I have two small ( 2 and 4 ) children and more than two various size cameras. Having cameras all over the place and seeing dad taking bad photos of nonsensical things makes an impact on children. Especially my older daughter who also wants to take pictures of things. Which camera is the best for that?
First I gave her my wifes' ( with her permission! ) old Pentax Optio RZ18. It's a small point and shoot digital camera that is amazing because it's made by Pentax. It has some zoom, a tiny sensor and other various features, but only 3 features matter to my daughter:
- it must turn on and off;
- shutter release button must take a photo;
- there has to be a way to see the taken photos.
I'm disappointed and very sad about the last one. She must get that from her mother. I am against violence in raising children but it could be appropriate here. I will not raise a "chimper"!
Anyway, this Pentax works well for my daughter. It does everything by itself and suits her needs like a well fitting glove. She even filled the whole SD card. Granted, the SD card is not gigantic but it's not like the Pentax from 2011 is creating massive JPG files.
An Analog Prop
My daughter was, and still is, happy using the Pentax but she can tell that the cameras I'm using are not quite the same as her Pentax. Whilst it is made from the best photo company that ever existed, it's not exactly a mechanical god of a camera that her dad is using. She wanted to use something that resembled what I used so I gave her a Revueflex AC X camera ( also known as Chinon CA-4 ). It's an aperture priority only camera that's not too dissimilar to Pentax MV1. Pentax MV1 is much better though. I attached Auto Revuenon 28-50mm f3.5-4.5 to it and a camera and lens combo was ready. The camera had the potential of falling so I had to provide something that I wouldn't be sad about breaking. I didn't load any film in it because an almost manual camera ( it's aperture priority so not all manual ) would not be the best next step after a point and shoot. My daughter was, once again, happy to play around with it. Even if it doesn't take any photos.
Piece Of Plastic S**t
After going through some old junk I found an old, used disposable camera. It's in ugly, toxic green and transparent color. It has Ferrania Solaris branding so it probably had Ferrania color film in it at some point. I have no idea how old it is and when I shot it but it still exists in a pure shell-like form. Without thinking too much about it I also gave it to my daughter to play with. It couldn't actually do anything but it was still good enough to play with. If you open it up and manually cock the shutter ( it would be done as part of winding the film, but with no film, there was no way to do this without opening the camera ) then you can release it with a silent "click" which my daughter ( and I ) liked.
At some point I thought that it might be fun to inject some life into the plastic disposable camera. For film cameras life's film. Shooting analog might get rid of the abysmal habit of chimping!
I loaded the camera with Kodak TMAX400. I didn't know what film was in the camera "from the factory". ISO 400 seemed like a good choice to use. It wouldn't work indoors but outside would be good enough. Most disposable cameras are stupid and only have a single aperture and shutter speed. They rely on film latitude to actually produce usable images.
Loading a single-use, disposable camera isn't as easy as loading a regular 35mm camera. You have to do it in a dark bag or any place without light particles. That's because you have to spool the whole roll onto the spool in the camera. As you advance the film it actually goes inside the film canister. It may seem weird but it's actually smart for a disposable camera. It means that exposed pictures will be rolled into the light-proof canister. If the camera gets destroyed for some reason ( it's not that hard to do with a cheap plastic disposable ) then the pictures are protected.
I was also generous with the amount of tape I used to ensure that no unwanted light could get in. It also helped to ensure that the camera wouldn't be opened by various small hands that lurk around my house.
With the camera loaded it was time to get shootin'!
My daughter liked using the camera. Analog photography is coded into our DNA. With the digital Pentax she used to shoot many, many photos. Often of the same thing. With this disposable she didn't do that. I probably advised her to not do so but children don't always listen so this proves that it's in the DNA!
Using the camera is easy. All you need to do is rotate a dial to advance the film and cock the shutter and then press the shutter release button. Framing is done through a small viewfinder. It's easier to use than the digital Pentax.
It took several months to finish the whole 36 frame roll. Sometimes my daughter would forget about the camera and we would have to remind her of its existence. Sometimes she would ask us to give her this camera to use. It was a nice experience. She could be completely autonomous when using the camera.
Film Developing Tactics
I didn't know what ISO film the camera was expecting. This can mean only one thing. Stand development! I know that many people don't like this technique but it shines for this type of thing. Stand development would normalize most mistakes and deliver the most usable results. I did a 1:100 dilution Rodinal mix for an hour. It was actually a semi-stand development as I did 4 inversions at the 30 minute mark ( or around there ). I also did 10 inversions at the very beginning.
This film was developed with another roll. Another bonus of stand development as you can develop different black and white films in the same tank, at the same time.
I wasn't sure if I would get any results. The camera was ancient. It could've had light leaks. The shutter might be half broken. Maybe it was meant for an ISO 6* film or maybe ISO 3200* ( * I don't believe there are any disposable cameras with these ISOs ). I was relieved when I saw that the roll had well exposed photos on it.
Outside the niceness that exposure was well controlled, the results are as expected for a disposable camera. They are not particularly sharp. Focus is somewhere but it doesn't appear to be at infinity. Ultimately the results are acceptable for the type of camera this is.
If you have children interested in photography then a disposable camera is a fun project. It's easy to use and you don't have to fear that something will break. Chances are that it will break at some point but there isn't a large financial stake riding on the camera. If you do end up using it, I ask you to not throw away the camera after finishing a roll. I know that "disposable" is in the name but one-time things should be banned. It's not that difficult to spool a new film inside the camera.
As for the photographic future of my children. I will continue to work on my daughter to exorcise the chimping practices. It might be time to try a real film camera some time soon. One where you can focus by turning a lens. Both aperture and exposure should be camera controlled. My son is a bit too young for photographic journeys but the time will come when a disposable camera will be in his hands as well.
Would I be interested in shooting a full roll on a disposable camera? No.