My Journey with the New Kodak Single Use Black & White Camera
by Charys Schuler.
I soon found myself looking around me with completely different eyes, enjoying thinking about compositions in black and white…
I’ll be honest with you — I was presented this new Kodak single use camera and told that I would be the one to test it, even though I am against single use products on principle. Also, I am not a professional photographer, and didn’t see why I was a good choice to test a new Kodak product that has the word “Professional” scrawled across the front of the packaging. (OK, it’s a brand and not a designation, but still.)
I stuck the thing in my handbag, thinking I’d test it when the opportunity arose — and promptly forgot about it for a few weeks.
The next time I thought about it, I was on a long train journey, going through the old sales receipts in the bottom my handbag. (This is pretty much the only situation in which I clear out the bottom of my handbag.) And surprise! There was this camera amongst the detritus. With an inner grumble, I unpacked it, looked at the very basic functions — shutter release, flash charge, and winder — and put it straight back into my bag, thinking vaguely that I’d find some use for it on my trip.
A few days later, I found myself walking through an eclectic, visually interesting section of Berlin on my way back to the train station. I hadn’t expected to have time or opportunity to make any “real” photos, so I didn’t even have my precious little folding Balda CE35 with me. Then I remembered that I needed to try out this new Kodak product, the fixed focus would be no-fuss, and it did have a lovely Tri-X film in it.
My first thought when I looked through the viewfinder was, “Where the heck does the image stop?” I squidged the camera back and forth in front of my eye, trying to find the frame, then shrugged, guessed, and released the shutter.
But now comes the amazing part. Film photography magic inhabits the lowliest of cameras. I soon found myself looking around me with completely different eyes, enjoying thinking about compositions in black and white, and happy to have a high-speed film on the very gray German morning. There was something happy-go-lucky about walking around without a light meter or a choice of lenses. I needed to cross several busy streets at odd places to be able to frame the shots I wanted, but I found myself really loving the experience.
When I got to the train station, I used the flash for the first time — and then, unexpectedly, for the second. Apparently, when it is charged, it flashes until it has fully discharged, whether you want it to or not. This wasn’t a problem outdoors, of course, but it’s a good thing to know.
After I had exposed the last of the 27 frames, I found myself looking forward to seeing the results. Fortunately, the camera can be opened easily, and the film was developed the same day I got back home.
During this process, several advantages presented themselves. The camera spools the film into the cartridge so that if something goes wrong and you need to open the camera before you are at the end of the roll, the shots you have made will be saved. Also, although it is sold as a single use camera, it could easily be reloaded, and even the batteries could be replaced.
When I saw the scans, I was pleasantly surprised. The 30mm dual-element F10 lens got pretty good results with its 1/125th shutter speed, even under the lackluster, flat gray sky.
It started to dawn on me that I was able to carry it in my handbag for weeks without even noticing because it is so light and compact. Another advantage was that I didn’t need to worry about it being scratched up by the odd pen or car keys. Maybe there really was a place in my heart for this little camera after all.
That still doesn’t make it a “Professional” device. But while mulling over my experience with it, I recalled Steffen Diemer, a large format artist featured in the Special 1st Edition of SilvergrainClassics, saying that he often collected single use cameras and reloaded them for use in his workshops. His students were forced to go back to the basics of seeing, composing, and storytelling instead of being getting caught up in the intricacies of large format photography.
I generally try to avoid letting myself be prejudiced, but I must admit that I was almost determined to hate this camera. In the end, though, I’m glad I was forced to give it a try. I may well get another one to forget in the depths of my handbag.
Images © Charys Schuler 2021
You might also be interested in our article on how to shoot expired film. see https://silvergrainclassics.com/en/2020/08/how-to-shooting-expired-film/
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