More Decisions, Less Hassle for the Casual Shooter

The Advanced Photo System promises almost carefree photography, and in practical use delivers on its claims. But with the simplicity comes new decisions for the casual snap shooter. Here are some of the most significant changes:

First, the film is much easier to load. No more struggling with curling leaders and tricky takeup spools. APS's innovative film cassette is completely self-contained, with no exposed leader, and only fits into the camera one way. The whole thing is as easy as popping a tape into a car's cassette player.

When the film door is snapped shut, a series of tiny spindles and contacts sends the film whirring into place, and an LED display on the camera back indicates how many exposures are available.

Snap shooters used to current ''point-and-shoot'' cameras will be familiar with the automatic-focus, flash, and film-advance features of this new generation of cameras. The APS camera used for this story, a Kodak Advantix 3700ix (projected list price $195) was much smaller than its 35-mm counterpart and slipped into a shirt pocket.

Along with the film, the biggest change of the new format is visible through the viewfinder. Instead of the array of framing lines and brackets now in most amateur 35-mm cameras, one sees a simple black frame that represents the dimensions of the final print. A flick of a switch changes the dimensions of this box, from the familiar rectangular proportions of today's snapshots to a slightly larger rectangle to a panoramic frame - the three options of the new system.

Is a scene better represented in the standard proportion, or more dramatic in the panoramic format? Should there be some ''air'' on either side of the subject, or should the sides be pulled in tight? The framing possibilities are exciting, but they add a dimension of pictorial design to the picture-taking process that most weekend photographers have rarely, if ever, had to consider. High-end APS cameras with zoom lenses will multiply the complexity.

And what about the pictures? Though the negative size is smaller than 35 mm, the picture clarity is comparable, and quite acceptable for snapshots. The panoramic shots came from the photo finisher in dramatic 11-1/2-by-4-inch prints, the same height but nearly twice as wide as the standard-format image. The different print sizes should make keeping a photo album more interesting, and maybe a bit more complicated.

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