My sister-in-law came to visit last weekend and wanted to visit a few thrift stores around town. I have a strange fascination with technology from the 70’s and 80’s, especially audio and photography equipment. Thrift stores such as Goodwill can provide a nearly endless supply of half-broken, ugly electronics. To be clear, if you are looking for a specific camera that you intend to use as your primary shooter, a thrift store is probably not your best bet. If you are looking for a boring, terrible, who-cares, pocket-able 35mm point and shoot camera from the ’90’s for less than $10, then you’ll be in heaven. I like to look for obscure cameras that stand out to me as a little different. I found two cameras that met my requirements.
The first, an Olympus OM-10, is not so much strange, but I like it. What I really want is an OM-1, because of it’s historic significance, but I haven’t gotten around to looking for a good one and I don’t feel like spending the money on it right now. The OM-10 is a “consumer” version of the OM-1. The significance of the OM-1 is that it was the smallest 35mm SLR of its time and it set a precedent that was followed by other camera manufacturers for years to come. The OM-10 matches the form-factor of the OM-1, but it has slightly less build quality and lacks native support for manual shutter speed adjustment. To address this, an additional “manual adapter” can be plugged into the front of the camera to provide a shutter speed setting. The camera I bought from the thrift store included the adapter. I usually shoot in aperture priority even on my DSLR, though, so the adapter is more of a “nice to have” for me. It also sells for almost as much as the OM-10 itself, so there’s that. I’m currently shooting my first roll of film with it, so I’ll write up a full report once I use it some more. The lens I’m using is a 35mm f/2.8. It’s very compact and light, but it’s not in the best condition. The rubber focus grip is coming off and the focus movement is not as smooth as I’d like. Still, the view through the viewfinder is big and bright and the entire package is very compact for an SLR, so I’m pretty happy so far.
The second camera I bought was a Fujifilm Instax 100. Introduced in 1999, the camera is Fujifilm’s answer to the Polaroid. Since Polaroid film is no more (with a resurrection in the works), Fujifilm’s Instax system provides a nice alternative for those of you who like to get your pictures instantly. Although you can’t tell from the picture, the Instax 100 is comically large (and let’s be honest, that’s why I bought it). It’s bigger than your head (probably). It also happens to be the single ugliest camera I’ve ever seen. I happen to think that cameras can be beautiful (the Kodak Retina IIa, for example), but not the Instax 100. It doesn’t matter whose eyes are beholding it, the thing is ugly. It would have been ugly in any color, but Fujifilm chose horrible shades of blue and gray to enhance the ugliness to near epic levels. When I first powered the camera on, it came up with an “E” on the LCD screen and wouldn’t respond to any button presses. I opened up the back and it looked like the cheap plastic gears that extend the lens’ front element were jammed. With some grunting, a little elbow grease, and a dash of swearing, I popped the lens back into place with a cracking sound that was loud enough to make me think I just destroyed my priceless $9.99 plastic camera. Luckily, the camera came back on without showing the dreaded “E” on the display. There were about 6 sheets of film left in the camera and I was actually able to get a few pictures from them. I’ve ordered some more film, but it runs at about $1 per sheet, so I was glad to have some free sheets to get some practice with first. This camera is so crappy in every way that it’s endearing. Here’s the experience of taking a photo with the Instax 100: 1) push power button 2) wait and pray that the “E” doesn’t show up 3) cringe while the lens grinds its way out into shooting position 4) aim the camera using the tiny, impossible-to-see-through viewfinder 5) push the flash button 6) wonder what the flash button actually does, because it seems to go off no matter what 7) push the flash button again 8 ) nothing happens 9) subject starts to get restless, probably stops smiling 10) push the shutter release 11) wait, and pray that the new grinding noise is normal 12) grab the picture from the top of the camera and wait for it to show up. 13) realize that you cut off your subject’s head 14) curse, because that shot just cost you $1 15) repeat. It may not sound like it, but I’m incredibly happy with my purchase. The Instax 100 is hilariously fun to use, and when you get a good shot (which I might eventually accomplish), it is probably quite satisfying. However, I’m scared to use this camera in public.
Both cameras were good finds, especially for thrift stores. It’s funny to me that I bought one camera renowned for its small size along with another camera that’s so comically large. If you’re feeling like you might be in a photographic rut, then go out and find a strange camera. Have fun, shoot pictures with it. Image quality isn’t everything. You may not get anything frame-worthy, but at least you’ll be shooting and having fun.