St John Karp

Ramblings of an Ornamental Hermit

The Traid Fotron Camera

A Three-Button Lemon

The Traid Fotron (front view)
The Traid Fotron (front view)

Willya get a load of this thing? I totally got ripped off for it at the Ashby flea market, but god damn, it was worth it for a beautiful catastrophe of this calibre. It’s the Traid Corporation’s Fotron camera, a lemon sold door-to-door in the ’60s to housewives who were judged to be too dense to use a proper camera.

"Now! The amazing FOTRON® Color Camera"
“Now! The amazing FOTRON® Color Camera … Ideal for the 99 out of 100 wives who refuse to fuss with their husbands' Cameras” (“Life”, 1968-03-08, p. 19)

James Ollinger gives probably the best review of the Fotron I’ve read: “The result isn’t something bad like a Pho-Tak or a Holga is bad, this thing is bad on a Wagnerian opera scale. This thing could fire-bomb Dresden.” He’s not wrong, either. This camera is in nearly every way a monstrosity — an enormous plastic brick that could just as effectively be used to club muggers over the head or to break a window in case of an emergency. It used 828 film which was a standard film format at the time, but instead of using the standard packaging of this film on rolls, it loaded the film into proprietary cartridges which had to be returned to the Traid Corporation to be developed. Counting in its favor, however, are the pioneering built-in flash, an electric exposure counter, motorized film advancement, and a rather cute system of buttons for selecting the exposure and focus. If you wanted to make a kids’ camera a design like this wouldn’t be a terrible idea. I think we can give ’60s housewives a little bit more credit though, especially if they’ve got biceps big enough to lug this thing around in their handbags.

The Traid Fotron (top view)
The Traid Fotron (top view)

The photos it took were apparently pretty bad. I haven’t had the chance to experiment with mine yet because the capacitors inside don’t hold a charge for very long (or do I just need to let it charge for seventy million hours?) and because you can’t get 828 film in the proprietary cartridges any more. My camera does come with two unexposed cartridges of color film, so if I can get the camera to hold a charge for long enough I might take it for a spin. But even then the color film in the ’60s used a different development process that’s no longer standard, so I’d have a devil of a time even getting the film developed. Word on the street is you can develop color film as black and white, but then that seems to be missing the point — if I can use expired film from the ’60s, I want to see all those beautiful, wrecked, and unpredictable colors.

The Traid Corporation was the subject of a class action lawsuit in 1972 and went out of business shortly thereafter. If I’ve understood the legalese correctly, the plaintiffs complained not only that the camera was a heap of junk that took crappy photos, but also that they’d been sold for $491.60 a camera that was actually only worth about $40. The paperwork that came in my Fotron camera bag would seem to bear out the story that the camera took shite pictures. There are two notes from the Traid corporation technicians telling the owner why their pictures came out looking terrible.

"...the defect in your negatives is caused by improper storage...")
“…the defect in your negatives is caused by improper storage…”
"Strobe Problem")
“Strobe Problem”

According to the Internet the Traid Corporation produced three models of Fotron — a three-button model with a frame counter window, a three-button model with an improved frame counter, and a two-button model called the Fotron III. The paperwork that came with mine calls it a two-button Fotron III, but it clearly has three buttons so I’m assuming it was the intermediate model. Since all the instructions and warranty documents were crumbling I’ve scanned them and posted them here. They are beautiful bits of ephemera, what with the typed italics, the little warning that Traid couldn’t be arsed to charge the cameras before shipping them, and the warranty card (which was apparently a sticking point in the class action suit).

"If possible, please put your Camera on charge for 12 to 24 hours before using.")
“If possible, please put your Camera on charge for 12 to 24 hours before using.”
Fotron III Instructions)
Fotron III Instructions (click for the full page)
Fotron Warranty)
Fotron Warranty