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Camera Hunting And Equipment

( Originally Published 1910 )



HUNTING with the camera has in recent years come into great vogue as a sport and an adjunct to outdoor studies of nature. From the sportsman's standpoint, it provides a real hunting, in which there are no closed seasons, making all wild creatures legitimate game, instead of a limited few. Viewed from the province of the col-lector, the acquiring of interesting and valuable pictorial trophies satisfies the almost universal passion for " making a collection " of some sort. As a method of scientific research, it is valuable in many different ways. All in all it is a most fascinating employment, with all the freshness of the open, from which no age or sex is debarred. Some aspects of it are difficult, yet not so much so as to be beyond the reach of any who are in earnest. My purpose is to give such directions and suggestions, simply and yet in sufficient detail, that anyone who wishes may be able successfully to take up this " new hunting."

At the outset, it is important to secure the right type of camera, one which is adapted to the work in hand. It cannot be too strongly impressed upon the mind that the ordinary snap-shot camera, with single lens and fixed focus, or those which do not allow of focusing upon a ground glass and require one to measure or guess at the distance are almost worthless for this purpose. Occasionally one might happen to secure a good picture, but it is a heavy handicap. It is hard sometimes to have to inform an inquirer that his much-advertised affair will not fill the bill. Nor is the particular " make " important, so long as it is of a type adapted to do the work.

There are two types of cameras necessary for the fullest success in this work, for different classes of subjects --first, for general purposes, the ordinary long-focus instrument, and then, for certain special work, the reflecting type of camera. The beginner should first secure the former and learn to use it, Then, if he or she wishes to go farther, the other may be acquired.

The best all-around instrument for general purposes is some well-made focusing camera using the 4X5 inch size of plate, of light weight, with not less than sixteen inches front " draw " from plate to lens, preferably a little more. This length of bellows will allow the use of single lenses of the doublet, or of a telephoto attachment. Instruments that have back draw have longer bellows, but are heavier than is necessary. The lightly-built " cycle" models answer every purpose, and the matter of even a pound or two is important when it comes to allday tramps, floundering through bogs, or ascending tall trees.

As to size, the 4X5 is the best for active field-work, and is the size preferred by most workers. Anything less is too small. The 5x'7 is better for scenic pictures, but is unnecessarily cumbersome for work in trees, as it is hard to screw up rigidly so heavy an instrument. Furthermore, owing to the usual difficulty of getting very near any wild bird, one can seldom secure an image of the subject large enough to anywhere near fill even a 4x5 plate. A good sharp image of a bird even half an inch long with good detail can be successfully enlarged almost in-definitely. I often secure, for framing, very clear and good i 1x14-inch enlargements from 4x5 negatives.

The reflecting camera, with its ingenious mirror arrangement for seeing the image of the game up to the instant of exposure and its extremely rapid curtain-shutter, is the only instrument adapted to securing pictures of birds in flight or motion, or by stalking. Further details of this will be found in another chapter.

As to the lens, it must be of the doublet type which requires careful focusing. It should be of the largest size and longest focus which will allow the use of the single lenses of the doublet with the length of bellows or " draw " of the camera. The longer the focus of the lens, the larger will be the image of a bird secured at a given distance. Each single lens of a doublet gives about double the size of image of the bird, from the same spot, as with the two in combination, but the time of exposure has to be about four times as long as in the latter case. The usual rule is to buy a lens of the next size larger than the one ordinarily sold with the camera. A 4x5 camera, such as I have recommended above, will allow the use of the lens doublet and its members designed for the 5x7 size; for the latter size the lens for the 6/x8 1/2 instrument will be all right.

A little inquiry will disclose the fact that some lenses cost a great deal. These expensive ones are of the type called anastigmats, or corrected lenses. They allow of a more rapid exposure than the others, and give very sharp detail in the picture, even when used at full opening, without being stopped down. For the general camera, of the type first mentioned, an anastigmat is not essential, though it is a good thing to have one if possible. Any good ordinary commercial lens will do quite well, though it is slower. Much of the work is with timed exposures, at small aperture of the lens, which of itself insures sharp detail. To test a lens, focus upon a general view and examine the image on the ground glass. If it is not clear and sharp to the very corners, the lens will not do. When it comes, however, to rapid snapshots with the reflecting camera, a rapid anastigmat is very desirable. By purchasing American makes or watching for exchange bargains one may save a good deal of money.

