- Johnny Wilson
Club Reloadable - the Lomography Simple Use Camera family
If you've read some of my older posts before now, you will know that I am a big fan of disposable cameras; their simplicity of use means you spend less time thinking about getting the perfect photo and more time actually just taking photos and the rough, lo-fi photos you get as a result have a unique look all of their own. But it's fair to say that in 2022, the global focus has very much shifted to being much more climate friendly and environmentally ethical and in that respect disposable cameras are often frowned upon for contributing to plastic waste and just generally being environmentally unfriendly. There are ways to mitigate their impact of course, both AG Photo Lab and AW's Wonderlab, both labs I use, take steps to ensure the impact of photography waste it minimized so far as it humanly possible, taking steps to recycle everything that's recyclable as it passes through their labs meaning any disposable cameras that wind up (get it?) in their hands get recycled correctly. And I'm sure there are other labs that do exactly the same. But that isn't the only step you can take if you want to capture the same magic that you get with disposable cameras but at the same time be more environmentally conscious, because in April 2017, Lomography introduced the Simple Use Film Camera, reloadable 35mm cameras very much drawing on the ethos of the humble disposable camera!
Initially introducing just x3 variations; colour film, black and white film and Lomochrome Purple, the range expanded with the introduction of Lomochrome Metropolis in 2020, however regardless of which flavour you decide to go for, each camera comes pre-loaded with a Lomography brand roll of x36 exposures film and is fitted with a 31mm fixed focal length lens with a fixed aperture of f9 and fixed speed shutter of 1/120 as well as built in flash with x3 tiny little gel fitters fitted (unless you buy the B&W one) to mix up with colour burst flashes! At their heart the cameras are designed for people new to Lomography who want to try their hand at shooting the company branded films without plunging for a x3 or x5 multiple pack of film but with the caveat built in that even after you've finished the roll of film you have a camera that can be reloaded with a fresh roll of film to continue shooting, although I'll come to that in more detail later... Over the course of the last few years, in between shooting with other cameras and working on other projects, I've worked my way through all four variants of the Simple Use Camera family and have genuinely taken some of my favourite shots with them!
At time of writing an individual camera is priced around the £18 - £21 mark making them slightly more expensive than a regular disposable but not so cripplingly expensive that if you were to drop it down a set of concrete stairs, it's going to be more heartbreaking than smashing up your favourite Soviet film camera... In terms of operation the cameras are dead straightforward to use. You look through the little window at the top, point it at the photographic subject of your choice and press the little button on top. Done. In my experience the viewfinder was mostly pretty good and so long as you don't get too close to your subjects what you see in the viewfinder is what you are going to end up capturing on film. The flash is activated by pressing and holding down a button on the front until a little red LED lights up on the top and fires off automatically when the shutter is pressed. It's powered by a AA battery that sits inside a little compartment on the bottom of the camera and is really fiddly to take out and replace... but it can be replaced when needed. Otherwise the cameras are perfectly small and light enough to carry around easily and unintrusively but with enough of a body to get a firm grip and feel like you are using a proper camera.
For the most part, the photos shot with the camera turn out pretty well, although there is very heavy blurring in the corners of the shots that sometimes invades a little more closer to the centre than you might want it to, and there is a slight vignette although not as pronounced as you will get with other Lomography cameras. But this is owing to the plastic lens and is much more on par with the quality you would get from regular disposable cameras, as opposed to say trying to compete with a regular reloadable film point and shoot. And it's for those reasons that I like the Simple Use cameras but it has to be said that in recent times I've shot with newer AGFA and Kodak disposable cameras and the blurring and vignette is far less severe than that which is reproduced in shots with the Simple Use. It really depends on if embracing the imperfections that you get with Lomography is really your thing, and if it isn't you might find yourself disappointed.
Reloading the camera is not as straightforward as it would be to load up a regular plastic point and shoot, as like traditional disposable cameras the Simple Use cameras start out with your film of choice completely unravelled around the film spool and it's loaded back in to the cannister when you wind on after a shot. This means when you get to the end of your film you can just pop open the camera door, after you cut away the sticker over the hinge first, and take the film out. But when it comes to reloading, you have to first load in your new roll of film and insert it into the film spool as you would do usually. Then close the camera back, and click the film rewind button that sits next to the film winder and manually wind your film around the film spool until you get to the end... or beginning... again. This makes reloading the camera on the go much more trickier than the other reloadable disposables on offer, but it is - to my knowledge - the cheapest one on offer that comes with a roll of film.
And on that tangent, Lomography are not the only company who have put out reloadable basic cameras in last few years. Dubblefilm released the SHOW in 2020 which I've also blogged about, and is a really great, solid little point and shoot. Ilford have released x2 different variants of reloadable camera which I will at some point get to and, *spoilers* I may have gotten the Kodak M35 variant for Christmas which will no doubt find it's way on to my blog at some point! So there are now a whole plethora of different reloadable disposables for you to choose from with Lensfayre being the latest to the throw their hat in the ring with the sustainably produced; Snap LF-35M, a genuinely very trendy looking little plastic camera that I'll probably end up having to buy! There are now more ways than ever to enjoy the lo-fi aesthetic of disposable photography without the unsustainable environmental damage that comes with it, and aside from that it's more cost effective for yourself as you have a camera you can reload and use time and time again rather than one that's good for one time use.
But will I stop shooting with disposable cameras? Well in short, no, because I have a whole handful of older ones in my collection to work through! But unfortunately, unless it's something really quirky and really special, I can't see me buying new disposable cameras any more when there are now so many sustainable and environmentally friendly options available that accomplish the same goal. The Lomgraphy Simple Use camera family are all solid alternatives and in particular I found the colour film and Lomochrome Purple ones the most fun to shoot with. They are certainly heavily indebted with their imperfections and for that reason it's difficult to recommend them as a wholesale replacement for shooting with disposables when there are other alternatives now, but that is part of the Lomography ethos and if you are happy to embrace the imperfections in the spirit of capturing the moment then it would be definitely worth picking one or two of them up and giving them a try. They might just serve as much more travel friendly and less precious alternatives to taking along your Lomo LC-A+ or La Sardina camera.