What was your first camera?

1989 LA car show model
1989 LA Car show model taken with a Nikon N4004

As a kid I always wanted a camera, but not just any camera, an SLR! I really didn’t know much about them, except that they looked cool and I was eager to learn how to use it.

At that time, the Pentax K1000 was a very popular “starter” camera, but nope, I couldn’t afford one. So several years later, around 1989, I managed to save up and buy a used Nikon N4004s, which set me back about $300 or so. It came with a basic Nikon 50mm 2.8 AF lens. Living in Santa Barbara at the time, I recall eagerly going home and quickly loading up a roll of Kodak film, 36 exposures so I could “live it up”!

The camera felt solid and had the “advanced” auto focus feature. I purchased a camera bag at the local department store and headed out to photograph the world…well the city of Santa Barbara anyways.

The local UC Santa Barbara campus always had events or places to shoot, I never ran out of photo opportunities. Parties, school rallies, political events, all took place in and around the campus. Plus the school is located right at the beach, so the scenery was a perfect backdrop for photography.

On the weekends or holidays, a quick drive down to Los Angeles provided even more events. Car shows, festivals and an endless supply of people to photograph. Back then, walking around with an SLR meant that maybe you knew what you were doing even if you didn’t.

The N4004s was not the best camera to learn manual photography, the aperture settings were awkward, done by turning a dial on top of the camera instead of turning a ring on the lens. But I made do with what I had. A friend also had a similar camera, so we compared photos and techniques. Little did we know the best lesson learned was to be patient when taking an image.

Each roll of 24 or 36 exposures cost $4-$7, not including the developing, which would set us back another $5-$7. I believe photography was a much more expensive “hobby” back then. But we loved it. We took our time, looked for something we found interesting, framed the shot, pressed halfway on the shutter to focus, then…click! The sound of the mirror, shutter and film advancing was magical.

Twenty plus years and several camera bodies and lenses later, I still recall the day I purchased that N4004s. What was your first camera?

1990's UCSB anti war rally
Early 1990's UCSB rally taken with a Nikon N4004


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