2010 was not a great year for film photography, but among all the doom and gloom, one shining light stood proud like a lighthouse on the horizon: Lomography Society International. When so many other camera manufacturers were discontinuing products or leaving the industry altogether, Lomography launched a brand new camera: the Sprocket Rocket.
The Sprocket Rocket wasn’t just any camera either: touted as the world’s first panoramic wide-angle camera that exposes film sprockets, it was truly something new and different. If that wasn’t enough, this plastic beauty was fitted with a “reverse gear”, allowing the photographer to rewind and remix images they’d taken via double and multiple exposures.
Fast forward 10 years and I have finally bought a Sprocket Rocket. You can read my review below or press play on the podcast review above.
What does the Sprocket Rocket look like?
The Sprocket Rocket is a fairly chunky plastic camera that is bright and bold. If you think it looks familiar, you’re right. The camera closely resembles two vintage cameras from the mid 20th century: the 1938 Falcon Miniature and the 1949 Ilford Advocate.
The Sprocket Rocket has been available in a wide range of bright colours over the years: red, blue, teal, pink, white, yellow, orange, green, and black.
As at October 2020, you can buy it from the Lomography website in three colours: black, red, and green. I bought my red Sprocket Rocket direct from the Lomography website for $69USD.
What’s in the Sprocket Rocket box?
Like many Lomography products, the packaging and inclusions are all very hip and well designed. Here’s what came in the box:
- Sprocket Rocket camera.
- Lens cap.
- Mask for sprocketless photos (black thing above the camera in the image below).
- Sprocket Rocket Panorama User Manual.
- Sprocket Panorama brochure with sample images.
- Sprocket Rocket – The Blind Experiment booklet.
I really like all the additional bits and bobs you get with a Lomography camera. The brochure with sample images is fantastic for inspiration, showing you examples of what you can expect. It also features a cool Sprocket Rocket themed detective cartoon!
The user manual has straightforward instructions on how to load film and operate the camera, tips and tricks on how to get the most out of it, and a trouble shooting guide. The text is a decent size, but it’s printed in multiple languages, so it’s not as long as you think when you first take a look.
The blind experiment is one person’s journey using the Sprocket Rocket as a “blind photographer” for two days.
Sprocket Rocket features and specifications
- The Sprocket Rocket has two apertures to choose from: Cloudy f/10.8 and Sunny f/16.
- It has two shutter speeds: a fixed 1/100 second (the N setting on the camera), and a very handy bulb setting (the B setting on the camera.)
- The focal length of the lens is 30mm, making it a wide angle camera.
- The minimum focus distance is quite short at just 60cm (2 feet).
- The camera zone focuses via two settings on the lens barrel: 0.6m to 1m, and 1m to infinity.
- The Sprocket Rocket takes 35mm film. It doesn’t matter if your film has DX coding or not, as it doesn’t read DX coding, and has no capability to change settings based on film speed.
- Recommended film speed is IS0400, though I’ve successfully used ISO200 film here in sunny Queensland.
- Exposure area of each frame is double the width of a normal 35mm exposure: 72x33mm (with mask taken out to expose sprockets) or 72x24mm (with mask in).
- No battery is required.
- Weight: it’s quite light, weight just 227g / 8oz.
- Tripod mount on the bottom for long exposure shots.
- Film advance and rewind knobs – when used in conjunction with the white dot window, this rewind knob is a very handy feature.
- Flash hot shoe on top of the camera.
How many images do I get with a Sprocket Rocket?
The Sprocket Rocket is a panoramic camera with exposures being double the width of a normal 35mm frame (72mm wide instead of 36mm wide). This means you’ll get a maximum of 18 shots on a 36 exposure roll, and a maximum of 12 on a 24 exposure roll.
What film is recommended for the Sprocket Rocket?
Lomography recommend ISO400 film for use in the Sprocket Rocket. Depending on the lighting conditions, you could use any film from ISO100-800 quite easily if you know the sunny 16 rul, if you use a light meter, or if you use a smartphone light meter app.
Before you start shooting
The first thing you probably want to do is open up the back of the camera and take the mask out. With the mask left in, the camera won’t expose the entire film negative, so there won’t be any sprockets!
Loading film in the Sprocket Rocket
Loading film in the Sprocket Rocket is quite easy, especially if you have some experience doing this. To take the back off the camera, lift up the silver clasps on the side of the camera and the whole back section comes off. With this design, it looks like the back would come off pretty easily while you’re using it, but it doesn’t.
Next, load your film into the camera on the left hand side. Feed the film across the back of the camera and into the take up spool, then wind it on. Below is a video from Lomography showing the process. Keep winding the film on until you see a little white dot appear in the window next to the rewind button.
Shooting with the Sprocket Rocket
Once your film is loaded, you’re ready to go! The camera has a viewfinder – quite a luxury for a plastic toy camera – but I’d suggest it’s more of a guide than for precise composition. The bottom part of your view through the viewfinder is blocked by the top part of the lens.
Make sure you have enough light when you’re taking photos: in darker conditions or indoors you may need to use a flash. In sunny or cloudy daylight conditions, you should be fine.
Next, choose your aperture for the conditions: either sunny or cloudy. The aperture setting is on the bottom of the lens. Next, choose your focus: either 0.6m to 1m, or 1m to infinity. I left my Sprocket Rocket on the latter the whole time I shot with it.
