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Smile, say... 'Retro!'

Low-tech, low-cost film cameras making comeback with digital generation

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EDMONTON -- Digital technology is growing old for a new generation of hipsters who are turning to low-tech film cameras for something they've never had before -- snapshots they can hold in their hands.

Modern versions of both the Polaroid-style instant cameras of old and the cheap, plastic film cameras popular in years gone by are both experiencing a renaissance, thanks in large part to people who have known nothing but digital for most of their lives.


"There's definitely a selective market that has taken an interest in them," says Jesse Day, a salesman at McBain Camera in downtown Edmonton. "Mostly kids -- teenagers and young adults... There's a whole generation that's never seen film before."

At Black's in West Edmonton Mall, salesman Adam Moore says young customers are drawn to the new breed of instant cameras. His store carries three, all made by Fuji, ranging in price from $89 to $129.

Two compact models produce credit-card sized prints. A larger version, closer to the size of the original Polaroid cameras, produces full-sized prints. "It's a tank -- bigger than some small purses. It's the proverbial brick," Moore says.

The instant photos even have the same, telltale white stripe along the side as the old Polaroids, though on the modern version, the stripe runs horizontally instead of vertically.

Because the cameras are so affordable, they're finding fans among young people who see them as "the perfect party camera," he adds.

"It's kind of cool because a lot of kids are quite enamoured with it -- you see that magic in their eyes... It's nice to actually show someone something physical. No one actually prints (photos) these days. It's more that you stockpile until your hard drive crashes."

The film for instant cameras is a lot more affordable now, too. Two 10-packs cost $20, or about $1 a shot.

Staff at the store happily snapped instant photos at their recent Christmas party, and Moore himself owns the big version of the Fuji Instax.

"I'm rockin' the tank. It calls back to my childhood," he says.

Day says the current interest in instant cameras is definitely "a generational thing. Young people have never seen these before; they want to see what all the rage was about back in the day."

That desire for retro-look photos is in part what has propelled Instagram to become one of the top apps for iPhone, Day adds. The free app includes a series of filters that can be imposed on digital photos to give them the look of an old snapshot.

For the authentic look of film, people are turning to Lomography cameras -- new versions of inexpensive, plastic-bodied analog cameras without bells or whistles.

Edmonton's Vivid Print stocks an extensive collection of the low-tech cameras, which are increasingly popular among young people and artists, says co-owner Mark Wilson.

"With film, you use a different part of your brain to take pictures. You have to think about the shot you're setting up, you have to think about your settings because you don't get a second chance," he says. "There's also that anticipation and excitement of when you get your film back that I think people have forgotten."

Film can be manipulated and processed in different ways for different effects, he adds.

Lomography, the Vienna-based company that makes the vast majority of this genre of cameras, offers a wide range of colours, themes, patterns and limited editions.

For example, its Sardina series cameras are shaped like sardine cans. One limited-edition featured cameras for Meg and Jack White of The White Stripes. There was a glow-in-the-dark camera, as well a series based on Japanese anime.

"It's like a Pez dispenser in some ways, that sort of collectibility," says Wilson. "They're toy cameras but they serve a unique purpose."

The cameras also explore different techniques. One, called the "Spinner," put the camera at the end of a handle with a pull-cord that spins the camera around 360 degrees to produce super-wide-angle shots. Another, called "LomoKino," lets the user make 30-second movies on a roll of 35-mm film, like a shorter version of the old Super 8.

Most range in price from $39 to about $150.

Moore, at Black's, sees the interest in analogue as just another trend that falls in and out of fashion. "It's the same thing as bell-bottoms, right? It all comes back."

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 26, 2013 E1

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