Plastic Toy Cameras

I mentioned in my Retro Digital Cameras hub that I finally made the jump to digital not to long ago, but I still shoot film fairly frequently. And while I do have a really nice Nikon lying around, I almost always end up shooting with either my Polaroid SLR or one of my cheap toy cams.

My favorite tool is the Holga with a Polaroid back. It is so big and bulky when I'm out and about that it makes for quizzical looks, both when I'm shooting and when I'm pulling Polaroid film out of the back of it. But I love the pictures and this is why lots of photographers, both professional and amateur, like to play with plastic toy cameras. They make fun and very different looking photos from the overly slick digital stuff.

So here's an introduction to a couple of different plastic toy cameras that are fairly cheap and lots of fun to play with. They are medium format cameras, which means that they have nice large negatives (much bigger than 35mm) and the images are usually square. They can take rectangular shaped photos as well, but many photographers who work with medium format choose to shoot the square. You'll need to buy 120 film to work with these.

Lomo Diana Camera Reproduction
Lomo Diana Camera Reproduction

The Diana Camera

Produced in the 1960s by the Great Wall Camera Company in China, the Diana camera used to be sent to subscribers of Reader's Digest. Usually regarded as the camera that started the toycam craze, it has been out of manufacture for about 25 years.

As the camera became more popular among plastic enthusiasts, it's selling price on places like Ebay shot up dramatically, far in excess of what you'd expect from it's photographic abilities!

But now the company that is most responsible for exploiting the plastic camera craze, Lomographic, have made a replica of the original Diana. The price is a bit out of line for what a plastic camera should sell for (about $25-30 bucks is my max), but this does mean that there will be less demand for the original camera which means that one should be much easier to get at a decent price on Ebay.

If I had room in my collection for another toycam, I'd probably look for the original Diana at this point.

The Holga Camera

The Holga is another medium format toy camera manufactured in China. It was introduced in the 80s and it features a cheap plastic lens and very cheap plastic construction. It's prone to light leaks and the back of the camera can fall off at any moment.

None of this stopped its adoption by the photography community though. Because it is so cheap, it is an ideal camera to just open up and start modding yourself. Some photographers repaint the inside of it with non-reflective black paint to cut down on some of the light bouncing around and many tape up the seams and the film indicator panel during use in order to cut down on some of the light leaks. When I use it, I also wrap some strong rubber bands around its body to minimize the frequency of losing the back of the camera -- especially when I have my Polaroid back attached to it.

I use my Holgas (I have a few!) mostly for Polaroid photography. I have a Polaroid back that I can attach to it and it takes really beautiful photos with a sort of vintage, ethereal feel to them. Now that Polaroid is no longer manufacturing film, I'll be attempting to get more familiar with 120 film, so there's a whole new journey ahead of me.

The photos featured below were all taken by me with a Holga and a Polaroid back. If you decide to buy a Polaroid back for your Holga, stock up on Polaroid film before it is no longer available, or get your hands on the Fuji film in the same size.

My Holgaroid Photography

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Comments 7 comments

monitor profile image

monitor 8 years ago from The world.

I remember being given one of the Diana cameras when I was young. I treated it as a toy but now see it is not. Wonder where it is?Thank you.Mon.

Raven King profile image

Raven King 8 years ago from Cabin Fever

I like it when these kinds of "toys" are put to good use. These photos look vintage and could be in an art gallery. My favorite photo is the airstream travel trailer. Did you develop the film in your own dark room?

embitca profile image

embitca 8 years ago from Boston Author

Raven, thank you, glad you like the photos, and we have the same favorite. *g* That Airstream shot is probably one of the best photos I've ever taken. But I love the vintagey look of the photos that come from the holga in general.

These pics were all taken on Polaroid film so no dark room work necessary. They develop instantly after pulling the film from the camera. It's the Polaroid peel-apart film.

The Airstream photo was then scanned into photoshop at high resolution and I touched the levels slightly and removed dust specs in order to make a decent digital negative for printing at larger sizes. 

Raven King profile image

Raven King 8 years ago from Cabin Fever

Super cool. Thanks for the info.

hubranger profile image

hubranger 6 years ago from Yorkshire, UK

Holgas rock. Love it.

KB0202 profile image

KB0202 6 years ago

i love my holga and my diana. but sadly i haven't had the chance to develop any of my photographs taken with my diana F+

StephenSMcmillan profile image

StephenSMcmillan 5 years ago

They look like the original cameras. Nice hub.

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