We’ve all got George Eastman and his Brownie cameras to thank for creating the tool for vernacular photography. That simple principle of combining a single element, fixed focus lens and a single speed shutter in a hand held box is still in evident today courtesy of the humble single use camera.
Camera snobs ”wouldn’t be seen dead with such rubbish” but, would they turn their collective noses up at one if they found themselves camera-less at an exotic holiday resort?
About fifteen years ago my wife and I were offered a freebee holiday by way of a week in the sun at a friend’s apartment (including use of a car) in Pervolia, Cyprus. It was a peaceful and beautiful non touristy chill-out sort of place. All we had to do was pay for the flight so it really was a no-brainer.
Our son, being between girlfriends and at a loose end, also tagged along for the ride. It was a rushed job so we hardly had time pack luggage, book the flight and arrange the airport taxi. Guess what, when we arrived I had forgotten to pack my regular two holiday compacts (Nikon Zoom 100 and Olympus Trip 35). How was I going to survive a whole week without a decent camera in my hands? I felt naked, because for as long as I can remember have always routinely carried a camera around whether it be at work or play. I’m not a pro but, I have done quite a lot of paid assignments over the years – the most recent being a wedding using Nikon and Canon digital slr cameras and lenses but, my most enjoyable and memorable moments are always when I am taking numerous carefree snapshots of family, friends, local events, and holidays!
Anyway, I had the solution. Perhaps if we popped into the nearby capital city of Larnaka I could perhaps pick up a cheap little 35mm AF point and shoot jobby? My wife said, ”we’ve got enough cameras around the house thank you very much so why not get one of those little throwaway thingies, surely it’ll do for just a week?” Me, with a throwaway things ”perish the thought” I said, ”don’t be such a camera snob dad” my son said!
We got ourselves freshened up and changed into suitable holiday attire and set off to the nearest bar. On our way back to the apartment for an afternoon snooze we came upon the local supermarket. Now, guardian angels move in mysterious ways because I picked up a bottle of Bacardi and attached to the neck was a promo single use camera. It was branded as a ‘Bacardi – free travel camera’ and it even had a built-in flash!! I’m sure I was excited at the find or maybe relieved that at least I’d now got a ‘camera’ (of sorts) and therefore, no longer felt quite so naked! My son (with a wry smile) at the checkout commented ”nice camera dad!”purely as an attempt to wind me up (which it did). Interestingly, my wife also put the boot in with ”Oh they’d got a stack of those in the duty free at Birmingham Airport”
Back at the apartment I removed the Bacardi – free travel camera from its protective bubble pack, poured myself a stiff one with a tiny drop of coke and some ice and began to examine the camera and read the scant instructions which stated 200 ISO 24 exposure (no brand) colour film and some advice on how to operate it and when to use the flash.
The following day I was determined to positively exercise the oft quoted principle that ”your best camera is the one you have with you” and enjoy our week doing a bit of sea fishing, hanging out with the locals in the bars and restaurants and visiting the historic Roman sites around the island. The weather throughout the week was almost unbearably hot and therefore, very ‘sunny 16’ friendly.
So, where does the Moment Of Truth reveal itself? Well, on returning to the UK my first priority was to get the Bacardi films processed by Jessop’s ( I did buy a couple more bottles of Bacardi during the holiday) and I was pleasantly surprised with the results which I reckon owe more to the quality of colour films with their exposure latitude of plus or minus three stops and the ‘Sunny 16’ rule than the typical f11 wide angle single element meniscus lens and 1/100 sec shutter speed.
The prints themselves are all accurately exposed, sharp across the frame, full of detail and strongly, realistically coloured. The pictures are fully up to the standard expected of any decent compact. The original prints are 7 x 5 and yet they comfortably blow up to 12 x 8 on my computer. For the one picture I have used fill-in flash and the result does not disappoint and all the other prints were taken in extremely bright sunlight.
Obviously, for these sort of photographic conditions there is no need for auto exposure or auto focus.
I am not advocating the single use camera as the only camera for the true enthusiast. Far from it!
I can find my way intuitively around most cameras and quite enjoy fiddling with all the bells and whistles but, I have to stress that the single use is an efficient little basic photographic tool. You instinctively know that under the right circumstances it can record a perfectly satisfactory image. Also, when using one you can concentrate wholly on every single frame, relaxed and ready to shoot at precisely the best moment without any technical hassles. It is an absolute treat for all those of us who have amassed and lug around a bag of whizz-bang do-it-all cameras and associated accessories should allow ourselves to experience for once in a while.
The scans you see here were produced on my Epson V100 flatbed scanner and are not enhanced by any form of digital wizardry available within its software.
What these pictures you now see here have taught me is that for the overwhelming majority of people who just want happy, good quality and memorable holiday snaps there is really no need any more to buy or pack a camera any more ambitious than a single use type.
Thanks so much for reading this post and please look out for Part Two in a future posting. Thanks Hamish for creating the opportunity to share such experiences and opinions.