Shooting for the First Shitty Camera Challenge [Rollei Retro 400S]

shitty camera challenge

Images shot on Rollei Retro 400S in Canon Sure Shot AF-7

Some things that can be shitty:

  • the internet
  • photography communities on the internet
  • Twitter, which is on the internet

Add these together though, with a dash of film, and you get the film photography community on Twitter, which is actually really nice.

There’s lots of conversation and support, and plenty of long-time favourite hashtags like #believeinfilm and #shootfilmbenice (of course) to keep people feeling part of something too.

More recently, I spotted another one doing the rounds. Something called the #shittycamerachallenge. So I took a look. With a hashtag like that, how could you not?

Some weeks later, I found myself doing this:

What is the Shitty Camera Challenge?

The Shitty Camera Challenge is the brainchild of Adam James, who blogs over at Silent Cartography. Very silent as it turns out as I can’t find any mention of map-making on the site.

The official rules for the Shitty Camera Challenge may change over time. For the latest, you can check the official Twitter account. I can summarise the first one here, though.

Task number one was to get hold of a shitty camera. Having picked these two up from a charity shop a couple of years ago, I was already spoilt for choice. But I chose the Canon Sure Shot AF-7 anyway.

Next was to shoot some film – any film – in said camera over the course of the first week in June 2018. The next two weeks could be spent developing this film, with the final week of the month reserved for posting the results.

The first prize, the winner of which was selected randomly, was a copy of Chicago’s CTA album. I’ve listened to this on Spotify and can confirm it’s shit.

That aside, the whole thing sounded like a few photo essays I’d done by choice anyway. So I picked a roll of Rollei Retro 400S and joined in.

The photographs here are from that roll, shot in Shanghai over three days in that first week in June.

Part 1: The Former French Concession

The first day I went out to shoot for the Shitty Camera Challenge, I headed to the Former French Concession.

As the name explains, this was the Gallic neighbourhood in the days when parts of Shanghai were conceded to foreign settlements.

Today, it’s one of the nicest parts of the city. Leafy, clean, relatively quiet, and pretty expensive, it’s a place to visit if you’re ever in town. I don’t think I’d want to live there though.

One walk I like to take is from Taikang Road, home of the Tianzifang art district and tourist mecca, and head north up Sinan Road to Fuxing Park.

The park always has plenty of local folk dancing and whatnot, and a kinda famous statue of Marx & Engels too. Once through the park, you can head further north still towards the busier and noisier People’s Square or West Nanjing Road.

That route is where these first photographs are from.

Part 2: Suzhou Creek and the Bund

I knew I wanted to get a shot or two of Shanghai’s Pudong skyline into this thing, so a visit to the Bund was always on the cards.

What I also needed was something else nearby to make the trip out worthwhile.

Suzhou Creek runs west to east through Shanghai and into the Huangpu River at the north end of the Bund, which made the road alongside it a good route for my second session for the Shitty Camera Challenge.

Tip: going west to east if you shoot in the afternoon means going in the direction of the sun, which makes finding shots with good light easier.

If your photo walk is in the morning, obviously going east to west will give the same benefit.

I got fewer keepers than from the first session, but was happy the homage to Lu Yuanmin on the Waibaidu Bridge came out okay.

Rollei Retro Black & White 400S 500 ISO, 35mm, 36 Exposure
  • Retro 400S is a completely reliable partner in changing light conditions
  • It can be used as both an all-round film and as a film for the grey areas - photography in available light and dim lighting conditions
  • Rollei RETRO 400S is coated onto a modern synthetic film base

Part 3: Laoximen and the Old Town

As parts 1 and 2 had featured mainly the newer and cleaner Shanghai, I wanted part 3 to show the older and dirtier.

So for the final Shitty Camera Challenge session, I headed to the Laoximen area of the city.

If you’re in Shanghai as a tourist and want to visit the old city, search results are going to point you in the direction of Yuyuan Gardens and the nearby Old Street, aka Fangbang Road.

It’s not necessarily a bad place to visit, but it’s not really a genuine old residential area anymore. People do still live there, but they’re in amongst the masses of day trippers and souvenir shops in restored buildings.

The area around Laoximen, on the other hand, is genuine. The shikumen there, in a prime Shanghai commercial real estate spot, are 100% residential. You know this because their days are sadly numbered.

Starting at Dashijie subway station, I walked around Laoximen, the Yuyuan residential area, and finally down through the commercial old street and beyond, where this roll of film – and this challenge – was completed.

Why I shouldn’t have done the Shitty Camera Challenge

Despite enjoying making these photographs, there was a reason I maybe shouldn’t have joined this challenge.

When I did, I was partway through a big photography project of my own; a 365 street photography project called the #leesixtyfive.

It was a project with a deadline, and one that I was behind schedule on. The three afternoons I went out to make these photographs could have been spent catching up on my own thing.

If at the end of the #leesixtyfive I fell short by anything under 30 photographs, I might have regretted doing this. Thankfully, that didn’t happen and my own thing got completed too.

So all’s well that ends well. And actually, this Shitty Camera Challenge ended up leading to something far more than I thought it would at the time.

Why I’m glad I did the Shitty Camera Challenge

A few reasons, really. While I was a little concerned about the time this took away from the #leesixtyfive, it was actually nice to shoot something else for a few days.

I’d been at that for almost a year now and, despite how much I was looking forward to having the finished set of images, it was a grind shooting one thing for that long.

With that project being shot on digital and in colour, filling a roll of monochrome Rollei Retro 400S – a film you can find for yourself at B&H Photo, on Amazon, or at Analogue Wonderland – was kinda refreshing.

It was also a pleasant surprise to see the results that the Retro 400S and Canon Sure Shot AF-7 gave me. The low grain and high contrast is a look I really like. So when I later picked up another roll of it, I shot it that one in the same camera.

After that gave me a set of photographs I really liked too, I decided to put them all together in one big project that can be printed and shared physically. And that’s where Shanghai Streets, my first film photo zine, came from. All the images on this post are in there.

The camera I used for this thing may have been shit. That first prize Chicago CD definitely was. But for where it all led to for me, with it being the origins of my first zine, I couldn’t be any more grateful for the thing as a concept.

There’s nothing shitty about that at all. 🙂

If you enjoyed that post on the Shitty Camera Challenge, why not take a look at these also to stay inspired or learn more about the Rollei Retro 400S I used here:

  1. My complete review of this Rollei Retro 400S film
  2. What I shot with my second roll of Rollei Retro 400s
  3. Shooting another ISO 400 monochrome film in Shanghai

And if you think others will enjoy this post on an ongoing Twitter film photography challenge too, help them find it by sharing or pinning.  😀

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