Who is behind D18-Foto?
Dennis Eighteen is a part time photographer and writer, living in Berlin, Germany. He runs a YouTube channel and webpage on amateur photography, which can be found at www.d18-foto.com. He uses both analog as well as digital cameras. On his webpage he calls himself a „friend of digital and a lover of analog photography.” Accordingly, most of his work is shot on film.
His camera collection ranges from Minolta SLRs to Agfa box cameras and from toycameras to professional medium format equipment. Twin-lens-reflex’s, and compacts and vintage Polaroid cameras also fill his shelves.
Dennis spends many hours browsing flea markets, eBay and thrift stores. He is constantly on the lookout for interesting and often quirky vintage cameras. Unlike many collectors, he buys them to shoot, not to be admired on a shelf.
If you want to stay low-fi but want to take it up a notch, you might enjoy playing around with toycameras. These cameras are made out of plastic, are cheaply made and sport a simple plastic meniscus lens. Toycameras usually have limited settings; there will likely be one to three aperture settings. They are usually designated for sunny, cloudy and partly cloudy conditions. Toycameras normally have just one shutter speed, between 1/50th to 1/100th of a second. Because of the poor quality and the wear and tear on the spring-loaded shutter, that speed can vary wildly. Some cameras have a bulb-mode for long exposures and focusing is done by turning the lens. A zone system helps you guess, but not more.
The most common toycameras are the Diana and Holga. The Diana was first produced in the 1960s by the Great Wall Plastic Factory in China, which was not a camera maker by any stretch of the imagination. Great Wall was a company cranking out cheap plastic toys and novelty items for trade shows and carnivals. The Diana was produced in huge numbers and sold around the world for about one dollar a piece. Nowadays you can find models from that era at yard sales and thrift stores very cheaply or online from $20-80. I suggest, you do not pay more than $30-40. These cameras are old, are made of plastic and have a simple spring as a shutter mechanism. So, you might buy a dud.
The Holga was produced in the 1980s in Hong Kong. It was meant to be sold in mainland China. The idea was to make a very cheap camera so everyone in China could buy one.
Both the Holga and the Diana use 120 medium format films and come with a very low-quality plastic lens. Therein lays the magic! The plastic lens does everything you would normally try to avoid. It is not very sharp, and the sharpness varies from camera to camera. Some have a sharp spot in the center of the frame. Others are just blurry. Fans call that blurriness „dreamy.” Reflections and refractions of the plastic cause strange color shifts and weird contrasts. You will also get vignettes, meaning darkening of the corners of the images. Adding to the „flaws” of the lens are the common light leaks, which occur because of the poor build of the camera body. Light creeps in through the seams of the plastic.
Dianas as well as the Holgas are both afflicted with these imperfections. The Holga is a bit sturdier than the Diana but otherwise they are true sisters.
Why, oh why would anyone want one of those crappy plastic cameras? Well, just look at the images. All the flaws add up to a very cool and truly artsy look. These plastic boxes with all their limitations are capable of creating stunning photographs. (With the assistance of a talented photographer, of course!) Go to flickr.com or lomography.com and you will be blown away by the beautiful images taken with the crappiest of cameras.
Vintage Dianas can be found in thrift stores, and flea markets. You can also get lucky on eBay. However there is always the risk that they don’t work. The average Diana is 50 years old and made of plastic. So, sometimes you will be disappointed. Old Dianas are collectible, but please do not pay more than $30! If you want you can also buy a newly made Diana clone. Lomography makes and sells the Diana F+, which is also quite nice and actually comes with a pinhole option.
Holgas can also be bought used. Lomography sells new models as well, but you can cut costs by buying Holgas directly from the Holga Company. Even some camera stores like „B and H” in New York City sell new models at a much lower price than Lomography.
Besides the Big Two, the Holga and Diana, there is wide selection of toycameras to discover. Many of them use 35mm film, which is cheaper and easier to buy and get developed. There are crazy cameras with multiple lenses, so called „action samplers” and panorama cams as well as 35-mm Holga models. Toycam central is Lomography’s online store as well as eBay.