Photography in the late 1980’s became casual and relaxed with the very popular single-use, disposable film camera. It was no longer necessary to carry a heavy, expensive camera around your neck and four rolls of film in your pocket. You could just stick a small, cheap, and lightweight disposable film camera in your pocket and never miss a memorable moment or worry about dropping it or getting it wet.
Disposable cameras are small, simple cameras designed for both amateur and professional photographers. After temporarily losing ground to digital cameras and smartphones, disposable cameras are coming back due to a renewed interest in film photography and because of their ruggedness, small size, waterproof options, lack of rechargeable battery, and lower price. There are also still many places that will develop disposable cameras that are affordable and will return your negatives.
With all the digital cameras and smartphones around, you may wonder why anyone would go back to old technology instead of moving forward. Below we will discuss the trend and why people are using disposable cameras.
What Is A Disposable Camera?
Disposable cameras (also known as single-use or one-time use cameras) are small, simple cameras that come preloaded with either color or black & white film and have no focus or exposure controls other than a built-in flash and meant to be used once by the photographer. After all of the 24 – 27 shots are taken the cameras are sent to be processed with the negatives returned along with prints or digital scans of the images. They have an optical viewfinder and a battery to charge the flash (if they have one). Because of the inexpensive materials used to build these cameras, they produce images that are bright, high-contrast, with saturated colors, and mostly sharp.
The “disposable” in disposable camera means they are made from simple materials like plastic, paper, cardboard, and metal to make the camera cheaper and not be returned to the photographer after processing. Since they are really meant to be thrown away by the photographer, they are often called Single-Use or One-Time use cameras, which is more fitting. For those that want a more sustainable camera but still want the specific disposable or single-use camera look to their images, there are reusable cameras available that come preloaded with film or refilled by the consumer to be used over and over like the Ilford Sprite 35-ii.
Why Are Disposable Cameras Coming Back?
Disposable or single-use cameras are becoming popular again even though we have the clarity and convenience of digital. There are several reasons driving the return of disposable film cameras.
- No filter means the photo has an authentic feel
- No preview or delete option means you get what you get
- Limited number of exposures makes you choose your images carefully
- The element of surprise adds to the fun of seeing your pictures when you receive the prints or digital scans
- Printed pictures can be shared in ways that digital images cannot
Often, we find that the older way works best, and that is certainly true in the case of disposable or one-time use cameras. People are returning to the simple disposable camera to capture their memories because the bright, grainy photo brings back memories of simpler days before we all felt the need to photograph every meal and moment. The scenes we choose to spend our limited number of shots (generally around 24 – 27) with single-use cameras have greater significance because of the scarcity of shots available to us.
With a disposable or single-use camera we capture the realness of an authentic moment as it happens. It simply is what it is. The vulnerability of those moments is what draws us back to using the disposable film camera after around two decades of presenting perfectly retouched images for the world to see. Finally, we get to come back to just being who we are, not worrying about getting the right picture, and enjoying every moment.
Why Do Disposable Cameras Exist?
Disposable cameras were invented for the general public who wanted to preserve moments without the hassle a complicated process and not having to worry about dropping or losing their expensive camera. Disposable cameras combined the best traits of cameras into one small, mostly indestructible package and are:
- Easy to Use
- Small and Lightweight
- Lack of rechargeable battery
- Some are waterproof
- No-fuss developing process
For example, these are the kinds of cameras nature-lovers would like take on a hike or take on a mountain climb. They have no battery to recharge, can be waterproof, easy to stick it in your pocket making it within easy reach when you want it, and unfazed by the bumps and falls of the trail.
Who Invented Disposable Cameras?
Kodak was the major US camera manufacturer to begin selling a camera that was easy to use for the general public in 1888 similar to the disposable cameras we know today. The Kodak No. 1 was created by the companies founder George Eastman and sold for $25. The camera was a leather, box camera that came preloaded with roll film that could take 100 images. For $10 the camera could be sent back to Kodak and film negatives would be developed, the images printed on small sheets of paper, and the camera would be returned with more film loaded into it.
