Q - Is there a flat pocket camera, not too expensive yet reliable, that I can carry on hikes, backpacking and hunting?
A - There used to be two classics made for this very purpose. One was the Kodak Retina, which folded flat and extended for picture-taking; the other was the Leica C series, with a telescoping lens you could twist and extend to shoot and retract back into the body to carry. Neither was cheap - but they were durable for your kind of photography.
There are two cameras on the market today that incorporate some of these feature. Both are light and portable and will give you good service. One is the Olympus Trip 35, which comes with a flash and a feltlined protective bag. Another is the Vivitar 35 EM, which has a lens that pops out when in use and retracts behind a sliding protective door. It also has a feature that prevents accidental exposure and battery drain while the camera is being carried.
You can also look around in the camera stores for used verions of the two "classics," if you're really into photography and undertand fstops, shutter speeds and how to estimate light, or are willing to carry a light meter along.
Q - Do pictures taken at the same speed and f-stop, and with the same film, turn out identical, whether taken with a fast or slow lens?
A - For all practical purposes, the answer is yes. But if you want to be technical, the answer is - not quite.
There's a difference in lens characteristics, not only between lenses of different types (or maximum effective f-stops) but even among seeminly identical lense of the same "speed." Professionals have learned this, and many of them swear by a particular lens. When buying a new one, they'll put it through exhaustive tests to see if it will perform in their hands under all conceivable conditions.
To decide if a "faster" lens is worth the added expense, either shoot with the lens right in the store and have the film developed or check out both lenses on a trial basis and decide after you see the results. This is't so much to prove if one lens is better (with today's technology, buying a "bad" lens would take an awful lot of looking) but which suits your shooting technique.
Q - What is the definition of "professional" and "amateur" for a photo contest? I recently had an unpleasant experience in a photo contest where I was judged a "professional" because I have had some pictures with my name credited.
A - I don't think that an occasional published picture makes a photographer a professional unless the major part of his or her income is earned from photography, or a related occupation such as writing that's supported by photography. Many amateurs have had some photos published in one connection or another - and actually the contests themselves make "professionals" out of "amateurs" when they award anything of value