If you weren’t aware, I’m an award-winning, published photographer. I know; you’re very impressed, but try not to swoon too hard and hurt yourself. I got my first proper camera in ~2013: a Canon EOS 1100D. It’s an entry-level DSLR which I used for my A-Level in photography, took an award-winning photo with, and also I used it to take a few photographs which ended up being published as two-page spreads in a national magazine (in case you didn’t know). So you could say that it was a successful camera for me.
The Canon EOS 1100D was not my first camera, however. No: for that, we’re going back a long way to a time long forgotten. To a time when mobile phones did not have usable cameras built-in, and digital photography was for professionals with deep pockets, and the layman shot on 35mm film. Yes: the early 2000s.
When my sister, brother, and I were all small children, we liked to take photographs when we went on holiday. If you’re our parents in this scenario, understandably, you aren’t going to give a trio of clumsy, idiot children anything that would actually matter when they inevitably smash it. Thus: the disposable camera. Literally, a camera which you destroy after use. If it gets broken: ah well, who cares? The photos were probably bad anyway. You’re a bad photographer and you always will be. Something my parents said to me constantly and still do to this day.
The problem, however, with disposable cameras is that they aren’t exactly the most economical option. Sure you get a whole camera set-up for cheaper than a point-and-shoot without even any film to shoot on, but what if — and this will blow your mind — you want to take more than 36 photographs within the lifetime of this camera? You’re pretty screwed: that’s what.
This is why one year, my Mum (citation needed; she doesn’t remember this but neither does my Dad) drove us (possibly she was alone) down to the local Dixons (I think it must have been Dixons for reasons I will go in to later) and pick up a trio of cheap, crap, but reasonably durable point-and-shoot cameras. And these cameras were the cameras we took photos with for many years. I still have stacks of developed photos I took when I was a child with my camera. They’re exclusively bad, but I’m really glad I still have them. These were the results of my first real experience using an actual camera, and I have strong memories of that time.
The point of all this is, simply: I found one of them. For the purposes of simplicity, I’m going to claim that it was my one, but there’s actually no way of knowing this. I don’t think either my brother or sister are going to mind that much, and by the end of this, you’ll understand why.
So without any further bloated rambling, may I present: the Miranda AF-15.
I think if you look closely, you’ll notice the subtle telltale signs of an item that was owned by a small child. It’s seen better days, but to my surprise, after putting a couple AA batteries in this puppy (and gaffer-taping the compartment shut) it seemed to be basically working!
The first thing I noticed about this thing when I really looked at it was that it is made of trash. It is formed from the cheapest kind of silver-painted plastic, that — while durable enough to be dropped from a low height onto a semi-soft patch of ground — feels like you could snap in half without too much difficulty. The battery compartment issue is a great example of this: the lid is supposed to be held closed with a tiny bit of moulded plastic that had just snapped off due to the pressure of the batteries pushing against it. The thing about it is that it seems also that it is possible to have the batteries pushed in too far and cause the camera to not want to turn on. So when you tape it shut, you have to tape it with just enough pressure to hold the batteries in, but not so much that it’ll cause them to press too hard and not work for whatever reason. You also have to avoid pressing on that area of the camera while it’s in use lest the power is cut while it’s winding the film on. This is the level of quality we’re dealing with, here.
The camera (once you get the batteries at the right tension) is turned on in the standard way: by opening the lens cover. It actually makes it remarkably simple in its operation: you flip the cover open, you point, and you shoot. If we’re talking raw pocket-to-shutter-release action, this makes the Maranda AF-15 significantly quicker to use than my modern-day smartphone.
What’s not like a modern-day smartphone is the implementation of the ‘auto’ flash which the camera boasts about on the front of the body. It’s only really ‘auto’ if you accept the definition of autoflash as being: will fire literally every time you take a photograph and there’s no way of disabling it so get ready to get a lot of awkward looks when you take a photograph in public. To be fair, this camera is having to struggle a little bit. We’re used to not needing flash anymore because digital cameras have variable light sensitivity, so if it’s really dark, it can just crank the ISO up and you have a good exposure. The light sensitivity of the film is fixed, and the maximum that this camera officially supports with its DX code reader is 400 (which is pretty slow and wants bright sunlight) so unless you’re shooting outside on a sunny day, the flash is going to be required to get any kind of usable exposure at all.
If you are looking to take a photograph without the flash, this camera does (by virtue of being too crap to actually stop you) let you take a photo before the flash has finished charging. To do this you just have to press the shutter within half a second of turning the camera on. There’s a little green light next to the viewfinder which tells you when the flash is ready to fire. If you can release the shutter before then, you’re golden.
Looking through the viewfinder gives you an impression of the kind of view-angle we’re working with: it’s wide. I’d say probably something like a 28mm lens setup. You can judge for yourself I suppose. One thing to bear in mind with the viewfinder is that it’s not a though-the-lens viewfinder like on an SLR or smartphone. It’s a separate lens entirely, so you need to remember that the actual photo will end up being slightly lower and shited to the right from what you can see when you’re composing the shot. Also, your fingers might be covering the lens without you noticing. It happens to me, and it’ll happen to you, too.
The inside is pretty basic — there’s not much to say about it but here’s a picture anyway. What seems to be common for this sort of camera is for the film to go from right-to-left, rather than the standard left-to-right, which results in all the photos being upside-down.
