How did I come by the picture above? Did I run it through an "old photo" filter in the GIMP? Did I dig it out of some ancestor's steamer trunk in the attic? No, I took it in 1997 on Ektachrome Elite slide film.
I had just discovered the concept of travel, and gone on a month-long tour of California with friends. Naturally I had my good camera along, and a large tupperware container full of rolls of film. Alas, on day 3 of the trip I opened my knapsack while sitting on a rock next to this pond here, and the camera fell out. It took several bounces over the rocks and with a disheartening sploosh, sank into the murky depths. A few bubbles came up.
Hint: Don't do this.
The camera could not be reached from dry land. It was early in the morning and there was nobody around, so I could ignore the "no swimming" (and implied "no skinny dipping") sign and go in after it. One of my sneakers got away from me, bounced over the rocks, fell in the water, and floated away like a little boat.
It was actually lovely water to swim in, just the right temperature.
Green murky water ran out of the camera when I recovered it.
I had no camera for the rest of the trip. What a novel sensation, having to enjoy the scenery for its own sake rather than concentrating all the time on juggling 5 pounds of photo equipment and saving the experience for later by photographing it (but missing out on it in the present.)
Anyway, the first thing I did was rewind the camera and take the film out. Then I took off what could be taken off, being the battery, the lens, the back, the bottom cover, and the viewfinder focusing screen, and ran a great deal of clean tap water through it while putting it through its mechanical motions. It seemed to work, but then it jammed up and would not unjam. I let the camera and lens dry as best I could in the summer heat, then packed them away. I might have bought a new camera body, but the lens that took the bath was my 28mm, and the combined price for an Olympus OM1 and a decent 28mm lens on short notice in tourist California was more than I felt the trip's photos would be worth.
After I got back to Ottawa I started calling camera repair places. All said "throw it out." I was sentimentally attached to the camera however, so I finally got someone to look at it, and when the repair estimate came to $225 including tax for the camera and lens I went for it. A decent secondhand replacement body and lens of similar quality, bought in the stores, would have cost at least $350+tax. It seemed that the camera had suffered more damage from bouncing over the rocks (while in its leather case) than from the water; I was told the mirror box was cracked.
When I got it back, the shutter speeds weren't right. When I got it back the second time it seemed to work but then it turned out to have a light leak so I had to take it back again. It has since developed weirdness in the slowest two shutter speeds, and the light meter needle sometimes gets a little bit stuck so an exposure error can result if I don't watch for it. I have, however, taken over two hundred pictures with it since and they came out OK, so maybe this camera will still last me to the end of the film photography era.
Knowing what I know now, if I was going through this again, I would not have the camera repaired. It will never be the same as before.
Oh yes, about the film. Nobody would touch it when told where it had been, and I didn't want to lie to anybody, maybe they were right and it would pollute their chemicals and ruin other people's films. So I finally tried some black-and-white chemicals that I had around, just to see what would happen.
The developer came out bright orange. The film came out a semi-opaque green colour with very faint monochrome negatives -- you can barely see them. The HP PhotoSmart scanner pulls the pictures off as low-contrast sepia-toned positives, with a charming "old photo" look to them, which is partly lost when converting to straight monochrome and tinkering with the contrast, as with the picture at the top of this page.
Oddly, among all the faint negatives there is one that is much denser than the rest. Here is the picture, just as the PhotoSmart software saved it. The shadow detail is almost as good as with real black-and-white film. I must have really overexposed this picture.
These pictures are of the Point Reyes Light Station north of San Francisco.
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