Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Fun With Toy Cameras

I am a film school graduate. I specialized in cinematography so I know how to compose a photograph. I know many cameras inside and out. I develop and print photos in my own darkroom. Heck, I’ve even built my own camera. So why then, would a cheap, plastic $20 camera appeal to me? In a word: Fun.

I missed the days when I would just pull out the camera and push a button. The days spent as a kid when I would effortlessly shoot anything and anyone. Sometimes I wouldn’t even look at what I was shooting. It was fun. Then there was the great surprise of picking up the prints at the drugstore and seeing exactly what I had done.
Lately, I had been getting caught up having the latest and greatest equipment. I’d lug around ten pounds worth of camera equipment to take a snapshot of my dog. It would take ten minutes or more to get everything just right. Frankly, it was getting to be a bit much. I had forgotten why I was interested in photography in the first place: the beauty of good photographs, the simplicity of the cameras and the joy of taking pictures.

At its most basic, a camera is a black box with a hole in it. The very first cameras (or camera-obscura) have been around for hundreds of years. The lenses help to make the pictures sharper, among other things, but they are not critical to a cameras most basic function - to produce an image. The film is really just a recording device like videotape or a compact disc. I had to remind myself.
I told myself that I would try to find the most basic camera I could, so that I could get back to taking the fun sort of pictures that got me interested in taking pictures in the first place. At the same time I wanted to try something different. I found a camera for $20. It isn’t like other point and shoot cameras but it does have the “basic” requirement in spades. The price was right, but what about the camera?

I picked up something called an Action Sampler. It’s very similar in size and shape and feel to a disposable camera, the kind you’d find in a tourist trap. It does have its faults, but for $20, what should you expect? The biggest problem I have with this camera is something that others might consider it part of its charm. The body is made of clear plastic, meaning that there are light leaks. Ironically, the camera has to be used outdoors in bright sunlight for any decent results – so there are light leaks galore. You get what you pay for.

By far the best and most interesting feature of the Action Sampler is that it has four lenses. The shutter rotates around the four lenses taking four separate pictures a fraction of a second apart. When the prints are developed, there are four separate pictures on every print. No special processing is required. The four shots are caught in a sequence, so it’s great for catching action, hence the name.
The “viewfinder” on it, if you can call it that, is a red plastic square mounted to the top of the camera. I never even used the thing. I just pointed the camera at something that was moving and clicked away. You can spin and shoot. Click the button and run, click and throw, anything. A roll of professional film and developing can cost as much as the camera did, so why not experiment? Just have fun.

The Action Sampler is a fun, lightweight little point and shoot camera that’s easy enough for kids to use. The fun thing about it is that each shot is a surprise. Some will have light leaks. Some will miss the action entirely. Some might not turn out at all. You just never know what you are going to get. For me it was a breath of fresh air. It’s something I can fit in my pocket and take anywhere. I can shoot anything, anywhere, at any time. Just like when I was a kid. Imagine that, freedom for the bargain-basement price of twenty dollars.

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