If you are contemplating buying a box camera for yourself, a little bit of care observed at the time of purchase can save you a lot of disappointment later. A box camera is a mechanical device and an allowance has to be made bearing in mind that age rounds off corners, covers with dust and grime, renders ineffective lubrication and does a whole lot of things all of which go to make a camera mechanism sluggish and unreliable.
Box cameras were made for a variety of film sizes each having a unique code : 120, 620, 828, 127 and others. Leaving aside 120 these sizes are now obsolete, so make sure your camera is made for this type of film.
Check the controls and see if they operate smoothly without grating. If your camera has a T or B setting, you can even check the condition of the lens. Open the back of the camera and depress the shutter button at B. You can now peer through the lens. When sighted against a dark background next to a window, a cloudy lens could indicate the presence of grease marks, fingerprints, dirt or even fungus, all of which lead to fuzzy, soft-focus pictures. Have the camera checked and repaired by a competent camera firm.
There are many enthusiasts who spend hours studying technical features and are yet unsure which is the ‘best’ camera for them. Others find themselves influenced by such things as appearance, make and age. If you are having trouble deciding which model is best for you, remember that every camera you see on the shelf above was made to give good pictures. It is important to have a clear idea of what you plan to do with your camera. Are you content with outdoor views showing landscapes, churches and picnic groups? Even the most elementary box is able to handle these subjects admirably well. On the other hand you may be a technically minded person who likes to experiment. Christmas decorations at night, a flower vase on the table, the interior of a church—these and many more interesting situations come within your scope if you buy an instrument with a B or T setting on its shutter.
The pictures you see on this website were all taken long ago with a simple box camera. With a bit of patience and a willingness to experiment, you can explore all kinds of exciting subjects around you. For example with the lens at its largest stop try photographing the interior of a room with the box set up on a table. Take a series of pictures giving exposures of 2 sec, 4 sec, 8 sec …. Develop the film and hold up the strip of negatives against a brightly lit wall. The thinnest one which still shows up detail in the shadows is the one correctly exposed. If you keep a careful record of camera settings and indoor light for each picture, you can build up a very useful table of data showing how to photograph low light subjects in a variety of settings.