The Plastic Filmtastic 120 Debonair Camera!

By way of complete disclosure, I first have to say that I like plastic cameras! In particular I find the softness, distortion and flare from a plastic lens highly appealing.

So I was intrigued when FPP announced the availability of the “Plastic Filmtastic 120” Debonair camera, a stack of which FPP’s Michael Raso purchased out of a mysterious warehouse in Rochester, New York and is offering for sale through FPP On-Line Store.

My own Plastic Filmtastic 120 Debonair soon arrived and took its proper place alongside the Holgas and Dianas in my small Pantheon of Plastic. It didn’t sit there long, though, for I quickly had it loaded and out for a shoot.

The Del Coronado Hotel, San Diego California. (Kodak Ektar 100.)

The design

Comparisons between the Plastic Filmtastic 120 Debonair and the now ubiquitous Holga are bound to arise, but I find the Debonair has more in common with the celebrated Diana line of toy cameras.

For example, the Debonair is about the same size and weight as a Diana. That is to say that it is smaller and lighter than a Holga. And it shares some design characteristics, too: the flexible, free-floating tangs that support the film spools are the same as on a Diana, and the latch on the underside that locks the back in place is also the same.

This latch design, by the way, has been cited as a cause of light leaks in Dianas so it may bode well for those of you who are connoisseurs of that look. I must add though that my particular Plastic Filmtastic 120 Debonair does not leak light. Not yet anyway. Nevertheless, I’m thinking the design similarities may be evidence of a shared Debonair/Diana ancestry. Or copycat engineering! No matter, I see only positives in this.

Thrilling Ride! Huntington Beach, California. (Fuji Acros 100.)

The 60mm “Super Lens” provides an aperture of f8 and three focus positions: near (indicated by a tiny image of a human head in profile), middle distance (designated by an image of what appears to be a human family of three) and far (symbolized by what looks like a miniscule image of a mountain). Minimum focusing distance is 5 feet, according to the instructions that come with the camera.

The only other adjustment available is a sliding switch on the lens housing that toggles between sunny or cloudy/flash. It’s intended to modify the shutter speed. Educated guesswork by the FPP crew suggests 1/100th and 1/60th as the two shutter speed settings. However, on my particular Plastic Filmtastic 120 Debonair I can discern no difference in the sound of the shutter, or in the look of the light coming through it, regardless of the setting.

You can mount a flash on the accessory shoe of the Plastic Filmtastic 120 Debonair. I haven’t shot with flash yet but a post I read on Flickr reported that the flash only fired when the shutter was set for cloudy/flash. And indeed, this observation would be supported by the instructions that come in the box, as they recommend adjusting the shutter to this position for flash photography. However, a quick test on my own camera proves that it will fire the flash with the shutter set to either position.

Out of the box you have no provision for long exposures with the Plastic Filmtastic 120 Debonair. Nor is there a tripod mount. However, there is some discussion (and pictures) of modifications for a tripod mount on the Debonair Flickr group (See the link below.) Can a “bulb” mod be far behind?

Simpler mods, such as shooting 35mm with the Debonair, or adding filters, can be found on the FPP Flickr group.

The images
The Plastic Filmtastic 120 Debonair gives you sixteen 4.5 x 6 cm images to a roll of 120 film. The pictures are portrait format, so if you want an image in landscape mode you have to turn the camera 90 degrees and shoot.

By the way, do you like dark corners? The Plastic Filmtastic 120 Debonair excels in the art of the vignette. Indeed, on some shots it’s like you’re peering through a tube.

I Brake For Topolinos! A 1937 Fiat Topolino I saw at the side of the road in Torrance, California. (Fuji Acros 100.)

With my camera the negatives tend to have a wandering edge. In other words, they’re not a true rectangle.

And, as you’d expect from a toy camera in the Diana category, the images are soft, and get softer toward the edges. The lens is certainly capable of the dreamy qualities the lomo folks value so. Colors pop nicely, though, and to my eyes accurately. 

Raw Skin Surf Shack, Carlsbad, California. (Kodak Ektar 100.)

Portra 160 and Ektar 100 both gave me pleasant pictures. Black and white can be outstanding in my view. I’ve shot one roll so far. It was Fuji Acros 100 which I processed in Rodinal. I was delighted.

Three of My Girls. (Fuji Acros 100.) 

Does this world really need another Diana clone?

Let’s put it this way, at $19.99 from the FPP store it’s a third less than you’d pay for a Holga 120N and less than half what a new Diana would cost you. And yet, you’ll get image quality that rivals and in some instances may even surpass those of its plastic cousins.

If you’re a toy camera fan, or just like the look you get with plastic lenses, I’d say the Plastic Filmtastic 120 Debonair will hit the spot very nicely indeed. Plus, your Plastic Filmtastic 120 Debonair will sport a retro-look FPP decal. Where else can you buy that kind of cachet?

Get your FPP Debonair at The FPP Store! - - all monies from the sale of the FPP Debonair help keep the Film Photography Podcast funded!

FPP Flickr Group's Debonair Discussion:

above: Images shot by The FPP Gang! (Listeners and hosts alike!)

Additional links:

Shelly Somtimes FPP Blog HERE

Michael Raso's FPP Debonair Video HERE


Shelly Sometimes's picture

Thanks for the very cool post, Brian! Lots of good info.  I have been shooting with my Debonair for weeks now and I love it more and more.  I think the quality of the shots from this camera rivals the ones I get from my Holga 120CFN and comparing it to my Diana shots?  No question, really.  :) 

Like Holgas, I bet all of these cameras have quirks that are individual to each cam.  For example, I know I've shot closer than five feet on mine, although three feet is definitely the limit.  Pretty much anything just beyond the reach of my arm, I get just fine on that focus setting - I learned that guideline when shooting my Vivitar UW&S and it seems to work pretty well on most any toy camera, for me.

Mine won't fire the flash if it's on the sunny setting - I've learned that the hard way.  :)  And I've had really good results with 400 films, namely Kodak Portra and Ilford XP2 (even better with a yellow filter), but I've noticed that on bright sun days, the Debonair LOVES 100 film. I have taken some great shots on both Kodak Ektar and T-Max 100.  Good times!

Brian Moore's picture

Thank you very much for your comments, shellysometimes. I agree with your assessment of the images from the Plastic Filmtastic 120 vs. those of the Holga and Diana. I also appreciate that you mentioned your experiences with the minimum focus distance and the flash. It all adds to our body of knowledge about the Plastic Filmtastic 120. Happy (and "Super Positive") shooting!

Eirik Russell Roberts's picture

Nice write-up.

Evidently Debonair made several 645 toy cameras. Your comments on some Diana like features may not be that far off. This here Debonair Diana clone would seem to confirm your suspicions:

Brian Moore's picture

I appreciate your comments, Eirik. Thank you. And thanks for adding that link. Very interesting. 

cepwin's picture

I've gotten some very nice results with the B/W film I've run though it.  Well worth the low cost.   I have some fujicolor 400 on order and am looking forward to running some of that though it and see what I get.

Brian Moore's picture

Thanks for the comments, cepwin. I love what it does with B&W. I'm sure you'll like the look of color from the Plastic Filmtastic Debonair, too. Happy shooting! 

Anonymous's picture
The focus symbol for portrait reminds me of that alfred hitchcock thing

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