The mediageek’s World Toy Camera Day adventure

Today was the 2011 edition of World Toy Camera Day, an annual celebration of plastic cameras that were never intended for serious use. But in this era of powerful digital cameras and endless Photoshopping, many people, like myself, have embraced the imperfection and random chance introduced by toy cameras that refuse to let you control their functions like a good SLR would. To me WTCD is not anti-SLR or a jeremiad against careful, well-planned and executed photography. Rather, is a day to embrace that there are many approaches to photography and art, and sometimes focusing only on what’s in the viewfinder without any ability to adjust exposure, zoom or even focus, can be refreshing and fun.

sign_of_flareI’ve celebrated WTCD in some form for about five years now. I have only a small stable of toy cameras. While I greatly enjoy them, I don’t need to have too many, because it’s a rare toy that performs that differently than the others. Unfortunately, as I packed up for today’s WTCD excursion I found that one of my planned companions, my Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim, was a little broken. It’s take up reel seemed not to be moving in tandem with the thumbwheel, meaning I would be hard pressed to exposure more than one shot. The Viv is much beloved by toy camera enthusiasts because it has a unique combination of utter plastic crappiness combined with a very wide 22mm lens that flares like hell when the sun is anywhere near it. I bought mine for a buck at a thrift store. I believe its previous owner probably got it for free as a freebie gift with a magazine subscription.

The UW&S became a cult item after Vivitar quit making them, driving up used and old-stock prices above $30, which is absurd for a camera that has the build quality of a gumball machine toy. Now there are Japanese knockoffs available in cute colors for about $30, but I’m not sure I’m willing to drop that kind of coin. I may attempt a fix of my UW&S, but this afternoon wasn’t the time.

Paul Frank is Your Friend CameraI went looking for a couple of other toys and found neither of them was functioning correctly either. My Paul Frank Julius the Monkey camera actually has a motor wind mechanism and fresh batteries didn’t seem to make it run. A friend gave me a version of the famous Time Magazine camera last year. I had yet to put film through it and found this afternoon that it was good for only one shutter fire. Maybe it just needs some WD-40. But again, time was awasting, so I put it back in the box.

Blackbird wants to flyLuckily the wonderful Blackbird, Fly 35mm TLR my wife gave me last year is still in fine functioning condition. So I loaded her up with film and was ready to go.

However, I do like to have at least two cameras on me for World Toy Camera Day. That’s because some shots need a different focal length or sometimes I keep different film in the different cameras, sometimes loading up one with black and white an another with color. The Blackbird, Fly takes photos in a portrait angle, unlike the landscape position of most 35mm cameras. It has a moderately wide lens at 33mm, which means you need to get close to your subject.

Pencam Glamour ShotWithout another film toy camera at my disposal I decided that this would be the first year I’d allow myself a digital camera. Luckily I have a digital camera that pretty much fits the bill as a toy. My Aiptek Pencam SD has long been out of production, sporting just 1.3 megapixels of resolution, but conveniently recording photos to an SD card, making it easier to transfer to a computer. It’s lens is tiny and plastic, and it was never marketed as a serious camera. Instead it was a cheap drugstore alternative to much more expensive digital cameras back when it was new in the early 2000s.

Lady's TailorNow equipped with my Blackbird, Fly loaded with 400 speed Walgreen’s film and my Pencam SD I headed out to North Lincoln Ave in Chicago to celebrate WTCD with a few hours of photowalking. I truly enjoy having the time to just walk and take photos of interesting things I find. As I focus on locating subjects and then composing pictures all my other thoughts and worries melt away. It’s very relaxing and satisfying.

I have to take my film in to get processed, but my Pencam SD photos are already edited. In the spirit of not Photoshopping, these pics are unedited. In particular, I did no cropping whatsoever. The viewfinder of the Pencam is only sorta accurate, but to crop later would for me spoil the spirit of WTCD, which is to embrace the lack of complete control. You can check out my growing set of WTCD 2011 photos at flickr.

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