I was cruising the web recently and came across a new article in Luminous Landscape about what author Michael Reichman called "The Funkycam". The Funkycam is a tiny digital camera which can be purchased on ebay or elsewhere for under $20. Simply do a search on "mini digital camera" to find one on ebay, there's dozens on there. Mine cost A$14 plus postage (about US$10). What sort of camera can you get for $10?
Do the words "toy camera" mean anything to you?

The camera is a tiny device, powered by a single AAA battery (which comes with the camera). It is a truly poor imaging device, taking images that are 352 x 288 pixels at full resolution - that's 0.1 MP. Photos are blurry, there is terrible CA, and I challenge anyone to find even a mobile phone camera that has such poor resolution. It has internal memory sufficient for 20 photos at full resolution, and must be connected to the computer to download the photos using a clunky, windows only program.

That said, it is fun to play with. It is small, simple to use, and the best thing about it is that you don't even know what you've got til you get home - just like using film! You almost don't even know what you are taking, because as well as not having an LCD display, the camera has possibly the simplest viewfinder I have ever seen. It is a plastic frame that slides up using a slide on the side of the camera which houses a little plastic lens. Simply hold it up a foot in front of your eye and you will see a very distorted field of view of what you may, or may not get.

Could it be more comical?
 

When I told my friend Don about the camera he laughed and suggested that since I had this great new camera, he would quite happily accept ownership of my collection of Canon digital gear that I obviously no

longer needed. Well, I am naturally certain that this camera couldn't replace any of my existing cameras, but I still thought it might be a challenge to use! Just as previous generations of photographers have chosen cheap and flawed cameras such as Holgas, Lomo cameras etc. simply due to their desire to incorporate the flaws of the camera in their art, I have decided to try the same with this camera. I am challenging myself to try to create some work of art that would be suitable to enlarge and frame using simply the Funkycam. I must say, I think it might take a while

The first two images I took with the camera I can't actually show you because I removed the battery during the day. Apparently this erases the memory! Oops! I suppose that it makes formatting the memory a thing of the past at least. However, the next photo I took is shown below, just as it came from the camera:

Safety Beach, Melbourne, Australia

Well, it's no masterpiece, but at least the camera works. White balance is a touch warm (probably due to all of the blue), but it's okayish, which is good since I can't change it! There is a lovely line of green CA running along the top of the coastline, and the camera's processing software seems to have avoided any noise by employing a noise reduction algorithm that creates a quite painterly effect - effectively blurring everything. This is getting better and better!

I am a photographic gearhead. Many photographers are. Sure, we may be good photographers but we also love playing with the tools. We try to find the fastest, sharpest, best corrected lenses to put on our cameras. We seek the camera bodies that have the best features, the mirror lock-up, auto exposure etc. We know that the new camera with the image stabilised super zoom lens or the ultra fast 85mm will help us improve our photography. This may even be true, but it's not really likely.

The point of the Funkycam is that it is none of those things. It is about capturing images with a very primitive tool, carrying the camera everywhere, and concentrating on images - looking out for things that might take a good photo with the tool you have at hand. It is also about exploring your creativity without being constrained by the gearhead within that demands that you need to carry all 16 of your lenses with you when you go out to take a photo.

So I thought to myself "How can I encourage myself and my readers to give this liberating process a try?" The answer was, of course, a contest.

I am going to try a monthly photo contest on the site. Later on it may include normal photographs, but for at least the first few months it will be all about using the Funkycam. Everyone reading this can buy one on ebay for under $20 including postage, so you have no excuse not to give it a try. Get out there and use your creativity, and see your best efforts immortalised here on the Rokkor Files!

The first competition will run until the 30th April 2007, and depending upon interest we will hold more thereafter. There is no set subject, just get out there and be creative. You can enter up to 5 photographs, but all entries must be attached to the same email, which needs to be sent to me at antony[no spam]@rokkorfiles.com. (simply remove the [no spam] before emailing.

The other rules are:

  • No altering of photos except for cropping (ie. no sharpening, saturation, levels etc)
  • The image must be taken with the Funkycam or equivalent - no 2MP phone cameras etc. They are just too good to be fair competition. Part of the whole concept is to take an inferior tool and create something with it. I understand that some of these cameras which are branded differently may have a higher resolution level of 640x480. If you have purchased one of these I will accept entries at this resolution, but I would prefer all participants to use the basic 352 x 288 if at all possible.

Please register by email by 15th April so I can get an idea of participation levels. I hope we will get lots of people involved!

So there it is - get your funkycam and start shooting. Explore the inner photographer. Have some fun without all of the gear. Enjoy discovering what you can really do when you set your mind to it.

Funkycam shot No. 2. Well it may not be good but it has color and movement ;o)