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Retro Review: 24 years after its release, is the iconic Nintendo Game Boy Camera still fun?

Released in 1998, the Nintendo Game Boy Camera was many people’s first foray into digital photography. While it couldn’t offer the resolving power of contemporaneous cameras like the Nikon Coolpix 900 and the Canon PowerShot Pro70, both of which offered optical zoom and roughly 1MP resolution, the 0.014MP Game Boy Camera offered Game Boy owners a new, fun way to interact with their handheld gaming machine and, for many, their first experience with digital photography.

Given the camera’s important history and continued popularity, Gordon Laing of Camera Labs recently reviewed the Game Boy Camera as part of his ‘Retro Review’ series. It’s one of the strangest digital cameras ever released. The Game Boy Camera was launched in Japan in early 1998 before making its way to Europe and North America later that year. The camera is built into a Game Boy cartridge, and the fixed-lens camera can rotate 180 degrees, allowing for selfies, long before ‘selfies’ were commonplace.

The camera may not capture good images with its 0.014MP CMOS image sensor that records 2-bit images – meaning it displayed four shades of gray – but it was reasonably priced and made digital photography affordable. The camera also worked with a Game Boy Printer, sold separately, letting you make small stamp-sized thermal prints of your photos. You could also add fun effects and frames to your photos.

No, the image quality isn’t good. The images are only 128 x 112 pixels. However, poor image quality didn’t stop many budding photographers in the late 90s from having a great time with the Game Boy Camera. Between the ability to capture digital images, which was still an otherwise expensive proposition at the time, and playing with fun Game Boy Camera-powered minigames, the camera has no doubt had a lasting impact on many gamers.

The Game Boy Camera has also enjoyed something of a comeback lately, as visual artists and photographers have adapted the Game Boy Camera to a wide range of situations. We just recently wrote about the team at Hack Make Mod modifying a Game Boy Camera to capture telephoto images of the moon. In 2017, we featured the work of Alexander Pietrow, who used a Game Boy Camera for astrophotography.

Beyond technical limitations, the Game Boy Camera presents some other issues. The focal length is fixed and equivalent to about 50mm, which can prove limiting if you don’t modify the camera. Further, the cartridge only holds about 30 images. To transfer photos from the cartridge, you need to use third-party accessories or even a third-party handheld gaming device, like the new Analogue Pocket.

If you never had a Game Boy Camera or had one and have since misplaced it in the last 20-plus years, they are readily available on eBay and at many retro game stores. To read Laing’s full review, head to Camera Labs. For more of his Retro Review videos, visit his YouTube channel, Dino Bytes.

Images courtesy of Gordon Laing and Camera Labs