Every photographer has fond memories of disposable cameras. Whether it was some weird project you had to do in first year art school, the “I only shoot film” phase that most of us go through, or childhood memories, we’ve all got a soft spot for those crappy plastic junk boxes that only work 50% of the time.
When I started reviewing disposable cameras for this article, I was somehow simultaneously ecstatic and terrified. I got the opportunity to make work with the most basic nostalgic cameras available, but I also had to publish the results of the work I made with those cameras. I tried my best to get as much range as I could: subject matter, weather conditions, locations, situations, Indoor, outdoor, portrait, landscape, sunlight, low light, and no light. I tested it all and as expected, about 50% of the photographs turned out entirely useless.
Even though I won’t be ditching my gear and going all disposable any time soon, I had a great time shooting this piece. I hope that you’re inspired to spend the $10-20 for one of these cameras because the experience is well worth it. It might even make you a better photographer when you go back to your camera of choice.
I reviewed six cameras in total, and ranked their build quality, shoot feeling and value. To show you true results, the photos taken with these cameras were not edited or cropped. After examining each option, it was pretty clear which was the best and which was the worst. One was really really bad. Let’s start with that one.
Worst Disposable Camera Imaginable Never Buy Ever
Fujifilm One Time Use 35mm Camera With Flash
Build Quality: Solid, hard edges
Feeling While Shooting: Satisfying click, good flash button
Problem: ISO was too high, couldn’t even get good exposures on overcast day
Star Rating: ⭐
I bought this camera when the weather was extremely overcast. This was bad luck for the 35mm Fujifilm disposable camera and its pre-loaded with Superia X-TRA 400 film. The images, even with the flash, were super muddy. Although I have a feeling that this camera could be great for bright sunny days, photographers can’t rely on the weather to make your photos look great. I want to be carrying something that will help me out when the sun won’t. Furthermore, it should be easy to take photos on overcast days because of the soft diffused light. It was pretty disappointing that this camera couldn’t get a good photo using a flash on a cloudy day.
Recommended For First Time Shooters
Quiflash 35mm Camera With Flash
Price: $2.50 on sale ($8 regular)
First Impression: Cheap camera = bad results
Build Quality: Cheap plastic, hard edges
Feeling While Shooting: I was worried the shutter button would break and it has an annoying flash button
Bonuses: Good price, strong flash
Shortcomings: All images came out soft, nothing was totally in focus
Star Rating: ⭐ ⭐
I did not have high hopes for this camera, but I have to say it performed better than I expected. That being said, there were some significant issues. First off, I couldn’t find a sharp photo on the roll. On a fixed lens camera, this is huge. If I have no control over what my lens is doing and all of my photos are coming out soft, I need a new lens. If that’s happening on a fixed lens camera, I need a new camera.
The camera did have some redeeming qualities though. The colors came out great, exposures were good. I used this camera in daylight, overcast and low light settings and I got well-lit photos from every scenario. The flash was powerful enough to bring out subjects at night and fill in when backlit. I was really happy with the range of results from the times I used the flash.
My overall hope is that I got a camera with a bad lens and this is actually a great camera, but I wouldn’t feel confident buying it again to shoot something important. Definitely worth the buy if you’re looking to try out a disposable camera—it’s affordable enough that you could buy five of them with a twenty and still have money for lunch.
Must-Try For the Experienced Photographer
Fuji Fujifilm Quick Snap Outdoor 35mm Single Use Camera
First Impression: No flash—these pictures will suck
Build Quality: Smooth edges, solid build, compact
Feeling While Shooting: Holds nicely, satisfying shutter, easy to keep in my pocket
Star Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
I bought this camera with the full intention of bashing it. In all honesty, I was prepared for these photos to be garbage but I was pleasantly surprised with the results. After the crash and burn that was the Fujifilm 400 and its weak flash, a Fujifilm camera with no flash was the last thing I wanted. One of the most important parts of a disposable camera is that tiny flash for fill, help in low light and save your ass when you have no ability to change your settings.
