories of their college days and we’ll worth the effort. Let me know on twitter if you need tips for fixing the inevitable mould and fading.

    ZDP-189 December 27, 2015 at 5:46 pm / Reply

    Floyd, I think there will be two kinds of kids in this generation: the kind who have never used anything besides a phone and the kind who are immersed neck deep in exotic film cameras. Time will tell who will make the better artists, but I suspect the latter.

    MonkeyShaman March 1, 2016 at 8:05 pm / Reply

    The 620 coronets are excellent solid cameras, wouldn’t even sell mine under duress.

    Doddy Purnama Putra March 31, 2016 at 3:39 pm / Reply

    my first camera is my nokia 5130, shoot alot of it during holiday. but my first film camera is my pinhole camera which i built by my self because i can afford any camera back then. it’s fun, though i have to wait a year till i found the developer shop arround my town because most of them mot developing a BW film anymore. then when i could afford one i choose yashica FX-3. pretty good camera with cheap price.

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