Did You Know: TIME Magazine Once Gave Away Free 35mm Cameras to Subscribers

Back in 1985, TIME magazine was determined to get more subscribers. We know this because of the special TV offer you see above. If you happen to be around when this commercial aired, all you needed to do was call the number to get a TIME magazine subscription for 40% off, and a free 35mm camera!

If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it was. The TIME camera was more of a toy camera than anything else, but for a toy camera it was actually fairly high-end. It had a hot shoe that worked, a 50mm lens that took reasonably sharp photos, and a manual aperture ring that gave you the option to choose between f/6, 8, 11, or 16.


Even better, if you had no idea what aperture was, you could ignore the f-stop numbers and chose instead from illustrations that included cloudy, party cloudy, sunny and very sunny. And just in case the plastic feel of the camera made it seem like too much of a toy, they slapped a piece of lead to the bottom to give it some weight.

Of course, nobody was fooled. The cameras, which were replicated for similar offers by magazines like Sports Illustrated, started rolling into thrift and pawn shops almost as soon as they hit consumer hands. Nowadays, you may find one for a dollar or two at your local Goodwill.

But for a time (no pun intended), it was a gimmick that worked, convincing many a watcher to pick up their phone and dial the number. After all, TIME wasn’t kidding around: they even included a lens cap, a neck strap, and a “handsome” carrying case!

(via Photographs on the Brain)

Image credits: Photographs by Nano_Burger

  • Chris Brown

    I bought one at a used camera shop last year. It even had undeveloped film in it, though the pics weren’t very good.

  • A_Lwin

    If only they would give away free SLRs now hahaha

  • Renato Murakami

    With all the hipsters around, I bet they could resurrect the magazine with such an offer!
    Well, maybe not.

  • Burnin Biomass

    I had one for awhile, until I broke it open to figure out why the dumb thing was so heavy. I got a laugh out of that piece of lead.

  • Dan C

    I had one as a kid, still have a few rolls I shot with it. The pictures simply suck, and not in that cool hipster Holga way. They just suck. Suck suck suck. They litter all the thrift stores to this day, not even the most ironic of hipsters will touch them.

  • kshapero

    Now, what was that 800 number again?

  • walnuts

    It wasn’t just Time. That exact camera was rebranded as lots of different companies freebie incentives. Even Maxim Magazine had one.

  • Andrea Boyle

    I remember when I was in 6th grade or so, I saw an add in the “Parade” magazine in our Sunday paper about a “free” camera to be used in low light situations. This was circa 1966 so it was still the film days. I had just seen the movie Born Free and I guess I must have thought I could take pictures of lionesses in my suburban San Jose California neighborhood. Little did I know that a salesperson would show up to our house asking to talk to me about the camera. The were confronted by my parents and I was monitored after that on my relentless letterwriting. Never got the “cool” camera, but I think I got a Kodak Instamatic that Christmas with flashcubes as well! Dates may not quite line up, but I was well on my way to a photographic adulthood!

  • Norshan Nusi

    Dang, you got yourself the real deal there!

  • TechUser2011

    Looks like Petapixel is being run by millennial hipsters. Time Magazine used to give away a lot of stuff, like watches as well.

    What’s your next article, DL Cade?

    “Did you know: Men once walked on the moon”

    “Did you now: The USA used to be at war with Japan. Srsly. The same dudes who make anime and Playstations. We were fighting against them.”

  • Mike Smith

    I had the Sports Illustrated version of this camera back in the day. I have looked for it off and on over the years at my parents house but have not been able to find it. :(

  • ken

    I called the number and no one answered. :(

  • Eugene Chok

    forget holga i want one of these!

  • dorisdays

    I remember getting it as a kid. Played with it a lot, but parents never gave me film

  • Soulis Art

    It is a disposable camera tech. not more,,, with extra plastics as decoration, and only. the shutter spring is fixed at about 1/100 sec. and the aperture is segment tech. as the lens it is a single plastic lens mono (no group) as i say, it is a disposable camera readapted and decorated. … still make better photo than your expensives mobiles phones……………enjoy