Harman Reusable Camera Made me a Better Photographer

Throughout the 2020 pandemic, the Harman Reusable camera is the only one that was always by my side. It’s lightweight, portable, and by far the most fun camera I’ve ever used.

The build quality is finicky at best, and the images it produces are soft almost entirely throughout. But I’ve dropped it more times than I can count, and it’s still taking many of my favorite images. I know when I develop a roll from this camera that there are going to be numerous memories captured in the unique, lively way that only this camera could take them.

This camera is so simple that you can pass around the room and get anyone to take a photo with it. In fact, I love taking it with me on photoshoots with couples. I pass it to them and get them to take selfies or portraits of their partners. The photos they take are often way different and show a bit more of that couple’s personality that only they can bring out in each other.

The Harman Reusable Camera also happens to be one of the best deals in film photography right now. It comes with a AAA battery and two rolls of Kentmere 400, a budget B&W film similar to Ilford’s HP5 that delivers excellent results.  I personally recommend this camera for anyone who just wants something simple that they don’t have to worry about. It’s also perfect for anyone who loves the look and energy, but not the waste of disposable cameras.

A snapshot taken on the Harman Reusable camera

Some limitations make you better

One of the main reasons I always come back to film is because the process is just so simple compared to digital photography. There’s no menus, no videos, and no making huge amounts of changes between photoshoots. All you have to focus on is the composition and exposure. 

With the Harman Reusable, there’s even less to consider. The only consideration you need to make before taking the shot is turning the flash on or off. That’s it. Compose, press the shutter button, wind the film, and get ready to take the next shot. The camera has a fixed shutter speed around 1/120 of a second, 31mm focal length, and an f/10 aperture with a fixed lens that focuses to infinity after 1m. So basically, everything is “in focus,” and the image will almost always turn out if the flash is on — unless you’re trying to photograph a distant object at night.

So all the user is considering is the composition, and that’s a beautiful thing. When you’re out on a walk or hanging out with friends, this is the camera that’ll let you get the photos you want without interrupting. You can be there to capture the memories in your own way. I capture more laughs, cheeky portraits, and pictures of city wildlife with this camera than I do with any other. And that’s just because of how simple it is. 

There have been many times in my wedding photography career where I’ve struggled with creating perfectly sharp images. It’s like David Foster Wallace’s famous speech “This is Water” where he describes how everyone worships something. This isn’t exact, but he says if you worship money, you’ll never have enough. If you worship beauty, every passing year will be torturous. Praising sharpness and megapixels in imagery feels like the same, unending struggle. Some of my favorite photos have been good because they’re sharp. But many ‘technically bad’ photos were also successful because of the emotion and the life they captured.

There’s an art style known as Wabi-Sabi. It’s based on the idea that imperfections help people connect with imagery. The lack of sharpness, the motion blur, and the chaos make images more natural and real. Jamie Windsor created a fantastic YouTube video on the subject of Wabi-Sabi, which I highly recommend watching.

In this case, the Harman Reusable Camera is a simple, perfect tool to help you create Wabi-Sabi images. It’s like taking a dull, well-used chisel to a sculpting competition, and winning because the sculpture was so uniquely yours.

Yeah, DxO mark would probably wouldn’t rate the image sharpness higher than 5mp. But that’s not what this camera is about

What kind of film does the Harman Reusable Camera use? 

The camera is designed for ISO 400 film. But you still get solid results with ISO 200 stocks like Kodak Gold and Fuji Superia. Put the cheapest film stocks you can find into this camera because the image quality isn’t worthy of a $15 roll of Portra. This camera only has one shutter speed and aperture, so you just don’t need the flexibility and fine-grain appearance Portra offers. 

The Harman Reusable comes with 2 rolls of Kentmere 400. And to be honest, this was the first time I ever shot this film. And I actually fell in love with it after using this camera. It doesn’t have the same exposure latitude or push flexibility as HP5, but it still creates amazing images for a budget stock.

