I have always wanted a camera. From a very young age I have conjured up the photographs I would have liked to take by framing them with my fingers. My eldest brother had a Brownie Box Camera and developed the black and white photographs (we didn’t think of them being monochrome then) himself. What magic it was to see the pictures emerging and then being hung up to dry!
My first camera was a Kodak Instamatic. It was compact enough to fit into my rucksack when we hiked in the Natal Drakensberg and it was robust enough to survive a number of falls. During the 1970s we mostly used slide film – what an expensive business. One could reduce the cost by mounting one’s own slides if one could cut straight and had sufficient patience.
I recall wonderful evenings at university when members of the Mountain Club would gather in a lecture theatre to share their slides of the various outings we had been on. It was great fun seeing these on a large screen. Some years later, we would hold family slideshows, which were also fun for everyone.
I was sans a camera for years until I received a Konica SLR as a gift. By then slides were no longer an option and so, with a growing young family, taking colour prints made sense. I have filled albums with the antics of our children. This was also an expensive undertaking, however, as one paid for the duds too (oh, so many of them!).
Along came the wonder of digital photography. The magic of this made my fingers itch to record so many aspects of nature. My children had grown up and were leading their own lives away from home when I became the proud owner of a Sony DSLR. Still stuck in the mode of having to pay for developing and so on, my first forays into digital photography were very conservative: I would take perhaps twenty photographs on an outing – now I take hundreds!
One afternoon I was sitting on a bench at the Berg-en-Dal rest camp in the Kruger National Park when a bearded man stalked past me without making eye contact. I was still cradling my camera in my lap on his return along the path. This time he paused to ask me to identify a particular bird call. “It’s a Black-headed Oriole” I replied with a smile for I had been watching it flit from tree to tree. He took this as a cue to tell me about his camera, a Pentax with the same range as my Sony. He told me he had taken some lovely photographs of birds.
“They must be good,” he informed me because his brother-in-law “who is a ‘real birder’ often admires them.” He gave me a rundown of the specs of his camera and told me proudly that it ‘only cost’ what he regarded as a reasonable sum. “It is probably more versatile than the long lenses I see poking out of windows everywhere”, he assured me.
On that note, I must relate my experience with long lenses. If you want to see a collection of enormous lenses in the wild, visit the bird hide at Lake Panic near Skukuza – also in the Kruger National Park. On one of the earliest times I entered there I almost felt like hiding away the camera I was so proud of: it was minute in comparison with the canon balanced on the ledge by the camouflage-kitted photographer sitting next to me.
I sat quietly for some time, observing the birds and the terrapins, while listening to the whirrs and clicks all around me. My camera was way outclassed! Nonetheless, it was inevitable that I would also want to photograph the Grey Herons feeding their chicks. Then the terrapins sunning themselves on a rock drew my attention. A Giant Kingfisher perched on a branch well above my head … I extended my telephoto lens and clicked self-consciously. At some stage I murmured something self-deprecating to my canon-wielding neighbour. He turned to me with a twinkle in his eye.
“I am focused on the herons and that is all I can photograph at the moment. I cannot move this lens in a flash to catch the kingfisher as you have just done.” He explained that he had moved ‘up the ranks’ of cameras and lenses until he had reached a point of specialisation. “I have thousands of photographs,” he smiled. “Now that I can afford a lens like this I want ‘special’ photographs – something out of the ordinary; something ‘different’.”
In due course I became dissatisfied with the quality of the bird photographs I was taking. My Sony retired when I did and I now have a Canon 200D with a Tamron lens. It is still a ‘smallish’ camera that has a little better ‘reach’ and provides me with enormous pleasure – as does the camera on my cell phone!