From the Brownie to digital

Posted 7/21/19

I took my first picture at the age of 8 years old.  My sister Mary Lois let me use her Brownie camera. Taking pictures with the Brownie was simple. You cranked an empty frame of film into place …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Don't have an ID?

Print subscribers

If you're a print subscriber, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one.


Click here to see your options for becoming a subscriber.

From the Brownie to digital


I took my first picture at the age of 8 years old. 

My sister Mary Lois let me use her Brownie camera. Taking pictures with the Brownie was simple. You cranked an empty frame of film into place with a knob on top. You pointed the camera, clicked the button, and voilà. Cameras and photography have changed since then.

One of the biggest improvements has been with the delivery of the photograph. Unlike today’s instant digital gratification, it took a while to get your hands on the pictures taken with the Brownie.

For one thing, we didn’t take as many pictures. I don’t remember seeing a lot of pictures of the food we were eating. Come to think of it, I don’t remember anyone taking a selfie, so I’m not sure how we updated Facebook back then.

The point I’m trying to make is that it often took upwards of a month to take all 12 pictures on a roll of Kodak film. Then once the roll was full of memories, it took another week or two to have them developed.

My first picture was of Boss. He was the old dog that made every step with me. Waiting for that developed picture was like waiting for Santa Claus. Mary Lois picked them up a few weeks later. Those pictures were 3x5 inch slices of life stuffed into a cardboard envelope.

I must have shaken the camera when I pressed the shutter button because the image came out fuzzy, but I loved that photograph. I thought cameras were magic.

The Polaroid camera changed the game, but I never was a fan. After the camera spit out the picture, you had to wave it around like a church fan to dry it off.

Fast forward to 1971 when Uncle Sam sent me to the Panama Canal Zone. I bought my first camera in a duty-free zone. It was a Canon FTb.

The delivery time for pictures improved significantly because I could shoot a roll of black and white film and develop it myself in the darkroom.  

When the first digital photos came on the scene, most of us old photographers were skeptical. We didn’t think that digital pictures would ever be a match for a hand-printed photograph. Some people will argue that they still aren’t, but I’ve since changed my mind.

My first digital camera was a used Canon 10D. I was hooked. The pictures were very good, and the camera was fairly simple to use.

Last year I began saving my mad money. That’s the money I make writing this column. My goal was to upgrade my camera. I looked at catalogs, read specs, and customer reviews. I decided on a Canon 80D. It cost more than the Plymouth Valiant I bought when Jilda and I first married.

The camera takes incredible images. The only drawback is the learning curve to use it is steep. It’s more complicated to operate than the International Space Station. 

One morning this past week, I pulled a folding chair down to the backyard fence. With me, I had a cup of coffee and my camera with a 250mm telephoto. On the other side of the fence is our flower garden with sunflowers, zinnias, and other flowers I couldn’t name if my life depended on it. 

We planted the flower garden for our bees, but one benefit that we did not realize is that our garden is hummingbird heaven. 

I’d barely set my coffee down before a female hummingbird buzzed within inches of my face. I sat statue still. For a moment it seemed the tiny bird was going to stick her beak in one of my ears. Fortunately, she zipped back over to an orange sunflower. 

After snapping off a bunch of pictures, I headed inside. Viewing the images on the tiny camera screen made me smile. I was pretty sure I could not have taken the pictures with a Brownie.

Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book, "Life Goes On," is available on You can contact him via email at