MYSTERY – Thrift Shop Camera Had Film Inside: by TIM PRESTON


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The clear, plastic bag marked “$8” was bulging with 35mm film containers, including many in still-sealed boxes, and I initially shook my head and walked past thinking, “Who in the world would want a bag of film in this day and age?”

Then, I stopped and looked a little closer at the package.

“No way,” I thought.

At the bottom of the bundle was a box marked “Canon Sure Shot 105 Zoom Date.”

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Inside the box was a pristine, bubble-wrapped camera with an LCD indicator showing a near-dead battery, and 23 frames exposed on a 24-shot roll. The date indicator on the back showed April 17, 1994.

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It goes without saying that I got “all excited” about it.

To start with, I was astounded there was any juice at all remaining in that old 3V Lithium battery. Most of all, however, I was rabid to retrieve that roll of film and see what, if any, photos could be developed.

As it was, there was just enough power to keep the display flashing.

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In order to do anything at all, I first had to find a replacement battery. I remembered this type of “point and shoot” camera automatically rewinds the film once you take the last available photo. Opening the back of the camera would surely spoil any surviving images.

At nearly the exact same time, the hard drive on my computer began to fail in dramatic fashion, and I had to set the old camera aside.

Computer repairman Bruce Holbrook of Olive Hill came to the rescue. He not only revived my laptop, but found a twin-pack of 3V Lithium batteries somewhere in his collection and made a Christmas gift of them.

You might think I would have been ready to test drive the renovated computer, but in fact I couldn’t wait to get home and pop one of those batteries into that little camera. Which is exactly what I did.

I pointed the camera at my wife, listened as the gears and motors came to life and snapped a shot with flash, before the machine began whirring into rewind mode as expected.

As a photographer who survived the transition from film to digital imagery, I am one of many who is guilty of romanticizing “the good old days.” I still remember the distinct aroma created by the lingering chemical fog of every newspaper darkroom from 1983 until about 2001(?), when it just became easier (and more important, cheaper) to do it all by computer.

With the old roll of Kodak 400 removed and a new/old roll of Fuji 400 installed, I’m carrying the little camera with me everywhere I go. I’ve been immediately reminded of several of the limitations of the format, particularly the fact that there are only 24 photos per roll of film.

I mean, I’ll shoot 24 frames on a digital camera and think nothing of it. Film requires a considerably more conservative approach. In the long run, that just might be the lesson to be learned from this one.

The mystery twisted when I looked inside the owner’s manual, hoping to find out what the “RT” setting on the master wheel does. Inside the front cover was a receipt for the camera, dated 1999. The date on the camera’s back was clearly inaccurate.

We dropped the roll of film from the camera (I’m still finishing my first roll) at Walmart, where you can indeed still get film turned into prints. To my chagrin, however, I learned they give you prints and a photo CD but do not return your negatives. 

We’ll have to wait a week to 10 days to see what, if anything, is on that film. The suspense is killing me. 

In the meantime, I found I still have an old (and obscure) SLR style 35mm camera among the antiques on a shelf in our living room. A 100-percent manual model, I may just dust that thing off, clean the lens, load a roll of film and see what happens next.

Story and photos by TIM PRESTON


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