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A History of Toy and Novelty Cameras

"Camera Crazy" looks back on decades of unusual and unique designs

by Graham Hiemstra
on 10 October 2014

With a tiny computer equipped with a more than capable camera in our pocket, it's difficult to consider a time when such image-capturing devices were a luxury—one generally uninvolved with daily life at that. In fact it wasn't until the 1960s, when a small Hong Kong-based company introduced the Diana, did the era of inexpensive cameras begin. This plastic, lightweight camera shot 120 film and cost less than $1 to produce. Though the brand quickly killed production due to a Chinese market flooded with imitations, the camera had made its way across the globe, finding fame amongst a small group of artists and other thrifty photographers. This ushered in the era of toy and novelty cameras, the history of which is outlined in the new book "Camera Crazy."


Through insightful interviews with legendary camera designers—including the inventor of the iconic Holga—and over 225 pages of color images, the book does well to trace the evolution of inexpensive novelty cameras through the decades. Touching on everything from 1980s candy and cartoon-themed designs that were likely traded for cereal box cut-outs, to some of the category's more contemporary offerings like Lomography's Sardina and Konstruktor cameras. It even highlights Polaroid's rare toy collaborations with LEGO and such early digital editions like the Game Boy Camera and Sega Dreamcast Dreameye. Plus, there are examples of the kinds of images the cameras capture—an insightful inclusion considering readers won't be able to get their hands on many of the rare makes.


Wherever your interests lie, simply flipping through the well-organized pages provides a good amount of fun and instills no shortage of nostalgia. "Camera Crazy" is available from Amazon for just $23.

Images by Cool Hunting

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