Time Magazine Camera

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The Time Magazine Camera was a 35mm plastic toy camera given out free with subscriptions to Time Magazine in 1985[1]. The Taiwan-manufactured model has a simple fixed focus 50mm lens, but is styled to resemble an SLR or another more expensive type of camera.

While the Time Magazine was the most ubiquitous branding seen in the US, the same basic Taiwanese model has appeared under countless name & number variations, such as Ultronic, Franka, Meikai, or Akira. The term "Time Magazine Camera" may sometimes be used generically to encompass this entire class of camera, much as "Diana" sometimes is used.

Whilst most feature a plastic lens, one variant features a single-element glass lens (Lavec Optical Glass Lens) described as being of better quality, yielding relatively sharp photos[2]. The functional hot shoe and choice of apertures also raises the Time camera slightly above the level of the typical trashcam. However any impression of heft and solidity is entirely due to a dummy lead weight fitted into the bottom of the body.

The camera features a thickening on one side suggestive of a non-existent motorwind. A knurled grip around the lens barrel resembles a focusing ring; however this simply controls a limited range of lens apertures, typically indicated with Sunny/Cloudy weather icons. There is no iris diaphragm, but rather a very crude tapered slot which swings across the rear of the lens. As a result the smallest aperture opening is something of a squashed rectangle. This peculiar feature is shared by an extended family of Taiwanese plastic cameras, including models with simulated rangefinder styling as well as more elaborate (fake, hollow) pentaprism housings[3], which may indicate they came from several producers [4]. All in all there are at least 80 known variations[5].

As a promotional giveaway, the Barclaycard camera is common in the UK; and in the US variants labeled for Tabasco hot sauce, Caesars gambling resort, Sports Illustrated magazine, and Marshall Field's department stores are all known.

The pictured Time camera's "Kinetic Optical Color Lens" may indicate a connection to other products branded Kinetic; but given the profusion of different brands used this is hard to determine.

Modification of these cameras is possible to add cable release, multiple exposure and other features [6].

Technical data Lavec Glass lens version:

  • Fixed focus 50mm single-element glass lens
  • One shutter speed of about 1/100th sec.
  • Variable aperture in both F-stops & pictograms (marked as "cloudy" to "sunny")
  • Simple Viewfinder

Technical data Kinetic Optical Color lens version:

  • Fixed Focus 50mm plastic lens
  • fixed shutter speed
  • Variable Aperture with 4 settings from f/6 to f/16 , marked both in f-stops and weather pictograms
  • Curved film plane
  • Simple Viewfinder



  1. 1985 Time magazine TV commercial featuring the camera formerly available on youtube.
  2. Time Magazine Camera: Poor Man's Holga 135? review of Lavec Optical Glass lens variant at lomography.com.
  3. These should not be confused with the even more elaborate fakery of the "Olympia" camera in its numerous variants. Those cameras add motorized winding, a brilliant finder, a nonfunctional clear cover over the lens, and typically, an oversized accessory flash.
  4. McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown's Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 12th Edition, 2005-2006. USA, Centennial Photo Service, 2004. ISBN 0-931838-40-1 (hardcover). ISBN 0-931838-41-X (softcover). Page 920.
  5. See this Flickr discussion for some examples. An informal search of Google Images, Flickr, and eBay auctions in February 2015 turned up 80 confirmed or suspected variations on the Time Camera; but the true number is almost certainly higher.
  6. Upgrade Your Time Promotional Camera on instructables.com