A Quartz Date Dilemma – By Taylor Ervin

Photographs freeze time. They capture the light reflected from objects that happen to occupy a particular space and time, and for me, those objects are often my friends. I know that the light reflected from those objects (my friends) is fleeting. Thus, I hope to preserve those fleeting moments in little drawings of light.

The photographs I take serve as my prosthetic memory–a catalog of images that’s too vast to be contained within my own brain or that is at least too difficult to be quickly and accurately recalled. In order to enhance my prosthetic memory, I prefer to use cameras which imprint the date onto the photograph, so that I know precisely when the photograph was taken. My current tool of choice for doing so is a Minolta AF101r. However, I recently discovered that the range of the quartz date function only spans from ‘80 – ‘19. Strangely, the camera wasn’t manufactured until 1994, so the inclusion of dates ranging from ‘80 -’93 is puzzling. But in any event, it seems that the folks at Minolta weren’t anticipating that anyone would still be using this camera more than 25 years after its inception. On the other hand, once 2080 rolls around, the camera may have a new lease on life. But given that I might not make it until 2080, and given that the quartz date function is a crucial one for me, I’ll have to find a new camera.

I recently purchased an Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom, but I found that the date range on that camera gives me just one additional measly decade. The top end of the date range on that camera terminates at ‘30. I’m currently 30 years old, and I hope to continue taking film photographs throughout what I hope is a long life, and I’d like to find a camera that can keep up.

I know I could get a brand new Nikon F6 with date imprint that extends well into the future, but I love using cheap plastic point-and-shoots for capturing candid moments of my friends. The small cameras are easy to slip into a pocket and are not as intimidating to my subjects as a full-sized SLR would be.

I’m disappointed by the pessimism of the camera manufacturers of the 1990s who were unable to see that their products would still be functional and useful for many decades. Brands like Minolta, Nikon and Olympus must have seen the writing on the wall as digital cameras began to creep into the market, and it became obvious that film’s glory days were numbered. The resurgence of film as medium has forced film enthusiasts to grapple with the many difficulties of the aging photographic instruments they are forced to use, since so few manufacturers are churning out brand new film cameras. The quartz date problem is just one among many. However, extending the date range of a digital readout seems like it would have required very little additional effort on the part of the manufacturer, and the oversight there is quite unfortunate. I’m sure these date backs could probably be “hacked” to display a wider range, but I don’t know if it’s worth the effort. Eventually I may have to manually record the dates of my exposures in a notebook and then affix the date to my prints later, but I do still hope to find a compact camera with a generous date range. The good news is I still have over a decade to figure it out.

You can see my photos at taylorervin.com

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15 thoughts on “A Quartz Date Dilemma – By Taylor Ervin”

  1. Why not continue to use the Minolta? As per 1/1/2020 set the date on 1980. You probably will know that you didn’t make any pictures in 1980 etc. and also from the picture content you probably can tell when the image ‘approximately’ was made. You then only have to remember that images with a 1980 imprint are actually taken 40 years later, and so on….

  2. I have a Minolta Freedom Escort QD, with the same predicament. I think the range is 1987 to 2019. (Or something like that). So I only have this year – like a time capsule. For me date printing isn’t a feature I specifically wanted. But with it been a matter of time, I am using the date function until it runs out.

    At the worse case scenario I set it to by birth date (1987) for taking photos on my birthday, every year.

    I’ve also wondered if there is a hack for the dateback, sometimes electronic functions like this are as simple as flicking a switch, but I imagine a date back would probably involve using a wire, computer or soldering.

    Your point and shoot that goes to 2030 is probably the same date back as every point and shoot before digital took over completely.

    You never know, people might start making film cameras again… Maybe Bellamy Hunt will bang one on his high end film camera… If it ever gets made…

  3. Samsung Vega 170 QD runs until 2098 – Pentax Espio 24EW runs until 2099. I think other late-era compacts with quartz date released by Pentax and Samsung around that time will also have the same date range. Check their online manuals.

    1. Thanks, Tom! I’ll definitely check those out. Do you own either of those cameras? What’s your assessment of those models beyond the generous quartz date range?

