Choosing your Camera (Jun, 1946)

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Choosing your Camera

In a quandary about what camera to buy? Decide to what class of picture-taker yon belong and then choose.

By Robert Brightman

SO YOU have been bitten by the photo bug, now that photographic equipment is again available? You’re out to buy a camera? Well and good. Which one then? Oh, you’ve got a friend who owns a camera and he is going to help you make your choice. Fine. Well, you can rest assured that you are going to buy a camera like your friend’s, one very similar to it, or else you are going to buy the camera your friend covets. For such is the way of the photo bug.

The writer has owned nearly every camera from a view camera down to a miniature and having been once engaged in the business of selling cameras to defenseless amateurs he can afford to speak objectively.

First, let us determine to which class of picture-taker you belong. Do you expect to be a casual snapshooter or do you want to graduate into the ranks of the advanced amateur? Do you want a camera just to take pictures of the baby as lie grows up, a record of your vacation, a picture of the new girl you met, or just a plain sunset? If you are saying “yes” to all of these you are the garden variety of snapshooter and deserve high praise for being so honest. On the other hand, if you expect to crash the salons and make lovely portraits of your friends’ wives and occasionally of your own, you belong to the advanced amateur class and heaven help you.

Let us take in hand the problem of the casual picture-taker first. Simplicity should be his keynote. Any box-camera would do, of course, but such being the vagaries of human nature a Brownie will not do and since we must keep up with the Joneses, we shall shop around for a camera like the one they own. Fine, perfectly all right to get a camera better than a Brownie, but, and this is a big but, get a camera taking a large picture. Something that will not have to be enlarged. And by a large picture we mean at least 2-1/4 x 3-1/4 in. The 616 size (same as 116 or PD16) is to be preferred. This size is 2-1/2 x 4-1/4 in., costs but five cents more per roll when buying film and usually no extra charge is made for the larger print when the film is developed and printed. These two sizes are large enough to look at and show to your friends without having to explain that that little spot near the tree is George putting out the campfire. They are large enough so that the bugaboo of grain is 110 problem. You don’t know what grain is? Well, you’ll soon learn and stay awake nights trying new concoctions to eliminate the specter GRAIN.

Now that we have agreed that we are going to use a camera taking a fairly large picture, as pictures go now-a-days, let us decide on the lens with which our camera is going to be equipped, for the lens will determine, to a large extent, the cost of our camera. If we expect to take pictures of the baby in his cradle or of Fido eating a strand of spaghetti from Junior’s hand we must equip ourselves with a camera having a lens of aperture f-6.3 or f-4.5.

The “Speed” of a Lens Let us digress a moment and tell you just how these mysterious numbers are arrived at. All cameras have a certain fixed distance from the lens to the film when the camera is focused at infinity. This distance is known as the focal length. If we divide the diameter of the lens into this focal length we will arrive at these awesome figures. Suppose the camera measures 6 in. from the lens to the film when it is focused at a distant object. The lens measures 1 in. in diameter. Dividing 1 in. into 6 in. gives us six or f-6.0, the “speed” of our lens. If our lens is closed down by means of the diaphragm so that it only measures 1/2 in. in diameter then again dividing 1/2 in. into 6 in. yield 12, or f-12 the reduced speed of the lens. If we had a large lens measuring two inches across, this would give us a value of f-3.0 when divided into our focal length and we would have a very “fast” lens indeed and be the envy of our friends.

Now a camera having a value of f-4.5 in the 2-1/4 x 3-1/4 in. class can be purchased from about $30 to $50 (all prices in this article do not include Federal Excise Tax), depending upon shutter equipment of the camera and other refinements such as finish and trim. The same cameras with f-6.3 lenses range from $18 and upward. These cameras cost only two to six dollars more in the next larger size, e.g., 2-1/2 x 4-1/4 in. If possible get the larger size for the added investment is very small compared to the pleasure of a larger picture.

If our picture-taking will be mostly outdoors, we can very well do with a camera having a single lens or a “doublet.” These are comparatively inexpensive and having the minimum of adjustments make picture-taking a joy and not a chore. Even a camera with a lowly single lens can take very good pictures indoors with the help of photo-floods and high speed film.

The aforegoing should take care of those who take pictures to show to their friends and do not intend to show mere negatives as the advanced amateur sometimes does.

The Advanced Amateur And now let us devote some time to the advanced amateur. Bow down. Probably the advanced amateur already has a camera and does not take kindly to suggestions such as these. In that case we dedicate this portion to the snap-shooter who is graduating or let us say succumbing to the “advanced” stage.

And now we come to cameras that are legion. While the above mentioned cameras would do for some fans they will not do for those who feel that a camera should be “versatile,” accepting plates, as well as cut film, filmpacks, and roll film. It should have a fast lens, preferably in the f-2.0 class with a shutter going up to 1/1000th of a second.

