In a world of precision-engineered digital cameras, the colorfully analog Blackbird fly is a strange bird—one that took almost 15 years to hatch. Back in 1995, Hideki Ohmori launched a kind of alt-Amazon .com in Japan. He cool-hunted dozens of products and exhaustively described each one—except for a light-leaking, plastic 35-mm camera he portrayed simply as "a box with a secret inside that converts every view with affection." It was his only commercial success.
Ohmori spent the next several years selling cheap cameras like the Russian Lomo, importing burgeoning lo-fi photography to Tokyo as the Eastern bloc crumbled. Enthusiasts still clamor for the film cam, whose poor construction yields mysterious optical aberrations and sometimes doesn't even bother to keep images from seeping across the film's sprocket holes. So, when supply chains shriveled, entrepreneurial Ohmori became a manufacturer.
Instead of imitating old Soviet shells, Ohmori's company, Superheadz, designs toy cameras. The $125 Blackbird fly is a new customer favorite. In addition to maintaining idiosyncratic lens quality, the camera has a framing mask that lets you shoot square photos on 35-mm film—or even bleed the image to the edge like its old comrades. Of course, in true Japanese form, the fly's exterior is far from proletarian.
Why make a toy camera?
They take us back to essentials. We were trying to simplify as much as possible, to create something basic, but not a faceless design.
Are you satisfied with the Blackbird fly?
If something is perfect, it responds to its creator's quest for perfection. That's not so interesting to me. The fly was born under layers of compromise, and there are some aspects I'm not happy with. Just like life. Design is as imperfect as we are, and I embrace that.
Why are you obsessed with film?
We now hear the richness of vinyl records because we can compare them to CDs. In the same way, the digital camera's crisp, clean images help us recognize the complexity and warmth of film. It's exacerbated when you shoot through a plastic lens like the one on our fly. We do not always want a faithful representation of reality. Sometimes we yearn for a dream.