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Mijonju / Superheadz photographer


Back in 1999, one of the first things I wrote about for Level was the Lomo LC-A camera, around the time it was just beginning to get some attention. Ten years on there’s a digital equivalent, but this time it’s not from Russia. The Digital Harinezumi (or hedgehog in English) was created by a group of obsessive lo-fi toy camera lovers in Japan called Superheadz who were also one of the first to introduce cheap Russian cameras to Japan. They sell a huge range of analogue cameras from their Shibuya store with an increasing number designed and produced by themselves, including a key-ring 110 camera and the Blackbird Fly, a twin lens reflex camera that uses 35mm film. There’s even a build-your-own camera kit of individual plastic parts which you assemble like a model aeroplane.

The Harinezumi is their first move into digital photography, a route they were a little reluctant to take since it betrayed their roots in film and all things analogue. But this is definitely not a camera for perfectionists. To begin with there’s no digital viewfinder: you use a flip-up viewing guide which encourages much less exacting results, taking away some of the certainty you get with modern cameras—though there is an LCD screen for viewing your shots after you’ve pushed the shutter button. It is actually one of the most low-tech digital cameras that you’re going to come across. But for those of us that like the beauty of imperfection and are happy not actually knowing what you’re going to get, this camera is the next best thing to an old film camera without the hassle of getting your film processed. It even has a realistic film winding switch.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is simply a low quality camera; the designers have put a lot of time and effort into developing what you could call a ‘flawed’ chip. It’s been designed to capture pictures differently, taking the colour balance just slightly away from normal and uses a small plastic lens rather than glass. The aim of the camera is more like a sketchbook than a precision instrument. The creators were looking for something that didn’t capture a perfect representation of reality, something more akin to the dreamlike quality you can find in an old colour snap-shot. They describe it as bringing pleasure back to digital photography.

As a company, Superheadz place a lot of emphasis on the unseen and unknown element of photography and that uncertainty is when you get the most interesting results, which until now has been almost exclusive to film. An additional benefit of the two-megapixel camera is that it also shoots VGA-resolution movies which have their own warm vintage tone and texture, reminiscent of old 8mm film. And just like an old 8mm film there’s no audio which actually ads to the melancholic quality of the image produced: just search Vimeo for Harinezumi and you’ll see what I mean. The shape is quite interesting too, taking its form from a 110 film cartridge, its been compared to the bone of a dinosaur, a big green soybean and a caterpiller, but with its small size and simple buttons it’s actually more like a seventies spy camera.

, 25 August 2009