Many shutterbugs start out in subminiature photography through a camera that was a gift or family heirloom. Others buy a "cute" camera at a garage sale or other bargain-bin. Consequently, many submini users end up with a camera that really doesn't meet their needs. No matter if you currently own a submini camera or if you are contemplating the purchase of one, there are several points to keep in mind when you are on the lookout.
First, get a general idea of the type of camera you want and its features. You can do this even without knowing what cameras are "out there".
Decide where your photographic priorities lie. Do you prefer maximum quality for large prints or do you lean toward tiny cameras for clandestine work and toteability? For maximum quality, lean toward the larger formats, such as half-frame cameras. For clandestine work, opt for the tiniest cameras, such as the Minoxes or disguised cameras. If you can't make up your mind, or want the best of both worlds, check out the intermediate formats, such as 16mm and 110 cameras.
Next, think about where and how the camera will be used. If it will be used in low-light conditions, check out cameras with fast lenses. Every format has a selection to choose from, but remember, a fast lens costs more. If you plan on making large prints, look at the cameras listed in the TOP TEN list in the Library. These winners have superior optics and will give the best results for super-enlargements. If ease-of-use is your thing, there are plenty of automatic exposure cameras to choose from in every format. If fast-moving, action pictures are your interest, look for automatic focusing and/or motor drives. Do you want exposure flexibility? There is no shortage of cameras with complete manual operation of the shutter speed and aperture. If you don't have much experience with exposure, select a camera with a built-in meter and auto-exposure. If you want a small, lightweight camera, choose only those features that are essential, since each feature drives up the weight, size and price.
At the same time, keep in mind the availability of the film and processing for the camera. If you plan on doing the processing yourself, you have a much wider selection of cameras to choose from.
When you've finally decided on the general features of the camera that you want, it's time to go to the Library, and the Camera Shop and see what cameras have the items for which you are looking. Since hundreds of different types of subminis were made, you will undoubtedly find several that meet your needs. If your camera selections are common, you can get a hands-on look at local camera shows and used camera stores. Some shops keep wish-lists and will contact you when something you are interested in arrives. If you travel, check out camera shows and shops as you go.
Used equipment magazines, such as Shutterbug, are also excellent resources. Many shops and individuals who advertise will offer you a money back guarantee -- if you don't like the camera, for any reason, return it for a full refund. You'll have to pay shipping, but at least you will know that it's not the camera for you.
Finally, consider cost. ANY camera in mint condition, will demand a premium price. Mint HIT cameras, which sold new for under $1 in the 1960's, sometimes sell for hundreds of dollars today. And RARE cameras, no matter what condition, also have a steep price. A rare AND mint camera is usually off the chart! You will probably want to stay away from both categories and this will prune down your list substantially. If your needs point to an unusual or rare camera, you must either make a second choice or prepare to wait a long time (and pay a hefty price) to find the camera of your dreams. And if you do find it, do you REALLY want to subject such a rare jewel to the rigors of photographic use?
The selection of your perfect submini camera can be time-consuming and frustrating. But it is the only way to find the best camera for your needs. Sure, you can grab whatever happens to be on the shelf or buy what your brother-in-law recommends. But chances are the camera will only end up in the closet collecting dust because you can't get film for it, it's too complicated, the results aren't sharp enough, it's too heavy, etc. Take the time and you will rewarded with a friend for life!
Here are a few tips to get you on your way:
If you are in the market for your first subminiature camera or for your second, perhaps in a higher price range that affords more camera versatility, you will find a wide variety to choose from. With hundreds of models, both new and used, to choose from, you are sure to find a subminiature to fit your personal taste, your budget, and your picture-taking needs.
What to Look For in a Camera
Before you read the general check lists given below, ask yourself these questions:
If you want more than just a camera, or if you want special features, you must narrow your choice to either the very few that have integrated accessory systems or you must buy more than one. This is the same choice you have with the larger cameras. For example, it is possible to interchange telephoto lenses with several subminiature cameras. Others uses auxiliary long-range telephoto converters. Several can be coupled to binoculars for telephotography. Some have wide angle converters.
If you have a free choice, after satisfying yourself on other questions, the thing which will decide for you is "feel". This is personal. You must feel at ease with the camera. It must become part of you.
Finally, check on the dependability of the film supply. You don't want a camera which will not be backed up by a adequate sources of film.
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