TC 54
TC 54

Uncovering Toy Cameras and Polaroid Vintage Effects

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Among the commons things you may find at a flea market, are vintage cameras. Photography is and has always been somehow our second pair of eyes and brain: some people see life through a lens, and 99% of us own an impressive collection of pictures at home. Useless to further highlight how important a camera is in our lifes.

[quote_right]Toy cameras are cheap, low quality and yet functional.[/quote_right]For the past years, digital photography has gradually supplented the traditional one, and some people even announced the death of silver-based images! But at the same time another stream slowly emerged: old-fashioned images have become particularly popular in the past few years. Blurry, distorted and over-saturated images are not just a fad anymore, and people have become familiar with the style and even consider it a full-fledged photographic genre.

Next time you show up at a flea market, try and consider that toy cameras are not only a mere decorative object. Of course they do great in such a role; but you can surely do more out of it than letting it get dusty on a shelve. Toy cameras can create unpredictable pictures, with equally unpredictable vintage effects.

Once you understand this, the rest is a beautiful game. Take them anywhere, anytime, and photograph whatever you like.

Famous Toy Cameras

Toy cameras are cheap, low quality and yet functional. As such, the deformations in the photos they produce are pronounced, and not all images are guaranteed to be perfectly exposed. Still, there are just so many of them these days that picking a few is hard. The ones presented here have paved the way for the success of the others. You may know them but not the stories behind them?


Let’s start where it all began. Picture yourself in Hong Kong in the early ’60s, when a factory starts producing the Diana. This inexpensive plastic-body camera was at the time usually given away as a novelty gift. Occasionally, it would be used by actual photographers who took advantage of the various effects it produced. And many effects there were. Because of the poor quality of materials used, the Diana camera was disposed to light leaks, leading to film damage, an effect typically fixed by sealing the seams with light-proof tape. Handy, huh?

But the plastic body wasn’t the most interesting part: it was the lens, also made out of plastic. Not only did it enhance the already low contrast created by the light infiltration, but it also made for odd color rendering, chromatic aberration and blurry images. As if this weren’t enough, the image circle only marginally covered the diagonal of the film frame, which is why Diana images have heaving vignetting.

Photo credit: elZekah

As photographers started to deliberately exploit these characteristics, production grew through the ’70s and opened the way for other toy camera manufacturers.

Photo credit: chomdee

Lomo LC-A

This is where things get a bit tricky, so pay attention. It’s now the beginning of the ’90s, and for a few years the Russian factory Lomo PLC has been producing the Lomo LC-A camera, which basically has all of the characteristics of a toy camera (vignetting in particular). But production was stopped, and the camera was all but forgotten until two Austrian students found one at a flea market in 1991 and decided to exploit its marketing potential. They convinced the director of the Lomo PLC factory to relaunch production and negotiated an exclusive contract for distribution with their brand-new company: Lomography AG.

Photo credit: maaku

And here begins the Lomography movement. If the term is familiar to you, you probably know at least two things about it. First, it promotes casual snapshot photography. Second, it is associated with over-saturated and high-contrast images. To confuse things, this second characteristic has nothing to do with the LC-A camera itself or with any other cameras for that matter. It is actually the result of the way the film is processed, which would usually be cross-processing. But Lomography is a movement, not a technique, and it was certainly the first to promote camera imperfections as an aesthetic. The success of the LC-A camera helped spread this aesthetic.

Photo credit: citronnade


With the success of this movement, Lomography AG became interested in other low-cost cameras, such as the Holga, which had been produced in China for a decade. Even though it was made by a different manufacturer, the Holga was considered the successor of the Diana. Inspired by its predecessor, the Holga was designed as an inexpensive mass-market camera. And like the Diana, it is not of the best quality and has the same flaws.

Photo credit: babyabby10

But the Holga became popular and was even exported to the West over time, mostly for photo-reporting, for which its low profile was appreciated. Its problems were no longer problems, and now it is not surprising to hear of Holga photos winning awards. Because it is entirely manual, one can create effects, such as double exposure and panoramas, by not winding the film.

Photo credit: Bill Hansen (website)

ActionSampler, SuperSampler, Oktomat

These three cameras don’t have many differences. They all take multiple shots in a set period of time, thus creating micro-images that look like short animated movies. The Actionsampler and Supersampler have four lenses each, while the Oktomat has eight, fitting eight frames into the standard 35mm.

Photo credit: amylynnthompson

To make them a bit more fun, what you see through the viewfinder is not exactly what you get.

Photo credit: golfpunkgirl

Lomo Fisheye 2

As the name suggests, the Lomo Fisheye camera has a fish-eye lens. It was the first 35mm compact camera to offer such a wide angle (170°), and unlike the other toy cameras covered here, it gave surprisingly good results for the price. The second edition came with several enhancements, such a viewfinder that covered the same angle as the lens (it was blocked off before).

Photo credit: aapnootmies

The effect created, often seen in sport images, can serve many other purposes. But the user should be aware of two major characteristics: strong deformation and light leaks.

Photo credit: faha

We hope that you realized that digital photography is not everything, and that beside owning a fancy digital camera that will help you make sharp and crispy photos, you can also carry everywhere with you a toy-like plastic camera for very much fun! And I’m sure your dad/mum or even your grand parents will be grateful that you give there old camera, a second life.


Source: Smashing Magazine