Letter to the Editor

Picture perfect: Hobby cameras

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A special "60 Minutes" segment last Sunday sent me scurrying to several storage locations in my home to rediscover a host of pictures, some captured during my lifetime, many others that predated me. Friends, my columns are edited as closely as possible to a thousand words. Trust me, the pictures we all possess from our past are worth so much more than that finite number.

As is often the case in my stories, I enjoy tracing the paths of history and my life, by comparing them with the innovations of certain technologies. This is so true when investigating the way we take and save pictures.

I have many albums in our family collection that are from the times of our grandparents, and even our great-grandparents (the latter were gone before I was born). I have no idea what type of cameras they used, but I often wonder if some of them were made with the flash from exploding powder, as you see depicted in old movies.

The thing that always bothers me a bit in the really old family photographs is all the stern faces. Am I the only one who has noticed this? I wonder if that was just a common practice back then? Apparently, no one ever said "smile," before snapping a photo.

As a really young kid, my father had this German camera that he picked up during the war. When opened, the front stretched forward in an accordion fashion. The lens had several adjustment rings that I had no idea how to use. There was a cord that you could hold in one hand, which allowed you to snap the shutter when ready.

I remember that the camera took great pictures, but only in black and white, and my father had a really hard time finding what what he called film packs to use in the camera.

When I was about 8-years-old, my sister and I received matching Kodak Brownie cameras. Suddenly I became a photographer, and was I ever proud of my status.

The Brownie was made for use by kids. You could load the 120 film rolls easily, and it had a flash hood built right onto the top of the camera. It was not very large, and with just a little practice, we were able to take some quality snapshots.

There were only about 12 possible photos available on those rolls of film, so we were judicious in the number of shots we took. Film was not cheap by the monetary standards of that period, nor were the costs for developing pictures.

We would anxiously await the return delivery of our most recent camera photos, and were both excited and disappointed with the results. Some of our shots were tremendous, others ranged from poor to awful. There was no editing or redo; you were stuck with what you had taken. One good note was the fact that the developers used to include the negatives with the pictures so you could, if desired, order additional prints of you favorites.

Around this same time, the first of the very primitive Polaroid Land cameras began to appear locally. I had an uncle that had one. It unfolded a lot like the German camera that my father had.

Once you took the picture, you had to pull it out and let it set for several minutes before peeling off the protective layer, revealing the picture. It was quite impressive.

Over the next few years, the Polaroid company improved its cameras. I bought one in the '80s, that was called a One Step. It was about the easiest film camera I ever used. Once you took the picture, it immediately was pushed out by a motor in the camera. After a short time, the picture was fully developed. The only drawback to this wonderful camera was the cost. A 10-pack of film was fairly expensive.

In the mid to late '90s, I bought my first digital camera. Getting used to it was a bit trying, but I eventually got the hang of it. One issue for most novices like me was the delay in the time between shots. The first digital cameras took a few seconds to computerize the last shot. You had to wait for the blinking light to stop before the next photograph could be taken.

Use of pictures in this new system offered choices. You could download them onto a computer and save them. You could send them off for development by an outside source, or you could print them at home.

I don't have my old Brownie camera anymore, but I wish I did just for sentimental reasons. I do still have a digital camera in a drawer in my office, but I never use it anymore because I have a smartphone!

It is amazing at how fast and easy you can take pictures with this iPhone. Since the number of exposures is not an issue, you snap as many as you like, then pick, edit and save the best.

You can download them to a computer and print them, but most people just keep them on their camera in albums. They can easily be sent to friends and family by text, email or posting on sites like Facebook.

Just in case you want a bit more than a still shot, these wondrous machines also offer a video option. Everyday, there are sensational videos that make it to sites like YouTube.

Yes, we have come a long way since the first photographic cameras were built, but the very ease of use today sometimes leaves a bit of the quality in question.

The "60 Minutes" piece about the photographer Henry Grossman displays a true artist at work. His shots of the Kennedy's and The Beatles, were so clear and meaningful that they are worth more than a thousand words! Lesson -- don't throw away those old photos, they have a life of their own.