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Wednesday, 05 May 2010


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If anybody does buy one, spending an extra $10.99 for the two-year extended warranty is probably money well spent.

I have an interest in tacky tourist towns, and one thing you find in large, tacky tourist stores is buckets of plastic animals--dinosaurs, crocs, etc.--about the size of a gummy bear or somewhat larger, selling for a dime or a quarter. You can't imagine what anyone, including a child, would do with such a thing. The size is too small to be played with like a doll, the modeling and color are crude, etc. It seems like their function is to get lost.

But the amazing thing to me is that somebody had to think of this thing; order it; designs has to be drawn and molds made, the thing had to be manufactured and then usually, shipped some long distance, where it's sold for a dime. Why?

I liked the review that listed this under the Cons: "Flash sold separate, Too Few Features"

The "Too few features" just killed me. The same reviewer goes on to write "One disadvantage to the device is that the flash is essential to indoor photos, which is sold separately for 60 USD, but well worth the cash."

The funny thing is: they might even be right about that. I wouldn't be surprised if the cost to manufacture the flash is closer to the 25% of selling price margin Mike indicated above...besides, who says you shouldn't throw good money after bad?


"But the amazing thing to me is that somebody had to think of this thing; order it; designs has to be drawn and molds made, the thing had to be manufactured and then usually, shipped some long distance, where it's sold for a dime. Why?"

It's hard to believe, but for somebody, somewhere, it's probably the best work they can get. And even very poor work is still better than something less.


I just checked: the flash actually sells for $50 and includes a set of colored gels, a hot-shoe adapter for use on "normal" cameras and a one-year warranty. A steal!!!

Blame the funky hipsters. They're responsible for the jump in prices of old crappy bicycles as well (ripe for fixed gear or singlespeed conversion). I won't be surprised if cassette tapes and Sony Walkmans get priced through the roof in 5-10 years.

That was fun. Now let's do lenses!

This reminds me... what I want is a 645 digital camera I can get by sending in all the Bazooka Joes I've saved up for the past four decades. Plus $2.98 for shipping. It seems I'm due by now.

I was very excited to hear of the Blackbird, Fly 35mm TLRs at first - plastic, fun little TLRs in goofy colors. But then when I saw them priced at over a hundred bucks....

I've no problem with cheap cameras, but at 50 bucks for a Holga or Diana??? Wish there was still enough a market for a camera like you describe, or for Ilford to include a cheap plastic fantastic in a bulk pack of 10 or 20 rolls of film...

The Gakken-flex.
35mm TLR kit:



I wonder about the logic here. You yourself say: "The rest goes to overhead, middlemen, advertising, and support and service." Setting aside support and service (of which the Diana has none, probably), the other costs -- distribution, advertising, etc.--do not scale with the manufacturing and materials costs of the camera. Would be interesting to run the numbers, but I am not sure this is all that clear cut, or someone would be selling the $55 camera for $35 and still pocketing a huge profit. Isn't this the way markets work?

Hi Mike,

Some years back a friend gave me a brand new Diana in the box, instructions, strap, none ever used. It is in pristine condition and I have kept it so. As you note, I know the camera originally cost nothing to make, and not much to buy. Thus I have often speculated that I could probably get $100 or better on eBay for it. Thus this camera, in its box, is at one time the cheapest and most expensive camera I own! I am glad your logic follows as well.

Oh, and my Frank Golke book arrived today...so it took only two weeks and not the two months Amazon noted. You were right (again!).

Why indeed? There already exist millions of 120 format cameras that run rings around a Diana and sell for less, plastic and otherwise--Clacks, Ikontas, budget TLRs... Many of them need simple repairs--at least as much fun as building from a kit.

Not to mention the millions of 120 film backs one could tape to a box, the millions of 620 cameras that can be converted...

How about instead of a kit, a good how-to guide for finding and reviving old medium format cameras? Start with basic camera design, end with processing and proofing.

Well, I seem to remember that the original Diana cost about a dollar per unit to make, which probably translates into 3-4 dollars today. As distribution, transportation and PR cost doesn't change, I doubt the multiple is so horrendously high - 8-10x perhaps, but not more.

Your Nikons extra features likely don't add much at all to the unit production cost (it's mostly software differences to the Sony after all). Let's give it a bit of extra margin, though, and say 4x3 = 10-12x multiple. In the same range as the Diana, certainly. Remember, whether those features makes the camera worth its price is immaterial - by the same token, if people buy the Diana Mini it's not overpriced either after all.

"The rest goes to overhead, middlemen, advertising, and support and service."

So the manufacturers don't make any profit, according to you formula?
Camera cost $100.00 = sells for $400.00?!

Diana doesn't need a battery, software, computer, more software, etc. Just some film and cheap chemicals and funny paper or a drugstore. Gotta be a bargain at 50 bucks.

