Old Technologies, New Photographies

Image Credit: Freepik

Arts and Creativity Editor Emily Sheehy reflects on the return of retro forms of photography.

These days, almost everyone has access to a camera at a moment's notice due to the built-in cameras in our phones. Our mobile devices make photography easy and convenient: no longer do we have to worry about being limited to 36 shots, or waiting days for photos to be developed. This progress, however, removes some of the magic of photography. This is why I’m glad to see the resurgence of vintage forms of photography - 35mm analog film cameras, Polaroids, digital cameras and camcorders. I believe this coincides with trends in fashion and aesthetics: the renewed interest in vintage, Y2K and Indie Sleaze encourages a turn towards the technology used in each era.

Our phones make photography easy and convenient. No longer do we have to worry about being limited to 36 shots, or waiting days for photos to be developed. This progress, however, removes some of the magic of photography.

Polaroid cameras have been going strong since the early 2010s. The Fujifilm Instax range has been widely popular and a pioneer in the retro photography revival since the Instax Mini 8 launched in 2012. It prints out compact physical pictures instantly with a distinctly vintage look to images, and comes in a range of cutesy pastel colours. In 2014 the model outsold Fujifilm’s other flagship models and in 2016 Fujifilm sold 5 million Instax cameras, nearly 4 times more than its digital alternatives during the same period. Despite its popularity, the Instax Mini is a costly form of photography; the cameras cost around €90 and a pack of film costs roughly €20 for 20 shots, and even more for film with patterned or coloured borders. At around €1 per picture, it encourages the photographer to be more mindful with the pictures they’re taking, bringing the novelty and speciality back into photography. However, it isn’t the most budget friendly form of photography for us students.

After falling in love with Instax cameras and the idea of film cameras, I turned my attention to other film cameras. I dug out my parents’ old Canon Sure Shot from the 1990s and loaded it up with some 35mm colour film. The film produced photos that had a beautiful warmth to them that could not be replicated by my phone’s camera. I noticed my friends using disposable cameras and analog cameras at parties in favour of their phones. The 36 exposures gives much more freedom than the 10 shots that the Instax is limited to, but still encourages the user to be conscious with the photos they take. I enjoy getting my photos developed and printed; holding the physical copies and curating photo albums that recreate the atmosphere of my parent’s pictures during the 1990s and early 2000s. Not being able to see your pictures instantly delays the gratification, yet it’s a nice experience to see all your pictures together once they’re developed.

Not being able to see your pictures instantly delays the gratification, yet it’s a nice experience to see all your pictures together once they’re developed.

The only downside to analog cameras is the rising cost of film. Only five years ago, a roll of 35mm colour film would cost you €4 - now it has tripled in price, costing anywhere between €12 and €20 depending on the brand and ISO. When you add on the cost of getting your film developed and scanned (and printed, if you want physical copies), it can cost you an extra €10-15. The price is almost on par with the Instax and unfortunately might turn people away from analog film. I hope that the cost doesn’t dissuade people from the medium however, as the film produces the most gorgeous pictures with an authentic vintage feel that cannot be rivalled by modern photography.

I hope that the cost doesn’t dissuade people from the medium however, as the film produces the most gorgeous pictures with an authentic vintage feel that cannot be rivalled by modern photography.

More recently, there has been an uptake in the use of digicams. As we see fashion trends from the late 2000s and early 2010s making their return, it is no surprise that digicams are coming back too. Though it doesn’t give the same warm or fuzzy picture that the Polaroid or analog camera offers, it still has a retro atmosphere that is reminiscent of the 2000s. It removes many of the boundaries associated with film - you are able to see your pictures instantly and you are only limited by the amount of space on your SD card. There’s also no extra cost to buy film or get your photos developed. These digicams are relatively inexpensive, with most digicams priced at under €100. For those of us with phones with poor cameras (fellow Android users, I hope you understand my pain), a digital camera can offer a good quality image without breaking the bank, and certainly cheaper than buying a new phone just for the camera!

It is clear that despite the convenience and ease that phone cameras offer us, they cannot replace traditional cameras. Instant cameras, analog film cameras and digicams offer a unique and retro experience that cannot be replicated by a ‘vintage’ filter on our phones. Even though it may be more costly and time consuming, I certainly believe that it is worth the effort to recapture some of the magic of photography.