© 2019 by Silver in the Dark

Soda Can Cameras

After watching a video by awesome film photo youtuber, Negativefeedback, (Go watch the video!) about a camera shaped like a beer can, I knew I had to try it out. I promptly went to eBay, bid on multiple items (just in case), and by the next morning had won two 'new' 35mm film toy cameras. I'm often a snob when it comes to low quality cameras, but after my fun experience with the Diana F (Review Here) I was excited to try out some more plastic toy cameras. 

Which one is the camera?

After stopping by my local used camera store to pick up some FujiColor 200 film, I headed out to a family bbq, the perfect place to enjoy some swimming, steak, and shooting. 

It looks like he's simply enjoying a Coke while grilling....no one would guess its a 20 yr old 35mm film camera!

My expectations were very low, so I was pleasantly surprised to get some ok photos from these fun cameras. These cameras are not about picture quality, their true value comes from the shooting experience. I have to admit that my family thinks I'm crazy for my obsession with film, and some of my younger relatives didn't even know what film was until I started bringing my old cameras around. So, an afternoon with some Coke can shaped cameras was heaven for a film geek like me, and a little fun and mostly tolerable for my loved ones.

Because they are plastic and cheap, I did things with these cameras that I would never do with my DSLR or Hasselblad. I got right into the pool to grab some action shots. These cameras are NOT waterproof, but the only electrical bits are for the flash so I was careful to keep the camera above water. A little splashing didn't seem to affect the camera at all. (well maybe, I shorted out the flash on one of them). 

Overall, I'd say that $30 on eBay is well worth the opportunity to enjoy film photography with others. Whether out doing street photography or at home with the family, can cameras are sure to spark interest. 

So grab a cold one and lets talk specs:

Typically, I over-research everything for my blog posts. I spent about 3 weeks of research on my Hasselblad Lens post, and at least a few days on the Diana F review. However, earlier today when I fired up Google to start the process on these cameras, I found little to nothing.... 

If you google "soda can camera" hundreds of links for DYI pin hole cameras (made of actual soda cans) will pop up, and although a new project has just been added to my list, none of this was helpful in my quest to discover the origins and history behind my new toys.

The first camera I bought is the Topico Lemon-Cola camera. This is a variation of a commonly found toy camera made by a Hong Kong company, Ginfax, in the late 1990's. Ginfax made a ton of toy cameras in all sorts of crazy shapes from French Fries to soccer balls. The most popular of these cameras seems to be the can shaped ones that come in a large variety of flavors, including: Heineken, Budweiser, Kirin, Coke, Pepsi, Fanta and more. These are all easy to find on eBay and range between $20-$30. The one I purchased is used but arrived in mint condition.

First Impressions: 

Pros:

  • Lots of brand options

  • Wind mechanism integrated into the lid is awesome

  • Lifting the tab to rewind is also awesome

Cons:

  • To shoot you have to pop the side out to reveal the lens and flash, which ruins the incognito effect.

The second camera I won on eBay was a Coca-cola can. This one is made by a different company, but I can't tell you any more than that. I searched Coca-Cola cameras for about an hour before giving up, I also contacted the seller but have yet to hear back. I found disposable coke cameras, Christmas polar bear coke cameras, the Ginfax version of the coke camera, 110 film coke cameras that look similar, but this is the only trace of a 35mm coke camera with 'hidden' lens that I could find. It came new in the box, with original wrapping and a simple set of instructions. 

First Impressions: 

Pros:

  • Lens and flash are integrated in the can cylinder for more 'stealth' shooting.

  • Brand label looks great

Cons:

  • I wish the flash and viewfinder also had little slides to hide them.

  • No tab on top of can.

Mechanics:

Topico Lemon Cola

Coca-Cola Can

Focusing Distance:

I expected that this basic point and shoot camera was probably focused somewhere between 3-6 feet to infinity, and I was right. This is the one thing I really hate about shooting with this kind of camera, I abhor busy backgrounds and my solution is to get as close as possible to my subject. No such luck with a toy camera. I ran a basic test with the Topico Lemon Soda camera and the results are as follows:

Without Flash

Unless you have 5 foot arms when taking selfies, you will get the blur skin smoothing effect that is all the rage these days. 

With Flash

4ft:

These big block letters don't look too bad at 4ft, but if you zoom in you can tell it's definitely not sharp. People or objects with more detail don't look great.

7ft:

Things are starting to look in focus. 

10ft:

At this distance the plastic lens is actually decently sharp. If you zoom in you can absolutely tell it's still a crap lens, but for sharing on instagram or other social media, its not bad at all!

