Eulogy For a Camera

February 14, 2011

I didn’t mention this before, but when I was in Okinawa shortly after New Year’s, my trusty Canon camera finally shuffled off this mortal coil, after five years of superlative service. I bought it in Halifax in 2006, shortly before embarking on a three-month-long trip to Greece and Turkey, via Paris. At the time, the Canon SD-400 was a medium-high-end pocket camera; if memory serves, it ran about $400, about what I had paid for a decent SLR film camera some years before. A friend of mine had the predecessor to the SD-400, and over time I had come to appreciate its diminutive size and its extraordinary capabilities. Having one of my own would mean that I wouldn’t have to tote a two-pound photographic albatross everywhere I went, and that notion was strongly appealing. Also, it used an SD card for storing images, and my laptop had an SD card reader built in; this made the Canon a much more attractive proposition than its archrivals, Sony and Olympus, both of which used proprietary storage cards requiring USB cables (and thus the attendant aggro of keeping track of same).

Not that you can tell from the picture of my rather elderly and abused example, but the SD-400 was quite the slick little piece in its day.

About the size and shape of a half-inch thick stack of credit cards, it made for a perfect fit in a shirt pocket. The iconic design defined Canon’s small cameras for a number of years, becoming known in photographic circles as “box and circle”. The body was brushed aluminum, rather than the plastic of its competitors (and of some of the less pricey Canon point-and-shoot alternatives), and it was Made In Japan, undoubtedly individually and lovingly assembled by one proud and elderly Japanese craftsman armed with micrometers, magnifying glasses, and all manner of arcane precision hand tools. At the end of the work day, he went home for supper and his wife asked “How was your day, honey?” He replied “I made one very fine camera for Master Bruce Tierney of Canada. It will become his constant companion.” Satisfied, he sat down to a meal of tempura udon, accompanied by a chilled Kirin. Or so I imagined.

I bought a padded cloth carrying case for it, with loops that attached it to my belt. About the only time we were apart was when I was swimming or in the shower.  For the first couple of weeks of ownership, I babied it, polishing it at the end of each day of use to remove the fingerprints and body oils that I assumed would eventually mar the precision finish. That all came to an abrupt halt the day I made a misstep off an Istanbul curb while furtively snapping a shot of an aged Turkish couple in traditional dress. I went from vertical to horizontal in considerably less time than it takes to say that, and the camera flew out of my hand, skittering across the rough pavement and winding up underneath a parked car. “&@$%&%” I said, presumably in capital letters, fearing the worst.  It was just out of reach, naturally, so since I was flat on the tarmac anyway, I slithered under the car to retrieve it. Afterwards, I sat on the curb to lick my wounds and to field test the camera’s functionality; surprisingly, everything seemed to work fine (on the camera at least). But the camera body had gotten scratched and gouged in several places, with two immediate corollaries: 1) it became immeasurably less interesting to potential thieves, and 2) I was forever freed from the borderline obsessive maintenance regime; from now on, the camera would get basically the same level of attention as, say, a toaster (which is to say: none). For the next five years the Canon would look about as appealing as Nick Nolte’s mug shot, but perform in a manner that totally belied its size and specification. Here are a few of my favorite shots; click the pics for a larger image:

Santorini courtyard

Adrift in the Greek Islands

Relaxing cats

Astro, gone but not forgotten

Back then, houses were built to last...

We were inseparable for some years, traveling together to such far-flung locales as Pusan, Taipei, Hiroshima, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Santorini, the Turquoise Coast, Cappadocia, Paris, a couple of dozen US states, and every last one of Canada’s Maritime provinces. In all that time, although it picked up several more dings and scratches en route, there was never a performance hiccup.

And so it went until January 2011, at which point I turned the camera on to take a twilight picture out my Okinawa hotel window, and was greeted with this image on the video screen:

Whatever it was, it was clearly not representative of an Okinawa evening. I tried changing the battery, switching the camera on and off, muttering incantations and imprecations, all to no avail. Happily, there is a manual viewfinder, something you don’t find on analogous Canons nowadays, so I was able to use the camera for the remainder of the trip, albeit minus the video screen and thus lacking the facility of olden days. The writing was on the wall; it would limp through the remainder of that tour of duty, but no way would it make the next one. So now it’s time for a new camera. The replacement will be a Canon as well, slightly larger and of much higher specification, although at a lower price point. Cool as it is, it is hard to imagine that I will like it nearly as well.

Sayonara, tomodachi!