My toy camera: the Cardcam

My post a few days ago about ‘toy cameras’ made me dig out my own toy camera. It’s not a film camera, though, like a Lomo or a Holga; instead, it’s a crappy digital camera from a few years ago. It’s somewhat in that spirit, though, as it’s a primitive point-and-shoot camera with no controls of any kind at all (and no screen – just a viewfinder).

It’s called the Oregon Scientific Cardcam and its selling point was that it’s only the size of a credit card. Which is true — at least, it’s probably about four credit cards thick, but it’s still very cool.

Unfortunately the pictures are awful. They’re 640×480 pixels, which is limiting but not the end of the world, and because of the primitive state of flash memory technology when it was made it can only hold 26 pictures. More problematic, though, is that it doesn’t work very well with subjects which are too bright, too dark, too high contrast, too close, or too far away; the focus is rarely very sharp, even given the limitations of the resolution; the colours are erratic; and there’s a distinct distortion at the corners of the pictures. I took it skiiing a couple of times as a fun camera I could take out on the slopes with me, but even on that basis the pictures were so bad it was hardly worth it. I assume, btw, that the market for this kind of camera was pretty much wiped out by the production of cameraphones.

So does my new-found appreciation for the aesthetic qualities of photographs taken with cheap cameras extend to my cardcam? Well, here’s a selection of the more attractive ones out of two ‘rolls’ of shots I took:

Bearing in mind these are the very best ones (lots are just unusable); I don’t absolutely and unswervingly hate them, but I don’t think they’re about to start a hot new trend. In terms of an embracing-the-flaws philosophy, the distortion around the edges of the pictures is probably the most interesting thing.

It was quite entertaining playing around with it, but I think it can probably go back in the drawer again now.

Digiscoping and Lomography

I was looking back at some of my old digiscoped pictures yesterday.

‘Digiscoping’ is the trick of using your birding telescope as very high-powered telephoto lens. At the simplest level, you just hold the camera up to the eyepiece and shoot through the scope; to get the best results you need more sophisticated equipment. You could do this with a film camera, of course, but it makes it a lot easier to have a screen so you can see what you’re doing, and to know that you can just delete the ones that don’t come out.

Anyway, I was vaguely wondering what they reminded me of, other than themselves.

I realised that it was ‘toy camera’ pictures. You may not have encountered this trend, but there’s a [recent?] fashion for taking pictures with very basic old mass-market compact cameras, like the Soviet Lomo, or the Chinese Holga. The poor construction of these cameras, including plastic lenses and light leaks, produce distinctive pictures with lurid colours, dodgy focus, vignetting and other technical flaws. Which sounds crap, but actually the pictures have a rough-edged immediacy which can be very attractive.

My telescope doesn’t have plastic lenses, of course. But it wasn’t designed for taking pictures, either. And my adaptor consists of the bottom of a film canister glued into the lid of a pill bottle, with a hole cut through them. It serves to keep the camera roughly in the centre of the eyepiece, but it doesn’t keep it properly lined up along the axis of the telescope or keep it steady.

When I took them, I was doing my damnedest to take the best possible pictures despite the technical limitations of my equipment. The results aren’t going to win any wildlife photography prizes, but some of them do have something of that same weird vividness that I find attractive in toy camera pictures.

This kind of lo-fi aesthetic probably doesn’t appeal to everyone. But I might as well enjoy it in my own pictures. Not that I feel defensive about them; I enjoyed the challenge of taking them and never expected them to be anything other than holiday snaps. I’d never really tried bird photography before — they don’t make an easy subject and it’s difficult enough trying to see them normally — but if birding is the main point of a trip, it’s a treat to have a record of birds instead of just places.

I liked these pictures anyway. Does a spiffy aesthetic context make me like them any more? Should it?

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. I just wanted to note the comparison.

» All pictures are from Flickr and are links so you can click through to the relevant pages. The birdy ones are by me; the child was taken with a Holga by john.makarewicz and the Peruvian valley was taken with a LOMO by phoosh.