I love cameras which is not to say that I am very knowledgable about them, their history or how to use them half the time…BUT, I LOVE cameras, especially old ones. So to find out that there was a camera museum in Penang was a no brainer for me. And that their flyer offered a free “special edition door gift” made it a must-see.
So to celebrate our year of travel, we headed to the Asia Camera Museum on a Wednesday afternoon. It sat on the second floor of a restored British Colonial building and was completely empty. I hesitated a moment with the price and the lack of other guests but we were there, so why not?
We entered the museum and the student who took our admission fee followed us in and became our personal tour guide. It was wonderful! Rows and rows of cameras marked their evolution through time, from the big and bulky models to their tiny descendants, over a span of a 100 years. While I started immediately snapping away at these beautiful cameras, James soon found himself their future poster boy as she seemed to take as many pictures of him for their marketing (I assume…hrm) as I did.
And what she took pictures of was him interacting with all of the cool old cameras. We were able to touch and squint through the lens of old accordion cameras, the boxy Brownie and some early 35mms. As we did so, she would tell us how they worked and pointed out their different features. These cameras sat waiting for us atop the glass cases that enclosed many of their siblings, a real treat.
They had a case full of Leicas considered the “Grandfather of 35mm Photography”, more adorable Kodak Brownies, early Nikons (Nikkormat), and Olympuses. Their collection included many I had not heard of too, like Rolleicords, Yashica-Cs, and Zeiss Ikons. Signs in the cases explained their significance to photography.
The Leicas, for example, changed the frame size to 24×36, a 2:3 ratio, and advanced picture-taking from very bulky equipment to the compacts we are used to today. You could tell the owner’s pride in his collection which was very impressive. The accordion cameras were the most fun though. What a fantastic pain in the butt they must have been to use!
To our amazement, she said most of them could still be used today too. The owner smiled as she said he could fix any camera. Many of his tools were laid out for an interactive display with disassembled camera pieces. James set up shop with a magnifying glass and tried his hand at manipulating the finer moving parts.
The museum also had a collection of movie cameras and their prized possession, a “Magic Lantern” from 1910. They demonstrated how the hand-painted glass slide was placed into the lantern to be projected on a sheet between the audience and the projector. The owner reminded how exciting this was for audiences as the technology was so new. The Magic Lantern and slides were in beautiful condition and a delight to look at.
The wind-up movie camera grabbed James’ attention and we learned about the different lens that would be dialed into place depending on the distance. Even more interesting to me was that the camera would only record for FIVE minutes, then action would need to be stopped, the film reloaded and scene continued. FIVE minutes! And actors think they have it bad today!
Our tour completed with playing with a bunch of older Canon models, testing out a hand-run movie projector and a walk through their darkroom. James and I have both developed film in the past and tested our memory of the steps, realizing we had large gaps now. We laughed to remember the challenge of getting the film out of the canister to be developed, without ruining it in the light, and our guide just looked at us. Surely you can relate, right?
The camera museum is a must-see for camera enthusiasts or history buffs with its fantastic variety of cameras. It was fun to be in a place with people who loved cameras as much as me (I’ve probably had a camera in my hand since I was 5). You could tell in talking to our guide and the two owners that they shared a passion for cameras. This is definitely reflected in their wonderful museum. As for the door gift, we didn’t have the flyer so it is still a mystery for me. Darn. Let me know if you get one!
Entrance fee is 20RM (about $6) and sits atop a Canon store. It is definitely a great place to avoid the heat.