Kodak famously advertised the camera with the slogan “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest”. The low cost of the camera and how easy it was to use, it only had one button and no other controls other than the viewfinder, made photography available to everyone rather than only professional photographers.
The first truly disposable camera was invented by H. M. Stiles in 1949, called the Photo-Pac, and cost $1.29 for 8 exposures (the modern cost of around $14.36). The user would send the camera back to the company to get the film developed and be sent images back. Although It seems to have been very popular as both a novelty impulse buy and as a useful product for people who either did not own cameras or who did not want to take their family cameras on trips. The camera probably would have caught on but by 1950 court documents can be found that the company faces lawsuits and the cameras could be found in magazines with deeply discounted.
Seventeen years later, the French company FEX introduced its version of a disposable camera. The popular disposable cameras of the last century was introduced in 1986, by Fujifilm and by Kodak in 1987 which became available everywhere by 2005.
In 2004, the United States was introduced to the disposable digital camera created by a San Francisco-based company called Pure Digital that private labeled digital disposable cameras for the CVS pharmacy, Ritz Camera, and Disney for their theme parks. The Pure Digital company would also go on to create and release what would become the Flip video cameras in 2006. The digital cameras sold by CVS had a resolution of 2 MP, included a fully automatic flash, exposure control, and a 10-second self-timer but could only hold 25 images. The cameras cost around $19 for a version with a 1.4 inch LCD screen preview (a new feature over other cameras sold at Walgreens) and delete function and around $9.99 for a digital camera with just the delete function. The cameras needed to be returned to the store for processing, which included 4×6 inch prints, an index print, and photo CD that could be read on a the computer for an additional $9.99.
Do Disposable Cameras Take Good Pictures?
The quality of picture from a disposable camera varies with the camera and depending on the materials used to produce the camera. For example, most disposable or single-use cameras have plastic lenses and a strong flash, which give the characteristic high-contrast, saturated colors, mostly sharp, and bright images shot with disposable or single-use cameras.
While disposable or single-use cameras won’t produce the same quality images as high-end digital cameras or your smartphone because of their lower quality build materials, bright flash, fixed aperture, fixed shutter speed, and plastic lens, there are higher-end film cameras like Leica or Contax g series cameras that can produce images better than digital cameras with more controls.
The secret for getting good photos from a disposable camera lies in knowing the cameras limitations. For example, the flash is only good between 4 – 10 ft, the camera will only focus on objects 4 ft from the camera while anything closer will be blurry. This also means anyone standing beyond 10ft from the camera at night won’t be lit well the flash on the camera. Also, because you are not able to change the shutter speed or aperture on disposable cameras they needs a lot of light (like outside during a bright sunny day or using the flash when inside) to make great images.
Also, almost all disposable or single-use film cameras use 35mm film, which means the images have enough resolution to be enlarged to 8x10in and in some cases, up to 11×14 inches.
Best Disposable Film Cameras
Below is a list of the best 35mm and waterproof disposable cameras including where to buy them. if you want to know more about where to purchase disposable cameras and more about reloadable disposable cameras, see this article.
35mm Disposable Cameras:
Color or Black and White Film
Color Film (400 ISO)
$13 – $15
Black and White (400 ISO)
$13 – $15
Color Film (400 ISO)
Color Film (400 ISO)
Yes W/ Color Filters
Black and White (400 ISO)
Color Film (400 ISO)
Color Film (800 ISO)
Waterproof 35mm Disposable Cameras:
Waterproof Camera Model
Color or B&W
FujiFilm Waterproof Quick Snap (2 pack)
Color Film (400 ISO)
Color Film (400 ISO)
Color Film (400 ISO)
NOTE: Most disposable cameras have 400 ISO film but there are a few that have 800 ISO film loaded into it like the one recommended on the list. A higher ISO means the film is better in lower light but will have more grain in the resulting image.
