The Nickelodeon PhotoBlaster is built for fun! A word of advice though: you have to approach this camera in the right frame of mind and it will deliver.
A Toy among Toys
Everything about this camera screams “Toy!” From the name – “Nickelodeon PhotoBlaster” – to the purple and green body with a big red shutter release button, this camera was designed for fun. Some toy cameras try to look like a “serious” camera. This machine makes no such pretenses. The thing that makes this camera so unique is it’s ability to shoot four separate pictures on one standard 35mm frame. That means that you can fit 96 pictures on a 24 exposure roll or 144 pictures on a 36 exposure roll! There are other cameras that will put four pictures on a single frame – the Lomography Actionsampler and the Lomography Supersampler, for instance – but those shoot four pictures in rapid sequence. The PhotoBlaster shoots one picture at a time. Technically, it’s a multi-lens half frame camera that shoots two pictures on each half frame. The instructions tell you to ask the lab to develop the roll as for a half frame camera, then you can cut the half frame diptychs in two to get your four pictures per frame. Good luck finding a lab that knows what to do with half frame pictures. If you don’t give your lab any special instructions, they will process it normally and you will end up with four pictures on each frame. That makes this a very unique polyptych machine. I know you like all those technical words. Maybe I should just call it a toy.
The most notable feature of this camera is it’s looks. It’s not terribly huge, but it’s definitely not a pocket camera. It’s almost entirely plastic, so it is light. It has a very odd shape, but it’s very comfortable to hold and to use. It has a built in flash that’s not too powerful, but recharges very quickly – under a second with fresh batteries. This is one of the shortest cycle time flashes I have. The first time I used it I thought that maybe there was something wrong with the flash ready light because it came back on so quickly.
The rounded body is mostly purple with a green “slime” hand grip and a big red shutter release button on top. Also on top, is the sci-fi styled transparent hemispherical frame counter that goes up to 144! It actually works, which is more than I can say for my Smena 35, but that’s another review.
On the back of the camera is the big film advance wheel right where you would expect it and a special dual-catch mechanism to prevent you from opening the back of the camera accidentally.
When you slide open the Nickelodeon brand-colored lens protector, you see two lenses – one above the other. I don’t know the focal length of the lenses, nor do I know the shutter speed or aperture of the lenses, but I treat this like a “Sunny 16” camera and it seems to work. I usually use 400 ASA film unless it’s very bright, then I’ll use 100. Indoors – 400 or 800 ASA.
Using the Nickelodeon PhotoBlaster
Loading the PhotoBlaster is easy except that opening the back might not be so intuitive. Where most cameras have a single slide that you move to unlatch the back, this one has two that you move in opposite directions. I suppose this is to make sure that you don’t accidentally open the camera in mid-roll. Maybe it’s so that the youngest kids won’t be able to open it accidentally and ruin their big sibling’s pictures. Once you’ve figured out that puzzle, you load the film as you normally would. Then, you close the back, slide open the lens cover, and keep pressing the shutter release and turning the film advance wheel until the clear oversized film counter is pointing to “1”.
Shooting with the PhotoBlaster is also easy – as you might expect from a toy. It’s fixed focus, fixed aperture, and fixed shutter speed, so there’s nothing to adjust. You can’t take a picture if the lens protector is in place, so you don’t have to worry about shooting an entire blank roll because you forgot to take off the lens cap. If you’re using the flash you need to wait until the ready light on the back of the camera is lit up, then press the big red button. Done! You’ve taken one of up to 144 pictures on this roll.
Winding is fast and easy, but it does feel a bit odd. That’s because only every other wind advances the film and then only half a frame. The first wind after your first shot doesn’t advance the film, it simply cocks the shutter for the second lens. After you’ve taken your second picture, turning the film advance wheel advances to the next half frame and cocks the shutter for the first lens again. So the film advance wheel alternates between advancing the film one half frame or leaving the film where it is and only cocking the shutter for the next picture. You can feel the difference between the two, but you soon learn to ignore it and just shoot away.
The camera was designed to allow you to maximize the number of pictures you could get on one roll of film, similar in concept to a half frame camera that allows you to fit twice as many pictures on a roll of film as a standard “full frame” 35mm. As with the half frame however, many users prefer to leave all the pictures together on a single frame to create a polyptych. That is, a single picture made out of multiple pictures. With half frame diptychs it’s fairly easy to keep track of which pictures go together, but with four pictures per frame you have to pay a bit more attention to the counter. You can just shoot without thinking about it and see which pictures happen to be grouped together, or you can shoot two related pictures at a time to go for diptychs, or you could shoot four pictures at a time to go for tetraptychs. If you started shooting with the film counter pointing to “1” and keep an eye on it, you should be able to keep track of things.
Unloading is a simple operation. You press the rewind button located on the bottom of the camera and turn the rewind crank. If you want to use the same roll again for multiple-exposures on this or another camera, you just stop rewinding as soon as the tension lets up.
Developing and Post Processing
You might be tempted to warn your lab that the film was exposed by a multi-lens or half frame camera as the instructions mention, but it’s not necessary and it would probably just confuse them. All four pictures fit in a standard 35mm frame, so they don’t have to do anything special to process, cut, or scan the film. They might break up some of your polyptychs, but you can put them back together digitally if you like. If you want to do any of the special post-processing tricks however, you should ask them to scan at two times their normal scanning resolution because each individual picture is two times smaller than normal.
As I mentioned earlier, this camera was designed to take up to 144 separate pictures, so you could actually crop out each picture individually if you wanted, but I think most people prefer to leave them in groups of four. If you do want to crop out individual pictures, keep in mind that each picture is half as big as (one fourth the area) as a normal picture. If you scale it to the same size as a normal 35mm picture, the grains will be twice as big also. That’s why you want to scan at double the resolution if possible.
If you have your own scanner, you could do even bigger groups of pictures. There is no law that says you have to keep them together or take them apart or that you can’t rearrange them if you want. If you do leave them together as a polyptych, you might have to compensate for the exposure of the various pictures if any members of a set were shot under different lighting conditions. You might also have to move some pictures around if the lab cut your negatives in the wrong place or grouped your pictures incorrectly during scanning. Here’s a sample of a big polyptych you could get by leaving two full frames together:
Because this camera can take so many pictures and because they are smaller one trick you can consider is to make a movie out of several successive shots like this:
The Nickelodeon PhotoBlaster tries to warn you right up front that it’s a toy camera – not to be taken too seriously. If you approach it with the right frame of mind, this little polyptych producer will live up to its promise.