How Do Disposable Cameras Work, and Why Do They Still Exist?

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A fully functional camera for less than the price of a t-shirt sounds crazy, but that’s exactly what disposable cameras offer. What’s the magic behind these devices that have been a mainstay since the 1990s? Let’s take a look inside.

How Disposable Cameras Work

The modern disposable camera was created by Fujifilm in 1986. There were a few different models that worked with various types of film. The idea quickly caught on and other camera companies jumped on board. Then and now, a disposable camera is essentially just a regular film camera that has been stripped down to only the most essential parts.

A regular film camera has niceties such as the ability to swap rolls of film, auto-advancing after snapping a photo, auto-winding of the film, zoom, automatic flash in low-light conditions, and more. Many disposable cameras don’t have any of that.

Disposable camera parts.

The film comes pre-loaded with disposable cameras, and you may not even be able to remove it yourself. Advancing the film after each photo has to be done manually with a dial. If the disposable camera has extra features like flash and zoom, there are manual controls to use them.

There are benefits to disposable cameras as well. The low-tech approach makes them very simple to use—all you have to do is point and click. Disposable cameras can also easily be found in waterproof and extra durable versions, but are still very affordable. You don’t have to worry about being rough with it.

In short, disposable cameras aren’t all that different from non-disposable cameras, they’re just made with as few components as possible.

Why Do People Still Use Disposable Cameras?

Perhaps the bigger question about disposable cameras is why do they still exist? Nowadays, nearly everyone has very good cameras in their pocket in the form of a smartphone. Why are people still using cheap, poor-quality disposable cameras?

Smartphones have certainly made a huge dent in disposable camera sales, but there are still some popular use-cases. One such example is wedding favors. Disposable cameras are given to guests, who can then snap photos and drop the cameras in a box at the end of the night. This makes it easy for the couple to get physical photos from their guests.

Disposable cameras are often waterproof and generally durable, which makes them a nice choice for certain situations. A beach vacation with lots of sand and saltwater, a hiking trip without power, skiing down a snow hill, etc. Sometimes you don’t want to risk using your expensive smartphone or non-disposable camera.

Lastly, they’re just plain fun. There’s a certain charm to an “old school” film camera and the nostalgic look of the photos. You’re probably not going to buy an actual film camera for it, but when you can grab one for $20 at Best Buy, why not?

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