For more information about different disposable cameras available, check out this webpage on TheDarkroom.com.
Do Disposable Cameras Have Batteries?
Only those disposable film cameras with flashes come with batteries. Some disposable or single-use cameras, like the Kodak SUC Daylight Disposable Analog Camera and FujiFilm Waterproof Quick Snap cameras does not have a battery since they don’t have a flash and work mechanically. Single-use cameras with flashes normally use 1 regular AA or AAA battery to charge the flash, which is usually included in the purchase and not meant to be replaced. If you have a reloadable disposable camera, like the Ilford Sprite 35-ii, then you will need to supply 1 AAA battery for the flash to work.
Do Disposable Cameras Expire?
While the camera itself does not expire, the film and battery for the flash do expire. Film usually expires about 2 – 3 years after the manufacture date but may still be good for another five or six years if stored away from heat and humidity.
While you can still develop expired film, there is no guarantee that the pictures will have any degree of quality left especially if the camera wasn’t stored properly away from heat, direct sun, and humidity. Color film may lose some of its quality after the expiration date and your negatives may be grainier, have less contrast and sharpness, and color shifts than usual if the film has expired because of film degradation and fog. If the camera was stored in heat, direct sun, and in humidity light leaks, color banding, and color shifts may occur.
Film processing for disposable cameras can be expensive so you don’t want to pay for bad photos.
How Long Do Disposable Cameras Last Undeveloped?
How long undeveloped film will last depend primarily on how the camera is stored. If it is stored where temperatures fluctuate or where humidity can affect the film, the results will be disappointing. If stored away from direct sunlight, humidity, and heat, the undeveloped cameras will last a year or two after the film expires.
If you must keep your undeveloped single-use camera for a long time, many people recommend storing film in a refrigerator. If you store your disposable camera in the fridge, make sure to give it time to defrost completely before you use it or the film will be ruined. This will preserve your film and give it the best chance of surviving.
Most Disposable Cameras Do Not Have Timestamps
Most disposable film cameras do not have a timestamp feature. Since the disposable camera is fully mechanical except for the flash, there is no computer chip to tell the camera what date or time it is.
However, this feature is available when the film is developed at the lab and usually printed on the back of the print. These can be especially useful when looking through old pictures and trying to determine when, where, and why they were taken.
Tips for Getting Good Quality Pictures From A Disposable Camera
If used properly, a disposable camera can produce bright, high-contrast, and interesting photos. As with any art, one must know the limitations of their tools to get the highest degree of performance from a disposable camera. For best results, follow these simple tips:
- Shoot in as much light as possible (most are made for shooting outside in bright sunlight)
- Make sure your subject is not backlit (or have the main source of light behind them instead of in front) or they will be in shadow in the printed photo
- Make sure you place the subject 4 – 10 ft from the camera when using the flash (the effective flash range of the camera)
- Make sure your subject is at least 4 ft from the camera for them to be in focus and not blurry
- Try different angles instead of just at eye level (for example, shoot up or down at your subject)
Do Disposable Cameras Work in Low Light?
Typically, disposable film cameras are not good in low-light situations without a flash. Using a flash will help in low-light conditions, but it won’t light the entire scene. The flash just isn’t strong enough to provide adequate lighting in settings where natural or artificial light is low or nonexistant. Most one-time use cameras suggest a distance of 4 – 10 ft between the camera and the subject.
Disposable Cameras Don’t Work Well in The Dark
Disposable cameras don’t work well at all in night-time settings because their exposure settings often don’t change and set up to photograph in bright sunlight. Generally, the flash is your only way of controlling your exposure.
While there is flash on the camera, it isn’t strong enough to capture a sweeping landscapes or something far away. Your subject needs to be between 4 – 10 ft away for the flash to work properly.
Should You Use The Flash on a Disposable Camera?
