A strange tale about a strange camera that came out with a bang and fizzled just as quickly. Hudson Brown tells the curious tale of quadrascopic cameras.
Words by Hudson Brown
Across the myriad of toy cameras and varied forgotten photographic castoffs, there’s always been an array of weird and wonderful cameras that never quite took off. One of the more strange and fleeting trends has to be quadrascopic cameras, led by the Nimslo 3D, and its twisted cousin, the Nishika 8000.
It’s a story that involves more than just an odd-looking camera. During its short rise and subsequent fall, there was a host of misguided tech, bankruptcies and federal investigations – all in the name of uncovering ‘the next Polaroid’. The camera’s premise hinged on a four-lens design that captured four simultaneous images from slightly different perspectives, which would then be used to create 18 oscillating 3D prints from a 36-exposure roll of film.
Founded in 1970 by Jerry Nims and Allen Lo, Nimslo was the leading brand behind quadrascopic cameras. Three-dimensional camera tech had slowly begun to grow in popularity, and Nims and Lo had the prerequisite experience to start such a venture having met eight years earlier researching 3D photography for the Asahi Optical Company. Launching to considerable fanfare, in 1982 Nimslo showcased their ‘Nimslo 3D’ to audiences at the Photokina exhibition in Cologne, Germany.
People really believed it could be the next Polaroid. Thanks to a range of glossy magazines pushing the brand and its technology, Nimslo managed to raise millions from British venture capitalists, who backed the camera’s 3D prints to be the next great leap forward in photographic technology. The beginning of 1982 saw the camera grace the front page of the Sears catalogue and become the fastest selling 35mm camera in the United States. By year’s end, projected quarterly sales of half-a-million units turned out to be as little as 50,000 as the company squandered millions.
For a short time, it seemed like the format might take-off. But once the initial hype had faded, the Nimslo 3D was just an expensive camera where the 3-Dimensional prints – which took weeks or even months to process – weren’t really that impressive for their considerable cost and delay. Soon after, stores began slashing prices and the company’s share price tanked leading Nimslo to close their doors in 1990.
Taken with Nimslo 3D and Ilford HP5+. IMAGES—@damienstorey
But the story of quadrascopic cameras doesn’t end there. Nevada-based company Nishika promptly secured Nimslo’s patents and soon debuted the Nishika 8000. Despite its cool sounding Japanese name, Nishika had replaced its predecessor’s relatively high-quality components with cheap knockoffs. But its futuristic appearance and supposed bells and whistles made it an interesting option. Despite its complex appearance however, almost all the Nishika 8000’s features are misleading, or downright fake, as the company set about wowing consumers into purchasing.
The array of electronic features don’t actually perform any function, it uses batteries that aren’t necessary, and the LCD is actually just a sticker. The lenses are made of plastic, there’s no manual focus and it only takes ISO 100 film. The aperture selector is real, but the camera’s considerable weight largely comes from an internal lead bar that adds a premium feel.
Despite all these drawbacks, the Nishika 8000 did take pretty interesting photographs. Although, if you own one today, there’s one last problem: you can’t actually get your film developed anymore – at least not as it was first intended. Originally, you’d snail mail your film to Nimslo (or later Nishika), who would transform your four captured images into a single, holographic 3-Dimensional print. But the printing plant has long closed down, and along with it, the rather niche tools needed to render these images. But the spirit of quadrascopic cameras lives on through GIFs, music videos and mobile apps.
Today, the most common use of quadrascopic cameras is through GIFs, the online format for displaying animated images. Quadrascopic shooters process their 35mm film as normal before stitching the four images together in Photoshop to create short, lively animations. In addition, music videos have contributed to the re-emergence of the format with tastemakers such as Lil Yachty and Mura Musa making use of quadrascopic aesthetics.
In addition, Australian band photographer Phillip Muzzall produces an interactive photo zine, In Motion, combining his photographs with QR codes, leading the viewer to immersive quadrascopic clips of bands like King Krule and King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. Mobile app stores also offer a variety of quadrascopic imitations with what’s become known as ‘Wigglegrams’. So, while the original quadrascopic cameras might have fallen into obscurity some years ago, today the influence of these early quadrascopic cameras still resonates through online media and various supportive communities.
IMAGES—(top) @3dnewyorker, (middle) @damienstorey, (bottom) @3dnewyorker
Despite this, no one is making new quadrascopic cameras today. Eventually, it was Nishika’s deceptive designs that would undo the company – in 1999, chased by the US Federal Trade Commission – the company was effectively shut down after it was compelled to refund $11.3m to customers who claimed that the brand’s advertising was misleading.
In the end, quadrascopic cameras didn’t turn out to be the third wave of photography, but for a time Nimslo and Nishika offered something new and exciting to the photographic landscape. Despite their obvious shortcomings, ultimately quadrascopic cameras did develop a fulfilling legacy that continues to be carried forward by those who make the most of its unique design, and even more distinctive photographs.
FEATURE IMAGE — @davetree
Hudson Brown is a Melbourne-based freelance writer when he's not travelling the globe. His words have been featured in the likes of SBS Food, Treadlie Magazine and Paper Sea Quarterly, while he was previously the editorial assistant for small footprint living publication Assemble Papers. He is also a regular contributor to Concrete Playground where he covers the latest art, culture and gastronomic happenings around town.