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CONSUMERS : Film, Camera, Care Must Click for Best Shot at a Memory

Times Staff Writer

Getting ready for a teen-ager’s graduation, a family vacation to Yosemite, that grandchild’s birth or some other special occasion that must be recorded on film? Be sure to check all your photo equipment--cameras, batteries, flash and film--before the big day. Don’t miss that perfect opportunity because of malfunctioning equipment or the wrong kind of film.

And if you’re planning to buy a new camera, perhaps one of the many point-and-shoot models that do everything for you except push the button, you would be smart to purchase it now so you can familiarize yourself with it before you want to use it.

“What has exploded in photography are the new auto-focus cameras that are auto-everything,” said Irwin Buksbaum, owner of Lee Mac Camera in Pasadena for more than 20 years. “It started with the Instamatic. . . . That was the very first with simplified loading. The Instamatic was a good intermediate step but the auto-focus cameras out now really do everything. Even a rank amateur can operate them and produce good photos. . . . It’s a marriage of optics and electronics.”

The new auto-focus cameras cost from $100 up, Buksbaum said, but the average price for a top quality model is $200 to $300.

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“The old mistakes we used to see--not loading film properly, pictures out of focus, the wrong exposure, too dark or too light--aren’t happening as much,” Buksbaum said. “Because people have these cameras that thread the film when you drop it in, focus automatically, automatically give the right exposure, have a built-in flash. Some automatically rewind the film. With the older cameras, people sometimes left the lens cap on, but the new auto-focus ones won’t take the picture if it’s on.

“People used to bring in two rolls and say, ‘I don’t know if they turned out.’ Now they’re bringing in four, five and six rolls and getting back full envelopes of pictures.” If you buy one of the popular auto-focus cameras, be sure you know its limits. Follow the instructions, for instance, on minimum automatic focusing distance; if the instructions say it’s 2-3 feet, anything closer will be out of focus.

Whether you have a new camera or an old familiar one that hasn’t been used for a while, experts recommend running test film through it and having it developed before that special event comes up.

If you’re dissatisfied with the prints, take them back to the lab and talk to the technicians. Don’t make the mistake many consumers do in not insisting on quality prints. Poor printing, for example, can produce shots that are too blue or too red; most labs will reprint them or explain why there are problems.

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To avoid a more basic problem, though, be sure to put fresh batteries in your camera, even if it hasn’t been used much. And pack extras for vacation, because it’s often hard to find proper batteries, especially abroad.

Color Print Film

It’s also a good idea to take extra film because it, too, may be tough to find or more expensive than if bought at home.

If buying color print film overseas, technicians at The Times suggest that you seek boxes labeled “Process C-41,” the standard developed by Kodak. It is used for most color negative processing in this country and other types may prove difficult to develop.

Just as new technology has advanced today’s cameras, it has improved the film itself and processing procedures, too.

Today, at color-processing labs, camera stores or one-hour processing shops with computer-run machines, film can be developed, processed and printed in about 30 minutes, meaning your pictures can be back in an hour. (This speedy service costs roughly $1.50 to $1.75 per roll more than the more usual overnight work, typically $9-$10 for a 24-exposure roll of color print film.) Some small processing shops are even starting to offer 30-minute work.

“It’s all due to computers,” said Vladimir Bedoyan, owner of the Photo Machine, a Hollywood one-hour photo store. “Temperature and timing are very important to color film. The computer board tells the machine to keep a constant temperature as the film moves from one chemical to the other. It’s like a mini-darkroom, basically. From developing to printing does take about 30 minutes, but offering one-hour photos gives you the time to correct any problems that may arise.”

Although there are hundreds of types on the market, improvements in the overall quality of film have been dramatic, experts say. Faster films (those that can be used in lower light) are not as grainy as they once were, and color quality is better. Slower films also have improved sharpness of image and color quality.

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Rating on Films

But if you are experimenting with a new film, do so before that special occasion or vacation. If you don’t have time to do that, heed the photographer’s rule of thumb: Stick with a familiar film.

When trying to pick out films, remember they’re all rated in International Standards Organization (ISO) numbers, which replaced the old ASA standard a few years ago.

Under the ISO system, the higher the number, the more sensitive a film is to light, meaning, for example, it can be used in dimmer conditions, though it also may produce grainier prints than a slower film. A slow film might be numbered ISO 25; a medium, ISO 200 or 400; fast, 1600 or 3200. Most amateurs will have little use for 1600 or 3200 film, unless shooting fast-paced sporting events.

Many photographers say most amateurs cannot detect the differences among most print films, no matter their manufacturer, because the new color lines are excellent and very flexible and can tolerate huge variances in exposure. But that is not the case with color slide film, which photographers say is “picky on exposure.”

The latest color print film on the market comes from Polaroid, which has manufactured only instant film and cameras since 1947. Its OneFilm is an ISO 200 color negative film that company officials say “is the right film in bright light, in low light or indoors with a flash,” so it eliminates the confusion over what speed film to buy.

Fuji Photo Film Co. and Kodak also have new films this summer.

Fuji has just introduced its Fuji Reala 100, a slow color negative film that Times photographers say produces very sharp photos with good color quality. Fuji representatives say the film’s main claim to fame is that it reduces the greenish tint that skin tones tend to have when shot in fluorescent light.

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Kodak’s new Ektar 25 and Ektar 1000 speed films, the company says, are “designed specifically for the advanced or more serious photographer.” Experts queried said Ektar 25 is an extremely slow but extremely sharp film, which may be an advance over Kodachrome, renowned for its sharpness for 30 years. Kodak also will release its new Ektar 125 next month.

Another Accessory

No matter the kind of camera or film, shooters heading overseas also may wish to consider another accessory: a lead-lined bag to protect equipment and film from damage that can be caused by higher-dosage X-ray machines in foreign airports. The harm they do often can’t be detected until travelers return and have their film developed, only to find it is fogged, or worse. Lead-lined bags range from $10 for small models that hold only film to $20 for larger ones for film and camera.

Remember, too, that film is heat sensitive; don’t leave it in a hot car trunk.

Finally, if you’re not a camera junkie and just want to photograph a special event, consider one of the new disposable cameras. You simply point and shoot, then take the whole thing to the developer.

Kodak and Fuji make basic models; Fuji has one with a built-in flash. Due on the market this summer from Kodak is a waterproof disposable and a model with a panorama lens for shooting scenery. In Japan, Fuji sells a disposable with a small telephoto lens. It will be released later in the United States.

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