  4. I have had the non-date version of the Samsung, and it was pretty well put together with lots of features. If you pretended it was a 38mm lens you’d probably be happier.
    Have had a play with the 24EW, and it felt like a quality piece of kit. All the 2001-era Pentax have a nice feel thanks to the aluminium shell, the Espio 150SL Date and 28SW also had it. The last Pentax series is the Espio V series in 2003, which are closer in feel to the Samsung – the date versions should have similar end dates too.

  5. I hate to be the dark cloud in this conversation, but there is another factor in this situation. Having been at this film thing for over 40 years I feel the need to tell you. The camera itself probably won’t last. I have paired a P&S with my main camera for at least two decades. I am now on my third one(presently a Rollei Prego 90). They wear out. I have a few others waiting in the wings for the day the Rollei dies. Find some other cameras,test them out and be ready for the inevitable. I still have my previous cameras in my collection because they were so much a part of my life. I also consider my film archive to be an alternate memory source(not permanently tied to an electrical source). Keep shooting, it’s a wonderful life.

    1. Thanks for the advice, Bill. I do have a nagging fear that all my film cameras will one day be inoperable and beyond repair. Do you find that the point and shoots wear out from sheer old age or from frequency of use. Meaning a 25 year old camera that’s seen light use will have a longer life span if I were to pick it up and start shooting with it today than a 15 year old camera that’s seen much heavier use. Have you had the same issues with SLRs wearing out? I know the well built, mostly mechanical cameras like Leicas etc will basically last forever if well maintained or at least long enough to surpass my own lifespan. My camera for more “serious” photos is a Pentax P30t from the early 90s. It takes great photos but I also worry about its longevity.

  6. My personal experience has been that they wear out from use. I don’t know that they were designed for heavy use. Mine all have had a zoom lens and that was where the initial problems started. I prefer a zoom because it allows me to do multiple crops of a situation without moving closer. I would say though that I feel they fulfilled all my expectations for a less hardily built camera. As far as SLRs go I have had one that became irrepairable but that was due to digitals taking over and the part was no longer available. I shot with a Canon F1-n from 1984(purchased new) till 2015. The mirror mechanism wore out. If this model had mirror lock-up I probably would still be using it on occasion. I have a friend who shoots with(film) Leicas and he has still been able to get them repaired when needed. Having multiple bodies of the same camera is probably your best insurance. I never pursued replacing my F1-n because a longtime photographer friend gave me his Contax G2 kit! But I still miss the Canon in certain situations(I have a 35 T&S that is wonderful for architectural shots). My other recommendation is to have a different model of camera for different situations so that you don’t put all heavy use on one specific body. I recently got to borrow and shoot with a Noblex 6 150U. WOW! Try some other cameras if you can because you may discover a as yet unknown love for a specific format. I wish you the best in your film endeavors and search for your next camera.

  7. I’m really glad somebody has begun the discussion on date backed cameras. I began a Project 360 in November with a number of cameras with this facility- The Kyocera/ Yashica Samurai, Olympus Mju 80 and the Olympus iZoom 60 APS camera. I read last year that for some date backed cameras this would be the last year and having a box of cameras it was a great excuse to choose a few cameras to shoot throughout the year. I’m not 100% sure when the dates run out but I’ve forced myself to shoot at least one of them everyday so hopefully I’ll have a bit of continuous record of this year. I’m sure somebody will find a hack for at least one of these little units (maybe someone who makes colourful large format cameras and Arduino shutter speed testers in his spare time). Some people look down on date stamping but it’s quite a cool feature. There are apps that add dates to phone pics so if the hipsters are doing it, it MUST be cool! Thanks for writing this piece, I think there’s another avenue here to explore

  8. Maybe setting it to 88 and then research a way of masking the numbers inside the camera to project the correct date. Very thin sliver of tape perhaps. It’s upside down and back to front I think which is something to remember.

  9. I am doing a little project where I photo the same landscape from the same angle on the 1st day of each month. I use a Pentax IQZoom928 for that purpose. Unfortunately, the date back’s year ended in 2019, so I reset the year to 1980– just have to add 40 years to my recollections. No problem! Sort of a hoot because I was using this camera in my work back in the 1990’s– bought it specifically for the date back function.

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