1973 – I was 15 years old. Most kids my age would choose to spend all of their money on a car. My obsession vacillated between bikes and cameras. On a crystal-clear Saturday morning, my dad and I piled into a hunter-green Chevy Impala, which he used to chauffeur me downtown to Murphy’s Camera on 4th and what was then called, Walnut Street. I had all of my hard-earned loot from my summer jobs burning a hole in my pocket. Ray Murphy spent the entire Saturday selling me a used Nikon Nikkormat with a brand-new 50mm f2 lens, and showing me how to operate it. The total sale was $274. $75 for the camera and $199 for the lens. Dad had to kick in $24. Dad was unusually quiet and attentive for the presentation. Being a professional ad-guy and photo-enthusiast, he had more than just a paternal interest here. (Not to imply that this paternal interest was of any diminished value)
Since then, I’ve owned at least 6 more Nikons and can’t begin to count the lenses. Most pros I know are not loyal to either Canon or Nikon for any reason other than if you want to jump ship, you have to sell everything and start over. And then, there is that pesky learning curve. All of the buttons are somewhere else, and have different names. The lenses mount in opposite directions.
That’s what is happening for me this week. After months of grueling research and agonizing soul-searching, I have concluded that a bag of Canon gear is going to be more appropriate for my evolving professional needs right now. I’m not saying one brand is better than the other, just that one is a better choice for me at this moment.
Over the weekend, I sold my Nikon flash right there on the sidewalk in front of Heine Brothers on Frankfort Avenue. Just moments ago, with one hand, I waved goodbye to my 80-200mm f2.8 lens from the parking lot of Highland Coffee. The other hand clutched a wad of $20 bills. As a testament to the value of the brand, or as a demonstration of my respect for my equipment, I was able to sell that lens after 15+ years of loyal professional service for just $100 less than what I paid for it. I bought it used for $700 around 1996. I betrayed it today to the first guy smackin’ down $600.
I’m not getting the same good nibbles on my D300 camera and wide zoom. Both are newer, yet more prone to obsolescence. That’s OK, I’ve got the luxury of being able to wait for the right home – the loving family spiel…
But either way, by week’s end, I’ll be a Canon guy – after 39 years of fierce loyalty to Nikon – just like that. You can call me a brand-tramp if you want, but I defend my honor with this: I’ll be marching my butt in to Murphy’s Camera to make the switch. Dad won’t be there, and neither will Ray. Two of Ray’s grand kids are working behind the counter now. His son, Pat runs the place, and has for many years. I can get it cheaper online and avoid the sales tax, but at what cost? It’s not an easy process! I’m apprehensive about entering into a significant change in my tool/toy-box. I really need to be reminded, if only symbolically, of the blatant demonstration of the faith and confidence that Dad and Ray had in me on that Saturday morning in downtown Louisville in 1974. At just the right moment, both of them conspired to champion me, and bless the path on which I was about to travel. What I would not give today to thank them both, in person, for that Saturday. It is one of the best explanations I have for why I really like Saturday better than those other 6 days. I’d like to thank them and give them the credit due for what became of me when I rushed out into the world with a $274 camera that to me, blurred any distinction between me and the guys who were making the static – flat pages of magazines and newspapers come to life. I owe Ray and Dad a debt for that one moment they gave to me when I felt that I had as much of a claim to possibility as anyone else. It is a moment that has lingered for 39 years, in varying degrees of intensity. But Ray Murphy and Philip D. Fitzgerald II won’t be there this week for me to thank, – or will they?
Footnote, for those of you wondering: Yes, I may have betrayed and abandoned the Nikon brand this week, but remain loyal to the confidence and trust placed in me by a couple of old guys in a camera store. The Nikkormat that I bought in 1973 will remain the cornerstone of my permanent collection of cameras, right next to dad’s graflex35, a wedding gift to him in 1948, from my mom.