The choice of apparatus will to some extent be governed by the amount of money the photographer desires to invest, but let me at once say there are plenty of comparatively cheap cameras and lenses, etc., on the market, which are also very good value for the prices asked. The photographer, therefore, who does not possess a deep pocket, may be sure of being able to obtain—with due care, of course—a set of apparatus which, while not costing an excessive amount, will yet be capable, if intelligently used, of turning out very good work. Remember, it is not so much the camera or lens as the man behind it, and act accordingly.
If it be desired to purchase the apparatus for the least possible cost, then a visit to one or other of the second-hand photographic dealers, or an eye kept on the advertisement columns of the weekly photographic papers, will probably result in picking up a kit at about half its original cost. One word of caution, however; never buy any apparatus unless it can be had on approval, and do not send money to strangers, but use the deposit system adopted by practically all the papers, and so prevent the chance of " being had." There are bad lenses and other goods on the market ready to be palmed off on unwary people. Lenses, for instance, may be fraudulently engraved with well-known makers' names, and great care in selection is necessary, or it may be that, instead of saving money, it is thrown away on worthless articles.
The question of size naturally comes first, and perhaps in dealing with it my own experience will be useful. When I started—now a good many years ago—I did so with a J-plate camera which could be used either in the hand or on a stand. The size known as J-plate measures 4 1/4 x 3 1/4 inches. It is an ideal size for those who wish to use apparatus of the least weight and bulk, and if the ultimate aim is to make lantern slides or enlargements from the negatives obtained, it will answer very well. After using this for several seasons, I wished to be able to obtain stereoscopic photographs, and I therefore invested in a 1/2-plate stand-camera of the square bellows form with double extension. With this I could either take a single 1/2-plate picture, size 6 1/2 x 4 3/4 inches, or two stereoscopic ones side by side, on the same sized plate, and many of the illustrations in this book were obtained by means of this camera. It should be borne in mind that there is a considerable difference in the price of 1/2-plates and 1/4-plates, and as it will be often necessary to expose several plates on the same subject, to prevent the possibility of losing a chance which, perhaps, may not occur again, the difference of cost, one way or the other, will be considerable during one season's work. With the 1/2-plate camera, however, we have the means of using J-plates by having movable carriers in the dark slides to take them, and as many of the subjects in Nature Photography are small, even if taken their full natural size, a 1/4-plate will be ample for them.
There is one disadvantage connected with the 1/2-plate size, and that is the weight of the camera and lens, and say a dozen 1/2-plates in double dark slides, with the shutter, stand, focussing cloth, tilting-board, and other small accessories, including the case or cases containing them. I have on several occasions found the apparent weight of my kit appreciably heavier on my return journey after a long tramp than it seemed to be at the start, although I knew full well the subjects which had been impressed on the sensitive plates had not added a fraction to their weight. I found also, with additional experience, one had occasionally to augment the already heavy weight by carrying extra lenses, and often an extra reserve of plates, and it became necessary to make some alteration unless one were to develop into a kind of pack-horse.
An opportunity having occurred of obtaining a Shew's 1/2-plate " Xit " camera, arranged for stereoscopic work, I took advantage of it and used this for some time; and, in fact, still use it when I want to do 1/2 plate work. It is an excellent pattern, very light and rigid, and if the size decided upon should be 1/2-plate, I can strongly recommend this make. If a " Xit " camera is selected it should have double extension of bellows, if possible, because this will add considerably to its usefulness.
There is a size of camera which takes a plate 5x4 inches. This is used more extensively in America than in this country, and, personally, I do not consider it possesses any advantages over the much more universally used 1/4-plate.
Several years ago, a new size of instrument was placed on the market, known as the post card, and which takes a plate 5 1/2 x3 1/2 inches. After a trial, I decided—principally on account of generally doing stereoscopic work—to adopt this as my standard, and I now work with a camera of this size, which can be adapted for ordinary or stereoscopic work, and may be used either in the hand or on a stand.
The 1/2-plate size has one advantage over the post card. The larger plate allows more latitude for the arrangement of the subject and more licence in trimming the prints for stereoscopic work, which may each be 4 x 2 3/4 inches in size if desired. A post card size plate may be also carried and used in the 1/2-plate slide by means of carriers. For stereoscopic work the post card size does not allow much margin for trimming, although two prints can be obtained 3 x 2 1/2 inches in size. It has, however, several advantages over the larger 1/2-plate. The whole kit weighs considerably less, the plates cost about one-third less than the 1/2-plates, and for their area, weigh less in proportion, being usually coated on thinner glass. It is the smallest size which I should recommend for stereoscopic work, and this is the branch I strongly advise all who wish to make the most of their work to take up. After seeing the object itself in Nature, I cannot help thinking that a good stereoscopic photograph of it is the next best thing. I therefore suggest, if stereoscopic work is likely to be taken up, that a camera of the post card size be chosen in preference to any other. Stereoscopic photography will be treated of in a separate chapter, and it is, therefore, unnecessary further to discuss it here.