They Might Be Giants Celebrate Canon's Dial-35

Spinner, October 26, 2009
by John Linnell

As our tour bus noses its way across America, I continue to document our journey with a battery of obsolete 20th century camera gear. The stringent needs of the traveling photographer are here met with a wide array of specialized tools, ranging from the not-too-shabby to the barely-working-even-with-tape-holding-it-together. Leaning towards the former category is the spectacular Canon Dial-35, a truly odd-looking camera produced in Japan in the early 1960s, when, in their quest for the ever-more miniature, the Japanese embraced the half-frame format. Making the frame half as big meant that you could get twice as many shots on an ordinary roll of film, plus the film didn't have to move as far between shots. This enabled cameras like the Dial-35 to have a spring motor do the advancing. (See photo, modeled by Mr. John Flansburgh. Yes, it's supposed to look kind of like a rotary phone.) The idea was you could get 20 shots off in a few seconds -- a feature that's still rare in modern digital point and shoots.

This feature is useful when I'm standing onstage next to our drummer Marty Beller during a part of the show when he attempts to wreck his own drum kit. This crowd-pleasing moment is as hard to capture on film as the ivory-billed woodpecker, chiefly because I'm up there performing next to him and have other important duties like singing and playing the accordion, but the Dial-35 is at the ready when I have a moment to spare.

For fans of the old British TV series 'The Prisoner,' that's the same camera Patrick MacGoohan uses to shoot clandestine pictures of the Village. I don't think a spy camera could be much more conspicuous than that. You could pretend you were just chatting on the phone, but I suspect the faux-rotary dial without a cord attached would give you away.

Next week: Extra width