Some anastigmat lenses which are advertised as extremely " fast " gain rapidity at the expense of length and depth of focus. The longer the focus the greater will be the image of the " game " at a given distance and the more objects will be in focus at the same time at varying distances from the camera, both of which matters are of great importance. On the other hand, the longer the focus, or the farther away the lens is from the plate, the less is the illumination and consequent rapidity. But extreme rapidity is dearly purchased for this work at the expense of depth of focus, and it is better to be content with a medium rapidity, which is quite ample. The doublet of a 4X5 size should riot ,be of shorter focus than six inches, and that of the 5x7 at least seven and a half inches.

A good plan, if one gets both types of cameras and does not care to buy two lenses, is to secure an anastigmat and use it interchangeably in both. The lens-flanges an both cameras should be duplicates, and the transfer can be made in a moment.

There is another lens which is sometimes useful in conjunction with the regular lens, the telephoto attachment. This is screwed on to the doublet lens and has a telescopic effect, increasing the size of the image made by the doublet from six to eight diameters, as desired. It must be fitted by the manufacturer or optical expert to the particular lens in hand. It is an instrument of only occasional utility, and very difficult to handle successfully. Directions as to its use will be given in the next chapter.

The general camera should be carried in a leather case which is slung over the shoulders by straps. In this carrying-case there should also be a compartment to carry six double plate-holders. The reflecting camera is heavy and can most easily be carried in hand by the handle on top. I have never used a case for this, as it involves too much extra weight.

If possible the plate-holders should fit both the general and reflecting cameras interchangeably, for it is a great advantage to be able to apply one's whole stock of plates afield to either or both cameras at will. Sometimes, especially on expeditions to strange and distant places, I have fallen in with game which required the use of one or the other type of camera exclusively, and many plates. To have the holders in terchatigeable under these circumstances practically doubles the stock. Most dealers sell a special holder with their camera, probably through business necessity, but some of these will fit others.

The number of plates to be taken afield on a day's jaunt will depend altogether upon probable need. On a long walk when hunting for new material, especially when no subjects have been found in advance, the dozen plates in the carrying-case of the camera will usually suffice. In colonies of water-birds I sometimes use sixty plates in a day, and thus have thirty holders. The extra ones are carried in another carrying-case, with the overflow from this in a creel, wrapped in a dark cloth.

The only plates which should be considered for this work are those of the maximum rapidity. The Lumiere Sigma plates are the fastest I know of at present, and are splendid for extremely rapid exposures with the reflecting camera. The American plate, made in Worcester, Massachusetts, is excellent, fast, and cheap. The quickest grades of Seed, Hammer, Cramer, and Eastman plates are also first class.

As between plates and films, I find plates generally preferable, being faster, cheaper, and easier to manipulate. Their weight and liability to breakage are the objections, but I do not consider that these out weigh the advantages. With careful handling and packing I have never had a loss through breakage, though sometimes on expeditions requiring many plates I have paid express or excess baggage. For the slower exposures, films will answer, if one cares to pay the price, but one should use cut films, and not films in rolls, so as to be able to give each exposure separate and careful treatment.

That the tripod and focus-cloth are needed accessories almost goes without saying, yet there are a few suggestions to make even about these. The tripod must be carried about with the general camera, hence it should be of light weight, yet not so fragile that it will not be practically rigid. It certainly must be firm if one would do successful telephoto work. Preferably it should fold in four sections rather than three, so that it can be transported in a suitcase. It is well to have it of some dull, inconspicuous hue, and not to have the metal parts bright and shiny. The focus-cloth likewise should be of a dull color, such as a nondescript brown, at least on one side. It should be waterproof in order that the camera when left set for a timid bird may not be injured by rain. Such a cloth also is very much needed when one is caught in a shower to cover things up. The rubber-washed ones soon get leaky, yet two leaking ones afford considerable protection.