In most cases, I recommend using the flash on your disposable camera. For example, indoors with the subject at a distance of, or a little past, 4 ft. However, using a flash with a disposable or single-use camera is not always necessary in some environments because a flash will do more harm than good. In brightly lit settings like outside in bright sunlight, the flash is not useful. If your subject is backlit (or standing with the light behind them so their front is in shadow), a flash is also not useful because it isn’t strong enough light the entire person. For this to work, most single-use cameras suggest between 4 – 10 feet.
Also, in nearly dark settings a flash will not illuminate the subject properly with either too much or not enough light. Since the camera doesn’t adjust the flash amount automatically or at all, most cameras suggest between 4 – 10 ft between the subject and the camera.
Since there isn’t a way to preview the image, you can only guess at the correct distance or measure the distance with a ruler. Using a flash discriminately outside will help you shoot images that result in vibrant colors in your prints. Regardless of the setting, having your subject too close will ruin what would have been a good image.
If you decide to not use the flash after it is charged, you can discharge the flash by pressing the button the front or sliding a button, depending on the model.
How To Clean Your Disposable Camera Lens
Camera lens get dirty from exposure to the being used like dirt, dust, and the lenses get smudges from greasy fingerprints. Periodically, it’s going to be necessary to clean your lens if you want good, clear pictures.
Cleaning a camera lens is not complicated, but it does require a soft touch. The cheap, plastic lens can easily be scratched during cleaning, especially if it has been exposed to dust and sand. One thing to keep in mind when cleaning a disposable or single-use film camera is never to use a t-shirt material to clean the lens since it will scratch the plastic lens of the camera.
Follow these steps to clean the lens:
- Blow on the lens or use an squeezable blower (like this one) to remove loose dirt or dust
- Brush it with a soft-bristle brush (like an unused or clean make-up brush like this one) to remove any dust or dirt on the lens
- Use a lens cleaning liquid for glasses and a q-tip or soft cloth (like this kit) to get anymore stuck debris. You can also use wipes designed to clean classes and camera lenses like these.
- Carefully wipe the lens with a soft cloth (like this handy one) to dry the lens and remove smudges and fingerprints
How To Use Kodak Or Fujifilm Disposable Cameras
To use your Kodak or Fujifilm camera, you simply need to wind the thumbwheel until it will not turn anymore to take the first picture.
If your camera has a flash, you will need to hold the flash button or slide the button until the light turns red to indicate that the capacitor is charged. Then simply point at your subject, look through the viewfinder until your focus is where you want it and press the button on the top of the camera to make an exposure.
To use the flash, you may need to press a button on the front or back of the camera to charge the flash with power.
Most cameras recommend putting 4 – 10 ft between the camera and your subject. After taking an image, wind the thumbwheel until the next number appears in the window on the top of the camera to take the next image.
Repeat until all of your frames are exposed. Then send your camera off to the lab of your choice so they can retrieve your images.
Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart all develop disposable cameras but they don’t return your negatives and the scans are just okay. See this guide for where to get your disposable cameras developed for about the same price but with better scans, negatives returned, and faster turnaround time.
How to Get Pictures From a Disposable Camera on Your Phone?
Most, if not all, of the one-hour photo labs from the 1990’s are gone, but there are still labs that can develop your disposable film camera for you, return your negatives, and provide you with digital scans of your images so you can post them on social media by downloading them on your phone.
Getting the images you’ve taken from your disposable camera to your phone can be a long process. For disposable film cameras, the steps are:
- Turn in or send in the entire camera to the lab or drugstore
- The photo processing lab removes the film and develops the negatives
- The lab scans the negatives
- The lab provides you with a way to download your images through a link or website Turn in or send in the entire camera to the lab or drugstore
- The photo processing lab removes the film and develops the negatives
- The lab scans the negatives
- The lab provides you with a way to download your images through a link or website and provides you a way to download the images to your phone for sharing on social media or to keep.
