5 frames with...

5 Frames with Bell & Howell Fixed Focus Camera – By Howard Dale

February 1, 2018

​​​​​​​​​​When I retired in 2012 I was cleaning out my desk and came across a small, plastic camera with the name “Bell and Howell” on the front. I have no idea where it came from, but I suspect it’s the kind of thing that is given away with a magazine subscription. It’s such a famous camera that it doesn’t even seem to have a name – at least I couldn’t find one even after searching on the internet.

It has a fixed focus 28mm lens and fixed (and unknown – couldn’t find that on the internet either) aperture and shutter speed. So no need to worry about focusing and/or checking exposure. The ultimate point and shoot.  I was just about to throw it out when I noticed that there was a film inside.

I just couldn’t resist trying it out one lunch time (in the area around where I worked in New York City) and went through a 24 exposure roll faster than I ever have before…point, shoot; point, shoot etc. Twenty four shots in twenty minutes. I can’t imagine how long the camera had been lying around and the ‘no-name’ film had, when processed, some “interesting” color shifts. I thought the pictures would look better converted to b&w. It was an interesting experience, and in some ways liberating to not have to worry about anything other than the picture.

My website – www.aheadworld.org

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  • Reply
    Art Tafil
    February 1, 2018 at 5:53 pm

    I had numerous examples of “give away” cameras over the years.
    One thing I found that as long as it was sunny they performed admirably.
    The lenses were probably preset at f/8 or f/11 and using the latitude of the film packed inside the “sunny 16” formula worked out great.

    • Reply
      Howard Dale
      February 2, 2018 at 5:41 pm

      I took these pictures some time ago. As I recall it was quite sunny at the time.

  • Reply
    Steve Novosel
    February 2, 2018 at 12:51 am

    My mother has one just like this – she got it as a giveaway at work. Never shot it though (neither has she), maybe should give it a try?

    • Reply
      Howard Dale
      February 2, 2018 at 5:44 pm

      I can recommend trying it. As I mentioned it’s surprisingly liberating and also an interesting challenge to see what kind of results you can get. At the time my expectations were so low (i.e. I didn’t really expect to get much at all) that I didn’t really spend much time with it. If I had it to do again I would probably be more serious.

  • Reply
    Thomas Brouns
    February 2, 2018 at 5:58 am

    These photos turned out remarkably well! Out of curiosity, I’d be interested to see one or two color versions, and to know what film you used!

    • Reply
      Howard Dale
      February 2, 2018 at 5:47 pm

      Thanks very much. I too was surprised a how well the came out. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I took these pictures some time ago. I can’t remember what film was in the camera. I must have the negatives somewhere (unfortunately I’m not all that well organized). I’ll try to find them so that I can tell you what film was used. I’m happy to share a couple of the color versions. What’s the best way to share them with you?

  • Reply
    George Appletree
    February 2, 2018 at 10:44 am

    Yeah. it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer. Interesting shots.
    Pretty pasty result, although you could process better contrast in the digital file.

    • Reply
      Howard Dale
      February 2, 2018 at 5:51 pm

      You’re probably right about the contrast. At the time I didn’t think to spend much time on them. There were a number of things working against them: 1) Primitive camera; 2) Very old film; 3) Poor processing (I just dropped them off at a local pharmacy, and got back fairly poor, low resolution scans.) I now send my film off for processing and get much better results.

      • Reply
        George Appletree
        February 2, 2018 at 7:20 pm

        As far as we usually just make digital scans from negatives and very rarely chemical copies results can often be improved. But of course it depends upon everyone’s eye

        • Reply
          Howard Dale
          February 3, 2018 at 12:09 am

          I agree up to a point. In this case the film was very old, the processing was not particularly good, and the scans were low resolution. There’s only so much that you can do to improve things. Maybe if I’d put more effort into the post processing …

          • George Appletree
            February 4, 2018 at 9:37 pm

            From a poor negative (incorrectly exposed or like here done with an old film and a point and shoot camera) usually nothing can be improved when making a chemical print.
            But, as you suggest, perhaps something with a good scan and processing.

  • Reply
    Dave Wolanski
    February 2, 2018 at 7:26 pm

    According to the Film Photography Project Store, it’s F11 and 1/125th… The only reason I knew to look there was I just saw it moments ago!

    • Reply
      Howard Dale
      February 3, 2018 at 12:10 am

      Thanks for the information. Even though I doubt I’ll ever use this particular camera again (I have a lot of old cameras, many of which I have yet to use) it’s good to know.

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