Photography Basics

Knowledge of photography basics can spare you having to spend big bucks to record your family's trials and triumphs.

| March/April 1981

  • 068 photography basics
    When you know some photography basics you'll have a better chance of capturing the vitality of your subjects.

  • 068 photography basics

"Doing more with less" implies using technology only when it truly enriches our lives without requiring that we pay too high a cost. Most people — including those of us who are always on the lookout for sensible alternatives to today's often wasteful ways of getting things done — enjoy photographs. Especially pictures of children growing up. But, unfortunately, modern "popular" photo techniques too often seem geared only to the well-heeled gadgeteer, and planned obsolescence results in ever-changing film sizes, flashbulb styles, and "improved" products designed to insure sales.

If you know some photography basics, it's still possible to buy an old camera at a "junk" store and take relatively inexpensive but good pictures. This article will tell you how.

Box Cameras and Film

The old-fashioned "box" cameras abound at many secondhand shops and garage sales, but — before you buy one — you'll have to find out what film size it takes. Roll film is still available in 127, 120, and 620 ... but 116 and 616 — as well as most other sizes that might be specified for cameras you run across — may be hard to locate.

Then, too, it's best to look for a real box camera ... not one with bellows. To check out your find, just look for a flash of light through the lens when you click the shutter. When you find a camera with a shutter that works, you can be reasonably certain the unit is sound. If it accepts an available film size, buy it ... provided the price is low enough to suit you, that is.

Most camera enthusiasts that you'll talk to will have a favorite film. But — as an "alternative" (low-bucks) photographer — you should keep in mind that, in size 120, Kodak's Plus-X costs $2.00 a roll, while Verichrome Pan (a similar and fully panchromatic film of comparable quality) sells for only $1.59 a roll and is available almost everywhere. If you have no particular brand preference, just ask for film in the size you need. If it's a Kodak brand, you'll get Verichrome Pan. (Of course, as I've been told when purchasing film, "no one shoots black-and-white anymore." No one, that is, except those of us on a budget!)

Both photo shops and drugstores will often sell outdated film at half price. Opinions on such bargains vary, but if the roll in question is black-and-white ... if it's no more than two or three years older than the age indicated by the box's expiration date ... and if the store is apparently not subject to extreme heat, give the film a try.

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