Q. I have an antique business and frequently do appraisals. I would like to be able to take photographs of the items I appraise. As some of these can be quite detailed or very small or both, I would like to be able to get decent photographs of anything from a large piece of furniture to a small piece of old silver.

Although I have for years nurtured a desire to take "creative" pictures, I've never attempted anything more challenging than a simple Instamatic.

The homes in which I would be photographing for appraisal purposes would have a wide variety of light ranging from bright to very dark.

So, what type of 35mm camera should I buy, what types of lenses should I add to the basic package and what type of portable lighting equipment should I consider?

A. There are several ways for you to go: a single lens reflex with several lenses or a compact automatic.

There are many SLRs that would serve your purpose: the Pentax SF1-N, the Nikon 8008, the Ricoh XM-10 and the Minolta Maxxum 8000i. With any of these, you can equip yourself with a 35-70mm or 35-105mm macro lens. A state-of-the-art external flash is available for each model and should handle all of your situations. Lightweight light stands are readily available, as are extra flash units or photoflood lights. You should be able to put together everything you need for your job.

In view of your experience with simple cameras, however, I would suggest that you look closely at some of the automatic compacts. The Nikon TeleTouch, the Minolta Freedom Zoom 90 and the Pentax IQZoom Super 105 are all good. I was particularly impressed with the Pentax's ability to make sharp close-ups at 18 inches.

These automatics function with the same ease as your Instamatic. They are autofocus, provide automatic exposure and many other automatic features, including programmed flash.

They are lightweight, extremely versatile and come with instruction books that are very informative and easy to read.

It may well be that, once you have used a compact camera in many situations, you might feel the need to move on to the complete versatility of an SLR.

Q. I use a Contax 167 MT camera with Carl Zeiss lenses. I am thinking about buying a 28-85mm f-3.5 to 4.0 zoom lens for my camera. I do not, however, fully understand about that business of f-3.5 to 4.0. I assume that it means the maximum aperture changes as you zoom the lens. But where does it change? In the middle? If I am shooting at 50mm, will I get erroneous readings in my viewfinder? I'm thinking that this is too complicated. I like to take portraits and I do travel a lot. Would you recommend I buy the 28-85mm and a 80-200mm, or the 80-200mm and separate 28mm and 50mm lenses?

A. The maximum aperture of a zoom lens doesn't change abruptly. It changes on a sliding, graduated scale. And while in most lenses that scale is very even, each make and model of lens is somewhat different. If a metering system built into the camera is used, it will properly compensate for the change. If you use an external light meter, a test roll shot at different zoom positions will give you the guide you need.

I feel strongly that today's zoom lenses are the way to go. The 28-85mm zoom will do you much more good than the separate focal length lenses. FEEDBACK: "I have been whale watching on several occasions and would like to tell you of the way I succeeded in getting some good shots. I put away my 70-210mm zooms and doublers. Instead I used a 35-70mm zoom or a 105mm fixed focus. I set the camera on program automatic, pre-focused where I thought the whales would be, and waited. And, since there is absolutely no predicting what a whale will do, I was delighted that I came back with some pretty good images. Let me assure you that whales move a lot faster when you're photographing them than they seem to in the movies. The other key ingredient is pure luck, and I had lots of it. The whales were on the correct side most of the time and the light was frequently over my shoulder." I'll BE AWAY next week. I'm heading for the Outer Banks to shoot some sunrises, sunsets and wildfowl. I plan to test some special-effects filters and will give you a report soon.

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