I’ve been scouring the local flea markets for about month looking for a good, cheap camera to use in the /r/analog cheap camera challenge. The contest was about to start and I wasn’t having any luck. Sure, I had found several good cameras, but I was looking for something that was 1) cheap and 2) completely mechanical. Most of the cheap cameras I found were battery operated point and shoots. I didn’t want to waste time trying to find camera batteries or worry about cleaning acid out of a dirty battery compartment. I needed something foolproof.
I was desperate and searching through the bargain bin at the local Salvation Army. There were a lot good 90s cameras but nothing that met my criteria. I decided I was going to have to settle for a pretty nice looking Nikon. Then at the bottom of the bin I found a lightweight, odd looking thing: an Ultronic Panoramic.
It was in decent shape, it was purely mechanical, and it claimed to be panoramic, how could I not buy this thing? (Of course it’s not a true panoramic camera, it uses a wide angle lens and a top and bottom mask over the frame to simulate the look.) And, it was only $1, so there was no way I could lose. I checked the shutter to make it worked, made sure there weren’t any odd surprises, and took it home. After a light cleaning I put some Neopan 100 into it and set out shooting.
I didn’t have any expectations for the photographs; I wasn’t expecting them to look like they came out of an Xpan or anything. This is a toy camera with a plastic lens, fixed aperture (F8 or F11), and a fixed shutter speed (1/125). I assumed it would produce images similar to a disposable camera but maybe with a few quirks here and there.
The first thing you notice is that only the center is anywhere near in focus. The edges are so blurry it looks like I did it in Photoshop. And I’m not even sure what the focus distance is in the middle. I assumed shooting to infinity would be fine but it looks like I was wrong. I think maybe 6 feet out is the optimal distance.
There’s also hair or something inside the lens that shows up in every shot. At first I thought it was the film, or the lab, but looking in the camera I can see it. It’s not always pronounced in the scanned negatives but it’s definitely there.
It was difficult to know when I would get a good shot. I was using a slower film, so I knew as long as it was sunny outside I’d be able to get decent shots. But without any way of controlling the exposure it was all kind of up to chance.
Where the camera does shine, for me at least, is when the light is harsh and low. I took a few shots of my daughter in our backyard and I loved the way these came out. (Of course, this also has to do with the film.) The shadows are almost black and highlights are either close to being blown or well beyond that point. It’s an aesthetic that I don’t usually go for but in this case I really liked it.
When shooting I thought the images would be cinematic. That’s how I felt holding the camera. Looking at them, though, they don’t look cinematic at all to me; they’re too wide. I’m not sure what they look like. I don’t dislike them, though.
I did try a few vertical panos but I don’t think those came out at all. They’re too narrow and tall. It would take something like a tower or tall building to make an interesting photograph.
All in all, I’m glad I got this camera. It was an interesting experience, although I doubt I’ll ever use this camera again. Maybe in six months when I’m bored with sharp, in focus photographs.
If you’re interested in voting for my submission in the /r/analog cheap camera challenge, go here.