Commercial sales are clicking for auto-everything cameras

Some people call them the PhD cameras - for Push here, Dummy. They are the same autofocus, auto-everything cameras that mom and dad buy to take sharp shots of junior, but which are finding their way into commercial use. The new generation of pocket-size, automatic 35-mm cameras has made it painless for middle managers, secretaries, and even executives to snap a picture to record business successes for posterity.

``We are selling these small, autofocus cameras to every category of business,'' says Hugh Quilty, manager of Claus Gelotte, a photographic equipment retailer in Boston. ``A wall may be leaking and they want to send documentation, or they've taken a shot of a display booth. They're using autofocus cameras where before they were afraid to use an adjustable camera.''

Whether it's taking shots of a display, a new factory, or a construction site, the uncertainty factor in getting a good photograph has been virtually eliminated. So has the hassle of dragging around a bulky, hard-to-understand 35-mm camera. What was once a frustrating job (if done by business people themselves) or expensive (if a professional was called) has been made easy by technology.

``Because of the performance of these new cameras, they're more idiot-proof than ever,'' says William Gallery, a free-lance corporate photojournalist based in Boston. ``It has inspired a lot of people to try to save money by not hiring a professional.''

When Ronald Fream, a golf course architect, travels halfway around the world to look at a new site, he packs a lot of big, fancy camera equipment - but he always likes to take along his little pocket 35-mm automatic, too. Mr. Fream uses both types of camera to record the difference his expertise makes - shooting photos of a site before and after the course is built.

``He carries an arsenal of equipment with him,'' says Brian Curley, an associate at Golfplan, Fream's Santa Rosa, Calif., company. But some of the equipment is ``big and cumbersome to carry around, so he has the smaller camera to slip into his pocket. He uses it after meetings, when he can't be carrying the other stuff around.''

Even photo professionals, almost all of whom say they prefer larger, traditional 35-mm single-lens-reflex cameras with adjustable apertures and shutter speeds, concede the utility of the pocket automatic cameras.

``I work out of an airplane,'' says Alex MacLean, a Boston-based aerial photographer. ``All of my big cameras are taped on infinity. So instead of using one of those large cameras when I arrive, I use my pocket 35mm when I want to document things on the ground.''

The growth of the automatic 35mm is a true phenomenon, says a spokeswoman for Photo Marketing Association International, an organization that tracks sales of imported camera equipment. Most of the cameras are Japanese made and include the Olympus, Canon, Nikon, and Minolta brands, to name a few.

A big influx of small automatic cameras that fall under the category of ``range finder'' cameras began in 1983, according to the Photo Marketing Association. About 2.2 million range-finder models were imported into the United States in 1983, most of them with automatic features. By last year thenumber had risen to 6.4 million.

The key to the success of the camera has been its ease of use and sure-fire results. Computer chips are the element that has allowed automatic integration of the basic camera functions to achieve the proper settings. The chip regulates the aperture opening, which determines the amount of light and the shutter speed. For hard-to-take indoor pictures, a flash unit pops up automatically.

Using standard 35 mm film has been a boon, too, since the negative size is bigger than films used in the many inexpensive compact cameras. It is automatic focusing, however, that has been crucial to the camera's popularity with business people.

Focusing occurs either when the camera bounces an infrared beam off the subject, or when the computer chip analyzes the distance to the subject by viewing it from two separate angles. In both cases, the chip estimates the distance and signals the lens to rotate to the right position.

``They [business people] are using them where before they were afraid to use an adjustable camera,'' Mr. Quilty says.

One professional photographer says that ``there's an elitist thing'' about using a manual camera versus an autofocus. ``If you're a pro, you're using real cameras - and if you're an amateur, you're using autofocus,'' he says.

But even that limited perspective hasn't slowed the use of pocket automatics by some professional photographers.

``Pros are so compulsive they find themselves unable to go anywhere without a camera,'' says Lou Jones, a commercial photographer. ``They put it in their pocket and feel they're covered.''

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