- The lab sends back your negatives
The cheapest option to develop your disposable camera is Walmart for $10.96 and comes with a set of 4×6 inch glossy color prints and CD of digitally scanned negatives. However, Walmart won’t return your film negatives and the scans come in low resolution. Another option for development is DwaynesPhoto.com, which will develop your disposable camera for $14 and includes better quality scans (or $11 without scans) and they will return your negatives. However, the price doesn’t include prints and you have to pay to ship your disposable camera to them.
For more information about developing your disposable camera see this article about what it costs and how long it takes.
How Do Disposable Cameras Focus?
Disposable film cameras have a small, fixed aperture (usually between f8 – f11) that is set at a deep depth of field that allows for most everything in the scene to be in focus from a distance from 4ft from the camera and beyond. This allows you to focus on framing and composing the scene while not having to worry about getting the correct focus.
Can Disposable Cameras Freeze?
Disposable cameras can still function in sub-zero temperatures with minimal problems. Since a disposable film camera has little, if any, electronic components there is no danger of shorted circuitry from condensation.
To prevent the outside shell of the camera from freezing and cracking, you can wrap the camera in a freezer bag. After your camera is exposed to extreme cold, let it warm up slowly.
A common technique to keep color film from degrading over time, especially after expiring, is to store the film in a freezer or refrigerator. This can also be done with disposable cameras. See this article for more information about how to store film correctly in the refrigerator or freezer for future use.
Where to Develop Your Disposable Camera Online?
See this guide on where to get your disposable camera developed, how much it costs, and the turnaround time. However, the best places in regards to price, quality, and turnaround time to get your film developed online are:
- Dwayne’s Photo – $14 (including shipping) for color disposable camera and $15 for a black & white disposable camera
- MPIX.com – $19.90 (including shipping) Keep in mind they only process disposable cameras loaded with color film)
- Process One – $18.97 (including shipping) for a disposable camera loaded with either color of black & white film
See this article about the best price for developing a disposable camera. Also, check out this article for how to securely and safely mail your disposable camera to the development lab and how much it costs.
Where to Develop Your Disposable Camera Near You?
The best place probably near you to develop film is Walmart, Walgreens, of CVS since there probably is one located close to you. While the development is usually pretty good from these stores, the scans are mediocre at best, low-resolution, and you most likely won’t get the negatives back to scan later on. For this reason, I recommend mailing your film to a online lab like DwaynesPhoto.com, MPIX.com, or ProcessOnePhoto.com since they give you better, higher resolution digital scans and return your negatives to you.
See this guide about where to develop your disposable camera, how much it costs, the turnaround time, and scan quality. Also, check out this article for how to securely and safely mail your disposable camera to the development lab and how much it costs.
Developing Images Takes A While
Keep in mind that the process of sending your film out for development takes a while. If you use a store like Walgreens, CVS, or Walmart on average it takes at least 2 – 3 weeks or longer. For example, my local walmart said it most likely will take 2 weeks but could take up to 4 weeks.
Online film development labs differ on their turnaround time (usually is about 10 days to 2 weeks) but the difference is you get higher quality and high-resolution scans, digital scans much faster (usually by downloading through dropbox or a similar service) and your negatives are returned.
If you prefer not to wait that long and what to develop your camera by yourself, read this article on how to develop color film at home or this article about how to develop black & white film at home. If you want to learn how to develop film in more environmentally friendly ways, see this article.
How to Safely Take Your Camera or Film on A Plane
Taking your disposable camera on vacation is a great idea, but it may cause you distress unless you plan well first.
- Try to identify how many times you’ll have to pass through airport security
- If possible, obtain a lead-lined bag (like this one from Domke on Amazon.com)
- Keep your camera and undeveloped film in your carry-on and keep them in a clear, plastic bag
- Ask for camera, new film, and unprocessed film to be hand-checked (including Instant film)
Be aware that the new airport scanners like the TSA CT scanners will damage unprocessed film on the first scan. To keep your film from being ruined, just put all of your unprocessed or new film in a clear, plastic bag and request a hand-check. Also, keep in mind only new and unprocessed film will be affected, including instant film. See this article for more information about how to fly safely with your disposable camera.
