Hand-me-down Heroes : No. 3

We love cameras. We love geeking out about their wiz bang specs, elaborate craftsmanship and proudly share/boast about our technical and ergonomic marvels. This series however, will open the aperture on perhaps an oft overlooked aspect of our gear: sentimentality.

Hand-me-down Heroes is a new series aiming to share the stories of the machines that started us down this rabbit hole. Bequeathed by a family member or close friend, these are the cupid cameras that pierced us with the arrow of photographic obsession. Though they may no longer be our daily workhorses, lack some luxurious features, or missing that brand image, the memories they’ve witnessed and the valuable lessons learned have no price tag.

Tim Vickerstaff: Ilford Sportsman

My father was an electrician by trade, but in the late 60’s and early 70’s, also a serious photographer. In fact my bedroom was dad’s darkroom before I arrived and for the longest time I always wondered why the door was painted black. Like many photographers he found work shooting local weddings and events but what he really enjoyed was shooting local musicians and bands for their promotional material.

The camera I remember growing up was my father’s Fujica ST605. I would occasionally be allowed to shoot a photograph with it, if I was careful, and after dad had set up the exposure for me! A camera I still have to this day. My own interest in photography didn’t really spark until quite by accident I acquired my own 35mm camera.

My parents loved to visit antique fairs, at weekends, wherever they could find them and of course I was dragged along. As you can imagine there’s little in such a place to interest a 9 year old but occasionally there was a stall with old cameras on and that was vastly more interesting to me than watching my parents pour over Doctor Syntax engravings, old pocket watches and distressed furniture. I can’t remember where we were, but I do remember it was a very busy event, hot and stuffy. People bustling about and squeezing past each other and generally crowding around the stalls.

My parents had their noses in a few engravings they fancied for the living room wall. I caught sight of a camera stall just a couple of tables along from where we stood. I worked my way between the grown ups and found myself pressed against the front of the trestle table in a really good spot. From here I could easily see everything on the table for sale. Although at the time I didn’t have a clue why there were so many different types of cameras, or indeed what the differences between them were. Since I was familiar with my dad’s Fujica I gravitated towards cameras which looked like his. 35mm SLRs, though of course there were a myriad of other cameras there too. Medium format, range finder, bellows focus, twin-lens’, all sorts. All with price tags attached and were all far more expensive than my pocket money would ever allow.

I was mostly well behaved at these fairs, mostly, but the one thing I never did was touch anything. My dad drummed into me that, ‘you don’t look with your fingers.’ So I literally looked at things with my hands held behind my back. I still do, funnily enough. This occasion was no exception. An older gentleman was trying to push his way through the crowd standing around the camera table. There was not enough room for him, he bumped the table, quite hard. Do you remember those old cartoon’s where a table full of plates is knocked and all the plates fly up in the air and then stack themselves? That’s how I remember this. As many cameras as I could see wobbled furiously. One camera wobbled a little more than the others and toppled over the side of the table and hit the wooden flood with a thud, near to where I stood. The impatient man saw what he had done, looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘you need to be more careful son, look what you’ve done!’

Fortunately for me the stall holder had seen that I wasn’t responsible and had a word with the man and gave him a flea in his ear. Pretty soon my dad came over wondering what all the commotion was. Of course he thought I’d knocked the camera off too but the stall holder spoke to him and explained that it was not my fault, and dad calmed down. Anyway, the impatient man disappeared into the crowd leaving my dad and I stood by the table. The stall holder retrieved the camera from the floor and had a quick look at it. Nothing seemed to be broken; it was still in one piece at least. He told my dad that he didn’t think he would be able to sell it now, so he asked if I would like it. I nodded. He handed me the camera and bid us a good day. The camera was an Ilford Sportsman made in 1960. My first 35mm camera. Mine was the Mark 4 model. It had a 45mm f2.8 Dacora Dignar lens, with shutter delay and rangefinder, though of course at the time I had no idea what any of this meant!

Unfortunately it didn’t quite get away scot-free. The shutter was sticky, the rangefinder didn’t work and if I touched the shutter delay lever the shutter wouldn’t fire at all, needing my dad to fiddle with it to get it working again. But it was my own camera and I loved it. I bought film with my pocket money and took that camera all over the place. Camping holidays and a couple of trips to France. I used it, as best I could until I eventually replaced it with a Chinon CP-7m . The Sportsman was put away and not touched for decades. Of all the cameras I have owned, it turned out to be the camera I used the least, but it was the camera that really got me interested in the ‘magic’ of photography. 

Fast forward 30-odd years I decided to put the camera back into use and I have just had it repaired. It’s now fully working and with my newly rekindled love for film photography I can enjoy using the camera again in a way I never did before!

Tim Vickerstaff

Twitter: @timvickerstaff

Instagram: _tv_photography_

Do you want to be a part of Hand-me-down Heroes? If you’d like to share with us on Japancamerahunter.com, send us a short story of what/ how you acquired your Hand-me-down Hero and relevant photos, optimally sized 1500px across.
Oh and don’t forget your contact details (Insta, website, flickr et al). Send your Hand-me-down Heroes here.  And please make sure the shot is of good quality, you are a photographer after all.