Despite the rise of digital photography, disposable cameras have never gone away, although their function has been largely replaced by smartphones. But if you want the true analog vibe for your snapshots and don’t want to buy a used 35mm camera or fiddle with the controls, check out the Lomography Simple Use Film Camera Color Negative 400 (16, $90). It won’t deliver the images you get with a vintage Leica or Nikon, but if you like the grainy results you get with a plastic lens and color negative film, it’s worth a try.
The Simple Use Film Camera is a handheld shooter with very basic controls and features. It’s made of lightweight black plastic, with a sky blue sticker identifying it as the Color Negative version. Lomography also sells the same camera preloaded with black-and-white film for the same price, and loaded with its unique LomoChrome Purple film for $21.90. Unsurprisingly, the black and white edition has a black sticker, and the LomoChrome Purple edition is finished in a light purple that ties the magenta together.
All three versions of the camera measure 2.5 x 4.5 x 1.3 inches (HWD) and weigh a few ounces. The lens is a 31mm with a fixed f/9 aperture and a fixed focus of about 3.3 feet (1 meter) to infinity. The shutter still fires at 1/120 second, so you should have no problem freezing motion, but you’ll want to use the flash in any situation except on very bright days.
There aren’t many controls to talk about. The flash is charged by holding a button on the front and it must be charged before each shot. The film is advanced using the wind-up dial on the back and you release the shutter using the release button on top. A fixed optical viewfinder is used to frame the shots.
The Simple Use is sold as a disposable camera, and you can definitely drop it off at the photo lab and throw it away after you finish the 36 photo roll. But you can recharge it and use it again and again if you want – it’s just a delicate process, and not officially supported or guaranteed by Lomography.
You will need to open the camera by cutting out a sealed sticker at the bottom. A latch on the side releases a latch and the back pulls away from the front on a hinge. You need to remove the used, pre-loaded film cartridge – it will pop out easily – and insert a new roll in its place.
There is a small plastic notch on the take-up spool, which you will need to match up with a sprocket hole on the film leader. After that, turn the reel with your fingers until you are sure that the film has caught on the reel, close the camera and use the wind-up lever at the bottom to move all the unexposed film to the coil. That’s a step back from non-disposable 35mm cameras, which unroll film to start and rewind when one roll is finished.
Image quality: grainy and gritty
The Simple Use is loaded with Lomography’s ISO 400 color negative film. It offers good saturation, but shows a lot of grain. Add to that a wide-angle lens with a sharp center and very soft edges and you get very different images from the digital output. The combination makes the images look a little grainy, like your camera is capturing the world through the lens of a seedy Las Vegas casino. It’s definitely not an aesthetic that will appeal to everyone. Even shots of natural beauty, like water lilies on a pond and cherry blossoms in full bloom, look a little seedy.
Everything is in focus, assuming it’s far enough away from the lens. You won’t get any bokeh with a 31mm f/9. This adds to the ease of use – what you see through the viewfinder is what you get, as long as you’re not trying to focus on something that’s too close to the lens.
You can add some color to your shot by using the gels that are attached to the body. You can use a single color (magenta, cyan or yellow) or use two gels together to change the color. Cyan and yellow will cause green, magenta, and cyan to combine into a deep purple, and you’ll get a reddish tint if you go for yellow and magenta together.
Getting film developed can be a challenge, depending on where you live. In Manhattan, it was enough to walk a block and pay $8 for a development-only service. I scan negatives at home using the Plustek Optic Film 120. But we don’t all live near a big city. Your local pharmacy has probably discontinued their C41 (color negative) film processing at this point, so make sure you have a convenient location for processing film before you jump in and buy a 35mm camera. If you are developing at home, the black and white version is probably better suited, unless you have experience with the temperature control needed to properly develop color film at home.
Conclusions: Fun, cheap, easy
That says a lot that the most difficult aspects of using the Lomography Simple Use Film Camera Color Negative 400 are finding a place to develop your film and, if you want to save money in the long run, the reload with a new roll of film. It’s a fun camera you can pass around at parties, put in your pocket for a walk around town or the park, or hand out to guests at a wedding.
If you love the film aesthetic, but not so much that you want a real 35mm camera, the Lomography Simple Use is a fun way to dip your toes in the pool. If you like it, but want more, there are plenty of vintage DSLRs on the market, or you can go for something a little more modern. Lomography makes a number of film cameras, some basic like La Sardina, and others for more advanced photographers like the LC-A 120 medium format.
Lomography Simple Use Film Camera Color Negative 400
The Lomography Simple Use Film Camera Color Negative 400 is a pocket-sized semi-disposable 35mm film camera. It’s fun, inexpensive and easy to use.
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