Slip, slidin’, away

Hughes-Owens Sun Hemmi
Slide Rule

Toronto. Paul Simon wrote this song in 1975 and released it a few years later. It showed up as a Simon and Garfunkel song (I have it on a CD).

The song captures the spirit of film and film cameras that are slowly drifting into history. Our fairs often offer film cameras and accessories which are still snapped up by collectors and student users alike.

Like those fabled films and cameras, slide rules were victims of the digital era – but even earlier. An essential tool for scientists and engineers from the 1600s on, pocket calculators and personal computers in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s eliminated their purpose and utility. Similarly, cameras like the Exakta, Leica and Contax all used the ubiquitous 35mm roll film which quietly disappeared as digital cameras and now smartphones took over, making family records fast and simple. 

This Nikon rangefinder camera embraced the famous Contax in design. It is typical of the Japanese film cameras made after the second world war. The Japanese industry overwhelmed the German industry and their brands became standard fodder in camera stores – Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Minolta, Miranda, etc.

One now famous brand was Canon. This Canon knock off of a screw mount Leica was very popular in its time.  In fact, the lenses would even fit a Leica screw mount although the thread was slightly different.

In the early to mid 1960s, Quebec science and engineering students trooped down to Hughes-Owens on a side street in downtown Montreal (1440 McGill College Avenue) to buy relatively expensive slide rules like my Sun Hemmi which is made of bamboo and  badged as a Hughes-Owens 1777 – list price $27 (three month’s pay) and selling at $21.60 with the usual discount (almost every store in Montreal had a discount, if you asked).

Sadly, as digital calculators plummeted in price and later on laptop computers arrived, slide rules lost their purpose and disappeared from the store shelves. As the digital wave rolled on, it soon overtook cameras too and rather pricey digital models began to appear slowly squeezing out film and film cameras. So called mirrorless models like my NEX-6 came along and further reduced interest in film. Being mirrorless, the lens to film distance was much less than for a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera. A niche market for adaptors sprung up allowing film camera lenses to be used again (I have an E-mount to Leica Bayonet that attaches  most Leitz lenses, bellows, etc. to my NEX-6) – modern Sony cameras like the a6000 and a6300 replaced my NEX-6. They still use my adaptor but have much higher resolution sensors and much faster electronics.

Sony Mirrorless NEX-6

And film? Well, it is still around but it’s now a niche product used by affectionados of analogue technology. As Paul Simon once sang … the nearer your destination, the more you slip sliding away


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