A very important piece of apparatus is something with which to fasten the smaller camera in a tree, or on a ladder or building. A shawl-strap arrangement can be used in many cases, though it seems to me rather cumbersome and liable to slip. The best arrangement I know of, and which I use, is a very simple one devised by an ornithologist, the Rev. P. B. Peabody. It is in two parts, the first of which consists of an ordinary carriage-bolt about a foot long, with a screw at one end, bent in the middle at right angles. At the end opposite the screw should be glued a pad made by wrapping leather about the last two inches of the shank.

The other part is what is known as a camera bicycle-clamp, a ball and socket arrangement. In the metal ball a tripod-screw is inserted which screws into the camera. The clamp grips the ball and also clamps around the bicycle handle or any other rod. In using the instrument the screw-bolt is driven into the tree firmly, and the ball and socket, with the cam-era, is made to grip the pad at the end of the rod. Further details as to its use will be given presently.

In connection with this arrangement one also needs a " goose-neck " device to use on the camera, so as to be able to point the latter at any angle up or down.

One will readily see the need of it when trying to focus the camera without it on a ground nest, or on something near it. Mr. Peabody's device is to use the same ball and socket clamp as above, and, instead of the screw-bolt, a shorter round iron rod, about six inches long, bent in the middle at an angle of forty-five degrees. One end should be flattened, so the thing will stand firmly on that side, the other pointing up at the aforesaid angle.

Near the end of this flattened part a hole should be bored, with a thread cut to correspond with the thread of the tripod screw. At the other extremity of the rod should be put a pad like that of the screw-bolt. Then one screws it to the tripod, and with the clamp attaches the camera to the pad, and it will be found possible to aim in absolutely any direction. There are other devices on sale, but I have seen none so light, convenient, and simple as this combination for both tree and tripod work.

There is one other article without which the equipment is incomplete, a hiding-tent, to conceal the camera-hunter while doing certain kinds of work. It is wonderful how the shyest birds can be so deceived as to utterly ignore such a device. I have sat in one in a colony of herring gulls and had the birds actually brush their tails and wings against me, separated from them but by the thickness of the, cloth, as they walked to their nests. Had I sat there uncovered, not one would have come anywhere near the nest.

Various tent devices have been described, but the general principle in all cases is the same. I am using the umbrella-tent arrangement as first described by Mr. F. M. Chapman, which can be made by anyone as follows : Get a strong umbrella of good size, say with the ribs about three feet long, with a wooden handle. Cut off the knob or crook, leaving a straight round shaft projecting a little beyond the ends of the ribs. At a machine-shop have a sliding arrangement made, similar to that used in a music-rack, consisting of two hollow metal tubes, each about a yard long, one of which slides into the other. In the outer one, several inches down from the upper end, a hole should be cut for a thumb-screw, so that the rack may be extended to any desired degree. Shave off the end of the umbrella-handle so that it will fit snugly several inches down into the upper end of the tube, above the thumb-screw. Out of hard wood make a pin, ending in a point, the other end fitting firmly into the bottom of the tube. This is to insert into the ground to hold up the rod with the umbrella.

Now for the tent part. Out of strong, unbleached cotton cloth have made a crude tent just the size and shape of the umbrella when spread and just reaching to the ground when erected high enough to enable one to kneel. With hip-boots one can kneel on wet ground. If in water, the rod can be lengthened so that the bottom of the tent will just reach the water, and, say knee-deep in water or mud, one can stand erect in it. It is easy to cut the cloth for the tent by eye when the umbrella is set up outdoors at the desired height. There may be loops at the bottom for tent-pins, and it may be fitted with guy-ropes, but I have always got along without these by piling sticks, stones, or sand on the flaps, and, instead of guy-ropes, using branches or poles, or propping it up among bushes or rushes. On beach or marsh there is usually driftwood available.

The color may be changed at will. According to where it is to be used it may be brown, green, or gray. To color it, I set it up, and daub on the dye with a white-wash brush, making the color darkest at the top and quite light below, according to the now recognized principle of protective coloration. For peek holes, simply cut small slits or square holes with knife or scissors, as desired, leaving the flap hanging so that it can be pinned together again upon occasion.

Not all of these implements will be in use at the same time, but they are all useful at some time, and on a trip or expedition they should all be taken, or one is liable to be handicapped at an important juncture and perhaps robbed of a crowning triumph by the lack of one of these articles.



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