Last year, many of us became hobbyists, getting super into sourdough baking (charming, but got old pretty quick), rug-making (cool, but material-intensive), or clay-sculpting (why not?), the quaint sort of home-ec crafts that are perfect for whiling away the hours in between throwing darts at photos of the politicians that failed us in 2020 or revisiting the final season of the Sopranos for the seventh time. However, our renewed sense of cautious optimism has us feeling like we want to go out there and document our world, from porch kickbacks with our friends to impromptu road trips.
It’s pretty universally agreed upon that analog photography, despite its antiquated technology and visual quirks, just has a certain cool, nostalgic je ne sais quoi to it that can’t be totally replicated via digital camera, and certainly not via cellphone camera. But vintage 35-millimeter cameras are getting more and more expensive—and more and more difficult to repair as fewer equipment shops service them.
That’s why many photographers, from total amateurs to street photogs to seasoned pros, love the low-pressure appeal of disposable cameras. Their cheapness is their best quality; they’re perfect for throwing in a bag or keeping in your backpack, and you never have to worry about bonking them on a coffee table or losing them at a campground, which would be a heart attack if you had a $900 Contax T2. Plus, they can still create dreamy images. Believe it or not, they’re as popular as ever, with brands from Ilford to Kodak to Fujifilm to Agfa to Lomography still selling loads of them to film heads.
We asked seven photogs to take a bunch of disposable cameras for a spin, and report back on which ones truly, as they say, rock. Here’s what they found, and some of our favorite images that they captured.
The camera: Agfa "Le Box" 400 ISO 27-Exposure Camera w/ Flash
The photographer: Kevin Spaghetti
Kevin Spaghetti is a portrait and street photographer based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania using 35mm, 120, and Polaroid film.
The good: Let me start by saying this: All AGFA films are brilliant. So it comes as no surprise that this one-time-use camera loaded with AGFA 400 is not an exception. I really enjoyed using this camera outdoors in the sunshine, and the super quick charge on the flash made it so I didn't miss any low-light shots. I'm going to say that where this camera shines, is outdoors in super-bright sunlight. The reds and blues are perfectly balanced and the grain is super fine.
Possible pitfalls: Lower light shots lose some of that fine grain, but the flash is bright and fast.
Overall: The camera claims to be waterproof so I'd say this is the perfect pocket shooter for taking to the river or the beach and the flash is there so you can snap some shots inside the Waffle House afterward. I'd definitely shoot one of these again.
Check out more of Kevin’s work on Instagram at @kevin__spaghetti.
The camera: Ilford XP2 Super Single Use Camera
The photographer: Daniel Topete
Daniel Topete is a Los Angeles-based music photographer.
The good: I love that XP2 film is developed in C-41 chemicals so you can get it developed anywhere without the cost and time of B+W processing. I really love the grain, and the sharpness was great for a plastic lightweight camera; the flash and vignette concentrate the attention on the subject. The camera has a very center-weighted focus and is best suited for close, centered subjects.
Possible pitfalls: I wish it had a little more contrast, but that’s what you lose with the convenience of the C-41 processing. It feels best suited at night with the flash on.
Overall: I like disposables because it’s not a huge, imposing camera and people don’t mind having their photo taken. This is a great entry to black and white film. The vignette is fun, and it’s a great camera to stick in your pocket on a night out.
The camera: Lomography Simple Use Reusable Color Negative Film Camera
The photographer: Rosario Oddo
Rosario Oddo is a Seattle-based photographer, born in Chile in 1984, who has been constantly shooting film since the early 90s and her primary focus is to capture the charm of domestic, ordinary life.
The good: What I loved the most about this camera, and what makes me pick it, was that it’s reusable. I like the idea of carrying a disposable in my pocket on trips or regular days, or when I don't want to carry a bag, etc., and the idea of being able to use it more than one time made me feel good! Size, weight and the images quality are pretty much the same as a regular average disposable, so that is also another check √. With better light conditions, the pics look good, although they can be grainy in darker shots.
Possible pitfalls: In low light, the photos can come out very grainy. The color filter interface [on the flash] is clumsy. Fifteen years ago, I used to shoot with the Holga camera, also from Lomo, that has a [similar] color flash and the quality on those was way higher and fun to use.
Overall: These photos came out really well with good light conditions, but less impressive when I shot with darker light conditions or flash.
