The Sardine Can Camera from Lomography

La Sardina, camera, lomography, photographyWhen I first started taking photos, I used this stuff called “film.” You loaded it into your camera, fiddled with a bunch of settings and then pressed the shutter and prayed. You didn’t get to look at your pictures right away or tweet them to your friends or post them to your blog – oh ho ho no, you first had to take the film to a place that knew what to do with it. In the ’90s, you could get your pictures on a CD, making them a zillion times more portable, but before that, you got prints and negatives or maybe slides. Hey, I still have a box full of yellow envelopes stuffed with fading memories of trips past.

Now I shoot primarily with my iPhone 4s, a device to which I am enslaved for all kinds of reasons, though I also shoot a Pansonic Lumix, which is a tiny pocketful of awesome, and sometimes, a Nikon D200 if I’m feeling like I want a lot of control. I LOVE my digital kit, I think digital photography is nothing short of voodoo magic and if you’re addicted to over-processing and HDR, well, I’m not that into you but I get where you’re coming from.

La Sardina (The Sardine Can) Camera from Lomography takes all that away from you and puts you right back to 1979 when you weren’t at all sure what you were going to end up with, when you had a film safe bag for the X-ray machine and every now and then you posted those little black plastic canisters back home. Godspeed, little memories, I’ll see you when my Eurail pass expires.

I absolutely love the look of this little camera. It’s nothing short of adorable. It comes in a bunch of different patterns, there’s one that’s kind of steam punky and another with reptile scales and it’s cute as a bug. Everything that comes with it is designed to make your eyeballs happy – the big fold out instructions and the book that teaches (or re-teaches) you “lomography,” aka lo-fi photography. The packaging is gorgeous and the design work is inspired. I loved unpacking the camera; it was a joy.All that is grand, but that’s not what a camera is about for me. A camera is a tool for making pictures. I tossed the little sardine can camera and three rolls of film into my bag for a fall trip to Hawaii. I’ll experiment, I thought. After all, I already have a zillion pictures of the islands so what’s the risk?

I didn’t shoot a single photo. I was too attached to the results to give up the control that digital photography gives me. Oops.

A few months later, I tried the same thing. Only this time, I left my DSLR at home and opted for just my phone. I shot a roll of high color saturation film while on the Washington Coast. I used the camera wrong for about the first half of the roll, something I learned while rereading the instructions after a day of shooting at the beach. The second roll came out… well, I don’t know yet, do I? See, I haven’t taken the film in for development yet.

I’ll repeat something I said earlier: I LOVE photography. In college, I learned how to develop my own film and how to print my own pictures. I had a photography mentor – a cranky old architectural photographer who shot an 8×10 and let me use his immaculate home darkroom for my own projects. I have inhaled my share of toner while losing hours under the red lights. I have a box full of film camera gear in the basement and for a while, I had all the stuff to set up a home darkroom.

I am no less devoted to the weird combination of magic and science that happens when you substitute a camera for your eye. But I am content to leave the chemistry out of the process. I like the instant review, of knowing that an image sucks and I need to retake it. I’m addicted to the instantaneousness of modern digital photography and I don’t want to give it up. You can’t teach a new dog old tricks – or something like that.

I wanted to fall in love with film again. Everything about how the camera is presented is designed to make you do that, to fall in love with film and the process. It’s just so COOL (in all caps). The sample images look awesome and there are whole communities sharing their lomo work (in a digital environment, ironically). You might totally dig going lomo; people are doing great work with lomo gear. But it’s not for me. I don’t want to go back.

You should decide for yourself, though. La Sardina cameras start at about $59. Add a flash for $69, or get a kit that includes one for $109. For inspiration, check out the La Sardina galleries or those on Lomography.com.