The popularity of toy cameras has waxed and waned over the decades. The novelty factor for plastic cameras like the Diana and Holga often comes at odds with reliability and overall image quality, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In an age of corner-to-corner perfection, the flare leak or vignette shooters can offer a way to stand out from the crowd.
My relationship with toy cameras has always been a bit strained. I have a few that I enjoy working with. I’ve had my Panorama Holga with me for the last few Space Shuttle launches, and I’ve had good results with my standard Holga and Diana bodies. The pictures weren’t anything special, but they were still fun to take. But they can also be clunky, unreliable, and relatively fragile, and for every camera with funny “quirks” there are a dozen that are just plain bad cameras.
A few weeks ago Lomography launched their new Lomo Apparatus and I admit it caught my attention. It’s a 35mm point and shoots with a 21mm f/10 lens and built-in flash. They were kind enough to provide me with a prototype to test for a few weeks and I was able to test it.It would be unfair to call this purely a toy camera. It’s more complicated and better built than a Holga, although it’s not a high-end point-and-shoot either. It sits somewhere in between: the body is constructed of plastic and there are no manual controls, but it does have an interesting built-in flash system with a variety of color filters and a tripod mount. There’s also a Bulb function if you want to try pulling the shutter or taking a longer exposure. What really caught my attention was the lens: to my knowledge, there aren’t many cameras of this style with such a wide lens. During my testing, I took it around town and played around with it in a variety of lighting conditions. I also took it with me when I was photographing the New York Veterans Day Parade. My first impressions are generally positive: the camera held up well enough in the rain, and there were no light leaks in any of my shots. I didn’t notice any lens flare, and while the image wasn’t sharp from corner to corner, it was still pretty impressive. However, I should note that the camera struggled to expose a correct image under gray skies. With a fixed shutter speed of 1/100 second and an f/10 lens, my pictures were extremely underexposed on a rainy day. This problem could easily be solved if I had used higher speed film, but for my testing I shot Ilford HP5 exclusively. Under brighter lighting conditions, the images came out well; they were even very beautiful. However, in the future I would either use higher speed film or advance the negatives during processing. Another issue I found was the flash: the camera uses a series of colored gels in a moving frame that you control with a tab on the side of the body. It’s a great idea, but I found the gels tended to come loose if you weren’t careful. However, these are not game-stopping issues. There’s a lot to like about this camera: for the lo-fi shooter, it certainly has a lot of charm. I could imagine using it for certain tasks, but really, it’s the kind of thing you pull out at a party when your drunk friend wants to do something impressive but not recommended. The lens is sharper than I expected, and it has some features that other cameras in a similar category lack. The double exposure feature is a nice little addition that I wasn’t expecting.
Ultimately I see this as a fun little camera that could use some minor tweaks but otherwise is a solid body that punches well outside of its weight class and I will always celebrate when a new film camera comes out.
What I liked
Affordable with an expected price of $89 Wider lens than other simple point-and-shoot bodies Solid construction Dual exposure capability
What I did not like
Fixed f/10 lens means you should be shooting on higher speed film. Flash gels came off during recording. No manual shutter control