As a fan of both cameras and Lego, I was super excited on first laying eyes on the Lego Retro Camera creator set just before Christmas. It captured my heart, even before it was in my hands. Following much disappointment about it becoming available from New Year's Day, not for the holidays, I was ecstatic when it was delivered to my doorstep this week. The Lego Retro Camera creator set has been the perfect project to ease the winter blues, with the added bonus that my kids are now back at school, freeing up plenty of time to tackle it by myself – much to my son's disappointment, who arrived home to discover the complete build in all its glory!
One of the 3-in-1 creator sets that Lego offers (number 31147, in case you're interested), the parts in the box can be used for three different builds – in this case a retro camera, an old-school video camera (a bit like a Super 8), plus an analog TV. The headline build here is the retro camera, which is the option that was always going to be top for me, and I've had a blast building it. (I'm currently rebuffing my son's sincere offer to deconstruct it and attempt the video camera. He's so thoughtful, wink.)
It took me a leisurely hour to build the retro camera, while sipping tea and documenting the experience for TechRadar's TikTok (see above). I didn't expect a 261-piece set billed for those who are 8 years of age and older to be too challenging – I barely had to correct myself once during the entire process. Nevertheless, my son who's ten laughed at me, reckoning he could have competed it 20 minutes – and I believe him.
There are plenty of moments from the halfway point of the build when you begin seeing the little details coming together; the film door, the film lever, and the film wind mechanism, for example. Before you know it, there will be a camera before you, after which you can work on the two rolls of film using a set of six see-through stickers that pack the pictures, plus attach the colorful camera strap. For a set that costs only $19.99 at Amazon US or £17.99 at Amazon UK or the Lego Shop, in my opinion, this is absolutely a great choice.
I should point out the obvious – that this is not a working camera, it's entirely Lego. But the build is astonishingly detailed. You can look through the viewfinder and see all the way through. The lens barrel rotates; plus the film lever cranks and springs back into place. The film door opens and the film roll slots inside. It's all very charming.
It could be fun to swap out the lens for a bigger optic, especially if you're a keen wildlife photographer, or even make an external flash to attach to the hot shoe – in which case a part that lights up would be necessary. But here I'm getting carried away, in the hope that Lego is reading and can hatch a plan. If you are, I’d pay up to $20 for a light-up flash add-on set.
So what do my kids think of it? They’re fans, too. Not as enthusiastic as they'd be for a Ninjago set, but they can see the appeal. I grabbed a small light and shone it through the film rolls to light up the pictures for them, just for fun. For another project off the back of this, I might print our own pics on tiny transparent stickers to replace the Lego ones; that could be fun.
I now have a problem, however. New Year's Day saw a twin launch of camera-themed Lego sets: the Lego Retro Camera and the Polaroid OneStep SX-70. The latter holds even greater appeal, since I own a real Polaroid SX-70 that resides on a bookshelf at home for display, and I can picture the two models placed side by side. However, that kit is almost triple the price of the Retro Camera creator set – so, naturally, it’s on my wish list for my next birthday. Here's hoping my better half reads this.
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Tim is the Cameras editor at TechRadar. He has enjoyed more than 15 years in the photo video industry with most of those in the world of tech journalism. During his time as Deputy Technical Editor with Amateur Photographer, as a freelancer and consequently editor at Tech Radar, Tim has developed a deeply technical knowledge and practical experience with cameras, educating others through news, reviews and features. He’s also worked in video production for Studio 44 with clients including Canon, and volunteers his spare time to consult a non-profit, diverse stories team based in Nairobi. Tim is curious, a keen creative, avid footballer and runner, and moderate flat white drinker who has lived in Kenya and believes we have much to enjoy and learn from each other.