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Rare film cameras still hold allure

Tuesday, 05 December 2017
By Andy McCourt

Ashley Heuchan with an old Leica.

Camera collector Ashley Heuchan has seen many changes in photography over his 50 years in the business. “Digital and mobile phone cameras are great,” he says, “but there is a magic about film, processing and the incredibly engineered cameras that used them that is hard to describe.”

“Photography changed the world from around 1850, in much the same way as the printing press did four hundred years earlier in 1450. By the 1880s, anyone could take a faithful photographic image on a relatively inexpensive camera, invented by George Eastman of Kodak fame where I began my career; and produce beautiful black and white prints. Ordinary people could finally record and share what they saw and it got better and better as the 1900s wore on.”

The durability of film-using cameras has been compared to the resurgence of vinyl LP records, collectable wristwatches like Rolex and Omega and even old valve radios. Film is still manufactured in 35mm and 120 roll film sizes and even 4” x 5” cut sheet and 127 roll film are available new on eBay – with the processing services to go along with them.

Some professional and art photographers refuse to move away from film cameras, especially those made by German maestros Leica. “The romance of film cameras is captured by the greats such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Rosenthal, Leibowitz, Ansel Adams, David Bailey, Litchfield, Helmut Newton, Karsh and the great war photographers like Robert Capa whose work graced the pages of Life magazine. There are dozens of others.”

Heuchan’s rare camera collection, accumulated over 50 years, is being auctioned off in several tranches at www.collectablecameras4sale.com starting December 1st 2017. For a while they were on display in his Murray Street, Perth business but space became a problem and he retired from the business, so they went into storage for years. “Even now, as I go through hundreds of boxes, I am amazed at what I find,” he says.

Lot 18, the Riken Steky ‘spy’ camera from the 1950s, uses 16mm motion picture film.

Featured in the first collectablecameras4sale auction is, one of the very first Nikon cameras made post-war, as General MacArthur re-engineered the Japanese economy to a peacetime one. It still bears the engraved ‘Made in Occupied Japan’ on its baseplate. Only about 400 ever made it to market from this batch. Another is a production model of the very first 35mm single-lens reflex camera – made in Russia by Gomz and dubbed the ‘Sport.’

There are numerous Leicas from 1930 up to the 1980s including two ‘M6’ 1987 ones that have never been unpacked – they are still in sealed boxes! There are a few Leica ‘M’ mount lenses that can still be used on the latest Leica digital cameras. “Leica made superlative lenses,” says Heuchan, “and have kept the M bayonet mount going so, you can fit a 60-year old Leica Summilux lens on a brand-new Leica M9 digital – and see the difference a great lens makes!”

The auction includes other makes such as Zeiss, Voigtländer, Canon (also a Made in Occupied Japan model), Rolleiflex and a company called Riken who made a miniature ‘spy camera’ – later to be re-named Ricoh. A 1901 Century Grand wooden plate camera recalls the days when photographers put a dark cloth over their heads – something today’s iPhone users might also think about in bright sunlight!

The first of several auctions of Heuchan’s vast collection starts on December 1st and ends on December 12th, the unpacking and grading of the next lot already underway for early 2018.

1901 Century Grand wooden plate camera.

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