Missed Opportunities, by Maureen Taylor

I’m a photo-oriented person which means one of my first rules is to never leave the house for a family event without a camera in hand.  Well, imagine my chagrin when I recently attended a wedding and found myself camera-less.  Yup!  I was so busy coordinating all the travel arrangements that I forgot to pack one. All I had on me was my camera phone.  I couldn’t even buy one because I didn’t realize my mistake until I was at the outdoor event.  Thankfully, Rachel, a twelve year old relative, heard me muttering about my lack of camera.  She leaned over and whispered in my ear that I could borrow her digital camera. 

However, she had an agenda, “The flower girl doesn’t want to carry the flowers so I might get to be the flower girl and I’d like some pictures, so can you take them?”  Ah ha!  Not only did she lend me her camera, but she outlined how I was to use it, admonished me not to waste the battery power, and gave me a shot list of must-have images.  It was great fun to let this budding photographer lead me around and tell me what to do! She worried constantly about battery life and the size of the memory card.  I agreed to her request but only if I could see the pictures later through a photo sharing site.  That was one thing she didn’t know how to do so I’m hoping to set up a tutorial later this week. 

The whole experience taught me a few things. First, it’s time for a new camera (again). Remember when you bought a film camera and it was your device for life. Well those days are gone. The average digital camera owner upgrades to take advantage of latest features. I’m about to join those ranks.

My camera phone is handy but it doesn’t take great pictures. There are several digital cameras in my house, but mine isn’t particularly portable. As my teenage daughter said, “Why don’t you just have a camera you can carry in your purse, like I do.” Duh!  She’s one kid who’s always ready for a picture-taking moment.  Now I’m going to watch the holiday sales for a small light weight camera with a good number of mega-pixels, an optical lens and see what other extras come with the package.  In particular I’m intrigued by the following features:

  • Image Stabilization (Anti-shake). This helps the camera steady the shot even when you’re not completely still.  This eliminates the blurring that happens with tiny movements.
  • Waterproof and shock proof.  Several years ago at a national photo conference I saw a camera in a tube of water.  It was expensive.  Now consumers can find weather proof models that can be used in the rain but not submerged.  Waterproof means you can take pictures underwater and don’t have to worry about dropping the camera into water.   There are a few different models in different price ranges. Ever dropped a digital camera?  Then you know the value of the shockproof devices.  While I’m not sure if I want weather vs. waterproof, I know I definitely need a camera that can be accidentally dropped from a reasonable distance (say, my hand) and not be permanently damaged when it hits the ground. Oh yeah!  That feature alone is worth the extra dollars it will cost.  Read the fine print to see what the shockproof/waterproof rating is for various models. The specifications will tell you the number of feet you can safely drop or submerge a camera.
  • Less Digital lag. A simple explanation of lag is this. You take a picture only to find you’ve missed the action due to a lag between when you push the button and the camera takes the picture.  This is NOT about shutter speed.  An article in the New York Times explains the digital lag phenomena and offers tips on how to find out about the lag in your camera.

The second thing I learned from the wedding experience is, never leave home without a camera.

My daughter and other kids with camera phones and digital cameras live in an image based society.  Kids are focused on capturing the action in still images and in video.  A year or so ago, I bought one of those small video cameras a year ago (see my article Flip for Footage http://www.ancestry.com/s23560/t14734/rd.ashx) that fits in a pocket and often take that with me. However my kids use it more than I do to produce short videos with friends.  I have to admit it’s a handy little device even if the picture quality isn’t the best.  Now it’s time for me to follow their example and tuck a little camera into my purse for those spontaneous moments that I don’t want to miss. 

Third lesson? Pack an extra battery and memory card. Rachel was right to worry about the number of pictures per battery charge. She had a good size memory card for all the pictures she wanted, but if the battery ran down we didn’t have a spare.  Part of the budget consideration when buying a new camera is including the cost of an extra battery and another memory card. Both will come in handy.

Being able to borrow a camera at that family wedding caused me a little embarrassment, but in the end it worked out.  Rachel got pictures of her helping the flower girl walk down the aisle while I had fun trying out a camera model I hadn’t used before.  The best part of the day was seeing the event through the visual moments important to a pre-teen.  She’s well on her way to becoming the family photographer! 

