The champion of weddings and vacations, we all recognize and trust the disposable camera. But where did this staple of low cost, amateur photography, come from? While cameras now are relatively inexpensive, cameras of the past were anything but. Because of this high cost, many could not afford to enter the photography world.
In 1949 the company Photo-Pac tried to change this with the released a 35mm, 8 exposure cardboard camera for a cost of $1.29 each. After all of the shots were used, the user would mail in the camera for processing. Sadly, this was just a little too soon. The camera failed to take off.
In the 1960′s a French company by the name FEX made another attempt to corner the market. This time, the camera was placed in a plastic enclosure and had 12 exposures. Again, the time was a little to early and the idea failed.
It wasn’t until the 1980′s that the camera we are all familiar with finally took off. In 1986 Fujifilm introduced their QuickSnap line of disposables. They featured a plastic enclosure and 35mm film. Kodak introduced a model which used 110mm film in 1987, called the Fling. In 1988 Kodak released a 35mm model under the name FunSaver, it was this model that brought Kodak success. In 1989 Kodak halted production on the Fling and opted for the 35mm FunSaver. This left the plastic, 35mm shooters as the primary model on the market.
Finally, the timing was perfect. The disposable camera took off like a rocket. Companies like Nikon, Canon, and Konica soon released their own models in an attempt to take a piece of the pie. By the mid 90′s disposables where everywhere. Many, such as Fujifilm, began to add special features to their cameras. Features often included a flash, panoramic modes, waterproofing, or a cheap zoom.
Through the 90′s and early 2000′s, a disposable camera became the go to for cheap photography. They were, and in many cases still are, perfect for party favors, situations where an expensive camera may break, or when a more expensive camera was forgotten at home. The best part was the low cost. A disposable camera could be had for as little as $1.00! Add this to the advent of 1 hour photography studios, and there was a recipe for success.
In 2005, the first digital “disposable” cameras were released. While they were supposed to be returned for processing, many people were able to “hack” them allowing for more shots to be taken at one time. Many also figured out how to take images from the cameras without returning them to the store. This, mixed with the higher cost kept them from really taking off.
As the 2000′s came to a close, digital photography was getting cheaper and cheaper. Many stores which had before offered 1 hour film processing, will now only deal with digital prints. While the disposable film camera has been, and will remain a well known staple of low cost photography, there is no telling how much longer this handy little guy will stick around.