Magazine Reviews (No Longer Published)

For those of us who enjoy reading old magazines. Some of these are good for collectors, for those of us who enjoy history, or just nostalgic for bits of the past.


The Camera

cover Not to be confused with Camera magazine from Europe.

The Camera began in the US in 1897 and ran until 1953. It was a general-interest magazine, very much like Popular, Minicam, Modern, US Camera and its competitors. In fact, if you took the content of all those magazines and stripped out any indication of where they came from, I probably couldn't tell the difference.

Still, if I had the choice I would probably choose this over any of the others during the period it was published. I like the issues from the 30s better than the 40s, but the later issues still have interesting articles that I don't see elsewhere. March 1947, for instance, has an article on how a viewer's eye tracks while looking at an image, and how to use that as an aid to composition. I remember seeing that subject discussed once in an old book and never anywhere else.

Earlier issues (through the 1930s) are normal magazine size (about the size of a sheet of paper). After that they shrunk to digest size (think Reader's Digest, TV Guide, et al).

Camera & Darkroom (aka Darkroom)

cover One of my two favorite magazines, the other being the late Modern Photography.

I told this in the review for Photo Technique but I'll do it again here. They began around 1978 as Darkroom, a magazine aimed directly at darkroom work. Unfortunately for them, a competitor also launched at about the same time called Darkroom Techniques. Even though they shared the same target audience, they were very different in their approaches. Darkroom Techniques was much more interested in the hard technical details, so their articles often had graphs and charts and tables of data, but it read like it was written by academics.

Darkroom, on the other hand, was much better written and more accessible.

After a number of years of mutual newsstand confusion, both magazines decided to do two things: they would broaden their horizons and not just limit themselves to darkroom topics, and they would change their names. Thus Darkroom became Camera & Darkroom (C&D for short), and Darkroom Techniques became Darkroom and Creative Camera Techniques (D&CCT). That cleared everything up, didn't it?

This went on until around 1991 when another change came. D&CCT changed its name again to Photo Techniques. C&D, unfortunately, folded.

While it lasted, it was a great magazine. The original Darkroom started off rough but quickly became an excellent resource for darkroom topics: equipment reviews, how-to articles, interviews with master printers, etc. If you're a fan to Ctein, he wrote for Darkroom and C&D, which meant you got fascinating articles on advanced printing techniques, evaluating and testing enlarging lenses, and the like.

When C&D went out, D&CCT skimmed much of the talent (e.g. Ctein) and ended up better for it. D&CCT improved dramatically over the years but never as much as after C&D went under.

Most of it is obsolete now, unless you still do darkroom work in which case I recommend finding it and taking a look. You may be able to mine some gold from it even at this late date.

Camera Arts

cover To the best of my knowledge, there were at least two different magazines with this name. I remember one which defunct in the 1980s; I think it was a sister publication to American Photographer. In the late 90s the title was resurrected as a sister publication to View Camera. It appears that View Camera's publisher sold it to Tim Anderson, and the magazine eventually went bankrupt. If what I read on the 'net is correct, Steve Simmons (of View Camera) owns the name again.

Both Camera Arts the former, as I remember it, and the latter were fine art magazines. I don't have much comment about them as at the time I had little interest in them.

Minicam Photography

cover Minicam started about the same time as Popular back in 1938. Unlike Popular, it was digest-size, like Reader's Digest, TV Guide, 2600, Make, and so forth. In 1949 they went to full-size format and changed the name to Modern Photography.

As a general interest magazine, it was okay. I'm not enamored with it; even though I would struggle to distinguish it from Popular Photography, US Camera and its other competitors at the time, I'd give the nod to The Camera magazine as being a little bit better. I have many Minicam magazines mainly because I got a couple large lots of them for a reasonable price.


Modern Photography

cover Originally Minicam Photography, Modern had a 40-year run biting at Popular's heels as the #1 photo magazine in the US. According to Herb Keppler, Modern (and later Popular's) long-time Editorial Director, Modern was closing in toward the end.

Modern is tied to the story of Herbert Keppler. He joined around the time of the name change as an assistant. Throughout the 50s he worked his way up the editorial food chain and his by-line became more frequent. It was during this era when Modern upgraded its technical articles and reviews. By the early 60s he was running the show, and magazine took the form it would carry for the rest of its run: a variety of columnists writing on various facets of photography; in-depth product reviews written on a monthly basis; in-depth comparisons and round-ups; articles that were written by people who took their own advice, as opposed to regurgitated, breathless press-release journalism. Is a $400 camera really better than a similar looking $100 model? Are zoom lenses any good? How do I tell if my camera meter is accurate?

Modern (like every other US photo magazine) ran behind Popular in circulation, but by the mid 80s they were nearly caught up. My friends and I separated into Popular and Modern readers the way people aligned with Coke or Pepsi, Ford vs. GM vs. Chrysler.

So what happened to Modern? I swear I have the quote somewhere but of course now that I want it I can't find it. But it goes like this. Herbert Keppler, who ran Modern during its heyday (60s through the mid 80s) decided that an ill wind was going to blow down from the corporate publisher due to a regime change. Popular was struggling and offered him the opportunity to come aboard and turn them around; Keppler took it. The result was that Modern ended up denuded of a lot of its old hands (e.g. editor Jason Schneider), stumbled on another couple years and then went under. Popular got Modern-ized in the process. If you read Modern from, say, 1985 and Popular from 1990, stripped of the names, you would think they were the same magazine. For the rest of the 1990s it was if Modern continued on and Popular had gone under.

Of course now there's little resemblance. The equipment tests are about the only legacy left.

The Rangefinder

This is a particularly tough one—I only have two old issues and the internet, as always, is spotty on this subject. There is a Rangefinder magazine that is still in print, but I do not know if it's the same magazine or if they just acquired the title.

US Camera

cover This began in 1937 along with Popular and Minicam as another general-interest photo magazine. According to, in 1964 it changed its scope and became US Camera and Travel, which would become Camera and Travel, and finally stuck with Travel + Leisure. By that measure it's still in business, but it's obviously a completely different magazine.

Like most general interest photomagazines, you have to read a lot of them to be able to tell them apart. I only have a few issues and I can't get a sense of an editorial mission that makes it different from Modern or Popular at the time.

Shelf 1: Fine Art

Shelf 2: General Interest

Shelf 3: Special Interest

Shelf 4: Photoshop

Shelf 5: No Longer Published

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