It’s not a Leica, but if you’re a film photographer, you’re probably going to Like-uh-it a lot. If you like LEGO, you’ll likely be quite partial to it, too. Yes, it’s the (limited edition?) LEGO VIP Rewards Vintage Camera. This article reviews the camera in full with a start-to-finish video of the build (condensed to about 4 minutes) and compares it to several film camera alternatives you may want to consider instead.
IMPORTANT: There are a few things you need to know before diving in and purchasing this camera as part of your photographic kit. Buyer beware, let’s dive in.
Here’s what I cover:
What you need to know
First and foremost, this is a DIY kit. It comes with an extensive, illustrated manual that provides step-by-step instructions on putting together the camera. Be warned: there is no aftermarket service provided by LEGO to help you with construction. This is a bit of a disappointment, considering the options many other current “kit camera” manufacturers — Dora Goodman, Panomicron, etc. — currently offer.
There is good news, however. I contacted my local LEGO store and was assured that almost anyone over the age of 10 would be able to build the camera to spec using the provided instructions. They went on to state that at 179 pieces, I could expect a moderately-paced build to take about 45 minutes, including 1-2 instances of back-tracking and time spent RTFM.
Good to know.
Watch the build video
45 minutes is time that could be spent letting film slow me down, so I outsourced the build to Mrs EM. You can see a sped-up video of below: 45-ish minutes condensed into 3 minutes and 57 seconds.
Not bad at all! As a nice bonus, I discovered that LEGO was kind enough to include half a dozen spare parts, including an extra self-timer lever and “leatherette” dots.
With the camera built, it was time to load it with the included miniature-format film and take it for a spin.
As you’d expect, there’s a lens up front, along with a viewfinder window, self-timer lever, and strap lugs.
The top panel (left to right) has a rewind dial, shutter speed dial (black), a nubbin and film wind-on dial with an integrated red dot shutter button. The dials spin freely with little friction.
As we swing around to the rear, we have the film door, which opens with a pulling motion (from the left). Once open, the film chamber is revealed, which has space for the included roll of film and “transport. The rear also has a viewfinder window, and as we move to the bottom of the camera, we have a non-standard tripod socket, which requires a LEGO Technic Pin (1/2) 4274 connector.
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Camera size comparison
I wish I still had my Leica CL to give you a better idea of the size of the camera. It’s diminutive, to say the least, so I sized it up with a few other cameras from my cabinets.
Here’s the Lego 6392344 VIP Camera compared to an Olympus XA, Lecia M2, Nikon FM3a, and Hasselblad 2000FCW.
If that doesn’t give you an adequate point of reference, here it is in another format: it’s about as wide as 4x 35mm canisters wide and the height of 1.5:
Modifications and nice touches
The lens is interchangeable! Not only that, it’s user-extendible. Don’t like the 35mm (equivalent) focal length included in the kit? Make it longer, make another one, or even mount ANOTHER camera system’s lens to it.
I modified mine to mount a late 1950’s Leica Elmar 50mm f/2.8. While the lens ways a little more than the camera body itself, it’s still a compact combination. That said, it’s not possible to collapse the lens into the body.
On a cosmetic note, I love it when product designers work in little nice flourishes. I especially like the “LEGO” name that’s been embossed into the camera mount here. It reminds me of some replacement monogrammed leatherette I saw some years ago.
I’ve since rearranged the logomark to the correct orientation.
Optical quality and other issues
- I’ve still yet to shoot the included film and will update this article in due course.
- As far as I can tell, there’s no clear light path from the lens to the film plane.
- The film chamber is not aligned with rewind or wind-on wheels. Weird.
- Was I supposed to install magnets somewhere?
- The self-timer lever has no tension.
- It’s possible to mount the lens off-center.
- The shutter button has no play at all. It’s possible my copy’s shutter has locked up.
- Imperfect ergonomics despite being the size of an XA.
Is it a real camera? That depends on a few things: your definition of reality, how much previsualisation matters to you vs the final image, and the current price of colour film. In other words, no. I also hope my lame attempts to write a camera review gave you at least a little chuckle.
You can get your own camera for free via a Lego Friends account (spend US$40 or more). Or you can buy one from eBay or a local online marketplace like I did.
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A fun read, great!