Yes, but....

My little brother (who my daughter adorably and confusingly calls "Baby Uncle Eric") got married recently. I love film (shocking, I know). He loves film. We grew up on film. I asked him if he'd be interested in me getting his groomsmen (and a few others) disposable cameras for the weekend. I offered to develop and scan them for him. He was ecstatic. The results were a bit of a mixed bag. Here's how you can have better, more consistent results at your wedding with disposable cameras.

The biggest problem is that no one knows how to use them. While the older generations grew up on film, they don't remember how to shoot a disposable camera properly. And while the younger generations think they're really cool and trendy, they've never shot one at all.

Fortunately, it doesn't take an in-depth tutorial to get great results-- it all boils down to getting everyone to TURN ON THE FLASH. I found this is more challenging to implement than I thought it would be. Most people don't realize how much light film needs because we're so used to our digital cameras that can compensate in huge ways for poor or negligent light. Film's not that forgiving. Unless you're outside in direct sun, the flash should be on. Even if you're outside on a sunny day, if you're not facing the light, the flash should be on.

Below are some lessons I learned the hard way about trusting people who aren't avid film shooters with disposable cameras and how to get the good results.

It's all about the flash

Not all disposable cameras are created equally

Since the quality of the images is heavily dependent on the use of flash, you have to pick a camera with a flash that's both powerful AND easy to use.

DON'T use: Kodak 400TX Disposable Camera (or really any of the Kodak ones)

Oh yeah, I'm starting my slam fest early and decisively. I wanted this camera to be so cool. It's a 400 speed black and white disposable camera. I love black and white film and 400TX is a great stock on its own. However, there are three big things this camera has against it.

  1. It's not very sharp. Sure, these are disposable cameras, I'm not expecting the images to look like they came straight from some fancy Leica. But I do expect them to be sharp-ish, and they absolutely were not, especially in comparison to another camera I also used.
  2. The flash button is unintuitive. It's a little lightning button, small, unassuming. Typically things you want in a camera. But not in a disposable camera people who are using drunk, on a whim, without much know-how to begin with. I gave some of these cameras out at the wedding and they came back with BY FAR the most "blanks." In this case, a blank is when someone didn't turn the flash on but took a photo and the image may as well have never been taken at all. The first roll I developed from one of these had TWO images on it. TWO... of 36! What a waste of money and a loss of moments!
  3. The flash isn't very powerful. Part of the allure of a disposable camera is that harsh, kinda vibey, high-key, direct flash look. And this one doesn't have that. On top of that, since it's not very powerful, it can't stretch very far in a room. So if people are taking wide shots indoors, expect them all to be underexposed as all get out even IF they follow directions and use the tiny, button flash.

It seems like most, if not all, Kodak disposable cameras have that tiny, flash button. For that reason, I don't care how much I like Kodak film, I will never recommend putting Kodak disposable cameras out for a wedding. Ever.

DO use: Fuji QuickSnap 400 speed disposable camera

This is a 400 speed color film disposable camera. Fuji has a few disposable cameras, but I really prefer the one with a sliding button for the flash as opposed to a flash tab. Use this camera because:

  1. The flash is powerful.
  2. The flash button is easier to turn on. I've even heard of people supergluing or taping it in the ON position for a wedding reception. I think this is brilliant and should ABSOLUTELY be done. That's how you'll get a pretty high hit-rate with this puppy.
  3. The images are sharp.
  4. The ISO is pretty fast. I wouldn't get a disposable camera with film loaded that is lower than 400 ISO. So, no 200 ISO, 125 ISO, etc. cameras.

In short, this camera was everything the Kodak 400TX one WASN'T. It was GOOD.

There are a lot of other disposable camera options out there, so here's how you should buy them and what you should be prepared to for:

You don't have to buy the exact disposable camera I had success with, however, if you're giving out disposable cameras at your wedding they should have a BIG flash tab or slider. I put little pieces of paper on each disposable camera that said "DO NOT FORGET THE FLASH!" and many people still forgot to use the flash. If you're putting them on reception tables, go the extra step and tape the flash into the ON position.

Once the wedding is over, make sure no one travels through airport TSA with them. The X-ray machines can damage the film. I recommend mailing them into a lab or dropping them off at a local lab near the wedding venue this way you avoid destroying the images during transit.

And last, but not least, expect many of the images to be kinda meh or rolls to be blank. These are not going to look like your photographer's images they took with their fancy cameras. Disposable camera images have their own charm, because they're present with people when their guard is down. You won't love every image, but you will REALLY love a few (and so will everyone you share them with)!