For many, the Gameboy Camera was the first camera or digital camera that people in my age group owned. Since getting a Gameboy Camera as a child, I’ve always wanted to use this device on a road trip. After more than a decade of holding on to this cartridge, I finally went on that road trip.
When my fiance and I got engaged, we joked that we would get married by Elvis in Vegas. As soon as we realized that this ceremony could include a road trip, the conversations and plans became a definitive yes! After Elvis gave us his blessing and pronounced us man and wife, we traveled down to San Diego and up the Pacific Coast Highway into San Francisco. Thankfully, she was also on board with including the Gameboy Camera in this journey.
Released in 1998 for the Nintendo Gameboy, this camera was one of the earliest digital cameras on the market. It’s tech specs include a 128×128 CMOS sensor and has the capacity to store thirty 128×112 grayscale images using a four-color palette. Images could be transferred to a separately purchased device, the Gameboy Printer which printed postage stamp size images on thermal paper.
It is truly a remarkable device. Not one that holds up to any modern camera specs, but it did back then!
Unfortunately, the photos were forever held either in the device or on the printed Gameboy Printer thermal paper which would fade over time. It was extraordinarily difficult to get the digital image off the device until modern solutions arrived. A 2015 device called the BitBoy allows the transfer of the files from the Gameboy to an SD card. Several other solutions popped up, but this is by far the most consumer-friendly.
So, how was my experience using it? Well, it was certainly a challenge.
All subjects need to have a strong contrast, otherwise, they end up as an unidentifiable mess. It also helps to focus on uncomplicated subjects so it’s clear to someone what the viewer is looking at.
The camera itself certainly has its quirks, but so does the physical Gameboy hardware.
Most Gameboys were released without a backlit screen. No backlight would make framing especially challenging. To combat this, I used a knock-off Gameboy called a “GB Boy Color”. It’s a strange device with the wrong screen proportions, but it contains a great backlit screen and allows original Gameboy cartridges to be played without emulation.
I’m sure somewhere, someone out there will scoff and say, why didn’t you use OG Nintendo hardware? A Gameboy Advance SP or Gameboy Micro all contained a backlight and would be suitable. They would be right, but unfortunately, both have major compatibility issues. The Gameboy Micro is incompatible with any non-Gameboy Advance games. The Gameboy Advance SP requires the camera to be upside down due to the placement of it’s cartridge slot.
Was this practical? No, not really. The look of the Gameboy Camera can be replicated easily either via Photoshop or a filter via an app.
Would I recommend it? Yes! Every camera someone picks up will have some quirk or flaw that you will have to work around. No camera is perfect. The Gameboy Camera is imperfection at it’s finest. It forces you to be creative with it’s flaws and work around them to create a successful-looking end result.
If you’re wondering – yes, I did bring another camera. It was used alongside the 24-year-old dinosaur which still takes pictures as good as the day I got it.
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