Once you compose your shot, press the shutter lever down. The Sprocket Rocket makes a strange, but kinda cool shutter sound. You can hear it in my podcast, or in the short video from Lomography below:
Precise framing with the white dot
For single exposures, it’s now time to wind the film advance knob to the next frame. Film is advanced by the silver knob on the right of the camera as you’re holding it in your hands, turn the wheel in the direction of the arrow.
As you start turning the knob, the white dot in the window on the right of the camera will disappear: keep turning the knob until the white dot appears again in the window. This way your double wide panoramic exposures will not overlap each other, making it much easier to scan them.
Can I do double exposures and multiple exposures with the Sprocket Rocket?
Yes! As explained above, the shutter is triggered by pushing down the silver lever on the side of the lens. Film advancement is manual, meaning that you physically have to turn the film advance knob to get to the next frame. While this may seem primitive compared to more advanced cameras, this is actually a fantastic feature as it means you have unlimited potential for double and multiple exposures!
You can press the shutter as many times as you want on any given frame, just be careful not to overexpose your film too much. The image below was taken at dusk on ISO200 film. The image is on the darker side, I could’ve got away with a triple exposure on this frame.
Shoot the roll, then shoot it backwards!
The Sprocket Rocket has a lot of features for a plastic toy camera. As well as having a mandatory film advance knob, it has a film film rewind knob on the opposite side of the camera. This is not only for rewinding the film once you’re finished, but used in conjunction with the white dot, you can also shoot the entire roll with single exposures, then rewind it frame by frame and shoot double and multi-exposures over the top!
So how does it work? Here’s a run down:
- Shoot your film with single exposures one frame at a time. After you take each image, wind the film until the white dot appears in the window again.
- Keep doing single exposures all the way until the end of the roll.
- When you get to the end of the roll, start winding the rewind button. The white dot will disappear, keep winding until it appears again.
- Take another image. What you’re doing is making a double exposure by taking a second image over the top of this already exposed frame.
- Rewind the film another frame by turning the rewind knob until the white dot appears again.
- Shoot another image.
- Repeat the process until the film ends up back in the canister, or start winding the film forward and take triple exposures on the roll!
Can I use a flash with the Sprocket Rocket?
Yes! There is a hot shoe connection on top of the camera. I haven’t used a flash for any of the photos featured in this review, but will try it soon.
Can I take long exposure images with the Sprocket Rocket?
Yes! Not only does the Sprocket Rocket have a bulb mode, it also has a tripod socket! On the base of the camera is a silver ring which can be used to attach a strap. Unscrew this ring and hey presto, you have a tripod socket.
To take a long exposure image, mount your Sprocket Rocket on a tripod, switch the shutter setting to B for bulb, and then work out how many seconds you need to expose the scene for.
You can either guess, or use a light meter app, dialling in the aperture you’re using (probably easiest to use the sunny f16 aperture) and your film speed ISO. This will give you how many seconds you should hold down the shutter for.
Try to hold the camera rock solid with one hand on the tripod as you push and hold the shutter lever down with your other hand. The image above of Brisbane City is surprisingly sharp in the middle!
Characteristics of Sprocket Rocket images
- Sharp in the centre, blurry towards the edge of the frame.
- Quite severe wide-angle distortion. Check out the building shots below, everything towards the edge of the frame looks curved!
- Vignetting – this can be quite strong in certain conditions.
Pros and cons of the Sprocket Rocket
- It’s light – take it with you everywhere.
- It’s fun – how could a bright red wide-angle panoramic camera not be fun?
- It’s (relatively) cheap. Not as cheap as a thrift store point and shoot, but this baby is brand new and you’re helping to support Lomography.
- Features – there’s a lot packed into this plastic camera: a viewfinder, the ability to do multi-exposures, the ability to rewind your film randomly, bulb mode, and a hot shoe for flash shots.
- If you want your subject in focus, composition is required. Anything that’s not in the centre of the frame will be either blurred or have sprocket holes over.
- The Sprocket Rocket can’t compete in quality with sprockets shot on 35mm film through a medium format camera.
- Lens blur, vignetting, wide-angle distortion… if these things aren’t your bag, steer clear.
- Scanning can be a pain. Most labs won’t scan sprockets, standard holders won’t let you scan the sprockets. If you want to do it right, one option is to invest in a Lomo Digitiliza – a scanning mask that allows you to scan sprockets.
How much does a Sprocket Rocket cost?
I bought my Sprocket Rocket brand new from the Lomography website for $69USD. I was really keen on getting the green one, but it was $20 more than the black or red versions. At the time of writing, each colour has a different price: black is the cheapest at $79USD, followed by red at $85USD, with the Superpop! green model coming in at $99USD.
From time to time the cameras pop up on Facebook Marketplace, and there are plenty for sale on eBay, though with the latter they’re not much cheaper than buying it brand new off the Lomography website.
Is the Sprocket Rocket good value for money?
For the range of features the camera gives you, I think the Sprocket Rocket is worth the money that Lomography ask for it. Lomography have been a huge supporter of analogue photography in the 21st century and I’m a big fan of their products.
What other cameras can I use to expose sprockets?
There are a few other 35mm cameras that allow you to natively expose the sprockets. The following three options are also made by Lomography:
- Spinner 360
- Diana F+ 35mm back
- Lubitel 166
One non-Lomography option is the early 21st century beauty from Japan, the Superheadz Blackbird, fly: a 35mm plastic TLR camera. Look out for a review of that in the coming months.
Sprocket Rocket sample images
Here are some final Sprocket Rocket sample images: