Is The Digital Version Of A Disposable Camera Better Than The Real Thing?

Apr 7, 2015

The quintessential disposable camera shot: blown out lighting, and one very pronounced red eye.
Credit Tiffany Quimby / NHPR

A couple of months ago, we talked to Greg Beck – the creator of a counter-intuitive photo app called The White Album, which basically turns your smartphone into a disposable camera. Here's how it works: when you open the app a simple camera interface opens up. 

Credit via whitealbumapp.com

You have the option of a framing the shot in a square, ala Instagram, or in a circle, and you can choose to use the flash or not, but there's no peeking once you've taken the shot, no adding filters, no cropping, no nothing. Once you press the button, the photo is stored away from prying eyes until the roll is completed. Then you submit payment and The White Album prints and sends you the photos.

We wanted to see if a smartphone app could recreate or even improve on the feeling of the good old days of waiting for photos to be developed.

Producer Logan Shannon downloaded the app, while at the same time, Producer Taylor Quimby obtained a disposable camera so we would have a control set of photos. 

The Method

Logan treated her White Album photos as special photos, often forgetting about the app on her phone. She also "cheated" by taking a photo she could see with her camera app and then once she liked the composition, she would open up the White Album app and take the shot again. She does not feel bad about cheating despite admonishment from her peers. 

On the left a photo of a plant in the photographer's home and on the right a still life of cardboard animals.
Credit Logan Shannon / NHPR

Logan also used a few of her magnetic iPhone lenses to create some bizarre images.

Fish Eye Taylor.
Credit Logan Shannon / NHPR

Taylor on the other hand, used the disposable camera just like he would have back in olden times. He took group photos of people at work:

Credit Taylor Quimby / NHPR

He let his 3 year old son, Phin, take a few photos:

The world from the perspective of a 3 year old and his disposable camera.
Credit Phin Quimby / NHPR

And managed to travel back in time to the mid seventies:

Seriously, this would easily fit into a photo album of pictures from the Blizzard of '78.
Credit Tiffany Quimby / NHPR
The Verdict
Completely candid photo of 3/4 of the Word of Mouth team in the break room.
Credit Taylor Quimby / NHPR

Is the digital version of a disposable camera better than the real thing? Well, mostly yes. For one thing the photo quality is better: the lens on an iPhone 5 (in this instance) is vastly superior to the lens on a store brand disposable camera. Chances are that even if Taylor had taken a more careful approach to his photo taking, the results would have been about the same: grainy, over or underexposed photos with bland colors. 

On the left is Senior Producer Maureen McMurray taking a photo of Producer Logan Shannon in Control Room 5 without enabling the flash on the disposable camera.
Credit L: Logan Shannon R: Maureen McMurray

The White Album Photos came in a neat little white box with a cut out for the photos. We're all fans of nice packaging, so it was an extra treat when the photos arrived. Because you're using the power of the iPhone's camera you get the ability to create a photo with depth; not everything has to be in focus. One aspect that we weren't as excited about was that all of the photos seemed to have a filter applied to them, the colors were more muted and while the quality of the photo paper was high, the print quality seemed a bit sub par. 

Waiting for photos feels incredibly archaic, but there was something nice about discovering the photos we took weeks after we'd taken them. 

L: The team enjoying some candy cigarettes. R: Logan and the Austin Powers figurine laughing at a hilarious joke.
Credit L: Logan Shannon R: Taylor Quimby
We all agreed that this shot of Tiffany Quimby was the best photo in the disposable camera set.
Credit Taylor Quimby / NHPR
Credit Logan Shannon / NHPR