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Camera Care & Handling

Introduction
Loading and Unloading 35 mm Cameras
Camera Holding

Camera Types
Camera with Direct Optical

Helpful Handling Habits
Autowinders and Motor Drives
 

Introduction

Let's begin with the general operation of your camera. Handling your camera with skill and ease may make the difference between getting the picture and being too late or between getting a sharp picture and getting one that's fuzzy. The greatest picture opportunity in the world can go down the drain if a photographer fumbles with the camera, sets the exposure controls improperly, doesn't focus properly, or jiggles the camera as the shutter release is pressed. When handling your camera becomes second nature, the results are consistently better pictures.

A good general rule to follow in handling your camera is not to use force to adjust anything on the camera. Otherwise you could damage your camera or your film. The camera controls should work easily and smoothly. 

One of the most important factors in getting sharp, clear pictures is to have a clean camera lens. You've seen what the view is like when you look through a dirty window. Well, your pictures will have a similar hazy, unsharp appearance if you take them through a dirty camera lens. So before you start taking pictures, be sure your camera lens is clean. 

If your camera lens needs cleaning, clean the front and back glass surfaces by first carefully blowing away any dust or dirt. Then breathe on the surface of the lens to form a mist and gently wipe the mist away with a soft, clean, lintless cloth or use lens cleaning paper moistened with lens cleaner. 

CAUTION: Do not use solvents or solutions unless they are specifically designed for cleaning camera lenses. Don't use chemically treated tissues intended for eyeglasses.

Loading and Unloading 35 mm Cameras

In this section we'll provide some general information that applies to most 35mm cameras. For specific instructions for your particular camera, see your camera manual. 

Always load and unload your camera in subdued light-not bright sunlight. (This is especially important for very high-speed films.) If there's no shade around, position your body so it casts a shadow over your camera for loading and unloading. This helps prevent bright light from entering the lip of the 35mm magazine and causing a streak on the first or second picture. If this happens, the streak is usually orange or clear on color slides or prints but dark on negatives. To avoid streaks, keep the film in its light tight container before and after exposure. 

Loading a 35mm camera is easy. However, it is possible to put a 35mm magazine into the camera the wrong way. The film slot of the magazine must face the take-up side of the camera; and the light-colored side of the film, the emulsion side, must face the camera lens. If the following loading summaries differ from the instructions in your camera manual, follow your manual. 

With a manual-loading camera, thread the film onto the take-up spool. Make sure you've threaded the film correctly for the direction of rotation of the take-up spool. When the film is threaded, it should have enough tension to lie flat. If it doesn't, advance the film slowly until the rewind knob starts to turn. See that the sprocket teeth engage the film perforations before you close the camera back. After you close the back, advance the film three times so you are ready to take the first picture. If you don't do this, you could make the first exposure on the fogged portion of the leader and not get the picture. 

With an auto-loading camera, line the end of the film leader up to an index mark along the bottom rail. Check that the advance gear engages the film perforations and that the film lies flat. 

Close the back and press the shutter release. The camera will advance the film to the first frame. 

Film in 35mm magazines is usually loaded in lengths for 12, 24, or 36 exposures. (A half-frame camera yields twice as many exposures on the roll.) Extra film is included for a leader at the beginning of the roll and for a trailer at the end. 

Electrical contacts in the film chamber enable many cameras to read DX-encoded films to automatically set film speed, determine the number of exposures on a roll, and the exposure latitude of the film. 

How do you know if the film is advancing? Auto-loading cameras often have a film-running indicator atop the camera to indicate film is advancing. With a manual-loading camera, you can use the rewind knob to check the film. Turn the rewind knob carefully in the direction of the rewind arrow until you feel a slight tension. This takes up the slack in the film. Now when you advance the film, you should see the rewind knob rotate. 

CAUTION: Be sure that you never turn the rewind knob the wrong way-opposite the direction for rewinding-when taking up the slack in the film. This could kink or jam the film. After you load the film, it's easy to forget how many exposures are in the magazine. Many cameras offer a window on the film door that lets you see the part of the film magazine that indicates the number of exposures. Other cameras have a memo holder on the film door into which you can insert the end flap of the film package; the end flap states the type of film and how many exposures. With a manual-advancing camera, if you think you have 36 exposures but actually have 24, you could damage the film by tearing the perforations or you could pull the film loose from the magazine by trying to advance the film. If you pull the film loose, you can't rewind it back into the magazine. 

If you haven't used your camera for a while, you may be uncertain if it contains film. With newer cameras, a window on the film door shows if film is in the camera. Or an LCD panel may display the picture number, even when the camera is turned off. 

