James's Camera Collection: Canon Photura

Canon Photura Japan Other Canon Cameras 35mm cameras
Canon Photura

Camera type: Autofocus non-SLR
Battery: 2CR5
Approx. dates of manufacture: 1990-1993
Approx. original price: $250
Approx. street value: low

Ever pick up something and wonder what on earth the marketing people were thinking when they came up with this thing? I get the exact opposite feeling with the camera. I feel like someone came up with an intriguing idea and followed it through. But the result was such a radical departure from the norm that it was never taken seriously.

This camera intrigued me ever since I first saw it. In the late 80's it seemed like everyone had a camcorder, and a lot of people were going to those little ones that used Super VHS or whatever it was called. Forget the video aspects of it, just look at the camera—they were small, well balanced, and they could be held and operated with one hand.

Why not make a still camera that had those qualities?

So Canon developed the Photura (aka the Epoca in Europe and the Jet in Japan), a 35mm still camera that looked like a camcorder. Actually it looked more like a beer can, which gives it a bit of a toy appearance that didn't help it at all.

The first thing you notice is the most important—it's meant to be used one-handed. Like a camcorder, the camera fits in the palm of the right hand, the thumb supports the bottom of it, a strap holds the camera tight across the back of the hand, and the index finger manipulates the zoom control and shutter (or you can ride the zoom with your index and trip the shutter with your middle finger, if you're so inclined). Wow! Every other still camera, then and now, is a two-handed affair. When cameras required manual focus and zoom, that was necessary. On a point-n-shoot like the Photura, why not use it one-handed? And why, decades after its introduction, are we still holding cameras with two hands?

The other radical departure is on the other end of the camera. The lens cap is attached via a hinge, and when you open it, the cap swings out of the way and the camera turns on. No more lost lens caps. More importantly, the flash unit is located inside the lens cap, so it's right there when the cap swings open, and protected when it's shut. Again, it adds to its toy-like appearance, but that flash has a Guide Number of 25, which isn't bad on a camera like this (Guide Numbers are a method of comparing light strength. The higher the number, the more light it puts out).

Plus there's just a lot of general niftiness to it. It's auto-focus, which is sometimes good, sometimes bad. It has a built-in zoom. It has automatic film load, wind and rewind. The battery door is integrated into, but separate from the film door, so you can swap out the battery without exposing the film. It even has a switch so you can look the though viewfinder in the normal way (looking along the length of the lens) or you can flip a switch and look through a secondary viewfinder from the top (aka a waist-level finder).

The only drawbacks of the camera (in my opinion) are the viewfinder, the battery and its handedness. The viewfinder is tiny; it's only about 1/8-inch across, and you have to have your eye pretty much dead-on it or you can't see. Plus it just generally has a tunnel-like view of the world. Better cameras have big, bright viewfinders that make it appear you're looking through a big window; lesser cameras make you think you're peeping through a straw.

Then there's the battery, an expensive and somewhat exotic 2CR5. The day will come in the not-to-distant future when you'll have to mail order them from the Chergyz Republic to get them at any price. Canon made a bunch of cameras that take this battery; but damn it, you can go anywhere and get AA's, and probably will long past our lifetimes.

Lastly, the one thing that really does in this camera is its own one-handed beauty: you have to hold it in your right hand. I'm right-handed so I don't mind that, but I like to look through the viewfinder with my left eye. Most cameras are engineered so they lay astride your nose if you hold it to your right eye, so I spend my life looking through viewfinders with my head tilted down and my nose pressed across the back of the camera. I could really go for a left-handed version of this camera, since I could run it with my left hand and do other things with my right. Oh well.

Paid $30 for it from a thrift shop and I'm glad I did. It's a fun camera. I think it would be a good kid's camera.

Camera manual: Orphan Cameras.com

©opyright by James Ollinger. All Rights Reserved.