The Otona no Kagaku 35mm TLR kit is on The Online Photographer! Aiii! It will sell out before I have the ready cash to buy it!

Ahem. Mike, at least you didn't recommend it. You have quite a track record for making things sell out, you know :) I can't prove it, but ever since an article a year or more ago, about how great certain TLRs are for inexpensive MF equipment, the selling prices for them seem to be 50-100$ more expensive. *Le sigh*

Hey Mike,
I have seen the photos by Mary Kocal, she is the bomb as my kids would say. Readers should check out her Diana galleries. She may have paid too much for them but she seems to make the most out of the situation.

There's a Holga flash on ebay for $12 plus $1.50 shipping. :) The 35mm version of the camera costs $40.

There's also a Holga 120 TLR in Grape Purple or Sunflower Yellow :))) for $55 (free shipping).

Mike, I was most amazed to see Tamiya mentioned in your blog. Scale modelling is another of my hobbies (yes, I'm an uber-geek, except that I don't write code), and Tamiya are king of the hill in models, most of the time; they do drop the ball on occasion.

My question to you - are you also of the geek fraternity, or can this reference be blamed on research, Zander, or volunteer activities with a youth group? :D

And yes, a model camera that worked, done by Tamiya (who would supply real springs, real metal parts and, at the very least, optical quality plastic lenses AND everything would fit properly), would indeed by a 'very cool thing'. Although I would think that Tamiya's in-house pressure for perfection might take away a large portion of the 'fun' in using such a device - it is not the Japanese way to make things that aren't as perfect as they can be.


Nothing to do with the subject but in the UK when we see 1/4 we read it as quarter. I know in the US you read it as one fourth.
So 1/4th looks odd to us as we try to read it as quarterth.

Surely even with a US style of reading the the 'the' is superfluous as fourth has its own th?

There is a not well marketed cheap large format kit you can see at http://www.bulldogcameras.com/ . The manufacturer is one of the oldest and most respected manufacturers of camera bellows around. I've actually seen it for sale on the shelf at the Lomography shop in New York.

So true, a few years ago on my way home from a Andreas Gursky exhibition in Liverpool, I bought an action sampler camera from a barrow boy for a pound.

The nearly identical Lomography action sampler now retails for £25.00. I say nearly identical because the current lomo has a flimsy pop up viewfinder and the one I bought on the street has a built in direct vision one but it isn't chrome plated, so I guess that is added value??

"My question to you - are you also of the geek fraternity, or can this reference be blamed on research, Zander, or volunteer activities with a youth group? :D"

I built models as a kid. I probably finished my last one 40 years ago. I probably would have carried on into adulthood, but I was tested for aptitudes and was diagnosed as being low in "manual dexterity." I decided manual dexterity was probably important to become a really good modeler, so I gave it up.

My favorites as a kid were "old-fashioned cars," which at that time meant mainly cars of the twenties. There were a lot of such kits around when I was a kid, but not any more. And of course that was never Tamiya's specialty.


Something like this? http://www.columbiaspectator.com/2009/11/24/kid-friendly-camera-designed-columbia-makes-worldwide-debut

My choice for greatest rip-off is almost anything related to Lomography. They are trying to sell the Lomo 166U for $350, You could get a clean Rolleicord with a CLA for less than that. Go figure.

On another note, I just bought my retirement present. A pristine late M4-2 body for $850. I can't afford Leica lenses but have picked up 21 f4 and 35 f2.5 Voigtlander lenses for a quite reasonable sum. I just souped the first two rolls and I think I'm going to like this camera....especially when I remember to take the lens cap off.

Congratulations John! Sounds like you will.


I'm quite fond of my Holga, but I'm glad I got it on eBay for about a quarter of the price you see them elsewhere - and half what I paid for it was postage and packing from Hong Kong!

Lomography's prices are just ridiculous.

I do quite like the look of the kit TLR - and from what I've read it's a much better camera than the Blackbird Fly.

I started with photography with a Lubitel II, a Russian plastic twin lens reflex. It was sold for about 1/10th of a Practica in those days. Cheap perhaps, but very expencive fot me back ten.
The 120 film format combined with an at least half decent triplet lens managed to produce 'accaptable' enlargemnts on 8x10 paper. No light meter, but 6 aperture settings and 5 shutterspeeds, and rather troublesome focusing tought me to pay attention to what I was doing when taking a picture. All in all I would say the camera might have been pricy for a simple piece of plastic. But as a learning tool, it has put down a foundation I still use today. Lets say it was an expencive camera but a very cheap school with very high results...

I am afraid I have to say that I bought both that magazine Otona no Kagaku for the twin lens kit as well as got a black bird fly!

In fact I bought the black bird fly as I want to have a small camera with me when I carry my 8x10 around and also not as serious as my Rollei T or Hessey 500 w/50mm. It breaks after 1 roll and hence it is a very expensive camera.

