$40 Camera Challenge

Living in Japan has a number of distinct advantages over other places I’ve lived in the past. First, the people at my local photo lab know me. They may know me as the quirky foreign guy, but they know me. My last city had no such photo lab. Second, everyday there’s the opportunity for your eyes to be opened by a new experience with or without a camera. Lastly, there’s a plethora of cheap camera gear. It’s the last point that I want to focus on because in the digital world we all fall prey to a product cycle that lasts about 18 months and comes with a price tag that often exceeds the price of a used car. 

$20 | Olympus Infinity Twin | © Cameron Kline

I had some time to kill recently and found myself in one of Japan’s many thrift shops. In a box marked “Junk”, and priced at a whopping ¥100 ($.83) I found myself a Konica Big Mini. It’s true that I don’t need anymore cameras. In fact, I don’t even want any more cameras, but for less than $1USD I had to make an exception and “rescue” the Konica Big Mini from it’s uncertain fate. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar the Konica Big Mini is something of a cult camera. It’s come in a variety of models including the big F with a bright f/2.8 35mm lens. Mine is a BM301 version with an f/3.5 lens and 1.5 stops of exposure compensation either way. It also came with some sort of complimentary stain on the lens making it a bit of a gamble; I love to live dangerously when there’s a dollar on the line. 

I felt pretty confident in my purchase since this wasn’t my first camera rescue. A number of years ago, back in the United States, I had a job that afforded me a lot of time on the internet which is where I found my Minolta Autocord. During a break from work I drove to the seller’s house where he unearthed a box of “camera crap” that he was getting rid of. “I went digital” he told me proudly as I handed him the $40 for the Autocord and politely gestured no thanks to the remainder of the “camera crap.” 

$40 | Minolta Autocord | © Cameron Kline 

The Minolta Autocord is a 120 TLR with an F3.5 75mm lens and has a handsome classic aesthetic that should never be associated with the word crap. It’s solid in your hands without being cumbersome and a treat to use. It was my first TLR, my first 6x6, and the first camera which I truly enjoyed using. It’s one of the few that I’ve kept after all these years, and it’s accompanied me on a trip cross country, a move cross country, and a move internationally so I think it’s safe to say it’s a permanent addition to my collection. 

My Konica Big Mini purchase and subsequent reminiscing about the Minolta Autocord led me to ask other folks what kind of great deals were out there for cameras costing less than $40. I asked friends, Film Shooters Collective members, and folks on Twitter what their favorite camera costing $40 or less was and here’s what everyone had to say.


$20 | Olympus Stylus Infinity | Adrian Gilliam

There are quite a few Olympus Stylus cameras out there from the early to late 1990s, one of which is highly sought after: the Olympus Stylus Epic (or MJU II). This is not about that camera. This is about its older brother, the Olympus Infinity Stylus (or MJU I). It is a fully automatic, high end point and shoot compact with a collapsible 35mm f3.5 lens, sliding door design, and built in flash with automatic, strobe (for red eye reduction), and fill flash modes. It works off of a single autofocus point in the center of the viewfinder, which I suspect is also the center point for the center-weighted or spot internal light meter (the manual doesn’t really specify). It reads DX codes on film, so you do not have to set the ISO. A handy light will tell you when the image is in focus in the viewfinder, and it’s as simple as that. The 3 heavy pros for this camera are its simplicity, its lens, and its price. I was able to buy mine for $20 used at my local camera store. The lens to me is like a cross between the 35mm f2.8 lens from something like the LOMO LC-A as far as the color and coating and a much sharper lens you might find on an SLR from the 70s or 80s. It is most suitable for the same kind of shooting conditions as something like the LC-A as the lens is not necessarily fast, although it makes up for it with a decent flash, but it will not autofocus as quickly as something like a Ricoh GR camera.


$15+ | Superheadz Wide & Slim | Adrian Gilliam

One of my very favorite toy cameras, which I am quite partial to, is the SuperHeadz Wide & Slim. It is a direct clone of the Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim, and they are practically identical down to the details. They are fixed at 1/100th of a second for shutter speed and aperture of f11 and the SuperHeadz remakes come in a variety of colors, from black to white to purple to green to multicolor ones. They’re about the size of an overfull wallet, so they’re absolutely small enough to fit in a pocket and even smaller than most compact cameras. The way the lens renders is wild, and it’s incredibly wide, so it’s perfect for outdoor snapshots and landscapes. There’s no flash or hot shoe, but that’s part of what makes it so tiny, so it’s perfectly forgivable. If you’ve ever considered buying a Holga 135BC or a Sprocket Rocket or something of that ilk, you should absolutely consider the Wide & Slim. Even if you already own a toy camera, they’re different enough from anything else out there that it’s worth it.


$6 | Canon Prima 5 | Eva Montauk

Probably the cheapest camera I own is the Canon Prima 5. I think it was called Canon Autoboy  or something like that in the US and Japan. I really like it and almost always carry it around with me. I have 2, one belonged to my husband and he used it when he was on interrail in the  early 90s as a kid and the second one I bought on eBay classifieds for 5 Euro. So it has autofocus, flash, timer, 38mm 3.5 lens. 


