I love the simplest point & shoot film cameras. Take a Holga or some cheap disposable/reusable model and just go enjoy shooting. They are so easy to use, so hard to master, so much fun to shoot with.
I’ve got few cameras like that in my collection and while I run the more affordable films through them, in the end it can still gets bit pricey. This got me thinking, would I be able to somehow recreate the experience in a digital form, avoiding the rising price of film and development? And what i mean by this is that I didn’t want just to switch a camera to full-auto and keep using it as before, I wanted the proper experience with guessed focus, uncertain exposure and questionable framing.
And I got exactly what I wanted.
I knew I would be using one of my Micro Four Thirds cameras for this, the question was which lens to pick to pair with it? Right away I skipped all my autofocus lenses, there would simply be too much temptation to use them “properly”. Instead, I started looking into the wide range of cheap manual lenses, believing I would be able to restrict myself better with them. But then I found something even better, something even more basic. I found the bodycap lenses.
There are actually quite a few such lenses for M43 mount, ranging from first party Olympus models, over different fish-eyes, to a pinhole in a plastic body cap. In the end, I decided to go with a newer 7Artisans 18mm f/6.3, for M43 cameras framing equivalent of 36mm, and a depth of field equivalent of f/12.6 – all available for only $69!
The 7Artisans 18mm f/6.3 is a very simple lens with fixed aperture and even fixed focus, perfectly replicating standards of classic disposable cameras. They somehow managed to squeeze 6 glass elements into its ultra-thin all-metal construction, so it’s bit fancier than a basic plastic lens. Rendering can be described as a “unique”, with bit of color shift, slight distortion, unsharp corners and a few other optical flaws.
At first, this seemed to be the biggest issue. A quick online search for optical viewfinders got me to Ricoh or Voigtlander, and these were definitely in a completely different category than what I was aiming for. But as with many other things, just give it a little bit of time and you will find somebody in China making exactly what you need.
That was exactly my case, discovering this one small company, offering a range of cheap viewfinders on Taobao and Ebay. And their 35mm viewfinder at $10 was just the perfect choice for me. It’s small, all-plastic construction, gets bit dusty over time and it lacks framelines. It’s also wrong aspect ratio for my 4:3 camera. And I found it to be noticeably wider than the lens.
As you can guess, it’s exactly what I was looking for.
The easiest step, as I already owned the camera nicely matching my desires, a 12 years old Panasonic Lumix GF1.
Small rectangular body, with an ultra-thin body cap lens, nicely imitates looks of the film point-n-shoots. And without the faux SLR hump, I can get the optical viewfinder into nice position right above the lens. The overall package is really compact and I can always keep it with me, easily fitting as an extra item into full camera bags, carrying it around in a small sling bag or just throwing it into a bigger pocket on my shorts.
The old 12-megapixel sensor is not competitive with modern standards of digital cameras, but I like its colors and you know I’m not here to chase image quality. Its limited ISO capabilities are even reminiscent of using film, with the ISO 1600 being the upper limit you want to go to.
And maybe the most important feature of the GF1, its screen can be turned off for a distraction free analog experience! Much cleaner and more usable solution than slapping a bunch of gaffer tape over the screen. To some, this can feel like a small thing, but you never appreciate it fully until you try it. I firstly tested a newer Panasonic GX1 in this role and its always-on screen was irritating way too much when using it with the optical viewfinder.
I dug out old 2GB Micro SD card, giving me space for approximately 85 photos, which I found to be just the right balance coming from 36 frames. I added a very short paracord neck strap, to keep the camera always at hand for the “decisive moment”. And for the distinctive look, mixing something between annoying tourist and old school professional photographer.
For settings, I keep it in aperture priority mode and just pre-set the ISO when heading out, letting the shutter speed float around. This allows me to react fast if I need to, but at the same time I have to keep exposure in mind, to avoid too low speeds. Sometimes I try to play around with the exposure compensation, but that’s bit tricky with no indications. I ended up with some messed up shots, because I forgot to reset it back to zero.
With focus it’s even simpler. Trying to keep the subject between 2 and 6 meters, anything closer is just lost and anything further is questionable at best. And with an instantaneous focus it’s now just up to my timing of pressing the shutter.
Cropped and edited to taste in DXO Photolab 4.
A few months in with this rig and I’m still enjoying it so much. It works as I wished, serving as a great choice for these spontaneous long walks with no clear intentions in mind, helping me to practice certain photography skills and from time to time getting an actually nice shot. I still use my film point & shoots, but keeping them reserved for the special occasions or dedicated film photowalks.
I know this endeavor might seem bit pointless to many of you. Spending time and money on recreating something that doesn’t make much sense in the modern world. But that’s why we have hobbies, allowing us to do pointless things just to have fun. And I would recommend for everybody to try the same.