Q.

You often recommend cameras that are priced very high in the area. We can buy cameras in New York for $50 to $100 less. Can you tell me why those cameras are so expensive in the Washington area?

A.

I feel that in most cases the prices in this area are very fair and competitive. A camera is not a once-a-year purchase; to spend $300 on a machine that will last five to 10 years is a bargain.

As for mail-order camera purchases: There are many honest and distinguished catalogue houses in New York, Chicago, Portland and other cities. I have, over the years, patronized several. Sometimes with success, other times with some heartburn.

But this aside, I like to have someone to look at face-to-face when I'm buying a camera, or, in some cases, when something goes wrong. I like to deal with reputable camera stores. I do some comparison shopping and generally buy at the least expensive place. But I'm careful never to equate cost with service. I try to get a feeling for how I'll be treated after the sale.

All this stretches out the purchase and lets the anticipation grow. Over the years, I have developed preferences but am delighted that we have so many good camera stores in the area.

Q.

I'm not nearly as enthusiastic about photography as when I started. I have an Olympus camera with a 35-to-70mm zoom lens. I also have a flash. The problem is that, except for closeups, my pictures all seem cluttered. I didn't buy this camera to just make closeups.

A.

Clutter is a common mistake and not just by beginners.

Here are a few ideas to help get back that enthusiasm.

First, get closer to your subject, especially when you're using the 35mm focal length. You may be misjudging your viewfinder and incorporating too much in your photo. Center your subject (whether it's a mountain peak or a person picture) and try not to have too much extraneous stuff in the foreground. Cut out the trash baskets and picnic table and concentrate on one subject.

Remember a basic rule of photographic composition: When you have a foreground, a middleground and a background, you're bound to have a pleasing picture. Any combination of two will usually work.

Another trick: Take the cardboard from a roll of paper towels or toilet paper and use it as a guide to what will be in your picture. This will help screen out the unwanted objects.

Q.

You keep harping on the use of a tripod. You seem to think that one can be carried and used easily, but I don't agree. Tripods are all right only if you have one picture to make and don't have to change position rapidly. I hate taking the camera off, then moving to the next spot, then having to screw the camera back onto that tripod head. It spoils a lot of my fun.

A.

I stand by my tripod. It's one of the most valuable tools I have.

It need not be a pain to carry or to mount cameras on.

I mount a Universal "Tripod Quick-Clamp" to the tripod head, and the Universal "Adapt-a-Plate" to the base of my camera body. This matte black aluminum device allows quick release and remount of a camera. There is a long bolt that loosens the clamp, and the camera slides right off. To replace it, you fit the plate on the camera base to the clamp and tighten the bolt. It's easy to do and takes only seconds.

Universal is one of many of these devices, but the one I like the best. The set costs about $40. The others range in price from $10 to $110.

For carrying your tripod, use a tripod quiver. These over-the-shoulder cases are readily available from $20 up. I use one a friend made out of denim. Works great. In fact, if I'm not carrying my heavy-duty tripod, it will comfortably hold a light-duty one plus a 400mm lens.

Q.

Is there any autofocus camera that comes with a "T" button? That is, with the ability to take time exposures? I would like to be able to hold the shutter open for longer exposures.

A.

Most single-lens reflex camera have Time or Bulb positions, but I have not been able to find any compact autofocus point-and-shoot cameras that does. These compacts are designed to provide, most of the time, the correct exposure, be it daylight or flash.

Q.

I purchased five rolls of film at a great discount price at Christmas time. I was assured at the shop that the film was fresh and had been well kept. They said it was a sale to help promote their new processing service. Do you think I was suckered?

A.

No. I don't think so. If the shop was reputable and especially if you've done satisfactory business with them in the past, you'll probably be fine. If you don't plan to use it all soon, put the film in the freezer or refrigerator, where it will keep better. Just be sure to take it out of the freezer 24 hours before you plan to use it. Twelve hours at room temperature should be enough from the refrigerator.

Write Carl Kramer, c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th Street NW, DC 20071.