In 1982 there were two classes of camera. You had the cheap point-and-shoots and you had the expensive SLRs. The cheap point-and-shoots used 110 or 126 film. Even 4 years earlier when I started with my 126 camera I could tell the difference between 110 and 126. Obviously the bigger negative was better. A 35mm camera was obviously better than both. The only thing scary was that the film did not come in nice little cartridges. You had to actually load the film and then rewind it when done.
The Snappy 20 featured a built-in automatic flash and a pretty good fixed focus 4.5 lens with no zoom. The camera came with a carry case and a built-in neck strap. The case featured a belt loop to make it easy to carry. The bright blue body also attracted attention any time I brought it out. This later proved to be its undoing.
And the pictures. This camera took great pictures. Mind you it had no zoom. I had to zoom with my feet. I took what I thought was a lot of pictures. Film was expensive and so was the developing. This means that every picture counted. I took a few pictures even back then that I am very proud of. I remember one picture in particular of my brother standing in front of a mirror wearing his Safety Patrol sash and badge. The camera was able to capture the scene without washing it out. The automatic flash did the right thing. I took pictures of anything I could.
As the camera took pictures it advanced the film onto a roll. Once you tool the last picture, the camera would automatically rewind. This was a novelty for the day. More than once the camera would start in this mode. I would hand it to someone and tell them that it was about to blow up. It was good for laughs.
Things to remember. If you are unsure if there is film in the camera, do not open the back of the camera. This would ruin your pictures. I would keep a part of the film box in my carry case to remind me what was in the camera.
At at least one point the camera was jammed up and I had to get the film out. I went into a completely dark room and ripped the film out. I do not recommend this but I did save the pictures.
When it came to develop my pictures, I took them to Eckerds for developing. A roll of 24 pictures would cost about $6 and a roll of 36 pictures would cost about $8. I got in the habit of using 36 exposure roles. Eckerds always did a great job of developing my pictures. They had a premium service called “Ultra Lab 35” that gave you bigger prints and a bigger price. I always chose the matte finish because I like the way it looked. They would always pick out one picture and feature it in a little cardboard frame. I have boxes of these now. It was like some guy at the lab giving me a little thumbs up — this one is good.
In a roll of 36 pictures I usually had a high percentage of decent pictures. I often had some great shots. This drove me to take more pictures. I had to save my allowance for film and developing.
My camera could take 100 or 400 ISO speed film. There was a switch on the camera where I told the camera what film was currently in the camera. This was always a tough choice. I would buy both kinds of film. I had to know what was in the camera before I took the picture. 100 speed film was great for outdoor shots where the light was good but the action was slow. I needed 400-speed if there was any movement in the picture or the light conditions were low. In one picture I remember someone splashed water on someone else and I took the picture. The 400-speed film captured the water droplets in mid air.
During this time I was in Boy Scouts. I volunteered to be the troop historian. I would take pictures and keep a photo album for the Troop. In exchange I could turn in my receipts for reimbursement. In a way this was my first professional photography gig and I was 12 years old. On a normal camping trip I could burn through 2 or 3 rolls of film. This was great experience and the Troop was paying for it all. I took some pictures like the above mentioned water fight that I still clearly remember.
There was another picture that I remember. My scout patrol, the Red Dragons, thought we were all that. All the patrols had the same budget for each campout. Our patrol looked at the budget and came up with a plan on how to spend our money. That weekend we had cereal for breakfast and PB&J for lunch. The result was that while the other patrols were busy trying to build a fire or clean up from their meals, we were done and ready to have fun. We took the funds left over and had steak for dinner. All the other boys were having hot dogs for dinner and we were having t-bones. I captured that campfire in a series of 3 shots, or at least 3 shots that I remember. The first picture I remember was of the campfire at twilight with glowing coals. I was using 400-speed film and no flash. The second picture I remember was of the steaks laid out on the grill over the fire. Without the story, it was just meat. I remember the story. I used a flash and it worked to highlight the meat over the glowing coals. The final picture in the series I can remember was an empty styrofoam plate with plastic fork and knife. The plate was scored from the knife and devoid of any meat. The steak was good. I always tried to tell the story in my pictures.
For the next 5 years that camera went with me everywhere. I spent hundreds of dollars on film. Not every picture wad perfect. I learned a couple of things. The first thing was to know what I was going to shoot to make sure I had the right film loaded. This often meant sacrificing the last couple of pictures on a role just so I could switch to a different speed film. 400-speed film was more versatile in bad light or motion conditions but I could see the grain in my pictures.
Second, take a moment to frame the picture. I would get criticized for taking too long. I’m sure I missed some pictures because I was busy waiting for the right shot. It has taken me 25 years and the advent of digital photography to get over that.
Third, get close to the subject. I think my pictures had character because you could see faces. With other people’s pictures of the time you could barely make out faces. The camera had no zoom. I had to zoom with my feet.
I took this camera to Europe. I used it to document my year abroad. It was my primary expense. The camera ate batteries as well as film. At one point I dropped the camera and broke the flash. I took a screwdriver to the camera and open it up. I found the capacitor that was attached to the flash. When I say “found”, I mean it in the way that someone learns a lifelong lesson. Apparently the capacitor can keep a charge even after the batteries have been removed. Since the flash was not working, I could not discharge the capacitor. I chose involuntarily to discharge the capacitor using the screwdriver and my right arm. It was the most curious sensation. In a millisecond I could feel the charge run up my arm. Lesson learned. I took the camera to a professional to get fixed properly.
In May 1987 I made the mistake of leaving it wrapped up in my jacket on the beach one evening. The camera was stole. I very upset at loosing my camera but I was more upset about loosing the pictures. I lost my pictures — never to be replaced. I really loved this camera. I loved the recognition for my pictures.