A little story about a Canon TLb and letting things go

Canon TLb

I gave away a camera this week, and it felt great.

When I was plunging back into 35mm film photography earlier this year, I discovered that the shutters on both of my high school cameras needed repair. So I bought a used Canon TLb, which is basically a simpler version of my beloved Canon FTb, and fell in love immediately. The TLb felt fantastic and familiar in my hands the minute I picked it up and I had a tremendous time learning how to do basic maintenance like replacing its foam light seals.

Tiffany Lamp at the Queens Museum
A Tiffany lamp at the Queens Museum shot with a Canon TLb and a Canon nFD 50mm f1.8 on Fujifilm Fujicolor 200.

And of course I love this particular camera for kicking the door to 35mm photography back open for me. Shooting with it was an absolute pleasure. My eyes are terrible and I hate peering through the small viewfinder of my digital SLR. Looking through the big viewfinder of the TLb made me feel like I could actually see again.  And it was a total thrill getting my first rolls of film back and seeing such lovely results, particularly with color film, which I never shot much of 20 years ago.

New York State Pavilion at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
New York State Pavilion at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Shot with a Canon TLb on Fujifilm Fujicolor 200.

But over the next few months, I picked up several more used cameras and got my original Canon New F-1 and Canon FTb repaired, so the TLb ended up spending most of its time on the shelf. I’d somehow become a vintage camera collector, so I liked owning it — it’s part of a fantastic line of classic Canon cameras that includes the TX, the FTb, the F-1, the New F-1, and even the Bell & Howell FD35, and I entertained this vague notion of trying and owning them all.

But in recent years, I’ve been trying to simplify my life and possessions in other ways, finding places to donate hundreds of books and other physical objects I just don’t need any longer. So while I’ve loved every cheap vintage camera I’ve picked up this year and become even more attached to them after fixing them up, I’m conscious of the fact that I don’t really need all of them and could benefit from clearing some space on my shelf and in my mind.

So when I found out that a friend was very interested in 35mm photography, I was thrilled to pack up the TLb for him. A number of friends and family members have given me old cameras over the last year, so it felt like continuing a fine tradition and passing on a kindness.

And cameras are meant to be used. I believe that analog photography is a beautifully slow and human undertaking that can bring more beauty into the world and more peace in the hearts of those who practice it. So I love the idea that new images will be made and experiences had because this camera’s been put back into use. I’ve got a few more cameras I’m planning to spread around and I can’t wait to see what new pictures result.

But as I told my friend, it made happy on yet another level to pass a camera to a new home before I’d become so sentimentally attached to it that it was hard to let go. I love my high school FTb and New F-1 not just because they’re great cameras, but because my mom bought them for me. At the time, they were the most expensive single items anyone had ever given me and represented tremendous trust and hope and love. Since my mother’s passing, they’ve become almost painfully precious to me. I’m so incredibly grateful for everything they represent and so happy to still have them. But I could see myself finding a way over time to attach the tremendous connection I have to those specific cameras to all my other cameras, which doesn’t feel like the most emotionally helpful of all paths to take.

This is a little story about a little thing. But in the end, we give up everything, whether we’re ready for it or not. So I’m grateful to my friend for letting me practice giving something up in a happy way by taking my pretty little TLb before it became too much of a treasure. I feel like we’ve dodged a tiny, silly sadness and turned it into a tiny, lovely joy. And my mom would definitely have approved.