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Johnny Wilson
  • Johnny Wilson

The worst disposable camera I've ever used... but I'm not surprised.

Updated: Jan 14, 2021

I love disposable cameras. I started shooting with disposable cameras when I was 16 or 17 years old. My love for photography was borne out of dicking around with disposable cameras. I just want to put that out there... In the build up to Christmas retail season last year, TK Maxx began stocking these underwater disposable cameras in a variety of quirky designs for £15 each, marketed as film disposables with "17 exposures". Now anyone who knows a thing or two about cameras knows that 17 exposures for £15 is terrible film economy. Even for an underwater disposable, you can get a Kodak or Fuji branded one for much better value, it just won't look quite so pretty. But I'll admit to being mildly intrigued. Apart from "Made in China" printed on the packaging, there was nothing else to go on. No branding of any kind, just; this is a disposable camera in waterproof casing with a film inside with 17 photos on. Nothing to work with. SO. At the beginning of December, because Christmas was almost on the doorstep they dramatically reduced a bunch of things and these cameras came down to a poultry £3 each! Much more cheap and cheerful, and I've spent more money on an awful, watery pint of beer before, so I thought, yeah ok, why not. So I bought one. Here's a photo of it from my Instagram account taken with my phone:

Yeah Pineapples are cool? So I was halfway amused and halfway curious, even more so when I opened it. No instructions, seemingly no lens prism in the viewfinder above the lens, no hints as to the film speed (although the packaging may have had ISO200 on there, I can't remember? Later confirmed by the negs) and no further hints on the film brand. But all of that was fine. I love disposable cameras. Did I mention I love disposable cameras? I'll make no secret of that. Half the fun is you have nothing to work with. You look through the viewfinder, you point, you shoot. And what you capture is your photo. So I carried this around here and there, half feeling like that it was a complete throwaway anyway and whatever I actually captured on film, if it actually turned out, would be a bonus. Ok so here's my first complaint (and there are a few): Advertised as 17 exposures, the barely visible film counter, hardly kept track of my shots and by the end of the roll was between 5 and 6, or 6 and 7 on the counter. Again, that's fine, not really bothered about that, but when I get the negs back and count the film frames: you have 15 frames. And 2 of those didn't work out because the emulsion wasn't applied correctly. Here's the first shot on the roll. Not very inspiring I know but illustrates my above point.

Now here's my second complaint. The quality of this film is garbage. If you are shooting underwater photos, chances are the level of light is going to be reduced to a certain degree. Unless you are shooting in a crystal clear swimming pool in the middle of the day in almost complete sunshine, you are not going to get very clear exposures. I took 2 or 3 photos indoors in reasonably well lit areas and none of them turned out, I couldn't even work out what some of them resembled. When I got the negs back and checked them, they have 200 printed on them in the sprockets, so I assume whatever brand film was inside the camera, and there's no brand printed on the negs, it's an ISO 200 film. Which is nowhere near fast enough for underwater photography. And when I suggest underwater, I mean snorkeling, diving, e.t.c. If you're hanging out at the swimming baths, provided you're outdoors and it's not a particularly cloudy day, you'll get ok exposures. Maybe. Don't quote me on that.

And now, my third complaint: the film winder. It was terrible, stiff, ineffectual and I thought it would tear the film before winding it on. At the time I was sure it wasn't working properly, and when the negs came back it confirmed it wasn't. The film hadn't been wound on correctly and although most photos worked out ok, there was 2 that had overlapped, and the gaps between each exposure were irregular. This probably wasted two or three frames in total, maybe, maybe that's where the other exposures vanished to, but it also played havoc with film scanners set to auto. Here's a good example: note the big black bar on the side.

But to be honest, I had low (or no...) expectations, and I'm probably over analyzing what is obviously more of a toy, than a serious camera. So on a more positive note, here are a handful of photos that DID turn out ok. I guess. If you like.

So even with a camera where you have no idea what film speed you are shooting and no idea what focal length your lens is because the "viewfinder" doesn't have a prism, you can still get photos that actually halfway look presentable!

Ok, so maybe that's the magic? I've shot a lot of disposables: Kodak, Fuji, AGFA, Ilford and "Polaroid". I even shot a 15 year old German disposable camera that I found in a junk shop once! Maybe I'll blog that at some point... so I'm no stranger to how disposable camera photography works out, but by any measuring stick this was a terrible product. I would have been gutted if I spent fifteen quid on this. Gutted. But I didn't. So I'm not.

After I finished the film and made 100% sure it was winded back fully into the case, I smashed the waterproof casing open (because it had no clip mechanism or anything to open it without breaking it...) and subsequently discovered my thoughts that there was no viewfinder prism were correct: it is literally a hole in the plastic casing... and I pulled the camera apart to retrieve the film canister, which was totally unbranded, no film speed listed, literally just "35mm film - 17 exposures. Made in China" printed in white on a black label.

I've taken disposables apart before and my hope it to semi-recycle this and put another film through it just for curiosities sake, and at least this time I am a bit more knowledgeable about how the camera works!

So tl;dr - was this any good? No. If you see one in TKMaxx, or anywhere else, should you buy one? Also no. Am I going to do exactly the same thing again the next time I see a cheap disposable camera in a shop. Yes. Completely 100% yes.

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