James's Camera Collection: Some of the Worst Cameras I Own

The Dog Pound

I can't afford a lot of expensive equipment. I buy most of my stuff at garage sales, swap meets and thrift shops, so for every Rolleiflex that I own, I've got at least one Fotron. In fact, as I was typing up the description for a camera recently, I started wondering which is the worst camera that I own? That's a tough one. I've got a number of real dogs; not the three-legged, one-eyed rescue dogs that are loveable; I mean smelly, ugly, foul-tempered dogs. So I'm not picking on the Brownies of the world (not most of them anyway). I mean the cameras that appear to have been made by people who hated photography.

Don't believe me? Here's what I've come up with so far.

Counterfeit CanonCounterfeit "Canon" Q5200

This one makes me angry because I keep seeing it sold on eBay or in shops as a Canon when clearly it's not. It's sold under a variety of bogus brands and model numbers which are changed often enough to keep suckers from realizing what's going on. I saw this thing again the other day with I believe a Nikon badge.

At first glance it looks like a nice, modern SLR with a built-in winder and a potato-masher flash. In reality it's a TLR: that big blue window in the front of the pentaprism just under the "Canon" logo is the front window for the waist-level finder. That wide-aperture lens is actually a hell of a lot smaller if you take a good look at it. The eye-level finder really peeps out through that window on the camera's left side (just under the flash cable). It's cheap plastic. And I'll bet you that it has a block of lead in it to give it some heft, like the way Nishika did with their stereo camera.

It would be one thing if it were sold as a child's toy, but it's not. It's being foisted off, either fraudulently or by people who don't know better, as a quality SLR. They're missing their mark: it should be marketed at the people who buy Dianas and Holgas. They love these cheap-shit cameras.



Fotron IIIFotron

This is high, if not #1, on everyone's list of worst camera ever. You can be kind and say that it was just a camera designed by a committee, or you can be cynical and say it was an attempt to bilk people door-to-door on something more fun to own than a vacuum cleaner. Either way, this thing is truly apalling.

On its web page, I say this thing is bad on a Wagnerian scale and I mean it. Not only is it huge (you just don't get a sense of scale here), not only is it ugly, badly laid out, or again — something that would have been forgiven if it had the name Fisher-Price or Mattel on it, it takes 828 film, the worst film-format ever. 828 seems the first film of choice of every nasty camera, and I'm sure it would have been used on the "Canon" above if it were still being sold.



Haleel Tri-VisionHaleel Tri-Vision

This is my personal #1. It is truly abysmal.

First off, it's a sort of stereo camera in that it takes pairs, but it would cost too much to have synchronized shutters so they just have two separate releases instead. So if you want to take a stereo photo, you have to fire each shutter at the same time.

Next is that it takes 828 film. 'nuff said.

Yet another is that's made of a kind of plastic that warps easily. The back plate doesn't fit properly, the film guides look like they were molded by someone while drunk. You'd have to wrap this thing entirely in duct tape to make it light-tight.



Tower One-Twenty

Tower 120

This thing is a turkey even by box camera standards, which are normally low. It feels like it's made of SPAM cans. It's got a plunger-shutter button (side) which feels like you're pushing a rusty bolt through a balsa-wood block. The bomb-site viewfinder (middle of the side) is so tiny and dark you can do better just eyeing along the top edge. I haven't used it since I was a kid so I don't recall how bad the optics are; but my guess is that you could grind a better meniscus lens with plate glass and a sanding block.

It takes an add-on flash that pushes into the connectors on the top. Knowing my luck it would burn up.

You know what's worse than owning one of these? Having two of them. I've also got the Boy Scout version. Be Prepared for disappointment, young man. I can't imagine getting the Photography merit badge with this beast.

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