The Otona no Kagaku magazine is actually quite good (to them financial but also to me). The experience making a working e-guiltar last issue make me jump to my opportunity to pay $30 for a twin lens kit (it is at least cheaper than the black bird fly which with flash is over $200). It sold in a convenient store together with those car review magazine.

But I would not say bad thing about these. If it is not because of I compare the Provia 6x6 slide from a Holga with my Nikon D70, I would not have the enjoyment now with my 4x5, 8x10, ... etc. Hence, ... well may be I should regret. :-)))

@erlik : Holga also has a 3D version plus viewer; I nearly bought one but the shop did not take credit card and I have not enough RMB ...

About 25 years ago there was a store in Omaha called Bob's Close Outs.
I was wandering around in it one day and came accross a couple of cases of Diana cameras, new in box, at about a buck each.
I took a pass, oops. That's about the same time I told my wife that we would be nuts to drop $1800 a share for Berkshire Hathaway (pre split, now A shares).
This is why I am going to die at work.

Thanks RobG, your uber-geek comment put a geeky smile on my plastic modelling, photographing, network managing and occasional code writing face.


I always wanted a TLR and saw the Blackbird in a Philadelphia camera shop. The sales guy told me the price and when I laughed, he said that they had a very clean but well used Yashicamat with a non functioning meter for $5 less ($44). I've very happy with my Yashicamat. While it looks like it took abuse the Blackbird never could, it works just fine.

"I won't be surprised if cassette tapes and Sony Walkmans get priced through the roof in 5-10 years."

I recently spent nearly $300 for a 1992 Sony D-25 Discman, sans battery ;)

I cannot remember how much my Diana camera cost me, but as I was getting 1s* a week pocket money it would have been several week's 'wages'!

In contrast to the rather good idea of building a camera from a kit, I took the Diana apart to see how it worked, and all I have left is the lens element.

*1s is one English shilling, a 20th of an English pound. This was a reasonable amount back then, in around 1967.

If you're the type that already has an iPhone, you can get your plastic camera for $1.99 with the Hipstamaticapp. But, the really fun part of this is the "History" blog that was created prior to the release of the app. http://hipstamatic.com/
Start reading the blog at the bottom.
I know an iPhone using hipster who actually believed this story about two brothers who developed and manufactured a plastic camera in the woods of Wisconsin and then tragically died in a car wreck.

John- I've been day dreaming of an M4-P... and retirement. I know I'll never acheive the latter, nevertheless I one day look forward to a Bessa R4m (to use with the 21mm Vouigtlander).

Enjoy! And thanks for the tip.


it might be time to pick up the glue and paint again, if only for the pleasure of playing with modern kits. And to help fill in your copious free time, of course.

Tamiya (as well as Fujimi and Hasegawa) may not have the classic '20s cars, but between them they do a fine line in Euro stuff. And some of the more interesting Japanese ones, as well.

As for 'manual dexterity'... who gives a toss - I'd say that wanting to do it is much more important (and you're all growed-up now, so who cares what 'they' say :~) ). The guy in our local club who has the most fun with his hobby throws his models together, slaps the paint and decals on, then goes on to the next one, leaving the gaps and fingerprints showing. No, he'll never win a prize, but fun is it's own reward. :)


good to see I'm not alone in here. Do you post to the newsgroup rec.models.scale ? If not, pop in and say hi; we're not as busy as we used to be, so new faces are always welcome.

I love my old Dianas, especially the one labeled Tru-View, and I really love my Gakkenflex. Putting the kit together one December morning brought back memories of Christmases past.

I'm less impressed with the Diana + re-issues. The superiority of vintage plastic is apparent. Though, wait, the Gakkenflex is pretty damn awesome. Maybe they have access to some NOS optical plastic.

As far as better cameras being available at a cheaper price, just a reminder: you're paying for the bad quality. That's the appeal.

Some Gakkenflex pics:

At least one can put film in the darn thing. Try that with your reasonably priced Nikon D-Whatever.


You wrote "In fact I'd love to see a really well-made plastic camera come on the market".
It already has - it's called the Nikon D90.

My favorite camera that I've been using for the past 15 years is a Diana F. I found it new in the box for $1.50 at a Salvation Army thrift store. The original price tag, probably from the 1960's was $1.25.

Anyway, I have taken many of my favorite pictures with this camera, even though I have dozens of cameras from 110 through 8x10 and mostly shoot with cameras I paid 1000 times more for! It has some strange quality to the lens that makes beautiful pictures. Some examples are on my website.

My Diana F camera is now worn out, and has fallen apart several times and reglued. It has some sort of fogging sometimes, probably due to a light leak in the shutter. About 10 years ago, I super glued a filter ring on it and inadvertantly fogged the lens, but it still performs well. Took some great pictures in Yosemite a couple years ago.

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