Now that I’ve admitted my mistake, it’s confession time. I’d like to hear about those special moments you missed because you forgot to carry a camera. Please share your stories with us in the comments section of the blog.

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Maureen Taylor is The Photo Detective. She is the author of Capturing Memories: Your Family Story in Photographs.  You can register for her Saving Family Treasures Webinar on preserving family heirlooms.

35 thoughts on “Missed Opportunities, by Maureen Taylor

  1. I enjoyed your article and have a tip for you. Check out the Nikon Coolpix cameras. They are very light weight, take great picutres. I have an older Coolpix 4300 that I love. I alwasy carry an extra memory card and chagred battery. Nikon has a nice small camera case with a zippered pouch on the outside that is divided so you can easily carry several extra memmory cards and backup battery. Plus not only can you take still photos, it does videos. It has a variety of options for taking photos under any condition and is easy to use. They sell for about $200 and are a bargain at that price. And yes they will easily fit in your purse.

  2. Lessons learned the hard way about spare batteries — on a vacation some years ago we encountered up close and personal at Devil’s punch Bowl State Park on the Oregon Coast an Orca close enough to be eyeball to eyeball —- the video camera battery was dead and so was the spare. The film camera (this was before I forked out $500 for a 5 megapixel Sony Cybershot) batteries were gone too. And we weren’t the only ones left without photos. Other vacationers were too. After that I always make certain to fully charge the batteries and take my sketch book and pencils along too, just in case.

  3. I also have a Coolpix that’s several years old but serves the purpose well even without anti-shake and other updated features. My husband bought it for me after I marched him through three cemeteries in Nebraska in 95-degree heat with humidity to match, pointing out dozens of gravestones I needed him to take photos of. The Coolpix is so lightweight, I always carry it in my not-large purse, along with an extra battery and memory card. Best use is in taking photos of books and projected microfilm images on genealogy trips. I returned from the Family History Library last winter with 1000 (one thousand) images. No reserving one of the microfilm readers with USB port and then trying to find the images you want on the microfilm roll, no running back and forth to a copier — as you find a page in a book or an image on a microfilm, just turn on the camera and capture it. Each night, I downloaded that days photos to my laptop and then backed up to a flash drive for good measure. Best of all, the images can be PhotoShopped (crop that big black edge) and manipulated on the screen to zoom in on some squiggle you’re trying to identify. There are a few tricks to learn, but mainly it just takes a bit of practice. And, once in a while, I remember to take pictures of people in my family.

  4. Talk about photo lag- At this years’ FGS Conference I thought I was taking a photo of Benjamin Franklin at the Opening Ceremonies.Not checking my camera right then, I was surprised later to find 2 photos of the chair in front of me and the carpet below. Hard way to learn how to use my son’s camera.

  5. Missed photo opportunities – several I thought of, but the biggest occurred over 10 years ago. My parents, divorced for over 30 years, both passed away on the same day – in totally different states. They had both remarried, and both their spouses had passed away. I was the single ‘common denominator’ between them – but had other family members from each of them. At both gatherings, my grown son asked if we shouldn’t take pictures, and I said no, it wouldn’t be ‘right’. Unfortunately, both of those gatherings were the last time that ‘all’ of us were together for either family. The gatherings were small, pretty much family only – to this day, I wish I had taken pictures at both gatherings! Thanks for sharing stories, hints, etc.

  6. Another thing to check is that the card is in the camera. I said I would take a photo of a grave for someone who lived interstate. I checked the battery, emptied the card the night before, and made sure the battery was charged. At the graveside I took out the camera to take the shot and wondered why the camera was behaving oddly. Then the penny dropped – there was no card in the camera. Fortunately I was able to go home and retrieve the card.

