Bill Pierce's
Nuts & Bolts 
"The Man with Two Brains "

A while back, Dirck sent many of us an email about two still cameras that  he thought were quite useful to the Platypus, that strange, impossible to  categorize journalist who handles all aspects of a story.  He talked about the usefulness of two very different tools, the Leica rangefinder and the Canon EOS.  I have thought of a third Platypus-worthy camera. 

When I was shooting the war in Beirut, assigned by Dirck Halstead, the American Embassy was destroyed by a truck bomb.  Most of us had no idea what had happened.  We just heard the blast from quite away off, saw the smoke and headed toward it not knowing what building had been hit. Everybody made as many pictures as they could.  My weekly magazine deadline didn't impose the strict limitations faced by the wire service and daily newspaper photographers; I didn't have to head back to the bureau until the light gave out. 

When I returned to the office, I found that the reporter who would normally have covered the event had left the city.  I was assigned the job of writing the report.  The office manager set a lot of slack in the Teletype tape and set me at the keyboard.  Of course, I didn't know at what time the bombing had occurred, didn't know the estimated size of the bomb, didn't know the estimate of wounded or dead, didn't know who had been killed, e.t.c., e.t.c., e.t.c.. I knew what the shell-shocked survivors, the dead, the destroyed building and the rescue teams looked like. 
The office manager and the receptionist did all the real reporting, getting the facts and figures and feeding them to me while I typed.  I took the credit, their choice; they didn't think they would have any credibility in New York.  I took the pictures.  But I didn't report the event.  I went to the event in photographer mode.  My concerns were different from those of a good word person.  It is difficult to be both at the same time. 
When Dirck talks about being a Platypus, who handles all aspects of a story, the writing, the video taping, the stills, the audio interview, editing of all these forms, e.t.c., he points out that each of these tasks is performed separately.  The best times and places for images, reporting, interviews and writing in an essay rarely overlap.  Unfortunately, in fast breaking news events, they always do. 
To be both cameraman and reporter at the same time, you truly become Steve Martin's "The Man with Two Brains."  You switch rapidly back and forth from photographer to reporter and try not to step on your own feet.  To solve the problem, may I suggest the brainless still camera - the pocketable "point and shoot" with its auto everything.   Now you can shoot stills and video with only one brain.  You can shoot stills and report with only one brain.  And in slower moving stories you can shoot head shots while interviewing without forgetting the next question. 
The first person I knew to use a "point and push" seriously was Arthur Grace.  He showed up at my wedding with a Leitz Minilux.  He was a guest, not a photographer, and he did all the things a guest does.  Occasionally, he raised the camera to his eye and took a shot.  I was unaware that he was shooting at all; I had other things on my mind.  In a few weeks, one of the best wedding albums I have seen arrived in the mail. 
The small, brainless camera is not only convenient when you are also doing something beside taking pictures.  It is a camera that few people take seriously.  No one feels threatened when you start taking pictures.  And equally important, it's small size means it can always be with you "just in case." 

Complete automation has made the minicam the ideal family snapshot camera. It's sales dwarf that of the conventional SLR.  And now, major camera manufacturers have recognized the market and produced high end cameras that produce images that can stand up to most technically demanding photographer, the wealthy dentist. 
The results of  tests I have run are not suprising.  Wide open lens performance is improved by stopping down a stop[.  What is suprising is that the tests were done by comparing 16x20 prints - and no one who saw the prints had any overriding objection to general performance at any aperture. 
In general, the small film camera delivers higher quality results than the small electronic camera.  Film is pretty amazing stuff.  The less expensive electronic still cameras and Canon's video/still hybrid give excellent results on a web page or computer/tv screen.  Cost rises dramatically when you need to use an electronic camera to produce feature sized images for newspapers and magazines, much less prints for exhibition. Be you dedicated Platypus, Happy Snapper or somewhere in between, you may find the amateur "point and push" more professional than you thought. 

A footnote: The cameras that my friends use, and I personally have been able to see fairly sizable prints or projected slides from, are the Leitz Minilux, the Contax T2 (a fairly similar camera without the complete shutter speed and f stop read out, but also without quite as high a price tag), and the Nikon 28Ti for a "point and push" with a wide-angle lens.   More important, I have seen cameras from all the other major manufacturers in the hands of intelligent, quality conscious photographers.  Ask around. 
Check into the following websites: 

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