The Toy Camera Revolution Hits Vancouver

Toy cameras have come back with vengeance and are keeping film photography popular. 

Credit: Matt Law

The Diana toy camera is one of the most popular on the market

Toy cameras are making a big comeback in Vancouver


Walking down the streets of Vancouver, it seems like every second person is toting the latest and greatest digital SLR camera from Canon or Nikon.

With the advent of digital photography, getting that ‘perfect shot’ has become a daily occurrence for anyone who knows how to press a button. But there is a photography subculture that has been gaining followers since the first ‘toy’ camera, the Kodak Brownie, was introduced in 1900.


Toy cameras have been around for over 100 years

Throughout the late 1900s a number of toy cameras were made from things like Bakelite and plastic. The Diana, introduced in the 1960s, is regarded as one of the most famous toy cameras. It was produced in Hong Kong, branded with many different names, and was often given away as a novelty prize. Twenty years later, the Holga was introduced and gained an equally large cult following.

These cameras were cheep, flimsy and often produced unexpected results when the film was developed. Light leaked through the plastic bodies and the lenses were blurry and dark. But these ‘imperfections’ are what have made toy cameras so popular for both hobbyists and professionals.

Ansel Adams, regarded as one of the greatest landscape photographers, began shooting with a Brownie when he was only 14 years old. David Burnette, a world-recognized photojournalist, has taken many stunning and award-winning photos with his Holga.


Toy Cameras

The Holga is capable of taking award-winning photos. (Image: Flickr / rahuldlucca)

Beau Photo, on West 6th Avenue in Vancouver, began carrying Holgas in the early 2000s. Since then, their toy camera department has grown to include close to 30 different makes and models. Denis Ha, film sales manager at Beau Photo, says they are selling hundreds of them each year. But who’s buying these cheap cameras?

“Students, artist, enthusiasts and professional photographers; anyone interested in something low tech,” says Ha. “Demand brought the cameras back in.”

While it might not be readily apparent, toy cameras have several advantages over their digital counterparts.

“They’re cheap as a camera, and (there is) the manual and spontaneous aspect of the photography,” says Ha. “All the settings are fixed so there’s not much you have to deal with in terms of settings, and a lot of the time the photographs you get in the end don’t come out as you’d expect.”

Because of the cameras’ low-tech nature, light leaks and plastic lenses, the photographs have a retro, vintage quality to them.

“You get mistakes too, but those mistakes might add to the image,” says Ha.


Feeling nostalgic? Toy cameras are perfect for old-school photographers

Today, most digital cameras, camera-phone apps and photo editing software have a toy camera mode. Even digital shooters are seeking the artistic look of film shot with these cameras. But Ha says you won’t have the same experience editing with software as you would shooting film.

“It allows you to think about your image, consider your framing, whereas with a digital camera you can always re-shoot or edit it in Photoshop later,”

he says. “With analogue cameras you have to think about it in a different way.

Ha’s personal favourite is the Lomo LC-A; a compact camera that he says was once used as a Russian spy camera.

One of the most unique cameras in the store is the Lomography Spinner 360  — a camera that spins 360 degrees and captures a complete panoramic photo on 35mm film.