Let us look at some of these possibilities. First there are the minnies such as the 35mms, the Bantams, half vest-pocket, full vest-pocket, half one-twenty, full one-twenty (2-1/4 x 3-1/4), and our old friend the 2-1/2 x 4-1/4 or 616 size. A second class consists of the ground-glass focusing cameras exemplified by the National Graflex, the Argoflex, the Ansco Reflex, the Ciroflex, the Graflex, the Speed Graphic, Kodak Reflex and view cameras. We will omit a discussion of the large view cameras as they belong to the realm of the professional and when you get to be a professional you’ll be writing articles of this sort.

Now the first mentioned group of cameras are small and compact enough to be put into the pocket. They can be carried wherever one travels without inconvenience and film for them is readily available in the form of the universal roll. The 35mm and the Bantam cameras can take color pictures in the form of transparencies which are projected on a screen by means of a slide projector. The other cameras accept Kodacolor film or Ansco color film.

Operating cost (for black and white) is extremely low with roll film cameras. However, the entire roll must be exposed before it can be developed. Some of the larger minnies, such as the Ansco Speedex “45” (cost about $35) take 12 pictures on a thirty-two-cent roll of film, they are not much larger than the elaborate 35mm cameras and are so to be preferred for the sake of the larger picture size.

After he has exhausted the possibilities of the miniature cameras the average amateur may decide that he has progressed to the ground-glass-focusing-stage, range-finders to the contrary notwithstanding. The ground-glass camera, as a general rule, takes larger pictures than the roll film miniature. Some of them use cut film and filmpacks instead of roll film. Cut film and film-packs enable the user to extract one film at a time for immediate development to check for exposure or just to develop and work with the one needed shot. How many times have we shot the rest of the roll just so we could see how the first one is? While roll film adapters are available for some of these cameras they seem to defeat the chief virtue of these cameras—single exposure.

A ground-glass camera in a class by itself is the reflex type of camera using but one lens for taking and focusing and so doing away with the problem of parallax. A notable exponent is the Graflex. A mirror reflects the light up into a ground-glass for focusing and as the exposure lever is tripped the mirror flies up out of the way permitting the exposure to be made on the film in back of the camera. This camera uses cut film, filmpack, and roll film, as well as plates.

One of the chief advantages of a ground-glass camera having a double extension bellows, e.g., a bellows that can be racked out to twice the focal length of the lens, is the fact that life size pictures can be taken of small objects. Long focal length lenses can be installed on these cameras (if they have a detachable lens-board) and close-ups can thus be taken of distant views. It is a law of optics that the longer the focal length of a lens the larger the image size it will create. The Speed Graphic particularly lends itself to work of this sort. Most of the double extension cameras have a rising and falling front which merely means that correction can be made for distortion of perspective when photographing tall buildings and vertical views.

A word about shutters. The Speed Graphic, Graflex, National Graflex, Ektra, and Leica cameras are equipped with focal plane shutters. (Leica is not a has-been; an American-made Leica is in the offing.) A focal plane shutter, as its name indicates is a shutter operating at the focal plane, e.g. near the surface of the film. This type of shutter is very efficient, speeds as high as 1/2,000 of a second having been attained with some of them. Generally speaking though, the leaf-blade shutter operating between-the-lens is preferred for flash work.

After graduating into this advanced class we must ask ourselves just what type and kind of photography are we going to indulge in. We must remember that while some cameras have features meeting most requirements it would be most unwise to purchase a camera having as many features as it is possible to crowd into it, if, we are not going to utilize most of them. For instance, if we are going to photograph the flowers that bloom in the spring and we are content to picture them at arm’s length and not at the end of our nose we do not need a camera with a double extension bellows. Again, if we expect to take action photographs such as sporting events we want a camera having a high speed shutter and adaptable to flash synchronization. In this case, a camera having a focal plane shutter as well as a between-the-lens shutter is the answer. Do we expect to commercialize our work? If the answer is “yes,” choose a camera taking a picture at least 3-1/4×4-1/4—fine grain enthusiasts and minnie-men, please take notice. A big negative always yields a good print. If you have occasion to argue the point with your friend who owns a tiny camera ask him if he can copy a newspaper page and enlarge it from his small negative so that it is preferably sharp as well as legible.

It is useless to argue the merits of the small camera over the large one or vice-versa as in nearly every case the answer is quite obvious. Own both. A miniature for color work, the occasional snapshot of the family and the beau and the large camera for serious work. And by serious work, we mean a picture with a thought in back of it and not just a haphazard shot of the dog sniffing a post.

Camera Care Read your instruction book that came with the camera. The manufacturer spent a lot of money to print that book and enclose it with your camera and the least you can do, to get your money’s worth out of your camera, is to read it carefully. Don’t unscrew the lens elements or take the shutter apart to clean them. The shutter is built like a fine watch. Would you take your watch apart if it stopped? You would! Well don’t take a camera shatter apart if you expect to have better luck with it than you had with your watch.

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