The "Special Moments" or simply "Dollar Store" camera is a tribute to Chinese capitalism, American consumerism and injection moulding technology. It truly taught me the value of a dollar....or the value of $1.13 with tax.
Amazingly, the Special Moments camera actually functioned as advertised and captured special moments in a slightly blurry, mediocre fashion. None of the flare of the Holga or the panache of the Diana. Just a mildly competent imaging device. What did you expect for a dollar?
I know there is crappiness in this camera somewhere and I intend to find it!
In this Instructable, we will add some additional capabilities to the Special Moments camera to bring out the full potential of the plastic meniscus lens. Specifically:
1. Tripod Bushing
2. Cable Release Socket
3. New Paint Job
4. Multiple Exposure System
5. Bulb Shutter Speed
6. Variable Aperture (now with vignetting)
7. Neck Strap
Plus we will fix a few of the standard features of this camera:
1. Make the hotshoe feature work
2. Make the "light leak" feature not work
Will this make your Special Moments camera the equivalent to your Leica?
No, it will make it better than your Leica!
Well, maybe not better, but it will certainly make images that the Leica is incapable of producing. The goal here is not to improve the image quality, but to make the images more interesting.
Step 1: Take Your Camera Apart
Happily, the Special Moments camera is not a complex machine and taking it apart is pretty intuitive. Have some parts trays to keep the small parts from getting lost. A magnet helps in corralling the small screws you will be working with.
1. Open the rear door of the camera and locate the screws near the backplate hinge. These are recessed so you need a thin phillips head screw driver. Remove these screws.
2. Locate the screw in the film supply chamber and remove.
3. Locate the screw by the viewfinder and remove (this is a longer screw than the others).
4. Locate the film rewind button on the bottom of the camera.
5. Push in this button while pulling on the front plate. You may have to bend the plastic of the front plate slightly to get it over the rewind button.
6. Once the front plate is off, the rear film door lifts right out. The wrist strap and the rear door closure mechanism will fall off at this point.
7. Look at the front of the camera and locate the lens assembly. It is attached to the camera with 2 screws. Remove these and lift off the lens assembly.
8. The shutter release will fall off at this point.
9. Finally use a pair of pliers wrapped in cloth to pull out the two lenses that make up the viewfinder. If you don't plan on painting the camera, you can leaves these in.
10. Optional step. This is a good time to place a drop of superglue on each end of the shutter return spring. This will keep the shutter paddle and spring from flying into an alternate dimension as you work on the guts of the camera.
This is as far as you need to go to do all the fixes and modifications.
Step 2: Mod #1 Tripod Bushing (Socket)
A tripod socket or bushing as it is called is a nice way to reduce camera shake from your body and get a technically superior image. However, the prime reason to add one to this camera is to work in conjunction with the bulb feature that we will add later.
1. Find a nut that has threads compatible with the standard tripod interface. The easiest way is to get a small tripod and search through your hardware for a nut that fits the tripod bolt. If you can't find one, go to the hardware store and search through the store's supply.
2. Take the front plate and look on the bottom where the rewind button hole is. Dry fit your bolt and scratch around the perimeter to mark where it will ultimately go.
3. Take a razor knife and score the area where you will glue the bushing to give the adhesive some "tooth" to grab onto. Score the entire part of the depression that the bushing will occupy.
4. Dam the depression with some material (I used plastic putty) so the adhesive will not interfere with the rewind button hole.
5. Mix two part epoxy according to the instructions on the adhesive.
6. Fit the bushing in place and glue with the epoxy. Take care not to "fill" the inside of the bushing with epoxy. Once you are satisfied with the placement, fill the depression with epoxy to maximize the surface area and increase the strength of the bond. Once you have finished the gluing, clamp the bushing and let cure.
7. After curing (I used 5 minute epoxy) you can extract the plastic putty dam and clean up any excess with a razor knife.
Step 3: Mod #2 Cable Release Socket
A cable release is another method of reducing camera shake and making a sharper photo. Not exactly required in this class of camera, but it does not require a whole lot of effort. Besides, the funny looks you will get when people see a Special Moments camera on a tripod with a cable release can be amusing!
1. Examine the placement of the shutter release and make a guess where a hole through the top will engage the shutter. It does not have to be exact as you will see, but try to get it as close as you can.
2. Mark the area and drill a small hole through the top of the camera. The bit should be smaller than the cable release thread.
3. Once your hole is drilled, screw in the cable release into the hole to cut threads in the soft plastic. Once it is in finger tight, finish with a pair of pliers.
4. Dry fit the camera back together and test the cable release. If the plunger does not engage the shutter release, glue a piece of wood or plastic onto the shutter arm so the plunger can engage a thicker target.
5. If you drilled too big of a hole or the thread cutting procedure did not work for some reason, you can glue a nut with the correct threads to the top or bottom of the hole using the same technique as in the last step.
Step 4: Mod #3 Painting
Injection moulding leaves the Special Moments camera way too shiny and plasticky looking. I decided to paint the majority of the camera to give it a better feel. The only spray paint I had on hand was green, so there ya go!
