Introduction: Upgrade Your Time Magazine Promotional Camera

It was an incredible "TV" offer!  Simply buy a one year subscription to the venerable Time magazine for a low, low price and receive a free, high quality 35mm camera!

Boy Howdy did it work.  Thousands of subscriptions and thousands of high quality cameras flew from Time magazine’s warehouses.  Soon other magazines followed suit with their own incredible offers and incredible cameras.  Eventually, you got one of these cameras for enduring a high pressure timeshare pitch, opening a savings account at your local savings and loan, and maybe for filling up your tank at the local EXXON station.

Like all bubbles, this one burst.  Word of mouth got around that these promotional cameras were not the high technology wonders being cranked out by Canon and Nikon.  Although they looked similar, these cameras were simple plastic cameras hardly worth what you had to endure to get one! 

A massive wave of buyers’ remorse swept the country and the Time magazine camera and its many clones began to flood thrift shops around the world....along with bundles of lightly read magazines.

At this point in our story, we should say that the cameras were discovered by young hipsters, artists and Lomographers for the unique images the camera can produce.Then they would fly off the shelf once again.But sadly…no.They still stink up second hand stores, thrift shops and landfills at exceptionally low prices.


The Time Magazine Camera (TMC) and its many clones are the Rodney Dangerfields of the toy camera universe.Don’t get no respect!You can blame the glass lens that renders a sharp, quality image on your film for this sad state of affairs.The TMC did not have the “dreamy” Diana styrene lens or the flare prone Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim wide angle lens to attract the artsy types.

In this instructable, we’ll try to move your TMC a little closer to high quality camera you expected in the first place by adding some photographic capabilities. Specifically, we’ll add:

1.Multiple exposure capability

2.Extra shutter speeds

3.Filter capability

4.Lens shade

5.Cable Release Socket

Step 1: Camera Overview

 There are many versions of the TMC, but the changes were cosmetic for the most part.  The camera was built around a glass meniscus lens that did a pretty good job of rendering an image on the film. The film plane was generally curved to help with distortion inherent with this type of lens.  Here is a list of features most of these cameras share:

1.  "Color" "Optical" "Kinetic" "Capital" Lavec" Glass Lens (50mm) in an absurdly large housing.
2, that it is a fixed focused.  Can't get more auto than that.
2.  Adjustable aperture, f6 - f16 or cloud to full sun.
3.  Fake pentaprism bump.
4.  Hot shoe that really works.
5.  Tripod bushing.
6.  Rewind button and crank.
7.  Chunk of lead in the bottom for that quality feel.
8.  Viewfinder that does not really work all that well.
9.  AOL Time Life Warner logo.
10.  Takes pictures.

Step 2: Modification #1 -- Multiple Exposure

Multiple exposure is a fun technique that allows you to take multiple exposures on one frame of film. This first modification will give you the ability to "re-cock" the shutter mechanism and take really artsy photos.

1.  Unscrew the one exposed screw on the right hand side of the camera.

2.  Unscrew the central screw of the rewind crank.

3.  Remove the rewind crank to reveal another screw.

4.  Remove the screw underneath the rewind crank.

5.  Remove the top of the camera.

6.  At this point you can actuate the shutter mechanism a few times and it will become obvious how it works.  A white plastic cam is the key to the mechanism.  You have the option of gluing or tying a string (I use dental floss for its self-lubricating characteristics).  To tie a string, I drilled a hole in the cam.

7.  To feed the string outside the camera, drill a hole in the left hand side of the top plate.

8.  If this is the only mod you want, just reverse the steps to reassemble the camera and there ya go.

9.  Once you have everything together, trim the dental floss and put on a tab of some sort to use when pulling the string.  I tried to engrave MX  (multiple exposure) onto a brass tab.

10.  Secure the tab to the camera to keep the string slack when in operation.  I used hook and pile fasteners.  Magnets would work as well, but only if you use something ferrous like a paperclip.

When the tab is kept slack, the shutter speed is unchanged (about 1/100th of a second).  If the weight of the tab is hanging on the string, you will have a slower shutter speed.  Pulling the string while firing the shutter will yield a slow shutter speed....maybe around 1/15 of a second?

Step 3: Modification #2 -- Cable Release Socket

 A cable release on a camera allows you to press the shutter from a distance.  They make pneumatic releases that can trip a shutter at 20 feet, but mostly they just insulate the camera from the normal shake involved in holding and pressing the shutter release of a camera.  A camera on a tripod tripped with a cable release is the best way to improve the sharpness of your exposures.  If gives rise to that old photographic saying, "My sharpest lens is a tripod!"

1.  The easiest way to find a nut with the right thread for a cable release is to have a cable release on hand and try the small nuts you have in your drawer full of disused hardware.  Once you find the right size, it is an easy matter to mount the nut.

