Debate: Disposable cameras prove 1990s nostalgia isn’t going anywhere

These old cameras are taking their shot at sticking around in our modern photography culture

Art by Claudia Culley

Art by Claudia Culley

Remember Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla movie from 1998 when Matthew Broderick used a Kodak camera to take the titular lizard’s picture? I sure do, but who knew the disposable camera would make a comeback in recent years? Disposable cameras are a popular fad that’s here to stay due to growing nostalgia and interests in analog photo technology. 

The disposable camera is a single-use device that has a standard film roll of 27 shots, a viewfinder and shutter for the point-and-shoot mechanism, an advanced wheel to switch frames, and a battery, if the camera has a flash. 

The pictures look grainy and soft because you can’t adjust lighting and colour when taking a shot. The images have to be developed at a photo lab to acquire physical or digital copies and the camera itself is typically thrown away after use. 

The persistent nostalgia for disposable cameras is a product of the overall comeback of 1990s pop culture from bucket hats to the iconic TV series, Friends. In any case, taking digital pictures instantly and quickly with iPhones seem incomparable to reminiscing over a developed photo. Other factors that possibly played a role in this trend are current pandemic woes or other world crises just after the 1990s that made people long for the optimistic world of that decade. 

What also supports the permanent hype for disposable cameras are its past financial success and future economic projections. JC Market Research reported that these devices generated over $838 million USD in revenue back in 2021. However, JCMR anticipates that in the next seven years, the market value for the cameras will grow to around $1.23 billion USD. 

One may argue that disposable cameras are a temporary trend because of the concerns for whether they are eco-friendly when thrown away. Since the camera is single-use, it becomes useless after its exposures are used. You can have a film developer recycle it, but if you plan to reuse it multiple times, you must get a new battery and film roll, creating more waste. 

Digital cameras obviously lack this hassle as you can recharge and reuse them more easily, and you aren’t limited to 27 exposures. 

However, the growing interest for disposable cameras within popular culture will not stop, even with environmental concerns in mind. The Los Angeles Times reported that these cameras are getting more famous among Millennials, Gen Zs, celebrities, and social media influencers. 

The appeal for old cameras is not just due to the vast array of people enjoying them. It’s also a result of film photography becoming more mainstream as an art form. Toronto photographer Brjánn Batista Bettencourt felt more meaning in his work using disposable cameras.

“It lets you hone in on what you’re doing and you can kind of be in the experience as a photographer or as an artist. Not having direct results allows me to really focus on the task at hand,” said Bettencourt in an interview with CBC. 

If Bettencourt’s view on these cameras conveys anything, it’s that artists returning to vintage tech reflect their strange desire for analog-based tranquility. They want to explore unconventional avenues within their craft for not only a living but to also put their minds at ease. 

Whether you’re a 1990s kid or discovered this classic tech for the first time, disposable cameras have become surprisingly popular. These antiques aren’t leaving anytime soon, so might as well say, “Cheese.”