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In snippets and snapshots: The charm of retro cameras for Gen Z

By Nat Roque Published Oct 13, 2023 5:00 am

During my 8th grade birthday party, I only had my gray Nikon Coolpix to take photos. I felt shy and old-fashioned since iPhones were all the rage then.

This year, right after donating our old cameras to a recycling facility, I found out the very device I was embarrassed by is now the hottest new item. My dad, after I vented about the mishap, asked why my sisters and I are even obsessed with old cameras—we already have a disposable camera and an Instax. Why do we bother with developing photos with yesteryear’s gadgets when we have the convenience and quality of smartphones?

It’s easy to see why vintage cameras may be right up Gen Z’s alley. The film grain, slight blur, and lower photo quality evoke a sense of authenticity, offering a refreshing break from the highly curated photos that dominate social media.

Beyond the aesthetic, the limitations of these cameras in terms of editing, features and number of shots are not seen as drawbacks to getting a “good” photo but are invitations to be more deliberate and creative with each shot. For 22-year-old Yanna, the delayed gratification is what hooked her on film photography. “With phones, we get the photos instantly so I feel that we don’t appreciate it as much. With film cameras, since the photos come after a while, they become more nostalgic. I (already) forget some of the events that are on the roll, so when it comes, I look back on the memory more fondly.”

The charm of these cameras also lies in how they slow down the process of taking a photo and make us more involved from start to finish. Some cameras even create additional steps, like loading and developing film rolls. It is, again, a stark contrast to how new technology makes everything fast-paced, automated and easily edited.

True enough, retro cameras allow us to be more present in the moments we capture. Taking photos with our phones means we’re prone to multiple retakes, notifications and other apps, all just a few taps away.

This can be tied to a larger movement called Slow Tech, which author Beth Crane defines as “consciously changing your interactions with technology to become more mindful and deliberate.“ Slow Tech aims to reduce overdependence on technology, especially since it is often geared towards achieving efficiency and optimization. It invites us to be more proactive with our use of gadgets to make more space for creativity and reflection, even if it means switching to more low-tech alternatives.

For the author, vintage cameras might be up the alley of Gen Zs.

Slow Tech resonates uniquely with our generation since we grew up with the internet and mass digitalization. We find low-tech devices “an antidote to digital fatigue,” as observed by writer Imogen Kars. In the case of retro cameras, they offer a more tactile and immersive experience that digital means simply cannot replicate.

True enough, retro cameras allow us to be more present in the moments we capture. Taking photos with our phones means we’re prone to multiple retakes, notifications and other apps, all just a few taps away. With more low-tech cameras, we have no choice but to take a snap or two, hope for the best, then go back to enjoying the moment unfolding in front of us. Less time and focus are placed on getting the “perfect shot,” and more on capturing the stories and memories behind them. Guia agrees with this, saying, “I get to live in the moment, because I feel content taking a few photos rather than stock up on them on my phone.”

Because slowing down makes our actions more meaningful and deliberate, Slow Tech helps us find more fulfillment and satisfaction in what we do. In turn, being more mindful of the way we use technology contributes to building our sense of self—when our actions purposefully reflect what is important to us, we get to affirm our identity even more. As an example, the time and effort I take in using my disposable camera or Instax helps affirm how I see myself: a sentimental person who values taking snippets of memories in creative ways.

Going back to my dad’s question in the beginning, our generation’s fondness for retro lies in the quirks that make capturing moments more meaningful to us. Our fascination reveals that, in the fast-paced and always-on status quo, slowing down is just what we are looking for.