The Blue Book …


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When I was in the early part of my teenage years a short time ago, ok, maybe a little longer, I became interested in a certain publication. My friends and school mates were busy swapping football programmes and yearbooks, magazines covering the music scene, a few even studied ‘form’, I wonder where they are now? Not me, I studied The Blue Book from cover to cover and then started on it all over again.

This was a book published annually by Wallace Heaton, the 1969 edition cost 3/6d that’s three shillings and sixpence in case you are not of a certain age. Now I know the name sounds very posh but it was in fact a small chain of excellent camera shops mainly I think in London. The Fleet Street shop I remember visiting just after I started work. Knowledgable salesmen in suits and ties talked in hushed tones with customers discussing the merits of German over Japanese cameras and vice versa.

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There were glass counters with dark wood supports on both sides of the shop, glass cabinets were on the walls holding photographic treasures. The whole place had the feel of an exclusive, high quality, expensive department store. More an emporium than a mere shop to my eye.

The company was originally set up by Wallace Heaton who was a pharmacist but changed over to photography. The original shop was in Bond Street, they held a Royal Warrant as a result of supplying cameras to the Royal family, the queen being a Leica user in her younger years.

Anyway, obsessed with photography as I was, one of the highlights of my year was the publication of this particular book. Published from 1949 to 1972 it contained practically all the still and movie cameras that they sold together with their accessories, as well as projectors, enlargers, lenses, flash guns etc. It was a treasure trove, a veritable encyclopaedia of all things photographic. If I remember rightly each item had a small picture next to it, all the more to excite and create a sense of longing in the reader. I would spend hours with this book looking at pictures of Rollieflexes, Leicas and almost every other make of camera imaginable, absorbing every detail of their design and function

Looking back now how simple cameras seemed then, set the shutter speed, adjust the aperture, focus and press the shutter, wind on the film and repeat the process, all done. Working out the correct exposure of course could be a tad tricky but generally speaking people got by. I have seen customers in camera shops today with blank stares, completely baffled and mystified as the sales assistant describes the intricacies and labyrinth of marvels of modern digital cameras.

With the options that come with a digital camera today, setting world time zones, which language to set for the menu, the time and date. All that before you even enter the myriad of settings and custom settings that may benefit your final picture. I think we photographers sometimes forget that the important things you need of a camera is to be able to set the shutter speed and aperture, focus and have a swift response from the shutter button.

So next time you are sitting hunched over a hundred page manual, just stop, make a cup of tea and remember to keep it simple.

PS. I have just found a mint condition Blue Book for sale on eBay, just couldn’t resist……

Technical Info: Leica D Lux 6 Handheld, the exposure is 1/15th second and the aperture of around f2.  The ISO was 200

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