The first problem which confronts the beginner in photographic work is to decide what sort of a camera to buy. Unfortunately, perhaps, there is no Hobson’s choice. If there were, no time nor trouble would be required, but one would simply buy the camera and begin his studies in the art. Most beginners know comparatively little about optics and few have much art training; consequently, if one starts in a too ambitious way, he immediately runs into snares and pitfalls.
Much observation of first attempts at photographic work has led me to believe that the cause lies largely in the choice of a camera. One is not only bewildered, but also misled by the many alluring advertisements setting forth the merits of different cameras, and more often than not, the beginner buys not only an expensive but also as complicated an instrument as he can afford to select, and in his endeavors at once to master the whole art of photography and at the same time manage all the details of exposure, focusing, etc., makes far more failures than successes.
Doubtless I shall go against all precedent when I advise the beginner to select for his first camera one of the simplest makes and not to have the size of the print exceed 3-1/4 x 4-1/4. The price of such a camera will not be more than $10, the one which I have in mind costing only $8. This is a box camera with a fixed focus lens and is not only a very simple instrument but also a thoroughly practical one for general use when one has become an expert picture maker. It has an automatic shutter for both instantaneous and time exposures. When one has made an exposure, the moving of the shutter for the purpose sets it for the next exposure, thus one does not have to think of this in picture making. It makes both vertical and horizontal pictures, has two very briliant finders and two sockets for tripod work.
This is a film camera, and though a few years ago, much difficulty was experienced by the beginner with films, they are now so perfected that they are as easy for one to manipulate as are the glass plates. Then, too, the films are put up in rolls for four exposures, so one does not have to use twelve films before he can ascertain whether his work is satisfactory.
If one finds difficulty in composing a picture in the small finders, he can have a view finder the size of the picture made by the camera fitted to his instrument and thus see quickly just what objects are comprised within the angle of the lens. A view attachment is a great addition to one’s camera, even if one is expert in the manipula tion of it and in composition also of pictures. The price of a new finder is $2 or $3 and is well worth the money.
The box camera is the better choice for the beginner rather than a folding camera, though both may cost the same money. With a folding camera, one has always an extra bit of work to perform, while the box camera is ready for instant use. The weight of the two cameras is about the same, if any thing, the folding camera being an ounce or two heavier.
For instantaneous work, the box camera is always ready, all that is necessary to do being to turn the dial and to press the button to reproduce the scene, and with rapidly moving objects this is of special advantage. The way for the beginner to use his camera is first to become familiar with the movements necessary to make the exposure before beginning.
With the simple camera just described, this is easily mastered, whereas with a camera which requires opening and adjusting to scale, setting of shutter, regulating of diaphragm, etc., it takes some time to become expert in the use of the instrument. Having learned how to manage the instrument, choose for the first pictures simple subjects like short landscape views, bits of water scenes, etc. Figure studies and portraits should be left until one become more familiar with time exposure, composition and general arrangement of the scene photographed.
One need not despise his small camera even after he has advanced to much skill in his art. One or these small cameras was taken by an amateur to Africa, and the pictures taken with it were in every respect equal to those taken with a large camera and an expensive lens—a camera which was a burden to carry and much trouble to manage. From these small films fine enlargements were made and were used as illustrations in some of our leading periodicals. The reason of the success with this small camera was that its owner had thoroughly mastered its use and knew just what to do to secure the best results.