With older cameras, it's sometimes difficult to tell whether the camera is loaded with film or not. If the film counter indicates an exposure number, there's probably film in the camera. With a manual-advancing camera, gently turn the rewind knob in the direction for rewinding without depressing the rewind button. If you  feel resistance to turning the rewind knob, do not turn it any farther. Your camera is loaded with film. The film counter in most 35mm cameras has an S on it that resets when you open the back. If you see the S on the counter, this indicates that the camera back has been opened since the last exposure was made. Therefore, it's safe to open the back again. 

With most 35mm cameras, you must rewind the film from the camera take-up spool back into the original magazine before unloading. If you open the camera back before rewinding the film, the film will be completely exposed, or fogged, as it has no protection from the light. Fogging generally looks like a light, cloudy area covering part or all of a slide or print. 

Cameras that load film automatically, usually also rewind it automatically. The camera may automatically rewind the film at the end of the roll, or it may signal you to press a rewind button or switch that begins the rewind. Check your camera manual for specific instructions. 

Because auto-load cameras require you to expose less leader film when loading, it is possible that you'll get more than the specified number of exposures on a given roll. But again, be aware that any shots past the specified number of exposures (i.e. 12, 24, or 36) may be lost in processing. 

IMPORTANT: When using a camera with a manual rewind knob, do not turn the rewind knob in the direction opposite that of the rewind arrow. Such action can seriously bend the film and possibly tear it. To prevent torn perforations, keep the rewind button control firmly depressed in the rewind position until you have completely rewound the film. Check you camera manual for specific instructions. 

If you don't force the film advance lever, you won't pull the film loose from the magazine, which would prevent the normal rewinding of the film back into the magazine, as mentioned before. Pulling the film loose usually results from a photographer trying to make more exposures than 24 on a 24-exposure roll (or 12 or 36 depending on the roll) at the end of the film. Forcing the film advance lever can also cause overlapping pictures at the end of the roll. If you do pull the film loose from the magazine and open the camera back in the light, you'll fog the film. The solution is to take your camera to your photo dealer and ask them to remove your film. 

Each year several thousand magazines of 35mm film are returned for processing by photographers who have accidentally wound unexposed film back into the magazine. The most common reason for this happening is improper loading of 35mm cameras which can cause the film not to advance through the camera as pictures are taken. After the photographer finishes what is thought to be the end of the roll, the film is rewound. Since the film didn't even go through the camera, no exposures were made and all the pictures are lost. Needless to say, this is a big disappointment. 

To minimize the chances of winding the film leader into an unexposed magazine, load your camera according to the instructions in your camera manual. Also follow the tips given in this book about determining whether your film is advancing properly. 

When a film's leader is completely rewound into the magazine, it most often signifies that the film has already been exposed and, therefore, needs to be processed. You should contact a photo retailer or photofinisher in your area for their service. If there is any possibility that the film was used or mixed with films used to take pictures, you'll want to have it processed. 

It is possible to retrieve film leader from 35mm magazines so that the film can be loaded in a camera. However, our research shows that in such cases the risk of double exposure is great. It would be extremely disappointing to re-use the film and lose both sets of images. There are instances in which auto-advance/rewind cameras rewind film into the magazine before reaching the end of the roll; a phenomenon called "premature rewind". The major causes of premature rewind are film-loading and camera-operating mishaps.

Camera Holding

When you're using a long-focal-length lens-telephoto or zoom-it's best to hold your camera by supporting the lens with your left hand close to the front of the camera. Hold the camera body with your right hand so you can actuate the shutter release. Be careful not to move the focus or lens opening settings with your left hand supporting the lens after you have set them. A long-focal-length lens requires that you hold your camera very steady for sharp pictures. Some photographers prefer to also use this method to hold their camera steady with normal and short-focal-length lenses.

The way you hold your camera when you release the shutter is important for sharp pictures. Camera jiggle is the most common cause of unsharp pictures-not the obviously blurred pictures, but those lacking the needle sharpness that indicates the touch of a skilled photographer. 

The best way for you to hold your camera is the way that's both comfortable and steady. Try to keep your arms against your body-not suspended in air. Plant your feet firmly on the ground, slightly apart. Hold the camera tightly against your face. Take a breath, hold it, and gently squeeze the shutter release. Chances are that you'll make a picture free of camera movement. 

Camera Types

The two basic types of 35mm cameras are single-lens-reflex (SLR) cameras and compact cameras. Compact 35 mm cameras (also known as lens/shutter cameras) include non-SLR autofocus, fixed focus, rangefinder, and "bridge" cameras. With most of these, you view your subject through a viewfinder that is separate from the camera lens. These relatively small cameras have become increasingly popular, and they commonly include features such as automatic film advance and rewind, automatic exposure, and automatic focus. Having virtually point-and-shoot capability, a compact 35 mm camera is an excellent choice for casual photography.

A camera with SLR viewfinder has a hinged mirror that reflects the image through a pentaprism in the viewfinder to your eye. When you take a picture, the mirror flips up to let light reach the film and then returns to its original position. 

