Digigraphica

Picking the Right Viewfinder Camera

Prewind, Red-eye Reduction, and Printing the Date

Dan Knight - September 2002, updated

Prewind

Have you ever accidentally opened the back of your 35mm camera and ruined the film? Do you have curious kids around who might inquisitively pop the back open to see what's inside?

If so, look for a camera with prewind. I believe this was pioneered by Fuji in the mid-1980s. The difference between prewinding and regular winding is that with prewind the camera winds the entire roll when you load it - and then winds the film back into the cartridge as each shot is taken. That means no lengthy rewind at the end of the roll, just a bit more time putting a fresh roll in the camera. If the camera is accidentally opened, only part of the last photo is exposed. Prewind is brilliant, and worth the extra seconds it takes to load a new roll of film.

Red-eye Reduction

No feature on today's point-and-shoot cameras can be more irritating to your subjects or do more to improve your pictures than red-eye reduction.

The closer the flash is to the lens, the more likely you are to get red-eye in your picture. Since most point-and-shoot cameras are pretty compact, the flash is usually quite close to the lens, making red-eye likely.

Red-eye is caused by the light from the flash bouncing off blood vessels inside the eye. The only way to reduce red-eye is for the pupils in the subject's eyes to contract, allowing less light to reach the blood vessels - and you may still get red-eye (but less of it). You can turn up the room lights, or your camera can send one or more brief flashes just before it takes the picture to contract the pupils. Either will reduce the likelihood of red-eye.

Given the choice, I much prefer a single preflash to a series of annoying, distracting strobes that scream out, "I'm taking your picture - now." There is nothing unobtrusive about flash photography to begin with, but stroboscopic preflash seems excessive (that said, some cameras use it to help with focus).

Day and Date Imprinting

This feature has its place, but I've seen more great photos ruined with these numbers than you'd care to imagine. If you have a camera with day/date capability, think before you use it. Do you really want it in this shot or not? If you make an 8x10 or larger, how conspicuous will it be?

Self Timer and Remote Control

Cameras have had self timers for decades. Push the button, and you've got 10 seconds or so to get into the picture. It's not a very practical feature, but it used to be unthinkable for a camera not to offer it.

Far superior is the trend to wireless remote controls, tiny devices similar to TV remotes (but with a lot less options). If you might ever want to be in your own pictures or want to have your camera take pictures when you're not holding it, look for a camera with a remote. Even if it's not included with the camera, it's often available for under $20.

Night Shots

A lot of cameras are adding low light options such as night flash (flash for close subjects, but long exposure for the background), bulb (mostly for shooting fireworks), and no flash (especially helpful in museums that allow photography but not flash - another place where really fast film is a blessing).

If you want to do any of this, make sure your camera has a tripod socket and consider getting a nice mini tripod - probably a tabletop model - to steady your point-and-shoot during these longer exposures.

Panoramas

With the exception of one model,* switching to panorama mode does not give you wider coverage than your camera already offers. All it does is mask off the top and bottom of the negative. It's a gimmick.

Yes, there are subjects that lend themselves to panoramas, but you can always make a panorama after the fact by asking your photofinisher to print your shot as a panorama. But once you've shot the scene in panorama mode, you've committed to only printing it that way - and panorama prints usually cost a lot more than regular sized prints.

* The Ricoh R1 is the only camera I know of that offered greater coverage in panorama mode than in regular mode. The regular 30mm lens works in both full-frame and panorama modes, but there's also a wider 24mm setting available exclusively in panorama mode. If you really want to shoot wide vistas, this is the widest you'll find in a 35mm point-and-shoot.

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