New Half-Frame Camera May Be a Solution to Film’s Increasing Prices

They don’t—and can’t—make ‘em like they used to

  • The Alfie Tech is a prototype half-frame camera. 
  • Once-popular half frame cameras squeeze 72 photos out of a 36-frame roll of file. 
  • It’s almost impossible to make good film cameras today.
Press Image for the Alfie Tych Camera

Alfie Cameras

Film prices are going through the roof—if you can even find any to buy. Is a new half-frame camera the answer?

Film photography is far from dead. Its popularity is rising, even as film manufacturers like Kodak and Fujifilm struggle with production. One answer for film-lovers facing an uncertain supply is to use a half-frame camera. The Alfie TYCH is just such a device, currently in testing. Like all half-frame cameras, it stretches a 36 exposure roll of 35mm film to 72 exposures. But should you wait for this, pick up an old vintage half-frame camera, or give up on film altogether?

"I'll bet it's more expensive than the Olympus Pen F I bought near mint off Craigslist for $50 and doesn't take nearly as good of pictures," said photography enthusiast Mr Bolton on the DP review forums. 

Mission Impossible

The resurgence of film photography is built almost entirely on used film cameras. If you want to buy new, you can choose from cheap plastic, semi-disposable units with lenses that don't let in enough light and shutters that let in too much, or a Leica that costs many thousands of dollars. 

Closeup focus on the three lenses on the Tych camera from Alfie Cameras.

Alfie Cameras

A few intrepid entrepreneurs have tried to make new film cameras, but without an industry of parts suppliers behind them, it's virtually impossible. Late-model film cameras were as mechanically complex as today's digital cameras, with plenty of electronics in there too.

"In the past, film cameras were the only option for photographers. These days, digital cameras are more popular, but many photographers still prefer the look of film. Some people even argue that film cameras produce better-quality images," Oberon Copeland, tech writer, owner, and CEO of the Very Informed website, told Lifewire via email.

And older mechanical film cameras may seem basic by today's standards, but open one of these things up, and you'll see that they are way beyond the abilities of a small producer, especially if you don't want to charge Leica prices. 

Imagine trying to make a laptop computer, pretty much from scratch, when all the chip and screen suppliers shut down years ago. 

This is the world that Dave Faulkner from Alfie Cameras is facing with his TYCH. 

These days, digital cameras are more popular, but many photographers still prefer the look of film.


Early version of the TYCH used existing Nikon shutters, and a blog post from Alfie cameras also mentions recycling lenses from discarded disposable cameras. But this is far from a frankencam built from existing parts. Dave uses a CNC machine to mill aluminum parts, and the brain of the unit is a custom-designed circuit board. Despite its humble specs, the TYCH has a screen on the top with info on exposure settings, and the camera will work in fully manual and auto modes. 

The most distinctive part is the lens or lenses. These are mounted on a twisting turret so you can quickly switch between them. The prototype features a pinhole lens, the above-mentioned ƒ8 lens from a disposable camera, plus an as-yet undecided lens. This thing looks like a lot of fun.

Half As Good?

The TYCH’s biggest competition is from used half-frame cameras. These are what they sound like—cameras that use half the usual area of film for each photo, allowing you to squeeze double the pictures onto a roll. This also means that the photos you take are in vertical orientation rather than horizontal, which is more like what we’re used to with phone cameras. 

The upside of half-frame is obvious—more photos for the same price. But there are several downsides. 

Closeup on the controls on the Tych camera.

Alfie Cameras

The first is that your photos will also be half-sized. If you use a standard lab to develop and print your images, each print will contain two side-by-side photos. This may or may not be a disadvantage. Perhaps you like these semi-random diptychs. Or can live with the smaller photos. 

If you opt for just scans, you can quickly split them in software. 

But the biggest downside is image quality. If you view the resulting images at the same size, the half-frame photo will have double-sized grain and less detail overall. 

And if you do want a half-frame camera? Find a vintage model, and enjoy its superior engineering and retro good looks.

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