Q. On trips to France I have enjoyed many fine meals and have often wished that I had a way of unobtrusively photographing particularly fine dishes. My Maxxum 9000 with 28-85mm zoom lens would serve, but, even without flash, its bulk and shutter noise are conspicuous in elegant dining rooms.

It seems to me that the ideal combination would be one of the compact (non-SLR) automatics using 800 or 1600 speed color film without flash.

None of the comparative tests I have seen has specified all the factors important to such an undertaking, i.e., fast lens (e.g., f.2), close focus - 12 to 18 inches if possible (the wide- angle lenses usually standard on such cameras should give adequate coverage), and the ability to let the automatic exposure control make a relatively long exposure (e.g., 1/2 second) without automatically switching to flash.

What do you recommend?

A. I would not hesitate to use that Maxxum 9000. I certainly would not be concerned about shutter noise. Elegance and ambiance are fine, and I'm sure you pay a lot of money for them, but I can't believe that your hosts or fellow gourmets would object to your taking a few pictures. After all, isn't it flattering that you would want to preserve such memories? Warn the maitre d' what you're doing, and under the right circumstances he might even help.

As to the automatics: most of them can handle the super-fast films up to ISO 1600. None that I have tested or am aware of will focus down to 12 or 18 inches. The Pentax IQZoom, in its macro mode, will focus down to 24 inches. I have found that 24 inches does some remarkable closeups.

For your exposure, if you really feel it will be as slow as one-half second, you probably won't be able to hand hold it anyway. Using a tripod in these circumstances would be a little much even for me.

Remember that the color of light in the room will control the color of your food pictures. This could mean significant color distortion, especially with long exposures. Flash may well be your answer. FEEDBACK

About displaying those old, inherited photographs:

1. Try a loose-leaf binder with clear plastic pages such as those used to display graphs and charts.

2. I have used a company named DAY-TIMERS for the past four years. They have deluxe photo albums and binders and a wide assortment of poly, clear binders.

Their address is PO Box 2368, Allentown, PA 18001. Their 24-hour phone is 215/395-5884. They have a very complete catalogue. Bonnie Wilson Upper Marlboro

What is this no-glare plastic "glass" you referred to? Is there a name for this product, either generic or brand name? Can you get it in large sizes and cut it with the same kind of tools I use to cut hardware store acrylic? Where can I buy it or get more information? D. Mercer Arlington

I bought mine at Read Plastics in Rockville. They had a display rack with cut sizes up to 11x14.

I still shoot Super 8 movies because of the good quality. I like to photograph college bands and cheerleaders and travel by plane to the games. In going through airport security, I have my film hand inspected and let the camera go through the X-ray. It doesn't hurt the camera and I can remain relaxed knowing my film is safe. Hilliard Dean Washington

Realizing the interest in protecting photographic material, I send you my system. When I pass airport security, I have all of my film in a clear plastic bag for hand inspection. The rest of my gear goes through the X-ray machine with no ill effects. I use this whether I have three or four rolls or 40. Jim Smestead Chicago

CLUB NEWS

The Silver Spring Camera Club is planning a series of workshops, field trips and other educational opportunities for the 1987-88 season.

Meetings are held on the first and third Thursday of each month and a competition is held at each meeting. Members study and critique each others' images. They plan a special workshop, called New Directions, at which they will study the photographs of well-known professionals and the most recent advances in photography, and plan special co-operative projects.

Call Norm Bernache, 935-5617, or Joyce Bayley, 384-9328.