$35 and $8 | Ricohflex and Ansco Pinshole Cameras | Bobby Kulik

These two cameras are the Ricohflex model VI twin lens reflex and the Ansco  Shur Shot  box camera. Cost: 35.00usd for the Ricohflex and 8.00 usd for the box camera. Both have been converted to pinhole cameras, which can be done on the cheap by making your own pinhole or by buying one already made. You can get pinhole disc to put in yours for under 10 bucks. You can get a box camera from Kodak or Ansco as well as some other brands for 8,10, 20 bucks online. Any old TLR camera will do fine for pinhole as well, as long as which ever you choose has a time or bulb mode on it if you chose to use the shutter, or you can just use a lens cap, which you can make out of a pice of plastic trimmed to size, or anything that will cover the lens opening. These two types of cameras are my favorite to convert to pinhole because with each you have viewfinders to use to frame your shot, unlike other pinhole cameras. Pinhole is a very cheap, very fun and interesting way to get started in film photography, or digital for that matter. you can learn an abundance of information about photography by using a pinhole camera and have tons of fun doing it. The Ricohflex will give you a square 6x6 image on 120 film and the box camera will give a 6x9 image on 120 film. Just remember to get one that takes 120, not 620 or other film sizes.  You can get a 35mm camera though and make one just the same from that. With the box camera, I get 2 ways to shoot. Horizontaly for landscape format and Vertical for a portrait format whereas the TLR is always square so you don"t have to turn it sideways at all.  Always use a tripod when practicing pinhole photography! The TLR type will give you 12 images and the box type will give you only 8, but the 6x9 format from the box camera is a larger negative. I love pinhole cameras and the images they produce and these two have shown me a great time every time, and they don"t cost nearly as much as any store bought pinhole camera!


$18 | Super Ricohflex | Bobby Kulik

This is the Super Ricohflex Twin Lens Reflex camera. Cost 18.00 USD. The super Ricohflex is is one of sever TLR cameras made Riken Optical of Japan in the 1950"s. This model, 1956, is said to be a better version of their "budget" models.  That may be so, but it has a nice sharp lens, Ricoh Anistigmat 80mm, 3.5 (f3.5-f16) in a Riken shutter with shutter speeds from B, 1/10sec to 1/200 sec. It had an insert for using 135 film(35mm) . To load the 120 format film, you open the back and pull out the insert, load your film and put the insert back into the camera. Using a red window on the back you roll your film on until you see number "1". you must do this after every shot counting your frames. You get 12 shots on a roll of 120 film. TLR cameras are a unique way of taking pictures because you can hold it about waist level and you look down into the viewing screen to frame and focus your shot, live view! You can also mount it to a tripod, my personal preference for a more steady shot. It"s very compact for a TLR, very light and handled easily. You can find these and many other "budget" TLR cameras online for very affordable prices. And of course 120 film is readily available. I"ve had many good times with this camera and it does well as you can see from the sample photos. As a matter of fact, Ricoh, made many great cameras which can be had for very little these days. I have a Ricoh XR-10 35mm slr that does a great job and has many features found on much more expensive cameras. Today Ricoh does make some fine cameras still but is better known for copiers and other office equipment. The Super Ricohflex is a great way to get into medium format for little cost, especially if you want to try a TLR type camera. One of my favorite shooters.


$24 | Agfa Optima IIa | Bobby Kulik

A nice little rangefinder made by Agfa in Germany from the 1950's Agfa produced many cameras second only to Kodak. This one has a coupled rangefinder, just look through the viewfinder and match the two images and shoot. The camera is fully automatic. The first Optimas were the worlds first automatic exposure cameras. When you see a green light in the view finder you are good to take your shot. If you see a red light then the shutter speed is too slow for hand held. It comes with a 45mm Agfa Color Apotar f2.8 lens  which is pretty sharp.  The shutter is Agfa Prontormator.  It has auto exposure, bulb or flash settings and ASA film speeds from 12-200. This one is missing the ring around the lens that states the lens and aperture information. Film advance is on the rear of the camera and is quite efficient. The viewfinder is large enough so as not to strain your eyes composing and focusing with ample brightness. It was my first rangefinder camera and has proven to be an easy, fun and enjoyable camera. It is a bit heavy for a small camera but will easily fit in a jacket pocket or purse. Built like a tank and very sturdy, a good camera to get if you would like to get into rangefinders without worrying about too much expense and having to by a light meter or tote another camera with a built in meter with you. Automatic fun for an extremely low price. I've used this camera at work and out for casual shooting and it has never disappointed me.


