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One of the first big changes I remember in cameras and photography was the appearance of color film.

Previous to the late 1940s, all camera film that I know of had been black and white. Nobody had color. If you wanted color, you might be able to persuade your local photography studio person to paint-in color after a regular black and white photo had been made. Painting-in color was a hand touch-up process, a meticulous task, and of course it cost money. Then, of course, there was still the possibility of going to an artist who would paint your portrait. Actually we had an occasional artist, known as By Golly, who used to visit Pea Ridge once in awhile. By Golly, so known because that was the way he signed his work, was a sign painter by trade, but he could also do portraits. What I am saying is that early on if you wanted a color picture it involved hiring an artist who could do oils or water color. Cameras of the pre-1940s era didn't do color.

As far as I'm aware, it was the Kodak Company which invented color film for cameras. It was quite the thing when color became an option. You could still buy black and white film of course. My family started using color film in the late years of the 1940s, along about 1948. We didn't know it at first, but our late '40s and early '50s color photos had a distinct disadvantage. They faded, with the passing of time. By the time they were 10 years old, the color would begin to fade and turn red, and eventually you really couldn't tell what colors had been in the pictures. Anyway, by the time we began to realize that the pictures weren't going to endure well, the Kodak people had been working on the problem, and they soon came up with "improved" color film; improved in the sense that the color was much longer lasting.

If I recall rightly, I think they called it Kodachrome color film. Also the movies were going to color. I suppose most people today would think the old movies were awfully primitive, but until the 1950s, television and the movies were black and white. I know some children have asked their parents if the world used to be shades of gray, instead of color, because all the old movies, television shows, and photo prints were black and white or shades of gray. Of course the world has always been colorful, except in dark times like the World Wars, when everything, including people's moods, seemed dark and gray.

As I recall, in the 1950s cameras began to come in smaller packages.

One of the popular small cameras was the Brownie camera, a very versatile, economic and convenient camera. I never did have a Brownie, but I did have a personal camera that I had ordered through the Montgomery Ward catalog. I had studied over the cameras in the catalog for months, and had noted this camera that sold for $3. It caught my fancy, and I eventually saved up the money to order it. It didn't work out too well. Its shutter speed was a too slow to get really good pictures. I did discover that if I moved the shutter lever quickly my cheap camera made a better picture. The only problem with that was that the sudden move often caused me to move the camera, and some of my pictures were blurred. I eventually made quite a few pictures with my $3 camera, though. Like today's computer printers, where you spend much more on ink than you do on the printer itself, I spent way more on film and film development than I did on my camera.

The next major change in cameras that I recall was the appearance of Polaroid cameras. This was a self-developing film system. With a Polaroid, you no longer had to send your exposed film away to a film lab for development and printing. The process took a few minutes, but your picture was developed and the print was made on the spot. I was too poor to buy a Polaroid camera myself, and my family was too content with the camera we already had to put out the money for a Polaroid. So we basically ignored that technological advance and stuck with our film camera and sending off our exposed film for processing.

During the 1970s, color slides became a popular alternative to color prints. We did go for that new technology. We bought ourselves a new $15 Argus 35-mm film camera which could produce color slides. You just had to tell your processing lab which you wanted, color slides or prints. Of course, the projector to view the slides cost much more than $15. We also soon had to give up our $15 Argus because the shutter would stick open and expose the film to the light, so the pictures were ruined. We bought us a better 35-mm camera, which we used for years, until we finally went to one of the newfangled digital cameras in 2002. I think we still have that old 35-mm film camera stored away somewhere, and it would probably still work if we had some film for it.


Editor's note: Jerry Nichols, a native of Pea Ridge and an award-winning columnist, is vice president of Pea Ridge Historical Society. He can be contacted by e-mail at, or call 621-1621.

Editorial on 06/19/2019

Print Headline: "Is It New, or Old?" Cameras went through big changes

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