The plastic cartridge camera today is short-lived compared to the cameras of a decade ago," one photo-store owner and a respected photographer instructor told me recently. "Plastic has its place. But in a camera, it doesn't make for durability. There's just no way plastic can hold up over the years as well as metal.
"Two years from now," he continued, "you won't find any 1978 model cartridge cameras around. They'll all be at the dump."
That's not a very rosy forecast, especially when you consider that 110 cartridge cameras are far from "cheap." In fact, of 50 cartridge cameras (110 size) listed in the 1978 Photography Directory & Buying Guide, 12 cost more than $100, with the average price being $84.88.
Now, that's quite a chunk of money to spend on something that may not be around to see the next Olympics.
There are other problems with cartridge cameras. Lens quality is notoriously poor. Combined with the small negative size of 110 film, that means generally inferior prints. A 110 negative, for example, may be effectively blown up (from an excellent-quality negative) to prints no larger than 5" X 7" - anything larger will show substancial film grain and general fuzziness.
But there's an even more insidious problem with cartridge cameras - one the manufacturers can't solve by using a larger negative size or better lenses. One, in fact, that can't be solved at all. It's called "film warp."
Did you ever notice how roll film has a natural tendency to curl inward at the edges? More expensive cameras have what is called a film pressure plate to press against the back of the film, holding it perfectly flat as the shutter is snapped. Cartridge-loading cameras have no such pressure plate; their construction prohibits it.
The only tension on the film in the camera is the horizontal stretch of film from end to end, which isn't enough to remove the warp, or curl, from the film.
So when an exposure is made in a cartridge camera, the center of the negative is sharp while the edges are fuzzy. That, of course, makes for bad prints.
I'm not saying cartridge cameras have no place in life. The inexpensive models make excellent learning tools for youngsters. They're also grear for once-a-year photographers who couldn't care less about image quality and sharpness. But for others there's a better alternative.
The 35-mm rangefinder camera takes the cheapest film per frame available today - 35-mm film in black-and-white, color print or color slide. But how about the cost? The complicated settings? And all that technical jargon!
Well, forget it. Several 35-mm rangefinders cost less than the average 110 cartridge camera and have the added advantages of built-in pressure plates, superior lenses built-in light meters, electronic flash synchs and even semi-automatic operation.
Are they difficult to operate? Any photostore clerk can show you how to take excellent photos inside of 15 minutes. Is it worth the effort? You'll know the answer to that yourself when the first roll of the first roll of film comes back from processing.