Smile Single Use Camera - a review with photos
Updated: Jan 9
Waterproof disposable cameras seem to be surviving in a market dominated my digital cameras nowadays, and it isn't hard to figure out why. Taking your expensive digital camera (or your shiny smartphone) into the swimming pool with you might be a risky move, but for less than £10 you can carry a waterproof disposable camera around, not worry about dropping it to the bottom of the pool... or ocean... and still take some good photos. Kodak have that market cornered as far as I'm concerned and I've not found a better waterproof disposable camera yet, but I spotted something a few months ago in my local Asda supermarket that I hadn't seen before.
The 'Smile' Single Use Camera is a waterproof disposable camera manufactured by PocketSocket. According to the packaging it's a 27 exposure camera waterproof to a depth of 33 feet. The packaging also mentioned it "contained hi-speed Japanese film". I speculated at the time it was probably Fuji branded film, and I turned out to be right, but the phrase "hi-speed" is a bit deceptive! The film contained in my camera was Fujifilm Fujicolour C200, a 200 ISO film still commonly available from most places, but which is by no means high speed! I would have thought ISO 400 or 800 more fits the definition of high speed... Not that C200 is a bad film. It isn't. C200 is a reliable film with really nice colour reproduction but it's not high speed and I doubt you would get very good results using it submerged in water with lower light levels through the tiny aperture and fast shutter speed of a waterproof disposable camera... When I say this was the film contained in my camera, that's because some searching around led me to believe that past versions of this camera contained other brand films, namingly Kodak. So don't take it as gospel that every single one of these cameras is packing Fujifilm.
But more to the point: what was it like to use one of these cameras? Well the answer is not great! I found the camera quite difficult to operate, the shutter release button was extremely stiff and you had to have a real grip on the camera to push the button all the way down to trigger the shutter without shaking the camera, and ruining your photo. This actually ruined a few of my photos, the worst example being this:
Considering it's whole purpose is to be operated in wet conditions, that isn't ideal. I didn't use it at all underwater but I could see it being a real problem if you had wet hands, the camera body was also wet and you were trying to push that button down. Aside from this there was no prism in the "viewfinder", plastic or otherwise. I've had this problem before with a waterproof disposable. No viewfinder prism means you have virtually no way of understanding how the lens performs and as was the case with that other waterproof disposable there is literally just a hole in the plastic casing of the camera body that you look through. I'm sure you don't have this problem with Kodak or Fujifilm ones?! Remembering my previous experience I tended to just point the camera at things and take a photo, hoping that the lens was far more wide angle than my field of view and for the most part this seems to have worked out ok but because I really wasn't sure I sometimes framed a shot through the "viewfinder" and it didn't go well. I ended up with photos looking like this:
Also note the groovy little lens flare there. And the bit of light leakage. But those 2 poor design choices aside, the camera was small, light and compact, I could carry it around in my jacket pocket or jeans pockets and it wasn't cumbersome or intrusive. I even dropped it on a concrete floor outside and the casing didn't chip, crack or shatter so it was sturdy and robust enough. It came with a fabric wrist strap so taking it to the beach or the swimming pool would be fine, you could carry it around easy enough.
The quality of the photos was pretty decent, although from 25 photos there was only 10 that I ended up uploading. This was mostly because the lack of viewfinder meant I was literally guessing at the focal length of the lens and a good portion of the photos I took just weren't composed that well, here's a few examples below:
These are all photos where I literally framed according to the field of view though the "viewfinder" as mentioned before. In the taxi photo above, the taxi was literally the only thing composed in the entire shot. The same with the first example. You couldn't see any of my car, or of the car wing mirror looking through the "viewfinder", just the wall and the bin next to it. So the lens on this camera is crazy wide angle compared to the human eye! I don't know for sure but it looks close to my Vivitar UWS which has a 22mm lens! My advice is don't even bother with that viewfinder, just point it at something and click.
I also got one photo back that had this weird light flare on it that must have been caused by sunlight filtering through the waterproof casing:
Spooky. And also struggling to push that shutter button messed up my composure... But thankfully this wasn't a complete waste of money and I did get some photos that were actually good and worth keeping. Half of them are bikes. I must have just been really into photographing bikes with this thing? These are all the ones I kept, uploaded and shared:
More groovy lens flares there. Love it.
To be honest with you though, unless these are price marked down to a stupidly cheap price I can't see me using another one again. Not having a viewfinder prism is a big negative against this camera. The whole disposable camera mantra is that you POINT and SHOOT and without a decent viewfinder you can't even get that first part right. It does have something going for it with that super wide angle lens, and as a design choice I can see why they opted for that, but for me, not being able to compose a shot in the viewfinder means you are taking a gamble with that anyway. This wasn't an easy camera to use and despite being compact, light, and packing quality Fuji film it's still too unpredictable to be relied upon, even for throwaway disposable photography.
I hadn't intended to really blog about this camera, but only when searching around on the internet did I discover how little info about 'Smile' disposables, or PocketSocket there actually is! For a start, the URL (I've linked to it but please exercise caution and access at your own risk) printed on the camera body packaging is http://www.pocketsocket.co.uk which (at time of writing, and since approx October 2016) leads to a domain parking page. I had to go back to March 2016 to find an historic version of the site. PocketSocket, as the name suggests, sold mobile charging units for smartphones; a pocket socket if you will... It's seems around March 2016 though they had also diversified into selling laptop bags. And 35mm single use cameras... I can see how the 2 are similar... There are two different branded 'Smile' single use cameras, one being encased in waterproof casing, the other not. This led me to believe they were most likely discontinued stock that had been purchased in bulk, and most likely not being made any more. For what it's worth the expiry date on my camera was October 2019 so it was in date at time of shooting. I did learn that PocketSocket is a brand owned by Eastmore Marketing, but their website was equally as unhelpful. It looks like it was established around approx April 2017 and hasn't been updated since (again at time of writing). So I don't know if these cameras are still being made. Eastmore Marketing are still 'Active' so far as Companies House are concerned but your guess is as good as mine. I'm guessing probably not.