Single-lens-reflex cameras are also extremely popular. One of the major reasons for this is that it's so easy to use interchangeable lenses with them. When you look through the viewfinder of an SLR camera, you're actually looking at your subject through the camera's picture-taking lens. In this way, you can change from one lens to another and immediately see in the viewfinder the image that will be recorded on your film. This also means that you'll see in the viewfinder some of the perspective changes we mention in the section on lenses. A direct optical viewfinder can be made to show approximately what will be included in the picture with various lenses. But it's more difficult to appraise the effect of the lenses on perspective. 

Another plus factor of a single-lens-reflex camera is that it's free of parallax-the difference between what the lens sees and what you see through a direct optical viewfinder, especially evident at close distances. We'll talk more about this in the section on close-up photography. 

Camera with Direct Optical

With viewfinder-in lens-shutter cameras, the viewfinder is separate from the camera lens. It shows approximately the same image as the image on the film. 

No matter what kind of viewfinding system you use, learn to use it with ease and with discernment. Before you shoot, look behind your subject to be sure you haven't included a distracting object. When possible, move around your subject to choose the best viewpoint. Although this may be like saying fire is hot, we can't overemphasize that your final picture will include everything that lies within the boundaries of your viewfinder. So before you snap the shutter, make sure you see in the viewfinder what you want to see in the resulting picture.

Helpful Handling Habits

Here are some tips to help you work more efficiently. When you plan to shoot lots of pictures in a short time, take your film out of the cardboard cartons and put all of the unexposed film into one section of your camera bag. Be sure to keep exposed and unexposed film in separate parts of your bag so you don't waste time trying to find fresh film. 

When you finish a roll of film, rewind it immediately. Then if you accidentally open the camera, you won't expose the film. Be sure to wind the end of the film all the way into the magazine so that you don't mistakenly reload it later, thinking it was unexposed film. 

As you take your pictures, you'll probably have to adjust focus or exposure settings or modes for some unusual situations. Suppose you go from distant shots of a road race to a close-up of a car refueling nearby. For the distant action shots, you'll probably want to use the servo or continuous focusing mode to track action. For the close-ups, the single-shot mode will be more convenient. As soon as you're through making the close-ups, readjust your focus setting so that you'll be  ready for action again. By the same token, you may want to switch exposure modes from a depth mode for the close-ups to a stop-action mode for the racing shots. 

When you find an especially good subject, take at least two or three pictures of it. This will give you a choice of viewpoint, pose, expression, or composition, as well as insurance in case one of the negatives or slides gets damaged.

Autowinders and Motor Drives

When you want to take pictures rapidly, a handy accessory to have is either an autowinder or a motor drive. 

Autowinders are a standard feature on many 35mm cameras. For SLR cameras without an autowinder, you can attach a motor drive to the bottom of the camera. Both built-in winders and accessory motor drives perform the same function: they advance the film to the next frame and cock the shutter after each exposure. The chief difference between winders and motor drives is speed. Autowinders advance the film one or two frames per second, while some motor drives run film as quickly as eight frames per second-far faster than your thumb could do it. 

Autowinders let you take a series of pictures of fast-action subjects, such as sports or parades. An autowinder is also great for photographing the ever-changing opportunities for candid pictures of children, pets, or people. For informal portraits, an autowinder will help you avoid missing fleeting expressions or sudden gestures. 

Some built-in winders and most motor drives offer you the choice of two modes: single-frame advance and continuous advance. In the single-frame mode, you press the shutter and release it for each picture you take. The camera won't fire a second time until you release the shutter button. In the continuous-firing mode, the motor will advance and fire the camera as long as you hold the shutter button down. The latter mode excels for fast action, like sports, but at three frames-per-second, you can go through a 24-exposure roll of film in only eight seconds! 

In addition to advancing the film and readying the camera for the next exposure, both autowinders and motor drives are usually capable of performing other tasks, including auto-film loading and auto rewinding. 

Autowinders also simplify close-up photography, especially when shooting live subjects like insects or small animals. Since these subjects move almost continuously, you have to keep them properly framed in the viewfinder and sharply focused, which is much more difficult to achieve if you are continually pulling the camera away from your eye as you cock the shutter. 

With an SLR camera, one minor problem is that when the reflex mirror flips up to let light reach the film, it briefly cuts off your view through the viewfinder. When you are shooting several frames per second, the viewfinder will be blocked for much of the picture sequence. Composition and focusing becomes a bit tricky. With direct-optical viewfinders, you'll get a continuous view of the subject because the viewing lens and the taking lens are separate. 

Finally, be aware that when you use a built-in flash, the continuous-advance mode may not function because the flash needs a longer time to recharge than the motor will allow.

 Back to photography tips main page.

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