  7. Hi I am an long time Camera user the first camera I was given was a b&w Polorid instamatic camera my first 35mm slr I purchased in the 70’s a Pentax me I was so excited about it I tried to load the film while driving home alone and ended up wasting the whole roll of fim because I didnt understand the camera. I took that camera with me all the time my wife was jellous of the camera because she couldnt go with me every where I have thousands of slides of those early days I have had 8 or 9 35mm slr’s sence then and now I’m own my 3rd digital camera which I received for my 35year service award at work which is a Olympus Stylus 840 8megapixel cam which will take video’s it came with a 1GB XD-picture Card, and purchased a spare battery online I want to get a extra picture card also.
    We recently in July took a two week Vacation to Ohio for Church Camp and then the second week went down to Bryson City NC we traveled the Blue Ridge parkway for over one hundred fifty miles almost all of it in North Caroliana and I took many Great pictures along the way this is a great camera which takes great short videos also with sound. This camera sells for a little less that 200$’s on Amazon.com it’s small and light will fit into my shirt pocket which is where I kept it most of the time. I now have a nice little camera pouch to carry it with room for extra battery and film card. It’s great for taking close ups with a 5x optical and 5x digital zoom with very closeup macro lens. I would like to get a Digital SLR Camera some day but right now the $price tag is not good in other words my money is funny. John

  8. My story is about a missed opportunity. Our daughter graduated from Indiana University and we were there, with camera in hand (A 35M, SLR, film camera). I took a lot of photos and we were so excited for her. I couldn’t wait to get the photos developed. Well, it turned out I had no photos as I had no film in the camera! My mother-in-law had borrowed our camera to use on a trip they made. I gave her the camera with about 34 photos left to take from a 36 roll. She gave me my camera back with no film and I never knew it! That’s been over 20 years ago and it still makes me sad that we have no photos of her graduation.

  9. I live in Sweden, where the Lucia Day is a big event on the 13th of December. About ten years ago my granddaughter was chosen to be the Lucia of her school, and relatives were welcome to visit at the school Lucia pageant.

    So I and her other grandmother (mormor) both came to school and waited to see our girl come down the hall in the Lucia outfit with her maids. She came and we both raised our cameras to take as many pictures as we could. And then I ran out of film at the crucial moment, and mormor had no battery in her camera!

  10. I have two digital cameras (well, two that I use most of the time). I have a Nikon that requires a camera bag, lenses, etc. Then I have my nice little Sony that fits in my purse. Both have battery packs that are rechargeable. The Nikon can take about 500 pictures on a charge and the Sony about 250. This is a great feature to watch for in a new digital camera. I take pictures at important family gatherings, but I also take pictures every few months of my aging father and aunt, of my brother and his cute dog, of my very sweet aunt and her handsome husband and of my mother. I want to have the ordinary memories of these special people.

    Yesterday, I came across some old slides and started scanning them. One pictured my grandfather reading the newspaper and laughing at my husband photographing him. The look on his face is so typically him that I was thrilled to have the picture, which was just a casual snapshot taken on the back porch.

  11. Never depend on others in the family to have camera. Even if they have a camera and are taking photos, never take their word that they will email you the images. I have learned this not once but several times – more on my husband’s side than mine. The sad part is that my sisters had photos of us 3 girls and our parents on their 40th wedding anniversary gathering at a friends house. I was suppose to get copies. That was 20 years ago and I still don’t have copies even though I know my sisters have them. So if you want photos, take them yourself and if you’re in one, have someone take it with your own camera so you have the copy later.

  12. Unfortunately, I think I can cap your story of turning up at a wedding without a camera. On a visit to Rome a few years ago, my wife and I went for a fun day out, just to look around and with no serious plans. It was in the days before you could slip a digi camera or even a videocam in your pocket and we didn’t bother to weigh ourselves down. Naturally, we found ourselves at St Peter’s and spent the day looking round one of the most impressive buildings we’ve ever seen – without a camera between us. We had to go back again the next day with all the paraphernalia, but it was certainly worth two trips.

  13. I also never leave home cameraless, not even to shop or ride my bike.An “old-fashioned”,regular camera with film, not a digital. Quite apart from the special occasions, I have snatched marvellous pictures of ephemeral events such as an unusual rainbow while shopping, but also concrete proof of damage in road accident disputes before the proof could be spirited away!
    It is amazing how often I have been asked to take pictures of all sorts of events by people who have forgotten/not thought of taking their own camera but also, those have turned up with a flat battery, no film, all sorts of problems.
    Do not despise the regular, non-digital cameras. The copies of my photos mailed to the mother of the bride from a recent wedding were the ones she had handy in her handbag to show the kind neighbours and shopkeepers in her area who asked after the event, knew the bride from childhood but couldn’t see the digital pictures which were all at the bride’s home locked in her computer.
    I have also been at weddings in Europe, where a bag full of throwawy cameras was handed out to guests to take anything they liked and thus give the couple a selection of totally surprising and informal shots from all over the congregation.

