Disposable Cameras 101

Written by A.J Taylor

You have a special event coming up like a party or night out and want to commemorate with some film photos without risking losing or damaging your camera. A disposable or "single-use" camera may be the solution for you!


As implied by the name, a "disposable" is a camera that you use once to completion and then once the film is extracted, will be disposed of. Unfortunately these days the plastic parts are not easy or always possible recycle so if you do decide to use disposable cameras regularly - consider investing in a reusable 35mm camera like a Kodak M38 or searching for a second hand SLR or point & shoot that has been professionally checked and verified by a technician like you'd find at Twin City Cameras

Every disposable camera is pre-loaded with a single roll of 35mm film. With disposables, the film inside is actually already at the end of the roll and with each shot you take, you are effectively winding the film back inside the canister. This differs to regular 35mm cameras where you insert a fresh roll of film from the start and advance it through the camera until you reach the end of the roll. Then you must rewind the film back into the canister before it can be extracted. Given that disposables are designed to be simple to use, all the controls are fixed. That means you have a fixed aperture (typically f/8-f/11) and a fixed shutter speed of usually 1/100th of a second. This is why we highly recommend choosing a disposable that comes with a flash for best overall results unless you have a particular need for one without. For example, there are waterproof options available for the beach/pool/snorkeling (see image below) and also cameras purely designed for bright, sunny outdoor use. However if you plan to use your disposable in a variety of lighting conditions - especially indoors - then we highly recommend one with a flash!


The only other variable is the film inside. Most disposable cameras will allow you to take up to 27 photos - but some offer 39 exposures. The most common cameras are loaded with colour film but you can opt for black & white versions if you would prefer like those from Harman.  



All that remains is for you is to look through the viewfinder  (keeping in mind that what you see through there is just an approximation - this is not optical) and compose your shot. To take a photo you simply have to wind on until you hear a click - and if you need flash, ensure the flash is engaged by waiting to see the glow of a red light indicator, and press down on the shutter button. That's it! 

Keep winding and taking photos until there is no resistance on the winder (click to see video). This will ensure that you have shot the roll to completion and got the most value our of your camera. 

9 times out of 10, every disposable we receive has at least 1-2 shots left!  

Once you've finished taking all your photos, simply drop-off your camera at a film lab like us and we will safely extract and develop the film for you!


The biggest mistake we see when it comes to developing the film from disposable cameras is the flash not being used. This is especially common in wedding and party photos where cameras have been left on every table and the guests forget to use it. 

RULE: If you are taking a photo indoors, you MUST fire the flash! 

It seems silly, but even if inside seems well-lit and bright - to the film inside the camera - it is actually very dark. The film will only be able to pick up the brightest parts of the shot without flash i.e. light sources and illuminated signs. 

Another mistake we sometimes see is people accidentally obstructing the lens when taking a photo. This is usually with their finger as they hold the camera (see below).


In order to avoid this, just take a second to check your fingers are not in the way and if by chance you have accidentally touched the front of the lens - make sure to gently wipe it clean of fingerprints. This will ensure you don't end up letting the smudge make all your photos soft-focus. 

Make sure you actually read and follow the instructions indicated on your chosen disposable camera. Yes - we know - who reads instructions anymore? But these ones are just a few numbers and they matter. 

These numbers show you the minimum and maximum focusing distance/s for your camera. Translation: make sure your subject is placed within that distance when taking a shot to ensure sharp and well exposed photos. 



We decided to take a look at two of our best-selling disposable cameras and see how they fared. For the purpose of this demonstration, the first camera I used was a Kodak 27EXP disposable (full disclosure that it was slightly expired) against an Agfa LeBox 27EXP disposable. Both equipped with flash. 


The first major difference between the two is the mechanism to trigger the flash. Kodak has a button that needs to be pressed (click to see video), until it is ready to fire, indicated by a red glow, and remain held down for the duration of composing the shot and taking the photo. This means the use of flash is much more deliberate and you need to remember to do this for each shot. 

The Agfa however has a switch to engage the flash (click to see video). Once the switch is moved to the ON position, you just have to wait for the red light on the top of the camera to indicate the flash is ready - and you can go ahead and prepare your shot without having to hold anything down. The benefit of this design is that as long as the switch remains in the ON position, the camera will continue to recharge the flash after each shot (just watch for the red light). This is a major upside if the camera is going to be passed around at an event.


While both models have flash, they are actually loaded with different film speeds. By "speed" we are referring to the ISO aka the "sensitivity" of the film pre-loaded into the camera. 

The Kodak is loaded with an 800 ISO film. This is a 'faster' film with more light gathering abilities.

The Agfa has a 400 ISO film which is the speed of film we commonly refer to as the best all-rounder.

The benefit of using an 800 speed for nighttime, is better exposure and latitude - but during the day, you might see more grain. A slower speed like 400 will render sharper looking photos especially in the daytime, but remember that it isn't as sensitive to light.

The Kodak's flash is also more powerful and used in combination with its fast film, is more ideal for groups of people than the Agfa. 


The switch mechanism for the flash is much easier than the button mechanism when turning the camera on yourself and friends. 

With the camera closer to your face/s - the flash is obviously going to be at full blast and this is where the 400 speed of the Agfa is a win. It did not completely overexpose the skin tones. 



The results from the Kodak always tend to be more consistent and render better colour - as it is a better quality film stock. However the flash mechanism can be tricky - but if you use it properly you will get the best results. 

A disposable with a switch mechanism for the flash like the Agfa is more beneficial if you plan on passing the camera around. It's also easier to take selfies!

The best advice you can take away from this is:

A) Go for a disposable with a flash

B) Always USE the flash!