A Note about My Crappy Cam

About a year ago I wanted to get a digital camera, but a very particular digital camera, one I wasn’t sure even existed: I thought camera phones were awesome, but I just wanted the camera part, not the phone part. (I’m generally in favor of products that are designed to only do one thing, and do that one thing well, and for a long time, but that’s another story, and a dull one.) I thought the shitty little pictures camera phones took were great—too small for printing, only big enough for e-mailing, sending to another phone, or posting to a Web site. Totally snapshot-y, like a Polaroid i-Zone [N.B. Link removed; no longer extant]. I thought it was great how there was no flash, how the pictures had weird and messed-up colors, and how the camera aspect of the device itself never seemed to have anything fancy or technical about it—no options, nothing to manipulate, just a button to press to take the picture.

In other words, I wanted a camera that I would use for the sole purpose of taking pictures for this Web site. Surely if this technology existed, I thought, someone made a product that was just a crappy cam, sans phone?

A few companies made products that fit this description—although not many, and only one or two of the cameras I found were Mac-compatible. The Nickelodeon Nick Click, for example, looked promising, but the software was Windows-only. I almost got a tiny camera made by Bell & Howell [N.B. Link removed; no longer extant]. But the one I ended up buying was even tinier, the Oregon Scientific DS6618 [N.B. Link removed; no longer extant]. (I paid $44.95, but you’ll notice that a year later the price has dropped to $29.90.) It looks like this:

(The weird black rectangle under my left hand in the picture is the carrying case; the dangly strings are the strap.)

I found it after a lot of obsessive Googling for phrase combinations like “digicam” “no flash” “no preview” “Mac,” etc. I knew this was the camera for me when I read a completely negative one-star review on Amazon, here.

The reviewer writes: “Though it is very conveniently small and portable, you will notice that there are no other cameras this small on the market. Why? The camera can only take pictures up to 640×468 pixels. If you know anything about printing and digital cameras, that is absolutely horrible.” I thought, yes! I do know things about printing and digital cameras—and that is exactly the size picture I want. The camera, this reviewer says, makes “crappy-quality photos with a lot of noise and off-the-walls lighting problems.” Perfect! Just like with a camera phone! “The biggest problem with this camera is no LCD display,” he continues; “[w]ith this camera, it’s just hopelessly aim and click.” Yet again, exactly right for me—I prefer the delayed gratification of not knowing to what, to me, is a kind of alienating immediacy with LCD displays—and the hopeless aiming is part of what I love about analog photography. (Without hopeless aiming we have no Robert Frank, and without Robert Frank where the hell would we be as Americans?) Still more: “Lighting is horrible, and colors are all over the place.” Excellent! An opportunity, surely, for happy accidents. In conclusion, the reviewer says, “Any person who wants a quality digital camera needs to be willing to spend at least 300 bucks, not 50 bucks.” A debatable proposition, but on the matter of the DS6618, I was completely sold.

All the photographs I’ve put on this Web site in the past year I took with this camera. For a couple years before that, the pictures I’d been putting up here were ones I took with my Nikon FM3a (with a Nikkor 45mm lens). My Nikon is a great bare-bones 35mm SLR, but with the time it took to shoot a roll, get a contact sheet made, schedule a few hours in the rental darkroom, etc.—as some of you reading this may recall, I rarely updated this site more than once a month. The crappy cam and Movable Type are improvements, I think.

Oregon Scientific, as the name might imply, makes a lot of things other than cameras. I think they might have actually discontinued the DS6618 at this point; it’s no longer mentioned on their Web site. It appears to have been replaced in their product line with the DS6628, which offers 1288 x 962 pixel resolution and a detachable flash; in other words, useless for my purposes! Perhaps they never quite figured out how to sell the crappy cam. (In delusional, pipe-dreamy moments, I’ve had this idea that it could become faddish in the art world, like Fisher-Price’s Pixelvision—but that seems highly unlikely.) Beyond the surprise of how small it is, the product presumably appeals, in its wonderful shittiness, to an extremely limited market. I recommend it, though.