The camera: Ilford HP5 Plus B&W Single-Use Film Camera
The photographer: Oscar Mendoza
Oscar Mendoza is a photographer based in Los Angeles, California who loves dogs, veggies, sunshine, and nature.
The good: Very forgiving film will capture and render pretty much anything. If you like that dreamy quality or the element of surprise, the focus is a bit soft, with some weird ghosting on a few shots.
Possible pitfalls: Don't expect fully sharp photos; the whites are washed out, with low contrast all around.
Overall: These are fun for anything, really. Obviously not pro quality, but good for the ease and price!
The camera: Fujifilm QuickSnap Flash 400 Single Use Camera
The photographer: Hilary Pollack
Hilary Pollack is the director of affiliate at VICE and a Los Angeles-based photographer.
The good: The QuickSnap is super versatile—the sharpness is pretty awesome for bright sunlight or flash conditions, and the saturation is really great for a disposable, as some of these cameras can produce very washed out images. The color is super-rich and punchy. This thing is less chillwave and more pop.
Possible pitfalls: As with any plastic-lensed little cheap camera, you’re going to have some level of unpredictable behavior. This may mean weird vignetting, or a few shots here and there looking sun-bleached, blurry, and woozy. Personally, I find these qualities to be part of the appeal of using a disposable. And for perspective, this camera is cheaper than most sandwiches in Los Angeles.
Overall: I love this camera for keeping in a travel bag, leaving out at parties (people will want to pick it up and use it), or running around outdoors. It’s not terribly artsy-fartsy, but is very capable at capturing memories and taking dreamy on-the-go snaps. It’s a super-solid pick for those who love night-time flash shots and bright color.
The camera: Harman Reusable 35mm Film Camera
The photographer: Scott Walker
Scott Walker is a NYC-based photographer, travel writer, and guide by way of Devon, England who likes to find the hidden and lesser-known places all around us.
The good: Even though the idea of a reusable disposable is still weird for me, I appreciate the lack of waste. The photos are grainy, black and white, and dreamy in a way that will maybe even make you feel like you’re a little drunk.
I've used a few disposables and some have an issue where the flash gets picked up in the shots every time, and this does not happen with this camera, which is good. I've tried to show the brightness and difference in contrast with different shots. The flash clearly does its job with the distances I tried. Overall, for a cheap camera, it's not bad at all. I would have loved to try the company’s other film stocks. With the film intended for this camera’s use, you're getting very grainy photos with a toy-camera-style sharpness akin to the Lomo cameras.
Possible pitfalls: The photos have come out kind of like I expected, grainy and similar to those from a toy camera such as a Lomo. This isn't without its charm, but it's going to produce photos with this slight ominous undertone. Also, the viewfinder isn't super reliable at gauging the framing of shots.
Overall: This is a fun camera that would be great for quick captures of your friends getting super-hammered. For certain street moments, it did OK as well, but I think party photos with the flash on is the best way to use this camera. If shooting indoors, I'd just always have the flash on, and compose shots knowing that's the level you are working with. Use the camera for more close-up stuff in low-light, flash-needed situations.
Check our Scott’s Instagram or his book, Don't Be a Tourist in New York: The Messy Nessy Chic Guide, which came out in 2019.
The camera: Kodak PowerFlash Single Use Camera
The photographer: Jason Moore
Jason Moore is a Bay Area-born film photographer who currently lives in Los Angeles.
The good: Photos came out well. Nice warm film for daylight with subtle grain which I prefer. Very dreamy. Also capable for low-light situations since it's loaded with 800 ISO film. Oddly sharp images considering the lens is plastic. Saturation/vibrancy is warm but nice and balanced. Accurate tones all around.
Possible pitfalls: None, as long as you know what you’re working with.
Overall: No brainer shooting with these, which allows you to focus on just having fun with it. Obviously, we grew up with this camera as the go-to vacation camera, which makes perfect sense considering how well it does in day and night conditions and produces skin tones very well. You can hand it off to a kid and let them have a ball with it. But I would also add it’s great as a lightweight camera to have in your pocket at any given time on walks or long aimless drives. You don't have to worry about heavy and expensive gear with it. And every once and a while people on the street respond well to it because it makes them nostalgic. Very unintrusive. Just all around fun.
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