I have seen the Ilford black and white disposable (or “single-use”) cameras in a drug store for the past couple of years and wondered about them. Finally I bought one of the XP2 versions (the other contains HP5 Plus).
This is nearly as simple as cameras come. It has a plastic 30mm f-9.5 lens and 1/100th single speed shutter. Focus is also fixed but with the wide-ish angle and f-9.5 focuses from 1m to infinity. It is loaded with 27 exposures of Ilford’s XP2 ISO 400 film though the camera I bought produced 29 frames. The film is advanced manually with a thumb wheel. Actually, the thumb wheel retracts the film since the camera comes with the film unwound, and winding returns it to the cassette. There is a counter indicating the number of frames left. And the bit that is not quite so simple is a built-in flash that fires automatically, and which can be fired deliberately for fill light. It is recommended for use no closer than 1m, no closer than 2m for portraits, no further than 3m for any subject.
What pushed me into trying a disposable camera was a recent blog post (possibly NSFW if you have an ultra prudish employer) about such cameras by Phil Kneen a Manx photographer who takes great photos with whatever camera he has to hand. Normally I would not have bothered because the cost is more than a comparable roll of film, and I have lots of point and shoot cameras of a similar size, mostly with a bit more control. I use XP2 film quite a lot so my choice of XP2 over HP5 was easy because I was familiar with the wide exposure latitude of XP2 and it uses C41 processing which is cheaper and faster. Ilford’s XP2 Super film spec sheet says it can be used from ISO 50 to 800 with no change in processing (5 stops!). The data sheet for the camera refers only to XP2, not XP2 Super (XP2 is an older version of the film). However, the camera is labelled as XP2 Super.
So, to get to the point, how is it? I am quite pleased with a few pictures. A mass produced plastic lens, complete with internal dust, can’t be expected to make beautifully sharp pictures, and it hasn’t. But with a bit of my usual kind of Lightroom work for scans, with more emphasis on contrast than is normally necessary, some images can stand as interesting and useful photographs. A couple were taken at the same time as some of my recently published Olympus XA2 photos. I did not try to make photos for comparison, but have included those colour shots in this post as a reference point. The disposable images are not up to XA2 standards, but I would not expect that.
A weakness of this camera is lens flare. It is not pleasant nor interesting unless grunge is the objective. Flare is inevitable when the camera is pointed in the approximate direction of the sun. In some situations it can work. But if you don’t like it, there is an easy fix – don’t shoot towards the sun. The top picture in this post is awash in flare and is still one of my favourites from the roll – a bit of grunge goes with the stooped figure. Another weakness, endemic in these cameras, is in lower light the film is under exposed and gets very grainy indeed, though I expect this is less of a problem with XP2 than many of the other films. It would be nice if the flash could be turned off, but that applies to many “multiple-use” point and shoot cameras, so I won’t fault Ilford for a common failing of much more expensive gear. When used in the dark within the recommended distance the flash does a pretty good job.
I can see using this camera again, and it would be interesting to try the HP5 version, applying some lessons learned from this roll.
If you don’t have a film camera but want to try out black and white film then this would be a great place to start. Just use it in good light or follow the flash instructions closely.
I can’t believe I am at Roll 50 – the last few weeks have been a marathon of catching up. Roll 51 is now in for processing. Another roll is hiding in my office somewhere waiting scanning, but I fear I won’t find it without a major reorganisation (which isn’t likely in 2016).
Click on any image below to launch larger versions in the gallery view, navigate with the arrows once in the gallery.
2016-50: Ilford XP2 Super 400 Single Use Camera, commercially developed and scanned.