  14. I had such a moment this weekend. I am the Historian of the Southern Genealogist’s Exchange Society in Jacksonville, Florida. This past Saturday (Oct. 11), we had our annual fall seminar, at which I was also one of the speakers. In all the flurry to get myself and my husband out the door on time and be sure I remembered my handouts and my USB drive with a backup of my PowerPoint presentation on it, I forgot my camera!

    When we got to the downtown public library, where the seminar was held, I discovered that another member who always brings his camera had forgotten his, too! Fortunately, our second vice president had his, and he took lots of pictures.

    You are not alone!

  15. I am owned a fair selection of digital cameras, but my most recent purchase works best and seems to meet many of your outlined criteria. I bought a Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS which is a 8. MP digital ELPH camera. It has image stabilization, a slot which can hold an 8 MG SDHC card, optical zoom and good battery life. It is thin and I find it productive. It retails for about $135 last I checked.

  16. This may sound strange but when you go to a funeral, especially one out of town make sure you take a camera with you to the cemetery. Usually family members are buried where other family members have been buried so it is a good time to get pictures of the headstones and cemetery (of course after the graveside service is over). I didn’t take my camera with me when I went to a funeral for a relative in NY and kick myself later. Also when we went to the home visitation afterward I wished that I had a camera to take pictures of relatives that I hadn’t seen in ages – and some I have never even met.

  17. In 2002 my husband and I hosted a Davis/Bergman family reunion to celebrate our 50th wedding annversary at The Maine House.
    There was quite a variety of planned as well as unplanned activities. MANY pictures were taken on a variety of digital cameras and with the aid of a laptop computer and a white sheet hung on a wall we all enjoyed a picture show in the evenings.
    Great fun! Wonderful memories!

  18. We spent a summer in Lewistown, Montana — it’s in the center of the state. A small farm town with super people. I had my camera and the video camers. I kept saying “tomorrow I’ll take all these pictures.” Well, guess what,tomorrow came and I had not gotten the video of a very important area nor did I get all the pictures I wanted. I agree. I will not go anywhere without my cameras. Oh! I did have my camera when a truck backed into our car while in Montana.

  19. Recently, when checking into a hotel, the fellow who helped us with our bags went around the room looking to see if the previous occupant left anything behind. I thought it odd that he seemed to be checking the walls, too, until I asked. He said the most common thing they find is chargers…for cell phones, or batteries. Be sure to put a note on the inside of your hotel room door, reminding yourself to take your chargers home with you!

  20. Question: Is it my imagination, or do non-rechargeable AA batteries last longer than rechargeables?? Also, I, too, love my “old” Nikon Coolpix 3200! And I just bought on eBay a Coolpix 4300 for our son for less than $50. Above all, don’t get a digital without an optical viewer in addition to the LED viewer on the back of the camera. The optical viewer is indispensable for getting the edges of your photo right (e.g., documents). The camera is small enough to go in my mid-size purse or into a jacket pocket but large enough to hold onto securely. Another tip: If you like to print out lots of photos but hate the cost of “photo paper”, buy a ream of cardstock paper and print on that.

  21. I have been our family resident photographer since I was in grade school using my Brownie 620 film camera. I’m 71 now and still have this self-imposed obligation now using my 4th or 5th digital camera. I post most of the pics on Picasa to share with the whole family, but also get hard copy prints for the pictures I don’t want to lose. It’s funny that many family members hide their face when I’m taking their picture, but always want to see the end result.
    By the way, I love my Canon SD850 camera. It’s small, has great features and battery life and I can carry it easily in my pocket. I do have a backup battery and xtra memory card, but my 2 GB card has space for hundreds of pictures. And my computer is equipped with a card reader so I can save my pics frequently.

  22. I just returned from my dream trip to Croatia to learn more about my roots. Imagine my frustration when my super-duper camera decided it was on vacation as well — on the very first day in Croatia. I asked many other tourists in the hotel for advice and no one could do anything more than I had already tried. I learned of a Nikon repair shop supposedly within walking distance (15 minutes that way) and decided to try that option. Unfortunately the 15 minutes was more like 1 hour and 5 minutes too late for finding them still there. To add insult to injury, I had a one hour walk back to the hotel.

