The Crappiest Cameras of the Digital Age

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  All best wishes to thee and thine.


This is a re-run of an article I wrote for, a collective of artists from a multitude of disciplines.  Check them out!

In recent years, vintage toy cameras have been gaining artistic appeal. Why?….

World's Fair Grounds, Queens, NYCHolga, Fuji Superia Reala 100

World’s Fair Grounds, Queens, NYC
Holga, Fuji Superia Reala 100

The Holga, the Diana, and others… they were among the lamest cameras of the ’60’s and ’80’s – cheap plastic give-aways that kids would save cereal box-tops for. The bottom pile of an increasingly sophisticated artform, when photography was becoming precise and razor sharp in its aesthetic and production. In their time, a camera with a plastic lens, dubious aperture settings and a vague focusing system, was definitely not to be taken seriously.


Whether it likes it or not, the present always looks towards the past. So in our digital world, with our digital aesthetics, it is inevitable that we begin to see nostalgia, and even to seek nostalgia, in what we look at and listen to. This is why music, trends, and art tend to repeat themselves every few generations or so.

These weak pieces of plastic have, for the first time, begun to mean something to the art of photography. We have come to expect perfection in our pictures, but the hearts of many of us still hold dear the imperfect images of our memories.

Long Lake, the Adirondacks, New YorkHolga, Fuji Astia 100, cross-processed

Long Lake, the Adirondacks, New York
Holga, Fuji Astia 100, cross-processed

This is one of the basic appeals of a camera like the Holga or Diana. Pop in a roll of old-school 120 film and shoot the best you can without the benefit of a re-do. Then rush the roll to a lab and wait a small eternity for the turn-around- At first, all this ends in frustration- casting off precious dollars for 12 frames of failure. Eventually you get it right though, and begin to get pictures that many would say were shot decades ago – back in that world of memory.

Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal. Antwerp, BelgiumDiana, Ilford HP5 400

Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal. Antwerp, Belgium
Diana, Ilford HP5 400

But this effect is now possible digitally- with apps like instagram, hipstamatic, etc. For now, the eye can still tell the difference between digital effect and real analog, but very soon, the two will be indistinguishable.Digital has far outpaced what film can do. So it goes- there’s no purist indignation here.

Then – what’s the point of having a love affair with analog film, and especially for cheapie plastic cameras?

Two reasons that come to mind:

1) There are no re-do’s. You have to get it right the first time. This frees the instinct to have full sway, and often, instinct is the best force we have. There are no fancy knobs and settings, no science. Just you and the light.

2) Also, the chemical properties of film are totally integral to the image produced. Each make of film has its own basic character that can’t be circumvented. Choosing the right film for your vision is like finding the right spice for a meal- once you start with it, it’s there to stay. And- analog processing is subject to temperature, time, and density- functions of the physical world. It’s a more dynamic, organic, process.

World's Fair GroundsHolga, Fuji Superia Reala 100

World’s Fair Grounds
Holga, Fuji Superia Reala 100

Careful re-makes of vintage toy cameras are sold all over the place now, and analog is definitely in fashion lately. It has all the trappings of a fad. Who knows if it will stick. Who cares?… It’s an endlessly fun art, and that’s all it really needs to be.

AmsterdamDiana, Kodak Tri-X 400

Diana, Kodak Tri-X 400

Port de Hal, Brussels - Diana, Kodak Tri-X 400

Port de Hal, Brussels –
Diana, Kodak Tri-X 400

New Paltz, NYHolga, Kodak Portra 400

New Paltz, NY
Holga, Kodak Portra 400

Staten Island Ship GraveyardDiana, Kodak Portra 400

Staten Island Ship Graveyard
Diana, Kodak Portra 400

Central Park, NYCDiana - Ilford HP5 400

Central Park, NYC
Diana – Ilford HP5 400

Long Lake, the Adirondacks, NYHolga, Fuji Astia 100, cross-processed

Long Lake, the Adirondacks, NY
Holga, Fuji Astia 100, cross-processed

Astoria, NYC - Holga, Kodak Portra 400

Astoria, NYC – Holga, Kodak Portra 400

Occupy Wall Street, NYCDiana, Kodak Portra 400

Occupy Wall Street, NYC
Diana, Kodak Portra 400

For more of my analog, toy camera pics: 

with the Diana

with the Holga


About ventilateblog MUSIC Classically trained cellist. Attended Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University - degree in Music Composition, and three years of recording arts and audio electrical engineering. Multiple works for chamber groups and orchestra have been produced and performed. Singer-songwriter with rock and folk roots.. Electronica. Today, it's about mashing together all these things into improbable hybrids. Also, a longtime educator of music. PHOTOGRAPHY Unpredictable and in the moment is what I love. Streets, architecture, and people. Ruined places. History. Frozen moments. Great love for imagines wrought by beautiful mystery of film and vintage cheapy cameras. WRITING The vague, ephemeral. The historical - the ghosts behind the veil of time. Delving deeply into the intricacies of our physical and cultural world. Relaying memory and longing. And sometimes the absurd. Life runs deep. Life

Posted on January 3, 2013, in photography, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. The one taken at the Central Park in NYC looks like it was taken in the late 70s 😛 great one

  2. While I completely understand the romance attached to “tossing the dice” with one’s artistic expression, I simply can’t embrace lomography for my own work. When these limited cameras were first available in the ’60’s, I was a boy, and they were cameras a boy could handle. But, for me, they were an endless source of frustration, since I had so little control over my results. It wasn’t freeing, it was constricting. Grown-ups had cameras sophisticated enough to help their users get that much closer to what they visualized in their minds, and I wanted that.

    Yes, you can create something wonderful, randomly, with poor tools. But artistry is not about happy accidents, is it? Why not just take the picture with a blindfold on? Why not just leave the film out of the camera half the time and let fate determine whether I get a picture or not? In the final analysis, I don’t believe in “shooting for the effect”, whether it means shooting everything in fisheye or everything with tilt-shift, so I can’t see a case in which I would say, “This is a fine subject for a picture…but what it really needs is to look as if it were taken with a deliberately mis-designed, defective hunk of plastic!”

    All that off to the side, a great and thought-provoking post which I really enjoyed, as I do much of your work. Happy New Year!

    • Happy New Year! Thanks for the thoughtful comment. While I personally disagree with some of what you say, you’ve definitely made good points and I appreciate that.
      As always, I enjoy your work!

  3. This is a fantastic read with wonderful lo-fi photos. I also did a little write up on the benefits of using film. Perhaps you’ll find it interesting. If you get the chance, please check it out.

    You can also take a look at my photos – many of which were taken with to cameras – here:



    • Thanks for the links. Digging quite a bit of your photos – and I enjoyed the article as well. I’ve been itching to try my hand at infrared film – going to wait for more bright and warm weather though.

      • No problem. I’m glad you enjoyed my photos and article. I still believe in film, and I want to share with everyone what film can do. For sure, infrared is amazing! Definitely try to get your hands on some. If you have any questions about shooting it, let me know and I might be able to give you some tips.

      • Oh, and I always thought that infrared should only be shot in bright, warm conditions. Yet, I shot a roll in late November and had some good results.

      • Good to know. I’ve been wondering what sort of contrast of heat-light I could get from organic subjects in winter.

      • I’ve only shot black and white infrared in winter, so I’m not sure if vegetation will be really vibrant and red with color infrared film. With black and white, you still get that bright white, ‘blooming’ effect with dark skies and water if shot at the right time of day. Usually late afternoon or early morning when shooting with the sun to your back is best.

  1. Pingback: Purely #nofilter – latest analog pics | ventilate

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