It’s good enough that I actually went back and bought some more, but the store clerk couldn’t hear me under my mask and gave me a couple of rolls of Kentmere 100. Turns out The Massive Dev Chart has a formula for pushing this film to ISO 800 with a semi-stand development. And this film actually pushes way above its weight. Give it a try, and I’m sure you’ll have some fun with the results. 

A photo of a goose and it's new baby Gosling
If any of you have a friend at NatGeo, hmu. I’ve got a photo to sell

How bad is the Harman Reusable image quality? 

If you’re a pixel peeper, the Harman Reusable Camera doesn’t have good image quality. No matter how far away you are from the camera you are, it’s going to make some soft images — especially if there’s a bit of flaring. It’s much closer to the quality of an off-brand GoPro than it is a Nikon D850. But that’s actually my girlfriend’s favorite features about this camera. Just like disposables, It renders skin beautifully, and the softness makes people look alive, healthy, and otherwise full of vivacity. 

If you’re photographing wildlife with this camera, I hate to be the bearer of bad news. National Geographic isn’t going to purchase any photographs you took with this camera. But that’s not what this is for.

There is strong distortion closer to the edges of the lens, warping objects and straight lines at the edges considerably. The edges also lose a lot of detail and exhibit a large amount of vignetting. If you’re composing images in the centre of the frame, this can actually be a good thing because it draws all of the attention inwards. The best image quality for this camera happens when the light is behind the photographer, landing on your subject directly.

As far as light leaks are concerned, this camera has been through a lot and still hasn’t developed a leak. I’ve dropped it plenty of times, tossed it loosely in my bag and put groceries on top of it, got it scratched up to hell, let it sit in the sun for days, and nothing. Someday, it definitely will develop a light leak, but a year later and that day hasn’t come yet. 

An image showing how the light from the Harman Reusable flash falls off over a very short distance
This image shows exactly how the light from the flash falls off at a distance. Thank you, restaurant server, for being unable to properly frame a photograph.

Can I use the Harman Reusable camera at night? 

The Harman reusable can make good exposures at night with the flash. Because the camera doesn’t allow you to control the exposure settings, shooting at night without flash is nearly impossible without pushing film to the extremes. With the flash, you can expose people and objects between 1-2 meters away. Any object closer than 1 meter will be overexposed and out of focus. But anything further than 2 meters will be severely underexposed. 

The flash requires a single AAA battery, and takes between 2 and 5 seconds to recycle the flash depending on how much charge is in that battery. I use cheap rechargeable triple As from Amazon, and can get through 3 or 4 rolls of film before it dies. Sometimes that can take a month or two, and so far I haven’t noticed any battery drainage. The camera is all mechanical, so if the battery dies, it’s still usable without the flash. 

In good light, the exposure settings almost always work. I’ve never had images that were too dense to scan. But at night, especially using something like Kodak Gold, an ISO 200 film, this camera is going to struggle — even with push processing. 

With this in mind, the night time photos with the Harman Reusable camera can still be really interesting and fun. Nighttime shots with the flash on will allow you to completely isolate the people or subject of your photograph. In low light, these photographs can have a real Nan Goldin feel to them. The un-polished nature of the camera makes the images feel real — they have a special character about them that makes you want to take more and more photographs.

Can the Harman Reusable take Double Exposures?

An awkward attempt at double exposure. This was done by accidentally re-running the same roll through the Harman Reusable Camera.

This camera is not able to make double exposures via a setting. Instead, you’ll have to set them up manually.

Rewinding the film can be done by pressing the little button on the bottom of the camera, and then turning the film rewind knob on the top left of the camera. In my tests, advancing the shutter moves this rewind knob by a 1/2 rotation. Meaning a half rotation backwards should get you in approximately the same position you were in before. But, there will be some slack in the canister from regular use.

So to manually make a double exposure: start by rewinding the film until you can feel some pressure from the film inside. At this point, there will be no more slack inside the cannister. While holding the rewind lever, press the rewind button on the bottom right side of the camera. Next, rotate the rewind lever by a half rotation.

