The Promise Shot

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It starts with someone else’s “Promise Shot”. 

A photograph taken with a camera I’ve become curious about, that shows enough potential to urge me further to get one for myself and see what I can create with it.

Then, hopefully after a roll or two, I manage to make a Promise Shot of my own, one that shows that this new (old) camera and me in partnership can conjure up something that excites and inspires me enough to try to do more with it.

The letterbox above is the first Promise Shot from a Canon Sure Shot Classic 120 I picked up a few weeks back. 

The colours, sharpness and depth of field are more than enough for me to want to take the 120 out again.

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But of course if the camera itself was horrible to use, these Promise Shots would mean next to nothing. 

For me, the experience of shooting with a certain camera is more important than the end result, though it’s even better when you get a few pleasing photographs to show for the experience too.

Fortunately, the Sure Shot Classic 120 is very enjoyable to use. 

It’s genuinely compact size (just about trouser pocketable, certainly fine in a jacket pocket), comfortable hold (the rubberised concave front grip is a delight), decent viewfinder (for a zoom) and thoughtful controls make it an immediate winner.

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Best of all, is the mode dial which controls the main settings of the camera, and has a Personal mode.

Whatever other settings you change when you’re in Personal mode, it remembers, even when you switch the camera off. And very cleverly, is I found out just now, even when the camera hasn’t had a battery in for a week!

These “other settings” are accessed by three buttons in a hidden panel on the back. The first is for flash modes which include the all important flash off and +1.5 or -1.5 exposure compensation – great for over- or underexposing expired film in an auto DX coded camera.

The Personal mode stores these settings remember, so once you set +1.5 exposure compensation at the start of a roll of film for example, it’ll stay set all the way through, until you tell it otherwise. Excellent.

The third button switches been the default metering and spot metering. Again, Personal mode remembers which you choose.

The middle button of the three alternates between single shot, timed shot (ie self timer) and continuous shooting. The self timer setting is not remembered when you switch off (probably a good thing) but whether you’re on single or continuous frame shooting is memorised.

Intelligently, the Personal mode on the dial is just one notch clockwise from the off position.

Also cleverly, the Auto mode is the same single click, but in the other direction from the off position, so whether you use your Personal configuration or just want the all Auto pure point and shoot experience, it’s a very quick single click of the dial to waken the camera ready for action.

It feels like this Sure Shot was designed by people who actually care about photography and the end users of their cameras.

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Two things I don’t love.

First, the flash that pops out sideways every time you switch on. It would have been good if, when the flash was set to off in the Personal mode, it meant this flash itself didn’t pop out. I just always found it trying to pop out where my finger was already resting. I may just put a piece of my favourite black insulating tape over it to keep it inside the camera, as I never use flash. Crude but effective!

The other feature I think could have been better (aside from the obvious fact that instead of the less than stunningly spec’d 38-120mm zoom lens it could have been made with a fixed 35mm f/2.8 lens like in many of the early Canon Sure Shots, or even a 35-70mm like in the Rollei X70 or Pentax Zoom 70 series) is the AutoFocus confirm light. It gives the feedback you want, but in broad daylight is just so tiny it’s hard to always see. I found myself locking focus then pulling my head back a couple of inches to check the light was on and the focus locked, as I couldn’t see it when my eye was up against the VF.

Aside from these minor quirks, both of which can be got around, the 120 has impressed my greatly – as indeed have a number of Canon Sure Shots of the past. 

Whereas with film SLRs my favourite brand by a clear margin is Pentax, in the compact camera genre, Canon with their Sure Shots give Pentax with their equally vast Espio range a very good run for their money.

I look forward to shooting another roll with it soon, and maybe this time black and white.

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