1. Take the front plate and back door and tape off any parts you do not want painted (I didn't).
2. Take some sandpaper and scuff as much of the surface as you can. This will give a better "tooth" and the paint will adhere better.
3. Paint with primer if you do not have special plastic adhering paint. Use two coats if you feel it is necessary. Allow to cure according to instructions on the can.
4. Paint with final color (green in this case). Use at least two coats to ensure a nice even finish. Allow to cure according to instructions on the can.
5. At this point, you could put on a clear coat or even a rubberized product, but this was as far as I wanted to go.
6. This method gives a nice two toned look, but if you want to paint the rest of the camera, you will have to be pretty careful about not getting paint into the mechanisms of the camera. I decided to leave good enough alone.
Step 5: Fix #1 Hot Shoe
I originally thought the hotshoe had some electrode placement issues, but as I opened the camera up, I realized that the internal wires were never installed in the camera. One strike against Chinese quality control! Well, on the good side, all the infrastructure was there to jury rig the flash mechanism. The concept is simply shorting out the two electrodes of the flash when the shutter is open. There are a lot of instructions below, but it is easier to do than to describe!
1. If you have not added a drop of superglue to each side of the shutter paddle spring, do it now. That will keep you off your hands and knees looking for parts on the floor.
2. Get familiar with the shudder paddle and notice the small protrusion. This is the piece that will hit the switch and close the circuit.
3. Screw a small unpainted screw in the hole at the end of the shutter paddle travel. Wrap a piece of wire around the screw to form one contact for the switch. You will have to cut a small channel to run the wire to the hot shoe electrode.
4. Take another piece of wire to form the other contact on the switch. Bend the wire in such a way as to have a very tiny gap between the contacts. You will rely on the springiness of the wire to rebound after the paddle closes the circuit. Insert a screw into the structural support to the right. Route this wire to the right and around the screw.
5. Dry fit the lens board and mark the plastic that will have to be removed to allow room for the wires. Cut this piece out so the lens board does not interfere with the wires.
6. Unscrew the hit shoe and feed one of the wires through so the wire make positive contact with the base of the hot shoe. Replace the hot shoe base.
7. Route the other contact wire to the center electrode on the hot shoe. Ideally, you would solder these wires on, but there is far too much plastic here for that. I glued the wire on with some conductive glue.
8. Once you are satisfied with the wiring, tape the wires down to the body of the camera with some gaffers tape.
9. Replace the shutter release and lensboard (don't overtighten the screw as it will bind the lens paddle).
10. Moment of truth time! Place a photographic strobe on the camera and charge it up. Once it is charged, fire the shutter. With luck, the flash will fire.
11. If the flash does not fire, it is probably the contact placement. Partially disassemble and re-bend the wires. After some trial and error, you should have a fully functional hot shoe.
Step 6: Mod #4 Multiple Exposure
Multiple exposures are a fun technique to have multiple images on one frame of film. This often leads to "interesting" or some say crappier photos. Well I'm going for interesting for this mod!
1. Carefully observe the mechanism at the bottom of the camera while you repeatedly cock and fire the shutter. It will become obvious what mechanism controls the cocking function.
2. Prepare a length of dental floss lasso like and fit the loop over the lug on the cocking lever. Tighten the knot and complete the overhand knot (or a bowline or any other knot you feel like). Once you are satisfied with the knot, reinforce the knot with a drop of superglue to make it permanent.
3. Route the dental floss outside the shutter box through the well that has the wire from our last fix.
4. Locate the position on the front plate where the floss will protrude from the camera and drill a hole.
5. When you reassemble the camera, remember to feed this floss outside the camera through the hole.
6. Test the recocking mechanism a few times to verify its operation.
7. On final assembly, feed the floss out the hole in the camera and tie to a ferrous washer.
8. Glue a rare earth magnet to the side of the camera to keep the washer and floss out of the way during normal camera operations.
Step 7: Mod #5 Bulb Setting
Bulb is an old timey camera term that simply means the shutter is open for as long as you want. Originated when you actually squeezed a pneumatic bulb to open the shutter. This is useful for doing light painting, star trails and other timed optical effects.
1. Prepare a length of dental floss about three or four inches.
2. Glue one end of the floss to the shutter paddle as shown in the photo.
3. Take the lens board and drill a small hole in the lower right. Feed the floss up through the hole and attach the lens board to the camera.
4. Drill a hole in the front plate for the floss to exit (approximately the same spot as the on the lens board).
5. When you finally reassemble the camera, don't forget to feed the floss out the hole in the front plate.
6. After final assembly, attach a ferrous washer to the floss and trim the excess.
7. Glue two rare earth magnets to the front plate. One that will keep the floss slack and one farther away that will keep the floss taught (ie the shutter open).
8. As long as you are mucking around in the shutter, you might want to add some dry lubricant to the shutter so the paddle does not bind. I used some graphite.
