As the average photographer gets deeper into his hobby, his craving for gadgets grows. Your basic camera and two lenses never seem to be enough.
You can find a lot of the extras at a camera store. But most stores are neither large enough nor do the kind of volume needed to carry the ultimate line of gadgets to fulfill your photographic fantasies.
To satisfy those desires, photographers have turned to mail-order catalogs. The Porter's Photo/Video Catalog is one of the most popular.
Porter's, in Cedar Falls, Iowa, has been in the photography business since 1914. It started as a portrait studio, then became a photo-finishing lab, then a retail store and finally a mail-order outlet. Porter's has grown to a 30,000-square-foot warehouse on an eight-acre industrial park site. Its catalog is mailed to more than 500,000 people.
"It's like a camera store in their mail box," said Dave Montz, Porter's vice president. "We have over 4,000 items in our catalog."
Merchandise ranges from Micro Film Developer to a Hi-Tech Zoom Camera Bag (presumably it's the lens, not the bag, that does the zooming) to something called the Elevator UniClamp with Panhead.
Porter's offers many items that are manufacturer's closeouts. Because Porter's buys in large quantities, some items are bargains. The items may be a little off the wall, but they may be just what you are looking for. Photo pamphlets, at 59 cents, are one of the best buys in the catalog.
So to make your trip through the Porter's catalog a bit easier, I've come up with my own list of the good, the bad and the ugly.
Now, a look at the good, first from Porter's perspective, then mine.
The Reluctant Wrench Set: ($3.94). This handy squeeze wrench solves an age-old problem--how to get a $7 filter off a $100 lens without a hacksaw. It very easily screws off even the most reluctant, ornery, cross-threaded ones.
This is a practical little item. It's tough to get those stuck filters off. Getting a good grip on those small filters is next to impossible. This wrench may save your lens a trip to the repair shop.
FilmShield: (Price varies according to size). This product protects rolls of 35-millimeter film (exposed or unexposed) from harmful X-rays emitted by surveillance devices at airports.
The nice feature here is that Porter's carries five sizes to protect your film. Most camera stores usually carry just one or two sizes. This way you can buy the size that best suits your traveling needs.
Econo Paper Safe: (8x10 $11.95, 11x14 $16.95). This safely stores black-and-white or color paper and sheets of film. Its simple, protective safety lock prevents accidental opening.
With the price of photo paper rising, this investment may pay off by saving your paper from accidentally being exposed. How many times have you fumbled with a paper box , and it's inside the protective liner?
Jumbo Key Chain Viewers: ($3.95, set of 3). Simply trim the ends and sprocket holes from a color slide, drop into the translucent end piece, then snap it in place on the viewer. Put it to your eye to see a bright, clear, sharp, magnified view.
This is a cute item for those who shoot slide film. What a great way to surprise your friends with pictures of them in a key-chain viewer.
Calendar Masks: (Price varies). Make personalized calendars from your favorite pictures. Not just a gimmick but a creative source for your talents and imagination.
Start thinking about making your calendars today. Why not make a personalized calendar for your family and friends. These are mostly designed for photographers who have their own black-and-white darkroom.
And now, a look at the bad and the ugly.
Custom Darkroom Towel: ($4.95). Eye-catching, luxurious, thick & thirsty, cotton/polyester terry cloth hand towel. Ideal for years of constant use in the darkroom. Custom design sets it apart from other household towels.
Who are they trying to kid? Why would anyone buy a $4.95 hand towel from a camera mail-order catalog?
Surprise Pack: ($9.95). Yes, we sell Surprise Packs. The reason we do is to get rid of (fast) the items such as outdated film and paper and merchandise that may look shop worn.
The only real surprise is if there is anything but junk in the pack.
Portable Developing Tank: ($2.99). Develops 35-millimeter film without removing it from the cartridge. Film can be developed in broad daylight. Never a darkroom used. A quick, simple, easy way to develop your 24-exposure, 35-millimeter film. Small compact and shirt-pocket handy!
Give me a break.
EnlargerMate Professional Dodging and Burning Kit: ($42.95). These professional dodging and burning tools are designed for the serious black-and-white printer.
Save your money. Make your own and put the money in the bank.
The photography column is designed to help both the serious amateur and the weekend shooter. Questions and ideas are encouraged. Write to: Robert Lachman, Chief Photographer, Orange County Life, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa 92626.