Snap 3

The biggest problems with people’s snaps were ‘out of focus’.

Well, that’s what you would assume. Sometimes, the camera was indeed not focused properly – those simple cameras had fixed lenses and worked in a given range reasonably acceptably, but too close and it failed. Some, like the one in the previous post, had a simple switch that did help a little.

Sometimes the cameras were simply broken, or there was yuck on the lens.

But, for the most part, ‘out of focus’ meant camera movement. The shutter of the camera has to be open for a certain amount of time to allow the light in for a perfect exposure, and moving the camera in that time, which would only be a fraction of a second in daylight but could be longer in dark conditions, makes a smeary picture.

When I was learning how to take decent pictures, I was always told:

  • hold the camera with both hands
  • feet slightly apart
  • arms by your body, tucked in
  • hold your breath for a fraction of  second
  • wait a fraction of a second after the pic is taken
  • use a tripod at night, or some other stable surface, if possible

Having a camera with an eyepiece/viewfinder is essential, I think. A camera with only an LCD screen means you have to hold it away from your body, increasing the chances of shake. But, since, with a digital camera, you can take thousands of pictures until you get it right at no cost, it should be easier to take sharp pictures, shouldn’t it?

Snap 2

People would bring their exposed films before we closed at 10pm. The manager would drop them into the nearby processing house, George Stocks, surely long gone, and they would be delivered back by tea time the next day.

Then we did a slightly naughty thing. The manager would go through all the packs quickly to look at the snaps. There were several reasons for this.

Firstly, to identify any consistent issues, under or over exposure, out of focus, poor flash etc, so we could advise the customer what they were doing wrong.

Secondly, to find a nice picture with recognisable people on and put it to the front of the pack. So, when the customer came in and we opened the pack to say “Are these yours?” (mix ups could happen) they could see a nice picture of someone they could recognise, be happy and then pay up the fairly high cost of developing and printing needed.

On a good day we could get sack loads of film in for processing.

Snap 1

I used to work at a camera shop by the seaside. In truth, it wasn’t a camera shop like Jessops. We catered for the people on the beach, so we did sell cameras, mostly Kodak Instamatic, some Polaroid and others, but we sold lots of film, postcards, batteries and other bits you would need on holiday eg sun cream.

On a busy Sunday, when the sun was shining, we could sell literally a van load of film. We would run out. Mostly it was the 126 format. I can still remember the routine:

  • Black and white or colour?
  • Prints or slides?
  • 12 or 20?
  • Kodak or Agfa (or even Fuji)?

99% of the time it was Kodak (recognisable in the yellow box) colour prints. 68p or 81p. 20 prints seems better value, but there’s processing to be added. Sometimes we asked about film speed too.

The little cameras were simple but pretty foolproof. Some people thought they were instant pictures, but no, instant loading, in daylight, unlike the slightly more tricky 35mm format. But there were many others. Agfa Rapid was my favourite.

Taking the camera onto the beach could be a problem. There were little holes in the film and a small pin that would ‘lock’ the film as you wound on, when it reached the right place. Sand could get into the camera and the pin would stick, so the film just kept winding. Really, you needed to dismantle the camera and give it a good clean. When you’re on the beach having fun, you don’t want that. Plus, it’s too expensive.

The cameras were brought in and we did what we could, at no charge, but I remember the manager failing more often that succeeding. Until one day, when he put the camera rather firmly onto the counter. “I bet that’s fixed it”, I remarked, and it had. The grit was dislodged. It was a temporary fix, but it worked nearly all the time.

Too complicated?

I have a friend who had a really expensive, (analogue) roll film (35mm) camera from a very good and well-known manufacturer, complete with accessories, lenses and all that stuff. He used it a lot, for family snaps, holidays and more, like a super point and shoot machine. One day he was grumbling to me: “it’s really complicated, has all these features that I don’t use…” and etc.

A year or so ago, maybe more, he bought a digital camera from the same manufacturer. This is not a dig at the manufacturer at all, or their products, they are a super company that make great kit.

So, he bought a very expensive and very complicated device. When I say complicated, I mean it has dials and switches and touch screens and menus and sub-menus… You get the idea.

He was talking to me again. “It’s got all these features, there are so many I can’t understand them all. I will never use half of them. What a waste of money.”

I used to teach people to use products like Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop. I got a similar reaction: too many tools, things I would never use, really confusing etc

My answer was always the same: you use what you want to use and ignore the rest. The set of features you use will be different from what I use. The manufacturer has to provide them all, at a price point, so the camera meets the needs of as many people as possible. The only problem, surely, is if something is missing that you really need.

If, in the end, all you want is a point and shoot camera, which is really what my friend wanted, save a few thousands, get a very good smaller camera and put the rest to a holiday.

My camera is a Sony NEX-7, no longer made but there are similar things. It has some unusual features. There’s no wifi, no touch screen for start, dials with no labels on.

It has a proper viewfinder, OK, electronic, but good enough to show the shot nicely and exposure information. The lens is pretty good, it’s fast, 24MPx, I thought I wouldn’t like the handling, but I do.

Why this choice? Well, the viewfinder means I can hold the camera close to my body, it’s easier to see in bright daylight, it’s not away from your body so it’s more stable. Why no touch screen? Well, I have a big nose. What I like about the dials is that you can assign them to the things you actually use. It suits the way you work, however quirky that is. And it takes super pictures…