Through a plastic lens: toy camera photography


Holga, © Stavro Papadopoulos, from an image gallery curated by Sean Bonner of work by various photographers using toy cameras, over at Magnesium Agency.


  1. Apple’s Aperture 3 has a preset “Toy Camera” filter that works really, really well on digital images. That way you get the convenience of digita with the look of cheap-ass toy cameras. And you don’t have to F around with film.

    Yeah, film looks fantastic. But man, is it a pain to deal with when compared to digital.

    1. “Apple’s Aperture 3 has a preset “Toy Camera” filter that works really, really well on digital images.”

      No it doesn’t, it just uses a digital bokeh filter that looks really cheesey when you realize that you can see the repeating square pattern when you stand back.

      Also the hipstamatic app is nice, but it only takes a max size of like 600px square (and it’s still a cell phone pix taken with a sensor the size of a pinhead) while having a digital sensor the size 120 film requires a $15k hasselbald.

      Don’t get me wrong, I love the flexibility of digitalness, but it just bugs me when people have the attitude of “oh film? isn’t that way obsolete? it should just roll over and die already”.

  2. Yes film is tricky, but it’s a labour of love, in the same way that people still listen to vinyl records.

    The whole toy-camera/lomography/Holga world is a lot like that. There is plenty of poseurism, hipsterism and people who don’t know their 120 film from their elbow, but now and again it produces pictures of magical beauty.

  3. You know what else works? The Hipstamatic iPhone app :P

    Toy cameras are fun, but if I’m going to use film (which I still do) I just use my Olympus OM-2n…

  4. I’m not a film snob or zealot, but it does have its advantages over digital that a quick filter in post can’t quite replicate.

    I find that digital allows for a lot of control over every process, but it eliminates the possibility of having the occasional ‘happy accident’

    Magical things can happen in a darkroom. Sometimes, things just don’t quite work as expected, but the results are beautiful. I’ve been completely out of ideas going into a darkroom, and come out a few hours later with weird wonderful work.

    While digital allows you to do far more, and do it faster with little hassle, My experience has been that a clear idea needs to be worked out before starting the digital process.
    Browsing Photoshop filters can be like browsing wikipedia: it quickly becomes a time sink that takes you way off track. You eventually come across something that could be useful later on, but by the time you’ve reached it, you’ve forgotten what you were originally after.

    Another difference is purely mental: knowing that each film exposure costs money, and there is a limited amount of them makes me ‘try harder’ with each shot.

    And once you get used to seeing digital photos printed the normal way all the time, seeing a real gelatin silver print is magical.

  5. I would also highly recommend checking out Camerabag and Hipstamatic – both are iPhone apps that do post-processing on your images to add various toy camera effects. They do this in different ways, but both of them are quite fun to use. Having them satisfied my craving (temporarily, at least) for a toy camera.

    I’m pretty sure both apps have been mentioned on BoingBoing in the past. For an idea about what they do, check out the Flickr tag searches for Camerabag and Hipstamatic – there is some great stuff in there.

  6. When I want to do labor-intensive photography, I shoot pinhole (i.e., lensless) photos onto photo paper, which I can process myself at home.

    But then I scan them into Photoshop and make them look nice. There’s no point getting all fetishistic about low-tech processing.

    1. My not-really-a-compact digital camera has about a zillion “scene” modes, one of which is “Pinhole”. I’m going to have to try it sometime.

  7. I took what is probably my favorite image of all time using a Diana camera. (A copy of a Diana, actually!) I paid $3 for the cheap plastic thing in the “oddities” basket of a now-defunct photo store. I had maybe five or six frames out of it that were not utterly ruined by light leaks. The one of a friend on a park swing, her hair flying out at the apex of her ascent, was magical, even on the contact sheet.

  8. I’m always torn… I’m comfortable with film, and I like the way it behaves, but since the cost of silver went through the roof I’m a lot less willing to take the number of alternative shots I prefer in order to get a good composition. Digital does encourage playing around and pushing the envelope, but as was said it doesn’t reward that with the occasional “oh, wow, I didn’t expect that” moments.

    Besides, not shooting as many slides means I’ve got less raw material for reprocessed abstracts. Not a problem yet, but it will eventually be unless I can find friends willing to donate.

    As far as toy cameras go: The real magic is in the photographer, not the camera… and much of the best art comes from accepting constraints and working to do something interesting despite them.

  9. I’m a semi-professional photographer who shoots almost exclusively in digital, but I ADORE my Holga. I also shoot subjects I never do in digital. For a technophile like me, it’s also very freeing. I couldn’t change anything about the camera if I wanted to. It’s just point, shoot, and hope.

    Holga + Kodak Ektachrome E100VS (cross processed, natch) + used HP flatbed photoscanner = WIN!

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