However, the photos turned out great! I got good color contrast, great overcast photos and though direct sun did make my exposures a little hot, there was nothing blown out due to the lower film speed. The cooler colorcast on all of the images reminded me why I pretty much exclusively shot Fujifilm all through school and I must say, I would definitely buy this camera again. But—and this is an important “but"—I got lucky. I got a bunch of bright but overcast days, wasn’t shooting anything too late in the day and didn’t have to deal with anything backlit.
Would I recommend this camera? Yes. Would I recommend this camera to a beginner or someone who wants to be able to shoot in any condition? Definitely not. You really need to know what you’re working with, understand your lighting conditions and pray you never have to use this camera on a clear day in mid-July.
Best Disposable Camera Overall
Kodak 35mm One-Time-Use Disposable Camera (ISO-800) with Flash
First Impression: Classic style, very nostalgic
Build Quality: Solid with smooth edges
Feeling While Shooting: Satisfying click but covered flash button can be annoying
Star Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This is the classic disposable camera everyone knows and loves. The Kodak 800 is exactly what comes to mind when I think of disposable cameras, and I was very pleased to find that it did not disappoint. It’s easy-to-use, with a solid build and satisfying shutter click. There is nothing worse than using a disposable camera and not being sure if the shutter went off. The Kodak has a really responsive shutter release that you can feel move, plus the sound of that classic snap makes for great confirmation that you “got the shot”. Very happy with how this roll turned out, only good things to say, and honestly really bummed that I only get to feature one photo from this roll because I had so many I liked (the best problem to have).
Overall Runner-Up/Best Flash
Agfa Le Box 400
First Impression: ISO will be too high, will have to pull negatives
Build Quality: Very solid, felt a lot sturdier than other cameras
Feeling While Shooting: Flash switch was great, shutter button felt cheap and I was worried it would break
Bonus: Flash switch is a nice touch, you always know it’s on and charged, so there’s no accidental on/off
Star Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
I bought this camera at a camera shop (shoutout Downtown Camera in Toronto) mostly because I had used every disposable camera I could find in your average big box store. I was not excited about the 400 film speed after my experience with the Fujifilm 400, but I tried to let my preconceptions go.
The build was solid, the flash was great and the biggest bonus was the flash switch on the camera instead of your traditional hold-to-charge button you’d find on most disposables. The nice thing about the flash switch was I never had to worry whether I charged the flash. Switch it on: flash every time, switch it off: no flash—not even if I had the switch on previously.
Sometimes, if you have charge the flash on a disposable camera, and then realize you don’t want to shoot with flash, you have to shoot a frame just to discharge the flash. No worries about wasted frames with this guy. Results were great! Contrast was good, flash filled well and when I used the flash, it didn’t blow out my subjects.
This was the ideal outcome I was hoping for with the Fuji 400 but never saw. Probably my second favourite camera but the 400 speed is still a tad limiting if you aren’t looking to always have that flash look to your photos.
Honorable Mention: Best Bonus Feature
Fujifilm QuickSnap Waterproof Disposable Camera
First Impression: Lens will be crappy from the plastic case
Build Quality: Sturdiest of the bunch, wasn’t worried about dropping or breaking
Feeling While Shooting: Clunky, winder jams, thought it might malfunction, worried about water seal
Bonus: Waterproof housing
Shortcomings: No flash / most expensive
Star Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Initially, I was skeptical about the plastic housing around the camera. Not only was I worried that the housing would cause problems with photo quality, I was also really iffy about not having a flash on the camera. However, in a surprising turn of events, the biggest plus for this Fujifilm camera turned out to be that very plastic housing.
I took the camera on a portaging canoe trip and just kept it in my pocket the whole time. Didn’t matter if I was swimming, banging around gear or carrying a canoe, the camera took all the abuse I could throw at it and stayed waterproof throughout.
I gave this a 4 out of 5 just because not having a flash meant I couldn’t use the camera after dark or give some fill flash if the subject had the sun behind them. Generally, I would only recommend the Fujifilm QuickSnap Waterproof for taking on trips where the housing is a total necessity.
Find more of Matt Moreland’s work on his online portfolio, built using Format. Want to read another article by him? Check out 10 Ways to Save Money as a Freelance Travel Photographer.
Header image by Thomas Anderson