Disposable Cameras Can Go Through Some X-Ray Machines, But Not The New Ones
Most older X-ray machines found in airports will not cause damage to unexposed film rated up to ISO 800 unless the film is subjected to repeated passes through x-rays. It is also not recommended to allow film of higher speeds, like 3200 ISO, to pass through x-rays.
However, be aware that the new airport scanners like the TSA CT scanners and full bag scanners (like those that scan checked baggage) give off high doses of X-Rays and will damage unprocessed film on the first scan. To keep your film from being ruined at the airport, just put all of your unprocessed or new film in a clear, plastic bag and request a hand-check. Also, keep in mind only new and unprocessed film will be affected, including instant film.
See this website by Kodak for examples of film damaged by x-ray scanners and what to look for. If you don’t want to risk damage to your film at all, you can place it in a lead-lined pouch designed especially for film and cameras. However, the best option is just to get a handcheck.
NOTE: Digital cameras are not affected by x-rays. The electronic components do not interact with the x-rays at all, so there is no danger of erased frames or marred images from the radiation.
Best To Take Your Camera in Your Carry-On and Get Hand-checked
Instead of packing your disposable camera in your checked luggage, it’s a better idea to pack it in your carry-on and have it hand checked. Checked luggage is subjected to high doses of radiation from heavy-duty x-rays which pose a greater risk of damage to your film.
The best method to keep your film safe to ask security to hand-check your camera and film if possible, so that it is not exposed to the x-rays at all. Put your unprocessed disposable film and camera(s) into a clear plastic bag (I recommend a sturdy Ziplock gallon bag like this one on Amazon.com) and ask the attendant for it to be checked by hand.
See this article for more information about how to fly safely with your disposable camera.
Digital Cameras and Smartphones Almost Replaced Disposable Film Cameras
With the invention of phone cameras, the disposable film camera began to lose its former popularity in the 2000s. As cameras on smartphones became better and better, it was much more convenient to shoot photos with your phone than to carry along an extra camera, even if it was only a small and lightweight one, and you could see your images instantly.
Besides, with the smartphone camera the images you just shot could be edited and uploaded to the Web in minutes, unlike a disposable film camera that has to sent off for development, which could take between an hour – several days.
With long-ish film development process becoming less and less attractive for users and phone cameras falling short in quality, a new idea was born: the disposable digital camera.
This camera combines the small, compact, lightweight size of a single-use film camera with the convenience of a digital camera to create the perfect solution for those who want clear, almost instant photos without needing an expensive digital or film camera. These enjoyed some degree of popularity at first, but never really caught on as one would have expected. Most consumers felt that they cost too much and offered too little since most had poor resolution, poor battery life, could only take 24 – 36 images, no delete option or image preview (later models that did have it cost more), and you still had to take time to go to a store to get the images off of the camera.
Why Would You Use A Disposable Camera Today?
A disposable camera would be useful on vacation when you don’t want to risk dropping, ruining, losing, or your smartphone or expensive digital or film camera stolen.
Hiking or mountain-climbing would be a good opportunity to use a disposable camera because you don’t need to recharge a battery, can be dropped, small and lightweight, they can stand the rough trails, and the dirt and dust.
A disposable camera is also great for a young child who shows some photographic interest and skill but is not yet mature enough to be entrusted with an expensive professional camera.
There are also waterproof options to purchase like the waterproof single-use disposable film camera (2 pack) from Fujifilm. These are great to use at the beach, lake, or swimming pool to capture images where you don’t have to worry about getting your smartphone or digital camera wet or covered in sand and not have to purchase an expensive waterproof case.
Disposable or single-use cameras are the perfect film camera to hone your photography skills without wasting money on accessories you don’t really need. If you’re shooting pictures for fun and not money, this camera really is all you need.
History repeats itself, and there seems to always be an interest in what has come before us in previous generations. So, recently, film manufacturer and film developers have seen a resurgence of interest in the old-fashioned disposable film camera most of us grew up with.