Ah ! Christmas is almost upon us. With Black Friday arriving tomorrow what to get your film photog family and friends. Well here is my list of 12 cameras that won’t break the budget and will add some lo-fi analogue sparkle to your loved ones festive shooting.
These are all basic models that can sourced for less than £100GBP. I’ve included over a dozen more alternatives in this list.
Be aware I confess I do get commission on any link that goes to Amazon. Also the LensFayre I was sent to test (but not tied to comment on). As to the Amazon & other links, there are other sellers are available and may be cheaper still. I have included some of the best prices I could find pre Black Friday in November 2023 on a range of UK suppliers.
All title headers of my 12 lead to my reviews.
The orgins of these so called Recesky TLR clones are a bit unclear. What is definite is that they appeared around 2009 when a Japanese magazine Otona no Kagaku (大人の科学) gave away the famous Gakkenflex camera with issue 25.
Sold under various brands names today. These are not as cheap to source as once was. You get a simple kit to make a fully functioning and focusable plastic 35mm TLR. The easiest & cheapest one I could find was the Eight innovation one on Amazon which looks like the Haynes manual one I got almost decade ago
- The “I made this” feel
- Shoddy build -expect leaks and winding issues
- Focusing screen not great
- Fixed exposure
- Lomography Konstruktor– Plastic simple SLR that’s DIY. Fiddly build and watch those springs. £28-35
- Lomography LomoMod No.1– Cardboard 120 film camera with a fluid fillable Sutton lens. Some build issues. £40-50
- Jollylook DIY Pinhole – Instax shooting pinhole camera bit more pricey but is made of wood. £85-100
The Dubblefilm Show/Kodak M35 clones dominate the market for a simple plastic camera with flash. We’ll come to those later but there are few alternatives.
One big question of these cameras is their Eco issues – more landfill plastic. But one company does buck the trend. LensFayre little number oozes Eco cred. The company plant a tree for everyone sold, the camera is made of easily recyclable parts and comes packaged with 100% recyclable & biodegradable packaging. What’s more they’ll even take the camera back from you, recycle it and give you a money off voucher when its dead. Buy direct from LensFayre or from sites like Analogue wonderland.
- ECO credit
- Gives the Dubblefilm crowd a run for the money
- Insane amount of skins
- Not a Dubblefilm clone
- No as cheap as some rivals
- Dubblefilm clones are clinically better
Alternatives (As well as other on this list)
- Lomography Simple use – arguably best of the reloadable disposables. A class that now feels pointless £20-30 but you get free film.
- Kodak i60 – Another non dubblefilm clone simple flash camera with a pop up flash. Bit cheap n nasty though £45-50
I confess I have a love hate relationship with the Mini. It packs a lot in its diminutive retro frame but is a fickle mistress. Designed as a 35mm take on the lo-fi leg that is the Diana F+. It Takes shots in an usual square mask (or a half frame equivalent). Sometime retro brilliance sometime very much meh when on point. But a camera with selectable aperture, bulb mode and cable point and it may focus (or not depending on what you read). Available in a range of styles and best bought with the flash unit .
- Vintage styling
- Lots of feature
- Square format & “half frame”
- Focusable (maybe)
- Image quality very lo-fi
- Easy to stuff exposure
- Pricey for what is
- Expect some labs to surcharge for the 24x24mm format
- Powershovel Superheadz Golden Half – retro styled half frame. Out of production but can still be found on auction sites for less than £100. Images so so and no control.
One of the oldest plastic Fantastics here. Developed from the 2005 Holga 135, this just adds a removable mask to give a vignette effect (aka Black corners or BC). Less like the Holga 120 and more like the current plastic fantastics. Has been resurrected and serves as the arch rival to the Diana mini and is easier to live with. You get choice of shutter, aperture and also the “does it focus or not”. Plus a cable point et all. But like all Holgas build quality is variable.
Takes a standard hotshoe flash. And goes from neutral to day glo in colour schemes. Most retailer sell for around £45 but Amazon is a little more. Was sold by Urban outfitters and plenty of eBay resellers sell on for around £25 BNIB
- Can take quite good images
- lots of features
- normalish camera
- Can be cheap
- Variable build and reliability
- Cheap ones day glo
- Lomography La Sardina – Inspired by the Sardine Tin cameras of such as the Irwin Lark. Has 2 focus settings and wide lens. Numerous designs. Can be had from under £60 but may be worth the extra £15-20 to get a set with Fritz the Blitz proprietary flash
Reto are best know for 2 other camera up this list but their original Nimslo/Nishika inspired camera is still worth. This 3 lensed camera takes 3 synchronous shots which you can digitally stick together to get a 3D Wiggle .gif. Basic set up with fixed everything and a manual flash. Various sellers from Under £70 up.
- Gets Nimslo Styling down to a T
- 3D effect
- Basic camera
- Nishika can sell for the same
- Digital editing skills required
- Holga 135TIM – Holga’s twin lens camera offers not just a stereoscopic experience. You can make 3D wiggles with it, Use stereoscopic viewers or just shoot as a half frame camera. Shame you have to be a Japanese schoolgirl to use it. ~£50
Based on the full frame dubblefilm show class of full frame camera, this available now in several variants. In Europe the most prevalent is the Agfaphoto version pictured. This looks just like the full frame version. Escura also make a version and I’ve seen a few no brand version. . It broadly works although it lags behind Reto’s Kodak Ektar Half frames. The Agfaphoto is however much cheaper at £32 up.
