First off, I do not own a Leica. Neither do I own a Contax, a Rolleiflex, a Hasselblad or any other premium camera. I want to be clear that I do not intend to dissuade you from using those cameras, enjoying them or even buying them at their premium prices. What I really want to do for the first day of #FilmFebruary 2021, is to compose a little ode to the loyal little companions of my photographic journeys: the cheap cameras. In only four points, I hope to show you why a cheap camera can be equally as deserving of our attention and our love as an expensive camera.
1. They’re cheap (duh)
The first point is the most obvious one. Getting a cheap camera won’t make you poor, which is something I enjoy very much. It’s not a big risk to buy one, even if it turns out to be useless or defective.
I chose this point first, as it was an important one to get me to start shooting film in the first place. These cameras weren’t at all intimidating and even if I would have ended up not liking it, I would have only wasted a little bit of my hard-earned money. I think this is very close to the essence of what film photography is all about: Film photography should be accessible to all!
2. They can be taken anywhere
As Chase Jarvis wrote: “The best camera is the one that’s with you.” As an owner of an expensive camera, you might be tempted to treat it like your treasure and to shy away from any kind of danger. With a cheap camera, you won’t have to worry about any risk. It probably won’t get stolen, you don’t have to be sad if you lose it, scratches don’t matter, and if it breaks: see point 1. So, take them to the mountains, to the beach, to a rave, to your grandmother’s, take them everywhere you go!
What people might forget from time to time, is that cameras are tools. They are meant to be used. Even though they might be pretty, the art is not the camera itself, but what you make using one.
3. They’ll teach you a lot
I recently bought an East German KW Praktisix, which is a medium format SLR related to the Pentacon Six. It was listed as faulty, so I got a good deal. The shutter wouldn’t close again for certain shutter speeds. Arrogantly I assumed that it wouldn’t be that hard to fix it myself. I opened up the camera and was instantly overwhelmed by the sheer number of gears, springs and levers. As I don’t know anything about mechanics and machines, I was close to giving up. However, as I started to invest time into reading about the camera and trying to understand the workings of the mechanism, I eventually discovered a fix for the problem.
In the process, I not only learned a lot about this camera in particular, but also about mechanical contraptions in general. The same can be said with other cheap cameras, which sometimes lack fancy functions or may have unconventional quirks to them. They all broaden your horizon and show you aspects about photography you haven’t known before. All of this will lead you to understand the process of photography more closely and experience it through many different ways. Don’t forget, limitation breeds creativity.
4. They’re incredibly fun
These cameras, being born of affordable materials and creative, cost-reducing architectures, oftentimes bear a certain toy-like quality. It is no coincidence that cameras like the Holga, LOMO LC-A or even disposable cameras are still such a phenomenon around the world. That’s because you don’t utilize them, you play with them. These cameras are meant to be given around so that everybody can have a go and share the joy. The simplistic and lively designs make them all the more unrestricted and care-free to use.
Cheap cameras are full of character, at times unrefined but they’re always on your side. They offer a certain je ne sais quoi of which the bourgeois Swedish or German-built luxury-machines can only dream. They’ll shoot with love, flash with ardor and wind with personality, and they’re always ready for an adventure. Don’t let status anxiety persuade you otherwise. The cheapest camera can shoot the most vibrant picture, it’s in your hands.
Hopefully, I could paint you a picture of my deep appreciation of the more economical cameras. Although I often use more middle-class devices, I am still always drawn back to these most basic gizmos. It is astounding, how many different and obscure brands exist, the choice seems endless and the diversity almost overwhelming. There is a camera in any imaginable shape, color, and configuration. Let me give you one last reason why I like them: They make great gifts. As there is a camera for every taste, why not give the gift of film photography in the form of a cheap, but very personal camera?
Read my last post.