The Prongs Of Destiny

ForkIf you are old enough to remember the Kodak Instamatic camera system – the ones that took the 126 plastic cartridge of film – you may possibly remember the dear old days of close-up photography…before it became macro photography. It was a specialist task back then and made doubly difficult by the methods the specialists used. When the mass manufacturers like Kodak got to it, it became positively frightening.

The problem for many of the cameras of the time – and for nearly all of the Instamatics – was the fact that there were so many that relied upon rangefinder or optical window finders instead of SLR viewing. Oh, if you had an Exakta, and Asahi Pentax, a Nikon F, or Minolta SR7, etc, etc you were all right. You could indeed see through the lens and if you could persuade it to focus close you were set.

Getting it to focus closely was a matter of close-up diopter lenses, extension tubes, or bellows units. To some extent these were also available for the rangefinder cameras like the Leica or Canon 7 series as well, but you still had only a hazy idea where the thing was pointed, and in the shallow depth of field that a close-up situation yields, hazy is exactly what you got.

Some manufacturers made cheap closeup sets with a diopter lens that pressed or screwed onto the front of the camera’s lens and a metal frame that projected out in front to show the extent of coverage and the distance that was going to be in focus. These were bulky, awkward, but surprisingly effective for flat subjects. You literally pressed the rectangle of the frame onto the subject and fired the shutter. Some cameras even allowed you to fire a peanut-sized PF1 flash bulb to help with the illumination. A bit nerve wracking.

But not so nerve wracking as one accessory seen briefly in a British camera magazine of the late 40’s. It was a pistol grip and cable release with a prong that attached to the tripod socket of a Leica screw-mount camera or something similar and was accompanied by a press-on diopter lens. It projected out ahead of the camera with a sharp point some eleven inches – you were meant to poke it onto the surface of the subject and pull the trigger. Presumably if the subject refused to smile you could stab them with the prong until they did, firing all the time.

I should think it would have been immensely popular with some English people of the time.

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