- Cheapest route to half frame
- Some style choices
- Cheap model (agfaphoto) only available in silver/black
- Reto models a bit better clinically
- Kodak Ektar H35 – This camera would have been on this list except it has been superseded by the H35N. Sharing the same lens as the VUWS platform with fantastic retro styling. It was the half frame to beat. But not now. £43 and up
Although Lomography packages all of it’s non disposable cameras with a degree of opulence, the LomoApparat dials that up to 11. The camera is the best built on this list. And the wide 21mm at least 2 element lens is sharp centrally but has a distinctive lo-fi feel. You also get a plush touch activated flash, flash gel filters and the box comes with an assortment of clip on lenses and filters. A lot to like but at a price. Lomography and others will sell you the base camera from £89, and the premium limited edition versions for about a Tenner more. Except Urban Outfitters which sell both the base and premium leather Neubau edition for £90
- Well made & Equipped
- Individualistically styled
- Quirky lens
- Bit pricey
- Non standard filter mount
- Quirky lens isn’t up to some cheaper rivals
Alternatives (not already on the list)
Harman EZ35– Lo-Fi motorised shooter from the makers of Ilford films. Feels more lux than is. Was overpriced but Harrison Cameras at the time of typing sell for just £29 with a roll of film. Half what you’ll find elsewhere.
The resurrected Holga 120 is available in a few guises. The cheapest is the Holga 120N which is the base model with the typical Holga plastic lens and can be sourced for £30-40. The other common version is the 120GCFN which add a slighly better glass lens and a flash with multi colour gels. This is one of the most important Lo-Fi camera in history and shoots 120 roll film with a choice of masks. It also one of the easiest cameras to shoot with 35mm film. Has a classic look but no Holga is believed to be identically thanks to quality control run by goldfishes. Expect light leaks (or nor not)
- The archetype Lo-Fi camera
- Quite a few features
- Glass upgrade different character
- Unlike Diana F+ you need to buy a whole camera to change lens
- Poor QC
- Buying a Holga lens for your SLR is cheaper
The list of these are legion and they have become the new standard for a lo-fi plastic shooter. In addition to the examples the following are confirmed/likely to be the same camera with either mild styling and/or subtle flash power changes Kodak M38, Kodak Ultra F9, Escura Snaps (see top image), Ilford Sprite 35-II, Vibe 501F, Catch to name but a few. Even the Harman Reloadable disposable uses the same core features but ditches the loading mechanism for hell on earth.
The M35/M38 are more radically/brutally styled than most of the others but have the same lens and innards set up. Most of the rest have a more retro look although some are in day glo colours. All have a fixed focus 1 element lens with a fixed shutter and 2 apertures. Technically the wider (often the headline quoted f/8 -10) is used in flash mode but you can drop out the battery and exploit for an extra stop.
- Wide Choice
- 2 apertures
- Better than cheap disposable images
- VUWS and others still beat
- Drop a stop drops image quality
- Weedy flash in most cases
- M35 is erm… interesting
The lo-fi ultra compact is back courtesy of Reto. That legendary 22mm wide 2 element plastic lens and no frills is back in range of colours. Tiney makes an excellent pocket camera or sitting as second in the bag. The best full frame images on this list but absolutely no features. It still has character. Perfect stocking filler. You can pay well under £30 for these.
- Brilliant for Lo-Fi lens
- No flash or other features
- Jelly lens is cheaper
- Jelly Lens UWS– The actual oldest VUWS in clone was made by Sunpet themselves. Not quite as pretty in gloss white. Technically cheaper but postage now brings the cost above a Reto and the new site selling them looks dubious.
- Kodak FunSaver – The king of the disposables and reloadable if you are brave enough. 800ISO film and a 2 element lens. £15-20
On one level the Diana F+ is a hommage to the original roll film Lo-Fi legend. That is the original 1960’s Diana style cameras. But there a twist. This is a true system camera on a budget with multiple interchangeable lenses and accessories wrapped up in a retro body. There are 35mm backs and even a hard to find instax back.
There remains a debate where this or the Holga 120 is the best current Lo-Fi 120 roll film camera. The Diana however offers a bigger choice range and even the base camera gives you a pinhole option. As with the Mini worth buying with the proprietary flash unit (has a standard hotshoe adaptor included) unless you own one with a mini (it’s the same flash)
- True system Camera for less than £100
- Mindboggling range of gear
- Retro style and images
- Choice of bodies
- Holga is cheaper
- Pricey for wobbly plastic
- Bulb lock is interesting
When Reto launched the original half frame Kodak Ektar H35 last year, they delivered one of the best Lo-Fi cameras of the last decade. And for some reason they’ve come back and made it even better. The new model takes the VUWS lens of the old model and swaps in a coated glass element. You get cable point (for bulb), tripod mount, filter thread and a built in star filter. Oh and you can drop a stop .
It retains the retro styling of a old Kodak Instamatic. and as before this shoots half frame 35mm so you get more shots per buck. Analogue Wonderland and others sell this from £65 up.
- Insanely good for a Lo-Fi half frame
- Best image quality of the Lo-Fi Half frames
- Brilliant style cues
- Standard (30.5mm) filter thread
- Drop a stop available
- Cable only works in Bulb
- The original H35 was slightly better styled
- Half can cost more at some labs
- Little Pricey at the time of typing