5 Reasons For Dumb Camera Love

The first time I used a toy camera was when I got a Holga 135 from a friend in US.

Gates - Shot on Holga 135BC, on a winter morning in New Delhi

So many people end up spending much of their money on a camera with a gazillion megapixels, when what you really need is to use a dumb camera which doesn’t really do anything for you. A camera with restricted capabilities so you’re forced to see something new, search for that shot in your mind before you click the shutter. Today’s world is too much automation and just not enough insight, and little tiny film camera do just that for you, show you something real, not automated by a machine.

Why this discussion? I recently attended a workshop where people asked me questions like “are you still using a film camera, do you even get film, I am a photographer but I don’t believe in film, etc”. So here are 5 reasons to why shooting with dumb basic cameras is the most awesome thing ever!

Learn To See & Respect

What is the one thing digital cameras take away from you? The ability to scrutinize and see what is in front of you. Anyone with a DSLR shoots like this is the last day they will ever have a camera and after that it will all be taken away from them. In a recent workshop the instructor said “If I was in your place, in this workshop I would have made a thousand photographs easily”. To be realistic, rather than shoot a thousand pictures, why don’t you just take a HD video camera and make a whole video for the day. Then just extract the frames you need. It would be a much more efficient process.

Photography is not about making a billion frames and then selecting one. Its about the ability to see that one frame and make that one picture efficiently and poetically. It should not be a hit and try method. And these tiny film cameras do just that. They force you to see because every time you press the shutter, you’re closer to that ending frame. And this is most evident in medium format cameras. With only 12 shots, you’d better make every shot count.

Diana F+ with the Lomography Red Scale Xs 50-200 ISO film

Tiny & Light

Try carrying a huge DSLR or a Pro Medium Format camera around all day and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Even a tiny Leica is super heavy. And its just not possible to carry them around all the time. So what do you do? You switch to a small zone range finder like a LC-A+. I love it because its so small and when I’m working around the city, making notes or just shooting, no one really cares. Its so small and casual looking that people thing I’m just a snapshot shooter. But the tiny camera makes it mark when you look at the results, have a look and there is nothing really to explain.

Notes From The Grey City : Project notes I shot from a Lomography LC-A+ and Lomo Earl Grey 400 ISO Film

Understand Limitations

A 2500$ DSLR will do everything for you. Switch it on the green square called AUTO and it will virtually make the pictures for you. No more setting anything. Great? Not really. An automatic system doesn’t care about you or your ideas, it cares about reaching a benchmark illumination with the picture standards set by the camera company.

Every part in the picture has to have a meaning, depth, grain, color, motion, stillness, everything. And that all has to be manually controlled. These tiny cameras, like the Diana Mini or the Diana F+ don’t really have any real settings. They have a set shutter speed, a set aperture. Its your duty to play with the ISO of films and choose your subject to best suit your restrictions. Too much light and its all white, too less and its all dark. Cameras like these push you to think twice about the light when shooting. And this becomes extremely crucial when shooting for a specific mood or to bring an idea from your mind to film.

Diana Mini with the Lomo XPro 200 ISO

Medium’s Charm

Every medium has its own charm. Its important to understand what mood are you looking for when choosing a camera. Cropping later? Maybe something you’d want to avoid. Reason? Cropping is post production, we should try to be photographers, not retouching / photo editing minions. Try to get the maximum done in the camera itself. And these tiny cameras are great when it comes to removing all distractions and letting you focus on what you should really be seeing, the subject and the composition.

Also, use different mediums to help enhance what you see. Medium format is more detailed but slower. 35mm is a faster medium but with more grain. See how you can get the closest to your subject, how you can use the mediums to create the most amazing pictures.

Focus on Composition & Subject. Everything else is secondary. Shot on LC-A+ with Ilford 400 ISO Film (Pushed 1600)

Cost & Savings

You can pick up a tiny camera, a basic one starting from Rs 1000 (20$) second hand. If you want a brand new camera, something like a Lomography camera, then the range starts from 3,500 rs (60$). So why would you now spend 600$ on a camera when you can shoot spectacular images with a camera 1/10th its cost? Also in the learning phase, you need to make sure that your exposures are controlled. What better than your camera making sure that you pay attention to every shot, instead of going crazy and shooting a million frames. Nothing can be better.

Why spend so much when a 75$ Zorki 4 with Kodak Ultramax 400 (+ Orange Filter) will give me THIS!

All in all what I wanted to say is that a good photographer doesn’t need to think twice about what the camera can do. Its more important what you can do with the camera. And if you have great ideas in your mind, then don’t worry about how expensive your camera is or how advanced it is. Just take it out, have fun and believe in your self.

Also on another note, most cameras listed here are sold by Lomography. Great news is that Lomography India has opened retail in Mumbai! I have now been shooting with Lomography cameras for over a year now and finally you can get them in India with all the films too. And soon Constellation Cafe is going to be having something really amazing with Lomography India. So keep a lookout for the same! They are also on facebook and on twitter, so you can follow them there too.

8 thoughts on “5 Reasons For Dumb Camera Love

  1. Agree with every observation you have here. And it’s true, I could see my skills improve in both film and digital after working with film.

  2. great post, very well written and explained – i agree with u on all points. as i always say, no camera is better than the other, as long as u can use it to get the shots u want. im a digital user mainly, but i love using film. i got a good film SLR, and i also use a lomo LC-A.. n now ive got another couple of toy cameras (holga/diana) on the way from ebay! i just use what i need for the particular project/shoot, watever

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