The Camera Chronicles: Asahi Pentax SP1000 / by Deen Schroeder

I believe that every film camera has its own story and this series will be a telling of how my love of film cameras started and how each camera found its way into my possession. The weird and wonderful world of film photography is not easy to get into and understand but hopefully, through the telling of these stories, you will gain insight into this world, my many random adventures, the wonderful people that have crossed my path and the reasons why I love film.

In March 2016, I was lucky enough to travel to Madrid but this is not a post about my travels but more about how I found my very first film camera.

Unlike many other photographers, I was not born into a family that had a history of photographers. My grandfather never shot on Hasselblad’s and no one handed me a beautiful old camera after learning that I had a keen interest in photography. My journey was a little different and it was a path I started on by myself.

I remember landing in Madrid and arranging to meet with two people that I had met through Instagram for a local tour through the heart of Madrid. We walked from street to street, stopping at interesting landmarks and I my Spanish tour guides bombarded with loads of interesting facts about this the city. One of them noticed my wrist strap for my digital camera and thought he should get a similar one for himself from one of the local camera stores. We found a tiny little store and went in with the hopes of finding a writs strap for my new Spanish friend. At that time, I was not a gear fanatic and I had no intentions of buying anything, but the store did have a selection film cameras on display. It was in this tiny little store in an even smaller alley near Plaza Major that the film bug bit. I needed to get myself a camera before leaving Madrid. 

I didn’t buy a camera immediately because we were on a mission and I wanted to do a little more research on film cameras and their prices.

A couple of days later I decided to go back to the same store and attempt to buy the Minolta X-700 that I had eyed on the shelf. To my complete dismay, I could not find the store and I did not take note of the store's name. I walked up and down the tiny little streets in the hopes of finding the obscure little camera store. After about an hour of wandering, I found an old faded Kodak sign on a wall, but it was dark and nothing looked familiar. This had to be the shop but it was definitely closed and hidden behind a complexly opaque security door.

It was the night before my flight back home and it was looking like I would not be leaving Spain with a film camera. I was despondent but I could not give up. I would find myself a film camera for a decent price somewhere in Madrid.

On the last morning in Madrid I decided to test out my skills with Google and found two camera stores that might sell film cameras. It needs to be said that all of the sites were in Spanish and not very user-friendly. The two stores that I did eventually find were underwhelming, to say the least. The first was touristy camera shop with a couple of cheap digital cameras on display and the second had a few old cameras but the combination of a tiny range and terrible customer service lead me to walk out without a camera.

Completely disappointed by this failed mission we started making our way back to Plaza Del Sol to catch a train back to the hotel and by what can only be described as divine intervention we decided to take a new path back to Plaza del Sol and we stumbled across the B&H of Madrid, Fotocasion. This was the mother of all camera stores and bigger than any store in South Africa. They had a wide range of modern gear and more importantly, they had an entire section dedicated to analogue photography. The cabinets were filled with Leica, Hassleblad, Nikon, Canon, Pentax and a whole lot of other brands that I had never heard of before.

I was overwhelmed.

In the first 2 minutes in front of the cabinet, I realised that I was ill-equipped to make an informed decision about what camera to get. It didn’t help that no one in the store spoke a word of English and my Spanish doesn’t go further than “Ola!”

I must have spent about an hour in from of the cabinets drooling over the incredible cameras and the hundreds of classic lenses. Eventually, I decided the best way is to start with a budget. 200 Euros would be my budget and I would try to get something easy to use and completely manual. This seemed to be an easy enough formula to convey to one of the clerks and he handed me a few options and  I settled on an Asahi Pentax. The clerk even threw in a free roll of black and white film.

It’s not fancy and rather basic, but I finally had my first film camera. The Asahi Pentax SP1000 with the Super Takumar 55mm f2.

Buying my first film camera was an exhilarating experience but as soon as I got back to the hotel I realised that I don’t know how the camera works, I don’t know how to load film and I have no idea how the light meter worked. I knew absolutely nothing about film photography.

When in doubt, do some research. I started reading and searching for YouTube tutorials on the camera. There are tonnes of videos about film cameras online but only for the popular brands and well-known models. I managed to find a 30-minute video that explained every part of the Asahi Pentax SP1000 and before long, I loaded up my first roll of film.

The first shot on film was not easy because we had no time to spare and had to catch a taxi to the airport. Whilst waiting outside our hotel, I took the camera and tried to get something that felt like Madrid. I had no idea what I was doing but I hoped that I followed the instructions laid out in that video correctly and snapped my first and only film photo from Madrid.

That single click of the shutter in the streets of Madrid started a passion for photography that I had never felt before using digital. I had loved photography before that click, but in those moments I fell in love with photography in a whole new way.

This is every shot from my first roll on my first camera.