In praise of the (n)ever-ready case

If you hang around a particular community or subculture long enough, you get hip to its lingo. Getting back into film photography, the term “Never-Ready Case” comes up frequently. It’s the sometimes-leather, sometimes-not case that came with certain cameras. The point of the Ever-Ready Case, as it’s technically called, is to protect the camera in an attractive manner. These cases were a given with any half-way decent cameras throughout the 20th century until compact cameras came along.

Having a nice leather case for a camera was a point of pride for many Japanese buyers, as these cameras were not cheap. When Olympus decided to buck the trend of Ever-Ready Cases with the release of the clamshell XA in 1979, many buyers wondered where the case was. The writing was on the wall, and the Ever-Ready Case was doomed. 1

And the demise of the Ever-Ready Case wasn’t exactly mourned. Most professionals and many “serious” amateurs repeatedly dissed the case. It was “never-ready” because the flap covering the lens had to be removed before shooting, meaning you might miss out on “The Decisive Moment” TM. No self-conscious photographer would be seen with the Never-Ready Case still on their camera when shooting. Only the dorky family snappers out on holiday would do that.

I think the hating on the Ever-Ready Case is silly. Yeah, it can slow you down. But it’s not like I’m shooting sports photography or something. Most of the time when I’m walking or riding around, I simply take off the flap-over-lens part and keep it in my bag.

But the whole point of the Ever-Ready Case is to protect the camera. Given the choice between two identical cameras on eBay, I’d always pick the one stored in its case, as that leather or vinyl was a barrier from dust, light (important if it has a selenium cell), accidental bumps, and other things that could have happened in its lifetime. And the Ever-Ready bedecked camera is more likely to have been owned by that dorky shooter who only brought it out on vacations and family portraits, whereas the “naked” one could have been owned by a pro who put the machine through years of use and abuse.

Ever-Ready Cases are still useful, even now. For example, the other day I decided to take a walk through the neighborhood. As soon as I left the house it started to sprinkle. I could have loaded up film into a pocketable camera like my Olympus XA2, but my Minolta Hi-Matic 7s was loaded with black and white film and I wanted to shoot with it. No worries. The Hi-Matic has a lovely case. So I just walked around with the Ever-Ready cocooned Hi-Matic, flipping down the flap when I took a shot. The case protected it appropriately enough from the rain, the camera remained dry underneath the leather.

I just received the Further Adventures in Rough-Stuff book, which documents the exploits of the UK based Rough-Stuff Fellowship in the second half of the twentieth century. There’s lots of great shots of their exploits on the rough (or no) tracks of the English/Scottish/Welsh countryside, much of it recorded on slide film. A common sight is of a cyclist pushing a bike up a hill or riding through a stream, all with a camera strapped around their shoulder. That camera was most often encased in Ever-Ready, not stuffed in a pannier or saddlebag, where there’d be even more of a delay from capturing The Decisive Moment. Those Rough Stuffers were onto something! Maybe I should follow their lead and not the fashion of “serious” photographers.

Note that dangling Canon in Ever-Ready Case!

1 It would make sense that Olympus was eager to ditch these cases, as they didn’t seem to make particularly great ones. The case for my circa-1975 Olympus 35 RD is pretty deteriorated. My Minolta cases are luxurious by comparison.

6 thoughts on “In praise of the (n)ever-ready case

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  1. I find myself being in the never ready crowd. Strictly an I phone camera buff with a protective case that allows instant use of the camera. I have gotten some good shots in the instant because of this feature. Because my camera and pictures are secondary or even further back in priority I have not had the desire to go back to film despite owning a nice SLR camera, with case and tripod. I think I even have a light meter. Couldn’t put my hands on them in short order because they are part of the collection surrounding me. Collection, another word for hoarding but nicer sounding.

  2. I have mixed feeling about the cases; I have them for most of my cameras but they can be annoying, especially if the lens covering is fixed so it has to hang rather than be detachable. When they have been non-removable I have taken to drilling out rivets so they do. I prefer half-cases where the camera is protected while it swings around you neck but without the full lens cover.
    One note of caution about your statement about buying cameras that have been stored in their cases; there is a school of thought that you should NOT store cameras long term in their cases as this prevents good air flow around the camera and promotes mold and fungus growth.

    1. Nigel, thanks for your comment.

      Thankfully the only types of cases I have are the two part ones with the easy to remove lens flaps. I can see how one with a lens flap permanently attached would be a bother.

      Re: mold/fungus: I am no expert, but I think a lot of it has to do with how a camera is used and where it’s located. I don’t think mold/fungus is going to automatically grow in a cased camera if the place it’s being stored is dry. Mold/fungus needs damp/moist to get started. When I use my cameras in the damp I’ll leave them out of their cases for a bit to dry appropriately.

      On that note, I’ve also heard the school of thought to not ever buy used cameras from the Southeast US due to the humid conditions found there…

      1. Agreed, yes mold needs the right conditions to get started. It was just a note to bear in mind that if a camera was stored for a long time and you don’t know or are not Mindful of the conditions of when it was put away it could be damaged as a result 🙂

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