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Toy Cameras

Pictures of an imperfect world

Don't get caught in the megapixel madness when you're about to purchase a new digital camera. Loosen the vise that technology and precision have on you. There's a cheaper camera alternative on the market. With only a grip of $5 bills, you'll be able to buy cameras for you and your whole crew. All you need to do is point, click, and shoot.

There's a growing niche of toy camera enthusiasts that want to win you over. What makes toy cameras unique is their cheap construction. They're typically made of plastic and lack the bells and whistles found on professional cameras. Rather than constructing a camera that's built for sophistication, these cameras are built to spill. You also won't find them at your local camera store. You'll have to search high and low in flea markets, toy stores, and auction websites.

At the heart of toy cameras are the sublime yet enigmatic images that come out of their low-fi construction. Plastic l enses capture visceral images that are often blurry, distorted, and discolored. Light leaks in toy cameras offer interesting color variety and haunting effigies. Descriptions of toy camera photos as "imperfect," and "mysterious" are rarely frowned upon but celebrated. Capturing this on film liberates you from the precise images that expensive cameras and formal photography training offer.

Unlike their expensive digital camera cousins, feel free to shoot toy cameras in an unorthodox way. Don't be afraid to take photos from your waist, without looking through the viewfinder, or worry about the angle of the sun. Toy camera photography is counter intuitive, in defiance of training, and basks in inexactness. In this world, "bad" does mean "good."

There are a number of different toy cameras to choose from. Some popular ones to mention are the Holga, Lomo Action Camera, and the Nickelodeon Photoblaster. Each toy camera provides a different flavor for your photo. For example, the Holga is the cheapest medium format camera one can buy. With $25 you'll shoot extraordinary photos that'll make your cubicle mates wonder what drugs surface during weekends. Developed Holga photos are out of focus, with light leaks producing sparks of tie dyed colors. Photos appear rounder and edges softened by the vignetting of the camera lens.

Ask your local developer about cross processing and your Holga photos will come out in day glow colors blown out to imperfection.

The Lomo Action Camera has a fanatical following while having a humble cost of $30. Armed with 4 lenses, the Lomo advances a 35mm negative a quarter frame and shoots in quarter second intervals. Confused? Imagine a regular 4 X 6 picture divided into four equal photos; each are a slice of time. Taking photos with the Lomo Action Camera change the way people read your phototography. Objects repeated in your photo become magnified in number, making a visual exclamation point.

Unlike the other two cameras, the Nickelodeon Photoblaster is no longer in production. You can find it auctioned on eBay for a 40% markup. Built by the Nickelodeon channel, the camera is brightly dressed in colors: lollipop reds, Jungle Gym purples, and Tonka Truck oranges. Similar to the Lomo Action camera, the Nickelodeon advances a 35mm negative a quarter frame. The Photoblaster, however, refrains from automatically taking four instant shots. You now have the ability to advance the camera at will, and choose the placement of the photo on your negative. Your photos now read like a visual narrative. As one looks at a photo, it's like turning the pages of a book. Viewers draw storyline assumptions to each of the pictures and connect the visual dots.

Has this piqued your interest in the digital camera divide? Given San Francisco's fondness for alternative living, it's not hard to find a camera shop that'll stock these unique cameras. If you're in Hayes Valley, stop in Flight 001. While you browse through their large assortment of hip travel bags, pick up your Holga and Lomo Action Camera. Alternatively, if SOMA better suits your shopping needs, then drop in Foto-Grafix bookstore. They not only offer an assortment of toy cameras but offer a variety of photography and comic books.

Last but not least, stop by Photoworks to buy the right film. Don't be bashful when revealing your latest romance with the Holga or Lomo. Many of the clerks at Photoworks are well versed in toy camera photography and will give you their personal film recommendations for each camera. You'll see the spark in their eyes when talking about their experiences. They know the beauty that lies in plastic imperfection.

Flight 001
525 Hayes Street
(Hayes @ Octavia)
San Francisco, CA 94117
Phone: 415.487.1001
Hours: Monday - Saturday (11 am - 8 pm), Sunday (12 - 6 pm)

Foto-Grafix Bookstore
655 Mission Street
(Mission @ 2nd)
San Francisco, CA 94105
Phone: 415.495.7242
Hours: Tuesday - Sunday (11 am - 5 pm)
friendsofphotography.org/bookstore

Photoworks
2077-A Market Street
(Between Dolores & 14th)
San Francisco, CA 94114
Phone: 415.626.6800
Hours: Monday - Saturday (9 am - 8 pm), Saturday (10 am - 6 pm),
Sunday (10 am - 8 pm)
photoworkssf.com