After this, the camera will re-expose approximately the same frame. This process will take some trial and error, but it can create some fun results! I’ve also created interesting exposures by simply re-running a roll of film through the camera. That method is also unpredictable. Unless you took notes, there’s no way to know exactly what you shot on the previous run through.

Try it out and have fun! This camera will not disappoint.

Is this camera worth purchasing?

A B&W portrait of a man, bearded haphazardly smiling in front of a weird shelf
This is me, stoked on this Harman Reusable camera at the same time the horror of the looming Pandemic began to sink in.

I’ve been using this camera since the pandemic. And I waited months to get my hands on it before that. It wasn’t in stock anywhere in Montreal for months since its announcement. I picked up the first copy I saw 4 months later, and I haven’t looked back. This camera is an absolute joy to shoot with because of its simplicity. It works in almost every situation. It’s quick to use. And the photos it takes are a lot of fun.

Taking film photographs can be a long, and daunting process for many users. Pull out your light meter, change the settings, compose, manually focus, then take the shot. But this one is so simple.

Point, shoot, profit

When you’re in a photography rut, the Harman Reusable is the type of camera that can bring your game back to life. I went through exactly that scenario last year, and this was the best cure. From an objective point of view, the image quality is bad. But if Image quality was what you’re going for, then you’re better off shooting digital. What makes this camera so fun and unique is the intangibles that come with shooting film, and the inherent beauty of poor-quality images. It’s just like the old Holgas and Dianas, which became popular not because of image quality, but because of how fun they are to use. Toy cameras like these are used all the time by professionals, even when the modern-day alternatives are so good and cheap. If you want to see photos from a toy camera in the hands of a professional, fine-art photographer Michael Kenna made an amazing book full of images taken on his Holga.

Disposable cameras are a ton of fun, but they’re expensive and extremely wasteful. This camera has exactly the same look and feel, but with the ability to change film and try something new. It’s fantastic for both people who know a lot about photography, and those who know nothing at all. I have no problem giving it to strangers to take my cheesy vacation photo, because it’s not worth anything and the photo will inevitably turn out. 

I also love handing this camera over to couples and passing it around to the bridal party at weddings. Everyone has a ton of fun with it, and they take photos that they would never let me take — even after a couple beers. 

Take it to parties, document your daily life with it, and this camera will never, ever let you down. 

By Daren

Daren is a journalist and wedding photographer based in Vancouver, B.C. He’s been taking personal and professional photos on film since 2017 and began developing and printing his own photos after wanting more control than what local labs could offer.

4 thoughts on “Harman Reusable Camera Made me a Better Photographer”

  1. Hey,

    thanks a lot for sharing xour experience with the camera! I just got it & it says, the film counter should count, bit it doesn’t… do you know whether that’s in issue?

    Reply
    • Hi Lisa,

      That does sound like an issue — the camera should show the frame numbers on the top so long as there is film inside and the door is closed. The frame counter is reset when the door is open, so even moving the gears inside the camera when it’s open to release the shutter won’t move the frame counter.

      If it’s not advancing while there is film in the camera, it’ll be worth exchanging, as that’s a pretty important piece of the camera.

      Hope you’re having fun with the camera!
      Regards,
      Daren

      Reply
  2. Hi , I just purchased the Harman camera and tried it out today. The weird thing is that when taking a picture i hear a click but i don’t see anything happening in the viewfinder , like usually when taking pictures on film you see the shutter, is that normal ? Thanks !

    Reply
    • Hi Sabina,

      Glad to hear it! And yep, that is normal not to see anything happening in the viewfinder when you take a photo with the Harman Reusable. This camera is a focus-free, mirrorless camera, so there’s no mirror that has to move out of the way like there is with a traditional SLR camera. So the click is the shutter firing inside of the lens. When you open the back of the camera (after unloading the film), you can advance the shutter by spinning the little gear just underneath the viewfinder, and then you’ll be able to release the shutter. If you point it to the light, you’ll see it open and close.

      Hope you like the camera!!
      Daren

      Reply

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