This section is from the book "Modern Photography In Theory And Practice", by By Henry G. Abbott. Also available from Amazon: Modern photography in theory and practice: A hand book for the amateur.
Cameras are divided into two general classes, snapshot or box cameras and tripod or professional cameras. It is true that the box camera may also be used in connection with the tripod and that all, or nearly all, of them are arranged for time exposures as well as instantaneous or snap-shot work. Box cameras are again divided into fixed focus and bellows cameras, into those using films and those using glass plates and those using single plates and those fitted with a magazine. Bellows cameras are again divided into two classes, those with a bellows inclosed in the box and worked backward and forward by means of an indicator on the top of the box and those having an exposed bellows which is drawn out by letting down the front of the box. The average amateur buys the cheapest camera he can find, as a rule and often the results obtained disgust him with photography forever. If you desire to take up photography with a view of making good pictures, artistic ones and propose to stick to it until you succeed, by all means purchase a good article at the start. If, however, you simply wish to press the button and then hire some pro-fessional to develop your plates and print and tone your pictures, then any camera is good enough for you, no matter how cheap and how poor.
Now as to whether you will select a camera using films or a camera using glass plates you must be the judge. The film camera possesses the advantage of being light and under certain circumstances is to be preferred to a camera which uses glass plates.
The war correspondent and explorer could hardly use glass plates to as good advantage as films, as he would have to rely upon a changing bag to change his plates in and the glass plates being fragile would be liable to be broken and their faces scrubbed and scratched.
Let us explain the difference between a film and a plate camera, in order that you, who have not aleady made a selection, may thoroughly understand it.
A plate camera is one using glass plates coated with a sensitive emulsion and this plate is held in what is known as a plate holder, with the coated or emulsion side outward, so that the light, passing through the lens, when the shutter is open, falls upon the sensitive emulsion. A film camera is one in which the image is recorded upon a piece of celluloid, which is coated with a sensitive emulsion, as in the case of the glass plate. Films are of two general types, roll, or cartridge and cut or flat films. The roll or cartridge film is a continuous strip which is coated on one side, while the cut film is the size of a single picture. The cut film is held in position in a holder, the same as a plate but the cartridge film needs no holder, since it unwinds from a spool at one side and winds up on another spool on the other. Now there is another difference between a cartridge and a cut film. To load your plate holders with cut films you require a dark room the same as you do if you are using plates but a cartridge film can be put in or taken out of the camera in the daylight. The film is rolled upon a spool and is covered with a strip of black paper from one end to the other and this strip extends several inches beyond the film on each end. This paper connects with the flanges on the spool and thus forms a light-tight spool, known as a cartridge. The spool can be inserted in the camera at the back, after loosening the fastening which holds the black paper in place. The paper is then threaded into the slot on the other spool, which is on the opposite side of the camera. The camera is then closed and the key turned until the black paper has been wound off and the film is then in place ready for exposure. The black paper is still back of the film and at regular intervals, depending on the size of the picture, the black paper is numbered in white ink, from 1 to 12, or whatever number of "exposures" the cartridge contains. In the back of the box will be found a small red window and the white figures are easily seen through it, showing just how far to turn the key.
A Study in Lighting. E. Y. Judd, Pendleton, Ore.
You cannot become a photographer in a day, or a month, or a year. Some persons seem to have the happy faculty of taking good pictures from the start, while others after months of experience are little better than they were the first week. The theoretical amateur, who can tell you all about lenses and cameras, exposures and development is legion. Theory is all well enough but with your theory combine practice. Never mind about the angle of your lens or its focal length until you have mastered some of the more necessary details.
Before selecting a camera you must make up your mind just what kind of work you wish to do. You can perhaps better understand what you want after we have passed in review the leading types of cameras on the market. The difference between a good camera and a poor one lies very largely in the lens and yet a cheap lens is sometimes very effective. For landscapes a single lens answers very well but when we come to use these lenses in photographing buildings, etc., we find that they have a decided tendency to lean and it makes no difference how careful we may be, this objection cannot be done away with. In late years, however, there has been a marked improvement in all of the cheap, single lenses and we have seen such lenses in very cheap cameras that were so perfect that even tall buildings were perfectly upright and they apparently differed from the better grade of rapid rectilinears only in the depth of detail and the rapidity of action. Most of the modern cameras companies manufacture their box cameras with single achromatic or rapid rectilinear lenses and fix their prices accordingly. The lens is to the camera what the eye is to the human body. If the lens is poor or limited in capacity, to just such an extent will the picture lack details, sharpness and parallelism of lines. Our advice is, if you propose to follow up and master all the details of photography, by all means buy a camera with a rectilinear lens and you will then be fitted for all the various kinds of work, as landscapes, interiors, portraits, views of buildings, etc. For good portrait work, however, a special lens is required, one made for the purpose. Next to the lens in importance comes a good shutter, one that is free from jar and tremble; light, but yet rigid enough to stand the strain of long use. The camera should be simple in construction, free from complicated mechanism, compact and light.
Nearly every camera has its own good points and has its friends and we therefore shall not try to influence the reader in his selection further than to advise him to purchase a good article at the start. We shall review the leading types of cameras on the market and leave the selection to the reader.