Now some of you (maybe) will have thought when I revealed the make and model of this camera something along the lines of “Miranda? Weren’t they well known for not making garbage cameras? What were they doing making this?” And you’d be half right to think this. Miranda was a Japanese camera brand formed in the mid-1950s and did indeed make decent cameras back in the day… until they went bankrupt because their competitors — such as Nikon, Canon, Minolta etc. — started putting computers in their cameras to do complex high-end things like autofocus and autoexposure (and auto-flash). Miranda decided it just wasn’t worth trying to keep up with this. To recoup some of their losses, they sold the Miranda brand, rather randomly, to the UK electronics retailer Dixons. Dixons used the brand to flip their generic, cheap, bad camera equipment using a recognisable name. This is basically what Samsung has recently done to AKG — a once reputable headphone manufacturer which now only exists in name as a cheap marketing tool to sell bad wireless headphones. It’s sad to see a once reputable brand being dragged through the mud like this, but that is the way of life, I suppose.
Anyway, once I’d established it was working, I decided I wanted to see what the photos would look like and whether I (an award-winning, published photographer) could take anything good with it. In the past six months, I’ve gotten into analogue photography. I have a fancy 1950s SLR, and I develop and scan my film at home using scary chemicals. The reason I’m telling you this is that I haven’t yet graduated to shooting and developing colour film; it requires a more complicated (and expensive) process and I can’t be bothered yet.
So, I loaded (with some difficulty) a roll of Ilford HP5+ into the camera, and set off on an adventure. That’s right: I’m wasting a roll of not-exactly-cheap film for this camera to ruin. The following is what I got.
And straight-outta-the-gate we have a finger in the shot! Horray: my skills have not improved in the last 15 years at all!
This is me in the mirror. In an attempt to stop the flash ruining the shot by blowing out the mirror, I was trying to cover it with my fingers. The only problem is that now the whole image is really dark. Not that I would learn this until days later when I finally developed the photos.
We have a portrait shot! I quite like this because it has the look that I associate with this sort of camera where the flash casts drop-shadows behind absolutely everything in the foreground, which looks gross but I’m weirdly nostalgic for it.
I don’t know how but the film got quite badly scratched here. Not sure if it’s the camera’s fault or just because I’m an idiot.
The inside of Northfields station and another cover the flash with your fingers so the TFL staff don’t look at me funny job. I think this is actually a decent picture; it’s got quite dramatic contrast, and I like the way the ceiling comes through quite subtly.
My destination: Oxford Circus. Don’t know why, just felt like it I suppose. You may have noticed that absolutely not one single thing is in focus in any of these photos. This camera does apparently have autofocus, and when you half-press the shutter it does have a red light that comes on, but it doesn’t actually seem to focus on anything. I don’t think anyone at whatever random Chinese Foxconn factory that spewed this crap out knew what the word ‘auto’ is supposed to denote.
In addition to the lack of focus, we also seem to have an issue with motion blur, which is impressive considering the sheer wideness of the lens.
One weird side-effect of the flash being stuck on is how things like street signs and traffic cones glow in all the photos, even when nothing looks like it’s being front-lit.
Please ignore the dust on all of these — just know that it’s due to my laziness, not the camera.
This would look pretty good if only anything was ACTUALLY IN FOCUS!
I took this photo just because I like the font of the logo for this shop. I don’t know what is going on with the distortion here but it’s wild! The reason it’s not straight is that I am (and historically have been) bad at holding cameras level. I can’t even do it with a good camera.
There’s that gross flash lighting again!
Probably the best picture I took that day. I think it plays to the few strengths of this camera.
This is probably the worst picture I took. There were far too many traffic cones and street signs which just ruined anything I might have achieved with this. To be fair it was a bad composition anyway. Interesting looking though.
I think I’ve found what this camera does well: spooky corridors where there is no particular focal point, so it doesn’t matter that nothing is in focus.
What kind of idiot looks at this scene and thinks, “Absolutely no lighting at all? That’ll make a great photo on my ISO 400 film!”?
I want to hear NOTHING about how dusty this scan is. Let’s see you do better, hey?
Some people (who are probably too young to know how to tie their shoelaces, let alone remember what it was like shooting on film) refer to point-and-shoots as “reusable disposable cameras”. This is insane and makes no sense; how can it be reusable and disposable at the same time? With that said, I do get what they mean: a cheap point-and-shoot is basically a disposable camera with a rewind function, a motor and the magical ability to reload the camera with any 35mm film stock you wish. It’s way more economical long term, and if I were to give a small child a camera to play with, I’d have probably picked this one as well.
Because ultimately, that’s really what this camera was only ever supposed to be: something to play with — a toy. And as a toy, I certainly got a lot of fun out of it, and still do. It’s weirdly given me a newfound appreciation for my smartphone as a camera. Because, where did these cameras go? They became digital and got built into every phone sold today. I’ve realised that if I use my phone camera more like a point-and-shoot (i.e. not worrying about composing the shot too much before taking it), I’ll probably get more satisfaction out of it. These cameras weren’t ever for creating great art, they were for documenting, for creating a physical proof that your memories did happen, and, thanks to this camera, I’ve got a whole stack of them in my room to bring the past back to life, any time I want. Which is good because it’s crap at everything else.