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Our man investigates the artistic effects of using an iPhone vs. a disposable camera—the latest photo trend in Japan—to take pictures.

Here’s an easy way to make you feel old: Remember a time when film cameras were the norm?

Some of our younger readers may not even be able to remember that far back (gasp!), or even to a time before everyone, their mom, and their pet dogs had cell phones, let alone smartphones. In fact, it’s so easy to take a high quality picture on your phone nowadays that many young people don’t even own separate digital cameras.

Despite the unquestionable popularity of smartphones, there seems to be a recent trend among young Japanese people to use single-use, disposable film cameras. One of the most popular of these models is called Utsurun Desu (写ルンです), which was first produced by FujiFilm in 1986 (it’s known as QuickSnap overseas).

Although the production of disposable cameras in general has declined in recent years, a few models such as Utsurun Desu can still be purchased in stores in Japan. Now they’re experiencing a revival of sorts among many people who claim that the blurry, unfocused quality of the images taken with them have a certain aesthetic charm. In fact, this very appeal of the way that the fixed-focus lens renders the out-of-focus parts of an image can be described using the photography term bokeh. It is precisely this concept of bokeh, which actually comes from a Japanese word that means “blur,” which left our very own “reporter extraordinaire” Mr. Sato scratching his head in puzzlement.

▼ A relic of yesteryear, or a trendy toy among the cool crowd?


After a lengthy soliloquy about the events of his childhood which led him to dress like a bright yellow pear as an adult, Mr. Sato finally admitted that he couldn’t afford a regular camera back in the day, so he was well acquainted with the ways of the disposable variety. However, it’s been almost 20 years since he last used one of them as he’s now part of the smartphone camera crowd—he just couldn’t understand all those young people that he’d been hearing about recently who claimed that there’s a certain appeal, and even warmth, to the pictures taken with a disposable camera.

But what better way to find out than to conduct a photographic investigation of his own (and sneak some embarrassing shots of his coworkers in the process!)? Armed with an Utsurun Desu and his own iPhone 5s, he eagerly set out to begin gathering evidence.

▼ Don’t worry, there will be no photos of a half-naked Mr. Sato like during his recent foray into the world of cardboard fashion… Well, except for this one.

Mr. Sato

In order to easily do a side-by-side comparison of the images taken by digital camera (i.e., his iPhone) and a disposable film camera (Utsurun Desu), Mr. Sato decided to take pictures of various things twice each–once with each kind of camera. He had almost forgotten about how you have to wind the roll of film in a disposable camera after each picture you take, but luckily he got back into the groove pretty quickly.

The very first photos he took were of a cake he bought at the local convenience store. Let’s take a look at how the iPhone version came out first:


In short, it looks just like the hundreds of other high-quality pictures you can take on a smartphone nowadays. It also goes without saying that a huge advantage of taking digital pictures in general is that you can check them instantly, and then delete the ones that you don’t like.

Now for the Utsurun Desu version:


Huh? What happened? Mr. Sato was puzzled as to why the disposable camera version didn’t come out so well. For some people, the anticipation of waiting for the film to develop is what makes this type of camera exciting, but Mr. Sato actually felt more deflated than anything after seeing the above image when he went to pick up his photos. This blurriness couldn’t possibly be what all those people are talking about, could it?

He decided to try his luck on a human subject next:


Yup, just as we’re all used to–the picture looks as if we’re staring at the person (in this case, one of the Japanese RocketNews24 staff) with our very own eyes. On the other hand, the image taken with the disposable camera…


…still didn’t impress him much. In fact, it almost looks pixelated, and the room just appears cold and much darker. Could this possibly be the special aesthetic quality the kids are banging on about? Mr. Sato still wasn’t convinced. He thought it might be good to move outside, so he headed over to a small alleyway in the vicinity and took the following snapshot with his iPhone:


He couldn’t decide if this alley was too bright or too dark, but he thought it could have some character as long as he took it well. He hoped the third time would be the charm…


…and hey, what’s this now?! Wow, it really does gives off a kind of fuzzy, pleasant feeling, doesn’t it? Everything about this shot reminded Mr. Sato of the atmosphere of his youth, and he took a moment to enjoy the sudden wave of nostalgia. He supposed that this was the type of place where one should aim to take pictures in order to fully enjoy the bokeh effect. He searched his memory for other retro-looking places in the Tokyo area, and soon found himself at Manseibashi, an old bridge in the Akihabara district.

Excitedly, he whipped out first his iPhone and then the disposable camera to take pictures. The somber brick background should be a perfect place for creating an effective bokeh, right?



Yup, the film camera version definitely gives off a particular aesthetic vibe. Now let’s try this perspective shot on for size:


Even though the film camera version came out quite nicely, the advertisement for honey toast on the right ruined the overall mood a bit–though that was no fault of his own.


These last few disposable camera photos have just the right touch of retro-ness, and they almost brought our middle-aged Mr. Sato to tears. He concluded that the disposable camera seems to work best when enhancing subjects that already give off a certain dated air, such as urban scenery, and not when taking pictures of ordinary objects like cake or the guy who sits next to you at work.

Ultimately, Mr. Sato thought that he might play around with disposable cameras for a while longer. It was a pain to bring the film to a shop to get developed, but the sentimental feeling he had upon the seeing successful pictures more than made up for the trouble.

Below, enjoy the last few iPhone vs. disposable camera comparison photos from Mr. Sato’s photographic investigation. You’ll be the first ones to know when a museum undoubtedly snaps them up in the near future!









All images © RocketNews24
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