    I asked around about a camera shop to purchase a new camera and was told there was one 10 minutes in the other direction. Well, it was more than 10 minutes and it wasn’t so easy to find, but I did find a shop that sold me a very nice little camera. Unfortunately when the viewfinder is out in the sun (which I was all the time on this trip), it is dark and you cannot see what you are doing. Surprisingly, however, the pictures turned out quite good.

    One more bit of advice, don’t believe it when the salesperson tells you the battery is fully charged. Just as we arrived at the cemetery in my family’s home village, the camera quit — I had about 20 seconds of low battery warning. It felt like someone was trying to tell me this trip was not meant to be.
    Luckily my friend had a film camera and I got to take a few pictures with that but not nearly the number I would have with a digital camera.

    Happily, however, just as we were leaving that village, I was having my picture taken with the village sign. While there, two men approached the cab driver and told him that the house that was right next to where we were were standing had been owned by someone in my family who had moved to Chicago. I recognized the name immediately, and while not in my direct line, I was thrilled to have learned about this. So there was somewhat of a happy ending to the story.

    Next trip I will take two cameras and make sure all batteries are fully charged. I would not have appreciated returning home with no photos.


  23. I use 2AA lithium batteries in my camera. I work in a preschool and take pictures all the time. Regular AA’s lasted me about a week. Lithium batteries last me about 6 months, and that is taking many Pictures! I will never go back to regular agein!

  24. Thanks everyone for the great suggestions! I am purchasing a digital camera and taking it to WDW for a family trip and this article is a big help.

    Maureen – you have to share the pics of Rachel and the flower girl!

    Robin Webb

  25. For Cindy, the lady who went to Croatia: My wife Ann was born on the island of Mali Iz, Croatia (by Zadar). When we visited in 2004, We took a film camera (Pentax) and a DVD camcorder that took video as well as digital stills. We were well covered and took some film pics, but mostly dvd videos and digital stills.

  26. I had a “almost” missed opportunity. Last year my husband’s family (mom,dad,sister, niece) were involved in a car accident out of state. Dad was killed instantly, mom and sister critically injured. Neice had one scratch. My husbands brother lives in FL with his wife and two kids (they had moved there 5 months prior)was driving to AL and we were flying down. Now, maybe not being the “apprpriate” time for a camera, I wish I had remembered mine. We all were in AL for a week. I stayed with the kids in the hotel. I was hating that I was missing photo opportunities of the kids. My brother in law knowing that I am a photo geek, went and bought me a disposable one. It also gave me an opportunity to take pictures of some not so happy things that will help with our grief healing down the road. So try to always have your camera for all occasions.

  27. While taking my brother-in-law home once, we both saw a cloud which looked like the Luck Dragon from The Never Ending Story. Neither of us had a camera.

  28. My sister lives in Texas and told me how she loves coming home to Oregon n the fall to see the leaves…well for days now I have been trying to remember to bring the camera to work to get some shots. There is a row of trees on my way to work, all the same trees but their colors range from green to yellows and bright red. I don’t know what causes them to change colors at different times but if I don’t get my act together they are going to be all over the ground instead of on the tree. My ultimate goal is to create a photo show for her computer at work so she can show all her friends how beautiful it is in Oregon. Thanks – Susan

  29. While shopping for a digital camera, I was looking for one that was shockproof (repeated experience with film cameras had driven home the importance of that). However, the salesperson I talked to said that the quality of the pictures would be inferior compared to cameras that weren’t shockproof. Fortunately I didn’t have to make the choice between quality and durability: this particular store (locally owned) offered an extended warranty that covered not only manufacturing defects but also owner accidents–even misuse. So for about $40 for three years, my camera is covered against dropping, water damage, and even damage from sand–which definitely contributes to my peace of mind!

  30. This is not about a forgotten camera, but the point of not owning the proper one. My sister was dying of cancer and we knew she only had a week or two left. We used to sing as a family (four girls) and we wanted to be able to preserve a little of those memories. I went to a nearby rental store and rented a digital camcorder that used the hard drive for storage. After getting the camera home, I discovered that I didn’t have the entire instruction manual and had to go back to the rental store for that. We spent an afternoon at my sister’s and had a really emotional time singing and talking about old memories. I went home and watched it all on the t.v. I then tried to download it on to my computer for copying, ensuring that I’d saved the entire event. I never was able to download it because somehow it got “lost”. The rental place was unable to retrieve it. I Will Say that immediately after that, I purchased a digital camcorder that uses a memory card. I will never again trust unknown rented equipment.