$25 | Ansco Speedex B2 | Bobby Kulik

The Speedex is one of several versions of Speedex and Agfa's Isolette series of 120 format 6x6 film cameras. Medium format in your back pocket. Small, thin and light. A folding camera that is easy to operate and fun to shoot. There is no focusing though other than scale focus which means you have to guess or measure your subjects distance. You set the aperture and shutter speed manually  and all the controls are on the shutter/lens housing.  It has an Agfa 85mm, f4.5 anistigmat lens in more than likely a compur shutter. Speeds are Bulb, 2(1/2sec.) through 1/250 sec. Sharp lens and the shutter button is on top like any other camera. It can use a cable release as well. Made in Binghamton, NY by Agfa/Ansco, this one from 1940 I believe. It uses 120 film which is readitly available and affordable. It has a red window on the back to count your exposures, no automation on this one! You get 12 photos from one roll of film. This was my first of several vintage folding cameras and cost a grand total of 25.00 usd.  You do have to check for pinholes in the bellows before each use and if there are any, they can be fixed fairly easily as long as they are small. One of many affordable and inexpensive cameras to get started with or use as a regular user for more experienced shooters as well.Great fun and a conversation starter too.


$30 | Zorki 6 Rangefinder | Bobby Kulik

The Zorki 6 rangefinder is a great little camera, if you"d like to get a Leica but don"t have Leica money, this is what you want. 
A nice looking Russian copy of the Leica, the Zorki 6 feels good in your hands and shoots extremely well.  They use M39 Leica screw mount lens, this one has the Soviet Industar 50 3.5 50mm lens. There are  many Soviet lens that fit this camera to choose from as well as the actual Leicas and some others.  Made by KMZ a Russian camera manufacturer.  Sturdy, strong and easy to use. They are along with other Zorki models and Russian cameras,  very cheap and found easily online along with a good choice of lenses which I mentioned  already. Easily repaired, rangefinder adjustments if ever needed are with a tiny screw behind the name plate and by adjusting the circular window on the right side of the camera. Shutter speeds are B, and 1/30 sec to 1/500 sec.  No light meter on this camera so you"ll have to use a meter or sunny 16 as you go.  This is a good user camera at an extremely affordable price and will last for years when maintained properly. Not to mention being another fun shooter, and think of the fun you"ll have telling people it"s a Soviet camera! I bought this one after seeing other photographers great results and reviews on Zorki cameras. I know several who use one and never heard a bad thing about them yet.


$30 | Holga 120N and Tomodachi | Amy Jasek 

My daughter is exposed to photography all the time, but her interest in it is cursory at best.  She is not a particularly detailed person, but she does love art and creating things. . . so recently I decided to procure a couple of toy cameras for us both to use, with the hope that their simple design would inspire her.  

The Holga 120N was a Christmas present (Santa brought it along with a package of sharpie paint pens to both of us).  She decorated it not at all how I expected, with volcanoes and fire-breathing dragons instead of bright blocks of color.  According to Santa, the cost of this camera was about $30 with shipping.  She uses it sometimes on her own, but mainly we decided to use it to make a series of double exposures called Together; each one is a photograph of her by me and me by her on the same frame of film.  Two examples are attached.

The Tomodachi was inspired by a contest on a facebook photography page.  I didn't win, but since the camera was only $30 I decided to get one, again for the two of us to use with color film.  It's a wonderful camera, fun to use, and small enough to stick in your pocket.  


$15 | Gift Store Camera | Mark Schlocker


2009:  I attempted to climb Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa (19,xxx feet).  My Kodak digital point and shoot froze before the summit attempt, never to work again.  It didn't matter too much since I got altitude sickness and barfed all over the mountain and did not summit.

2010:  Nepal (the snowy photos), time to regain my pride.  Island Peak (20,xxx feet, not far from Everest) was summited and photos were taken on film this time because I had more faith in it than digital at this point.  I found a camera for $15 WITH film at the Museum of Photographic Art gift shop in San Diego (Allstar Pano 207).  It is basically a disposable camera with a flash but it is reloadable.  A very lightweight mechanical camera.  Lightweight is important when climbing mountains.  Only electronics is the flash, which is not needed.  No exposure control.  It was something like F/9.5 at 1/125, kinda split between sun and open shade. It was loaded with ISO200.  I tossed the film and threw in some Superia Reala 100 at the recommendation of a shopkeeper at Nelson Photo.  Nice color!

2011:  Washington Column in Yosemite.  Myself and my partner both had a failed attempt climbing this, each due to "partner error" i.e., choosing the wrong partner.  We teamed up and I brought along this camera again, because I did not want to care if I dropped/lost/broke it.  I wanted a slightly faster film because we would spend time in the shade but I think I ended up with the Reala 100 again because it's what they had, can't say for sure.  On this route you sleep on a ledge, where the photo is taken with the "poop tube" wherein you put your poo.

I think these images were scanned by North Coast Photo.  Perhaps they left the plastic sleeve on the film creating strange artifacts.  The image quality is honestly not very good but part of that could be in the scanning.


$10 | Fuji DL-120 | Ashlin Wang

$25 | Yashica Electro 35GS | Miguel Peralta


$30 | Canon A1 | Hollie Fernando


The following photographers were gracious enough to allow our use of their images. Thank them by paying a visit to their site, or following them on Instagram/Twitter:

Miguel Peralta


Bobby Kulik


Mark Schlocker



Eva Montauk


Adrian Gilliam




Southern California photographer, Cameron Kline, collects $1 cameras, and photographs people in San Diego. Connect with him on .