Film camera selfie on black and white Kodak 100TMAX

Shutter Speed and Aperture:

It's a point and shoot; you aren't supposed to care about settings, and it's not as if you can control them anyways. So, for my first three rolls of film, I shut up my inner perfectionist, let loose and just shot, and low and behold it worked out just fine. But despite it not mattering much, I WANTED to know what the settings are. So, I set about conducting a shutter speed experiment. I used a flash light and my iphone 'high speed' camera to film the shutter, then I got a headache from trying to wrap my head around frames per second vs. fractions of seconds, so I also recorded the shutter from my Nikon, which ran out of batteries and wouldn't fire, so I got out my Yashica and was able to match 1/250 second as being the shutter speed of both the can cameras. I also started thinking about aperture size, but couldn't really do so in a scientific manner for multiple reasons: I don't have precision measuring equipment, I held the camera at varying distances from the iphone, and I don't know the specifics in the science of comparing a medium format TLR to a plastic 35mm lens hole. So I am guessing it is approximately f16, considering that I shot with 200 ISO color film and 1/250th second exposed perfectly in bright daylight. I developed the Kodak 100 TMAX prior to all these calculations, but I correctly guessed that I may have underexposed it, so I pushed it one stop when developing which worked perfectly. 

Coca-Cola Can

Topico Lemon Cola

Both Cans Side-by-Side

Problems:

The main problem with these cameras, is that cheap plastic components don't make for good smooth winding. Both cameras experienced unevenly spaced frames, but no major overlap of shots so not too much of a problem there. The major problem that occurred with both cameras was jamming during rewind. One didn't rewind all the way so I lost the first three shots. The other jammed mid rewind and I opened the camera to find the film still right there! Oops! For the third roll, I learned my lesson and took the entire camera into the darkroom before opening it, and of course, it had rewound all the way and I found myself scrambling around in the dark searching for a can opener.

The second problem is that the flash on the Coke can camera stopped working.. I did have it in the pool, so I was perfectly prepared for this to be my fault. But I decided to take the camera apart to see if there was a loose wire somewhere. I like to think that I am good at tinkering....I am not.... when I pulled the electrical bits out, I did so very recklessly, bridged a circuit with my finger and mildly electrocuted myself. 

This is what happens when you open a camera with the film still loaded.. oops, at least I only lost about 3 shots, and the partially ruined shots look kinda 'cool'

Nothing appeared obviously wrong with it, so I took some photos and put it back together, I dropped a screw down inside the camera and it ended up in the viewfinder! I took the camera back apart and retrieved the screw. When I got it all back together again, the flash started working, probably not due to anything on my part. I haven't used the camera again since, but I'm prepared for some massive light leaks now that I've fiddled with the plastic seams. 

Screw ended up in view finder during reassembly

Exposed shot counter looks really cool. Also its neat to see how they packed all the components neatly into the tight space. I like how the little flash status indicator bulb lines up perfectly with the little plastic window.

Capacitors store electric charge! Don't be stupid like me, use care when taking apart electronics! Wear rubber gloves and research how to safely discharge capacitors.

Comparison:

These two cameras are virtually identical when it comes to image quality. They also have the same issues that come along with being plastic cameras such as jams, and no ability to focus closer than 4-5 ft. Feature wise, I probably prefer the mysterious Coca-Cola camera, as the lens is integrated into the can so it still looks like soda when shooting. Also it is apparently more rare. I like the tab and advance/rewind feature on the top of the Ginfax model. Initially when I found out that I won two can cameras I thought I would probably turn around and sell one, but after trying them out and exploring their differences, I think I will keep them both. 

These rolls were developed in the same tank, any differences are most likely due to my personal color negative digital editing inconsistencies. 

Coca-Cola Can

Topico Lemon-Cola

Final Thoughts:

If you are a film photography nerd like me, and don't own a soda can camera, get over to eBay right now and pick out your favorite brand of coke or beer! If you are interested in getting into film photography, I can't think of a more fun way to start. Not only is this camera entertaining, it takes decent photos for a piece of plastic. Also, it serves as a great ambassador to the film community, my family was actually excited to see the results, and my 13 year old step brother in law, along with my little nephew and soon to be niece will grow up knowing the joys of film photography! Next I plan on taking it out on the street for some stealth shooting....nah, I don't really shoot like that, but I am definitely thinking it will be a great conversation starter to engage my subjects!

Have you shot with a soda can camera? Do you know the origin story of the Coke can camera in this post? Leave your comment below...