TODAY we begin a series of occasional reports on the "automatic-everything" cameras.
These are the new compacts -- those super cameras that are designed as "consumer" models but are frequently used by professionals.
Before we discuss the first camera -- the Nikon One Touch -- a word about the reports themselves: They will be based on the results of informal shooting, which includes such scenes as a birthday party, working in the garden, street construction, a PTA meeting, a Girl Scout meeting, a school play, pets and other day-to-day snapshots. Each camera will be the only one used on a family or business trip so it gets a complete test.
Processing will be spread around. If Kodak film was used, at least two or three rolls will be sent to Kodak for processing. The rest of the test rolls will go to supermarkets, drug stores, independent camera stores and one-hour processing establishments.
Bear in mind that all of these cameras will have certain things in common: auto-loading, auto-focus, auto-film count (DX) and auto-counter.
All will have some sort of automatic flash, but this will be one of the differences among them.
So here goes on the Nikon One Touch:
The One Touch bears a Nikon 35mm f/2.8 glass lens, with four elements in three groups and produces remarkably sharp pictures.
The shutter is electronically programmed AE, with speeds ranging from 1/8th to 1/430th of a second.
The focus is an infrared system that incorporates eight focusing stops and focuses from 2.3 feet to infinity. There is an auto-focus circle in the middle of the viewfinder. The camera has an easy-to-use focus-lock arrangement. By holding the exposure button halfway down, you can lock in to a specific focus distance. The simplicity of operation really helps you avoid wrong focus and wrong exposure.
The viewfinder has four focusing symbols -- a close-up figure, two figures full length, three figures (two adults and a child) for group shots, and a distant mountain for long distance -- which let you know your focusing range. The system is fast and extremely accurate.
I had very good luck with the auto-loading system. It worked quickly and with no glitches. When you close the back, the film motor winds, the camera loads itself and brings the counter to "1."
The camera is coded for DX, but sets itself to ISO 100 with non-DX cartridges.
Film advance is automatic, taking less than a second to move an exposed frame forward. This allows for some interesting sequence photography.
Rewind is also motorized but requires a two-step action to get it started. This is not a complicated sequence, and is great protection against accidents.
With low light levels -- when there's not enough light to take a correctly exposed picture -- the flash pops up, fully charged, when you depress the exposure button. You're then ready to shoot. The flash recycle time is 6 seconds with fresh batteries. The shutter will not fire during the recycling time -- a great safeguard since it can keep the number of underexposed pictures way down.
All this on just two AA alkaline batteries!
Battery life is expected to be about 50 24-exposure rolls without flash, and about 10 rolls of all-flash shooting.
Then there is the fancy lens cover: It opens with a snap and turns the camera on. When closed, the batteries are in the "rest" position and the shutter will not fire.
In spite of all this wonderful gadgetry, there are a couple of features I wish were different.
I wish there was an external way of shutting off the flash when the camera says you must use it. It would be better for making some time exposures at night. I wish the tripod hole was closer to the center for better balance. But these are relatively small things that are easy to live with
The pictures I took were sharp and, in most cases, well exposed. The camera is easy to use and fun. Just about anyone can learn to use it in about half an hour.
The camera was originally designed to sell for about $220, but now appears on sale regularly for about $130-$140.