Saturday, 24 May 2014


Remember? This site is not about gear proper, but about ways of shooting, preferably innovative ways. Gear is just the means to it.

For many, i.e. in the DPReview's forums cameras are toys they collect, hardly tools by the bad pictures they show in their galleries. Instead they are happy to shoot brick walls, or compare the fur of their pets, to show that their lenses are sharper than the Joneses', or have better bokeh.

I read about people that have 30 cameras, others who changed them one after the other every few months, and yet those are the very people who will treat with contempt Lomo cameras, and other so called toy cameras.

One day, because I was attracted by the Lartigue Effect

Lartigue Effect on a suburban train, with the EZ F521
I decided to buy the Yashica EZ F521 directly from Japan, at Japan Exposures for just $ 89. Japan Exposures is a real treasure trove, where you can find some of the best film cameras, including medium format, and some of the most delightful toy cameras - in a very eccentric Japanese style.

Photographer and Gallerist Shimya Arimoto, courtesy Japan Exposures
Note their sophisticated taste in cameras here:

The Yashica is a very simple affair, 5 Mpx, 2 focus positions, auto diaphragm, and an electronic shutter. When objects travel across the lens faster than the electronic scanning of the frame, they will be deformed, because the scanning of the bottom will come later than that of the top.

The F521 also includes some 'art effects' like high contrast B&W, which will simplify greatly the image. And there lies the interest for the experimental artist: instead of adding it substracts image elements, and thus it allows *more* predictability. High contrast  will flatten the image, giving more relevance with one plane only. Note that this Chinese camera can uprez resolution to 10 Mpx, by binning the pixels.
The other advantage is that nobody you point the camera at will believe you can possibly have any serious intent.

Some F521 shots on Google

Note the effect if you swipe the camera across tall buildings.
See here an interesting review, by American Peyote:

In the end I sold it to a v. interested local photographer for the same price I bought it. There is some unspoken agreement among fans, that these are precious cameras., not to be wasted away.
The same might be said of the Lomo cameras, originally from Russia, and made for the masses, but later to become collectors' items.

Now this is the Russian ancestor of all toyz:

I will hereby quote directly from Wikipedia:

"The only automatic function offered by the LC-A is exposure. Film loading, winding, rewinding, focus are accomplished manually. Aperture can also be set manually, the shutter speed being fixed at 1⁄60 s (this ability was removed from the LC-A+).

Exposure is completely automatic when the camera is set to "A"; the shutter speeds range from 2 minutes to 1⁄500 s. The aperture range is f/2.8 to f/16. The automatic exposure system compensates for changes in light levels after the shutter is opened by increasing or decreasing the shutter speed. This, in conjunction with the rear-curtain flash-sync, results in interesting effects with flash photography in low ambient light levels.
The lens is focused by selecting one of four zones (0.8 m, 1.5 m, 3 m or ∞). Older versions of the camera feature viewfinder icons showing the currently selected focus zone, a feature omitted from later models."

Courtesy Pedro Costa Neves. flickr
"In 1991, a group of Viennese students discovered the Lomo LC-A and were "charmed by the unique, colorful, and sometimes blurry" images that the camera produced. The Lomographic Society International was subsequently founded in 1992.[4] After a series of international art exhibitions culminating in shows in New York City and Moscow.

Lomography signed an exclusive distribution agreement with LOMO PLC in 1995 — thereby becoming the sole distributor of all Lomo LC-A cameras outside of the former Soviet Union.The new company reached an agreement with the deputy mayor of St Petersburg, the future Russian Prime Minister and President, Vladimir Putin, to receive a tax break in order to keep the LOMO factory in the city open.

Typical Lomography cameras are deliberately low-fidelity and constructed to make sure their mechanics are not too technical. Some cameras make use of multiple lenses and rainbow-colored flashes, or exhibit extreme optical distortions and even light leaks."

The ten Golden Rules of Lomography:

Take your camera everywhere you go

Use it any time – day or night

Lomography is not an interference in your life, but part of it

Try the shot from the hip

Approach the objects of your lomographic desire as close as possible

Don’t think (by William Firebrace)

Be Fast

You don’t have to know beforehand what you captured on film

Afterwards either

Don’t worry about any rules

Although I use digital cameras only, I  made these rules mine long before rediscovering them in the Lomography site. They make a *lot* of difference with the traditional way of shooting, and the camera's small size is part of it, the 'always with you' practical concept.
Ingenuity can go a long way, although I remember I had a Lomo in the film era, and I never did much with it :)
I suspect that the easiness of digital effects in PP might be a factor in their rediscovery.

Midbrow owners from the Canon and Nikon cult have often referred about mirrorless as toy cameras, because of their small sensor. In fact we mirrorless owners wear it as a badge of honour, considering that with a small sensor we can do as much as with a 24x 36 size, which was only justified in film.

The toyish aspect I relish are Olympus' Art filters that allow such things as Cross Process, Dramatic Tone, Diorama, a miniaturizing effect, etc. It's like having a toy camera built inside a serious camera, when you have one of those creativity moments, or Total Recall :)

Strolling at Piazza Vittorio with the Key Line Filter
Filters allow you that degree of *estrangement* that slows down perception of the image, and make you enjoy it more.

Lomography, which opened a shop in New York not long ago, has also a set of lenses for m4/3 allowing not only colourful  effects, but also double exposures:
The Phoblographer has a short review here.
Doesn't seem to overly like the plastic lenses, but as I mentioned one must have a sense of humour or at least of understatement to enjoy these things. Plus you get 3 lenses for $ 96!

Here is a more positive one, in the spirit one must have from the start. Judge for yourself:

I would probably get only the fisheye to do crazy double exposures. My E-M5 has the feature, but its cumbersome to enact, while with the Lomo lenses you just cranck the shutter by hand, like in old film cameras of the thirties, the Compur shutter!

This lomography shop has two other beauties. The Konstruktor, which is a Lego reflex camera that you assemble by hand. $ 59 only, but you have to sweat over it!

And the Sardinas, sardine boxes with different *dresses* , which are the smart wacky NY reincarnation of the Russian Lomos for the proles !

I invite you to visit both the Japanese and the NY toy cameras sites for their eccentricity. Nothing better when one is suffering from one of those creativity black outs, than to use toy cameras, and be wacky!
Note that there are some cameras with real potential like the Belair X 6x12 Medium Format:

By comparison the serious collectors of boring cameras will keep shooting their brick walls till the End of Time. Just get yourself one of those like the Japanese or Chinese frilly Camera Joshi who enjoy acting wacky and childish, and enjoy the ride.

One of these days I'all also do a piece on how freestyle and compact cameras changed our photographic style. For now have a look at this American photographer, J DeWitt, working with a Lomo:

From J DeWitt's Lomo album, at flickr

Now the big question: NYTimes will Supply its Staff Photographers with Lomography’s Holga Cameras? 

Really? Read more here 

 LOL, ToYZ  is getting mainstream!

PS I  forgot about Otto the toy camera which is entirely programmable and hackable from your iPhone:

You can add special effects in its own social site, to the GIF uncompressed format it shoots with. Clever!


  1. Great use of the cameras' personalities!

    I'm still a "technical" photographer, and can't stand any "effects" in my own shots... some day I will be brave enough to branch out. Thanks for being a positive role model.

  2. To me concept is more important than resolution, and that is a result of Conceptual Art, which I'll try to illustrate in another post.
    Resolution can still be an option, but it's not an absolute benchmark to define communication.