  31. Just 2 days ago my husband & I took a spontaneous trip in our RV to the beach. It was on and off and on because of a problem with the electronic hitch. So, I packed, unpacked and repacked quickly and lightly. When we arrived, I realized I had forgot a few things like the coffee maker, TV and camera! The beach was wild with wind and surf, but I missed it all! We just came into this new era and bought our first digital camera in May. I won’t forget i again!

  32. A similar thing happened at our older son and DIL’s wedding in 2001 in Maryland (we were residents of Florida at the time). A photographer had been hired for the event, but they were told later that the photos from the reception didn’t come out–can’t remember why right now. Fortunately, they had placed disposable cameras on each table at the reception for invited guests to use in capturing special candid moments and to record the individuals sitting at that table. These cameras had been turned in to the bride & groom before the guests left and so they at least had some candid shots from the reception. They also asked family members who had taken pictures with their own cameras to send them copies to create an album. The photographer offered to use the candid pictures in creating the albums for them “at cost.” [I think he should have done it for “no charge” but that’s another story!). Regardless, it was a lesson well learned. Thus, we always carry a spare disposable camera with us–besides the digital camera my husband insists on using.

  33. My comment isn’t about forgetting your camera, but not taking the time to check out your new memory card. When the day arrived for my long-planned trip to Wales to continue my family history research, I excitedly packed my new digital camera and two new memory cards. I thought I was being smart, packing two cards, in case I wanted to take hundreds of photos (which was a real possibility). I filled one card and part of the second. The problem was when I arrived home and tried to upload the photos onto my camera. About every third photo was ruined! The card was bad. The moral of this story is: always make sure a new memory card works properly before taking it on a trip!

  34. I have owned a camera since I was about 8yoa. I took pictures of friends when I was young, but not many. I now regret that I never took my camera to my grandfather’s home when we went for the summer, my aunts and uncles were there too. I don’t know why I never thought of it. Now 50 years later only one aunt survives and I have no pictures of the get-togethers. I know it seems sad to take pictures at a funeral, but during my brother’s 75th birthday party 5 years ago, his daughter had a bunch of pictures scanned and put on a dvd to show at the party. I have a copy and I now have a picture of my aunts and uncles and others who attended my mother’s funeral, and a photo of me tying my dad’s necktie, the only one I have of us together in his later years. I also have pictures of my mother’s side of the family when they attended my grandfather’s funeral.

    I alwats carry a Sony T1 that is a few years old now, in my purse. I think the newer versions may have stablizers now. This was the first pocket camera that Sony came out with. I also have a Nikon 990 which was my first digital. I was in a car accident a few years ago, the traffic on the freeway, Hwy 26 at Sylvan for those in the Portland, OR are, you will understand, during evening rush the traffic is always backed up to a stop in that area. Some guy who wasn’t looking came flying down the hill not looking and rear ended my Toyota at 50+ mph. I didn’t even think until days later that duh! I had a camera in my backpack as I always carry one and I didn’t take any pictures. Luckily he had just gotten insurance, he had high risk insurance through Dairyland but it paid. I let my foot off the brake a little so his large car took most of the damage, our car was totaled but still drove well and unless you really looked, you couldn’t tell it had been in an accident, I just tapped the bumper of the Explorer in front of me, it still cost his insurance $1200 for that tap plus the cost of my car and doctor bills.

    I just bought a Canon Rebel XSi, and am relearning to use an SLR. I still have my first film SLR, a Pentax Super Program, which was one step above the Pentax ME that someone mentioned earlier. I haven’t used it since I got my first digital and I miss the ability to take the type of pictures you can only capture with an SLR.

  35. Just a couple of late comments about digital cameras — everyone who uses the viewing screen on the back of the camera (rather than the viewfinder, if it has one) runs the risk of two problems. First, when you are holding the camera out ahead of you, it is far easier for motion to effect the sharpness of the image (with or without stabilizing software in the camera). Also, using the screen really burns up the batteries FAR faster than the viewfinder.

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