At the end of my first week at Algonquin College, there occurred a moment of extreme disappointment. This was my first week in college, my first week in their Photography program and, truth be told, my first week handling real cameras. And on Friday we were assembling the 4×5 camera systems that we rented from the school.
Putting together a Sinar 4×5 is fairly straightforward, yet time-consuming. About a half-hour time-consuming…especially when it’s your first time. And so, half-an-hour later I have an assembled Sinar 4×5 View Camera. Now time to cock the shutter, press the cable-release and…disappointment.
Sure, it worked. Just not the way I wanted it to. I wanted a loud slap, a big bang, some kind of explosion perhaps. Instead, just the soft mechanical click:
That’s it. There’s no mirror slap, no film advancement, no flash tubes going off. For all the work and patience I put into this, I wanted some kind of auditory satisfaction.
Things get a little better as you increase your shutter speed. At one second, you get a nice, mechanical buzz as the timing mechanism counts down:
Nowadays, the sounds that surround me are quite different. And in some ways, much more satisfying. My main camera is a Nikon D800e. Here’s the shutter on High Continuous:
But even better is the sound of some flash heads firing. Here’s some Norman flash heads at full power:
And there’s always the slippery printer and the droning scanner:
However, to this day, the camera sound I love the most is the mirror slap from a medium format camera. The clunky, heavy thud really made you feel like something important had just happened. Hopefully it had.
More often than not, what we hear today is a rendition of sounds, not least from the digital cameras that fit in your pocket. Take your iPhone. It sounds like a camera, but it could sound like anything (or nothing at all, they’re actually silent). For an interesting listen about designing the sounds around us, check out this podcast by 99% Invisible.
This article first appeared in Curious Quarterly.