2.  Locate the spot on the top plate that sits over the shutter release bar and mark with a magic marker.

3.  Drill a hole of the appropriate size through the top plate.

4.  Turn the top plate over and excavate some of the plastic around the hole to make the nut sit level.  You should tack the nut on with some white glue and dry fit the top plate to make sure the nut does not protrude so deeply that it fires the shutter.  If it does you can excavate a little more plastic or grind the nut down a little.  The other option would be to mount the nut on top of the top plate.  I chose to mount it underneath to maintain the clean lines of the TMC.

5.  Once you are satisfied with the placement of the nut, use epoxy to mount it permanently. 

6.  Once everything has cured, check the function.  Ideally, the pin from the cable release should fire the shutter.  However, my placement was off a little bit and the pin went behind the shutter bar.  To make sure the cable release worked as advertised, I super glued a bit of plastic on the side of the shutter bar so the pin from the cable release would fire the shutter.

Step 4: Modification #3 -- Filter Ring and Lens Shade

 Filters are always fun to try on a camera.  You can adjust the color of a scene, add special effects, use with black and white film, or even use infrared pass filter and infrared film for classic IR photography.  However, most toy cameras to include the TMC do not have this capacity (although the folks who make Holgas are doing some great things with filters recently).

1.  The easy way:  just buy 48mm filters and screw them onto the front of the lens housing.  The housing isn't threaded for filters, but the threads of the filter will cut into the soft plastic and with some work, the filter will be firmly attached.

2.  The less easy way (but still pretty easy):  I had a few 46mm rubber lens hoods that didn't fit any of my cameras, so I used this as a lens hood and a way to attach 46mm filters in front of the lens.  The lens is recessed so deeply into the lens housing, that it propably does not need any extra lens shading, but since the lens is uncoated and prone to flare, I figured that extras shading couldn't hurt.

3.  Mix up some expoy and coat the lens shade threads with the glue.

4.  Set the camera lens side down on the lens shade and ensure the epoxy is evenly distributed.  Don't put the lens shade on the camera with the lens facing up.  This would run the risk of epoxy flowing down the lens housing and causing you to lose the ability to adjust the aperture.

5.  Once everything is cured, you now have a lens shade and the ability to use 46mm screw on filters.

Step 5: Putting It All Together


1.  The camera will work as originally designed.  Simply load film and shoot.  If you are feeling plucky, you might try to "red scale" your film.

2.  To use the multiple exposure feature; just fire the shutter, pull the multiple exposure tab, recompose and shoot again.

3.  To use the cable release socket; screw the shutter release into the socket and press the plunger.  I guess you could do it while you hand hold the camera, but that kind of defeats the purpose.  Use a Tripod.

4.  To use the lens shade; simply unfold it.  It will improve the contrast and eliminate lens flare in your exposures.

5. To use filters; screw in your filter into the 46mm threaded ring.

6.  To use a flash;  put one on and fire away.  It is always synched to your shutter.

7.  To vary the shutter speed; detach the multiple exposure tab and let hang.  This will decrease the shutter speed.  Add more weight to the tab to further slow the shutter (use a spring clips or alligator clips).  The slowest possible speed is maybe 1/15 sec when you pull the tab as you release the shutter and slowly release the tension on the string.  This is of limited value as it will introduce some camera shake.


1.  The viewfinder error is terrible compared to most other cameras as you can see from the test photos.  Compose generously!

Thoughts on further modifications:

1.  I wanted to add a "bulb" function but could not figure out how to dig my way to the actual shutter where I could modify the shutter paddle.  Any ideas will be appreciated.

2.  The camera already has some heft due to the lead chunk on the bottom, but it does not go far enough!  The weight of the camera adds a quality feel, but also adds to the stability of the camera.  More weight = less camera shake.  I wanted to epoxy lead fishing sinkers to the base and some other empty spaces on the camera like the fake auto winder hand grip (it is just empty space inside).  I found that lead is officially frowned upon in fishing circles these days and I can't find any. 

3.  The tripod bushing is plastic and sinks into the lead weight in the bottom.  It does have a little play I want to get rid of by using epoxy to fill the hole in the lead weight.  This would reinforce the tripod bushing, but will also glue to bottom plate on forever.  So I'll save that mod after I've found and installed the extra weight under the bottom plate.

4.  Crude, uncoupled light meter.  I thought I would build a simple light detecting circuit that would give me a go/no-go light meter and attach it somehow to the camera.  Finally decided it would be a waste of time.  Using the sunny 16 rule and ample film latitude should give me acceptable results.

The Future?

Will the TMC ever rise to...or sink to....the level of the Diana (a promotional camera from another era)?  Probably not, but if you want a cheap toy camera that is fun to modify and will give you sharp, if not well composed images, you can't go wrong with the TMC!