Step 8: Mod #6 Neck Strap
The Special Moments camera comes with a skin cutting wrist strap that never really was that attractive. Here we attach some camera strap lugs to make the Special Moments camera a real around the neck embarrassment!
1. Locate some wall hanging hardware appropriate in size for the camera.
2. Dry fit and mark out the area on the front plate.
3. Score the area with a razor knife to increase the gripping surface.
4. Mix some 2 part epoxy and apply to the scored area.
5. Apply the wall hanging hardware and clamp with a pair of vice grips or c-clamp.
6. Allow to cure.
7. For added security, drill holes through the front plate for small screws (not shown). Add a small amount of epoxy and screw the screws into the holes. (this is permanent)
Step 9: Mod #7 Variable Aperture
The aperture of a camera is the size of the hole that lets light through to the film. Most cameras have an aperture that can vary to allow more or less light in, but not the Special Moments camera! Apparently most special moments happen at f8 or so. I experimented with a few techniques here and decided that waterhouse stops were the way to go.
1. Extract the lens board from the camera.
2. Pry off the aperture from the rear of the lens board assembly. At this point the meniscus lens will drop out. Set this aside.
3. Use the aperture disc and press it down on some thin close cell foam 5 or 6 times. These will be your "soft" apertures.
4. Cut out the circles of foam and punch different size holes in the center of each with a leather punch.
5. Take your plastic aperture disc and grind out the center until it is just a thin circle.
6. Since the modified aperture disc will no longer hold the lens correctly, apply a little plastic putty to the front of the lens board and press the lens into place. Remove the excess putty.
7. Restore the modified aperture disc to the rear of the lens.
8. Reassemble the lens board and attach to the camera.
Note on lens flipping: This technique is popular in the toy camera world and prized for its unique optical effects. However, the Special Moments camera with the lens flipped results in blurry, out of focus and not very special images. Trust me, the full aperture meniscus lens will be weird enough.
Step 10: Fix #2 - Light Leak
After my first test roll (you will see that later on), I noticed that the Special Moments camera came with a special feature....light leaks! A good light leak can add interest to an image, but this was a little too much even for me. After some analysis, It seemed like a majority was coming from the hinge area. Time to manage!
1. Locate the hinge area of the camera by the film take up chamber.
2. Cut a piece of closed cell foam to fit in the hinge area on the back plate.
3. Glue the foam in place and let it cure.
4. If light leaks continue, lightproof the entire back plate.
Step 11: Putting It All Together
OK, you made one, two or all the mods and fixes. Putting it together is just going in the opposite direction of taking it apart.
1. Reattach the shutter release and lens board. Do not tighten the screws too much or the paddle will bind. Verify the shutter works before moving on.
2. Reinstall the latch closure mechanism and optical elements to the viewfinder on the front plate and thread the bulb and multiple exposure out the holes you created for them (front and side). Also reinstall the rear door before attaching the front plate.
3. Reinstall the front plate being careful to seat the film rewind button on the bottom.
4. Reinstall the 4 screws that attaches the front plate to the camera. The lone long screw goes near the viewfinder.
5. Trim the dental floss and tie the ferrous washers to the floss. Glue your magnets to the front plate if you have not done so already.
6. Verify all functions of the camera.
7. Get some film!
Step 12: Operations
Despite all the modifications, the camera will work as originally designed; put in some 400 ISO film, the standard aperture disc and shoot away. However I've found that the waterhouse stop in front of the lens adds more vignetting than the original so there is that.
Film choice: Much broader now that you have a variable aperture and bulb and slow shutter speed feature. 25 - 3200 ISO will do fine.
Multiple exposure: Make exposure, pull multiple exposure string, make another exposure.
Bulb: Pull bulb string and attach to bulb magnet. When you are done with the exposure, release the string.
Slow shutter speed: Cock shutter and hold the multiple exposure string taught. Fire shutter and slowly release the multiple exposure string. Results in approximately 1/25 of a second exposure. Best done on tripod.
Variable aperture: Select appropriate aperture and insert into lens well. Will have some vignetting even with the smallest aperture. Large aperture has lots of coma glow.
Flash photography: Mount flash and install appropriate aperture disc (the flash may have a chart of the back to help you calculate this). If you use the flash with bulb..it will be "first curtain sync." That is the flash will fire at the beginning of the exposure.
Tripod: Attach to tripod. Best used with bulb and slow shutter speeds.
Cable release: Screw in cable release. Push plunger to make exposure. Best used on tripod.
Filters: Hold filter up to the lens, make exposure. Close up filter is in focus at about 3 feet.
Step 13: Some Special Moments
I ran a roll through the newly modified camera. Some moments were more special than others! The test exposures were best guesses so no exactly fine art. I used black and white film for maximum latitude, but color would work just as well. I tried to run through the new features as best I could but never got around to star trails. Light leaks feature prominently, but a little light proofing should get that under control. The dust on the negatives is a feature of rushing through development and scanning, not from the camera itself.
Enjoy your newly modified Special Moments camera!