Camera Reviews

Keystone XR308

I regret buying this camera. But I was 15, I was about to spend a summer in Germany, and I needed a camera I could count on. I wanted it to have electronic flash and telephoto. I also wanted to carry it easily, either in a pants pocket or in a small pouch attached to my belt. The Keystone XR308 was the only camera I found that checked those boxes within my tiny budget.

Keystone XR308 camera
Image credit:

The Keystone XR308 turned out to be terrible, but I didn’t know it at the time. It was a step up from the awful 126 camera I had been using, and I was happy to have it. I don’t have it anymore, though. It went away in 2003 with the about 150 other cameras that comprised my first collection. But here’s a bathroom-mirror selfie that shows it in my hands. I didn’t stop to think how the flash would ruin the photo!

The XR308 takes 110 film, which was still popular in 1984. There’s not much to the camera. Its lens is probably plastic, set in a simple leaf shutter. It has a preset aperture and shutter speed, adequate for decent exposure with plenty of depth of field in a wide range of daylight, optimized for the ISO 100 and 200 films of the day. When you turned on the flash, it made that whistling sound flashes used to make while they charged. The green light atop the camera would glow when the flash was ready.

I took several cartridges of Kodak color film with me to Germany, but it wasn’t nearly enough and I bought film there, too: Porst (the big German camera brand at the time) and Fuji because they were cheaper. Here is some of my exchange group at the Cologne Cathedral.

A couple buddies and I walked the 533 steps to the top of the cathedral’s right spire, where we could see for miles.

Softness. That’s the defining characteristic of photos from the XR308. That and graininess, which is enhanced in these scans I made on my el cheapo Wolverine Super F2D digitizer. It takes 110 natively; my flatbed scanner does not. Here’s the Berlin Wall, which was five years away from falling.

I made the best choice in camera I could, but I still wish I could have chosen better. Soft, grainy photos are better than no photos, however, and I have photos that record some incredible memories. Here’s a rare scene: of the Brandenburg Gate from inside East Berlin. I stood as close as the barricades would allow; from here to the gate was a no-man’s land. If I had stepped over I could have been shot without warning.

The XR308’s telephoto lens turned out to be terrible. It was a piece of cheap plastic that yielded even softer photos than the regular lens. Have a look; here’s a telephoto shot from the same location as the photo above.

Ooh, ooh, here’s a photo I probably shouldn’t have taken. It might have been trouble had I been spotted by officials. It’s an East German military parade in front of the Neue Wache.

Here’s another good memory: my first beer. My group toured the Rhenania Alt brewery in Krefeld, the town in which we lived. Thankfully, I didn’t photographically record my first drunk, which also happened this day. I probably had only three beers, but as a first-timer that was probably one beer too many.

I got to record the day I met my German pen pal, Annette. We’d corresponded for about five years already on the day her family drove her up from Frankenthal to meet me.

It also let me capture all the places we visited and the people I traveled with. Here’s Rolf in his Birkenstocks looking down the business end of a cannon at Krefeld’s Linn Castle.

The XR308 remained my regular camera when I returned to Indiana. I owned a hundred or more old cameras by this time, but none of them had that useful built-in flash. Here’s a photo of me with some high-school friends in our mathematics classroom. Check out the barrel distortion this photo reveals.

Oh, let’s stroll down memory lane for a minute. Here’s my dad. He loved to play video games! We had a bunch of game cartridges for our Commodore 64. I’d also laboriously type in the source code for games from the various computing magazines of the day. I learned some useful coding tricks from that, and my dad got more games to play. Dad’s about 45 here, which is younger than I am now.

Here’s mom banging away at the typewriter in the kitchen, where her desk was. My brother used to sweet-talk Mom into typing his essays for school. I typed my own. Yes, I still feel superior.

I took the Keystone XR308 to college. Here’s my friend Michael in my dorm room. I didn’t know then that we’d stay good friends for decades. I can’t imagine us ever not being friends.

My roommate and I painted the room ourselves, by the way. We were both Beatles fans, so we painted up the old Beatles logo. Our work remained for about 25 years.

The last photos from my Keystone XR308 are from 1986. Here’s a photo I made from the roof of my dorm showing part of campus. (See more of them here.)

From that summer, here’s my first car, a 1975 Ford Pinto. I call it mine, but it really belonged to my aunt Betty. I worked for the courier service she owned, and she let me drive it home at night. Here’s its story.

My mom rescued me from this crappy camera that Christmas when she bought me a 35mm point and shoot, a Kodak VR35 K40 (review here). It was terrific; the sharpness of my photographs improved dramatically.

Oh, to have dramatically better photos from Germany! I should probably get over myself and just be grateful I have photos from this era at all.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.


46 thoughts on “Keystone XR308

  1. As much as you might have preferred a better camera to have captured these, you’ve captured them nontheless and that’s the important thing. I really rue the fact that I didn’t find my love of photography earlier in life and can only wish for some lo-fi fuzzy shots to support my memories. :)

    I did have a similary crappy 110 film camera when I was at school, although I think I only have a single pack of prints from it – from a school residential trip – most of them show nothing of much worth, such was my poor grasp of composition, light and camera operation at the time (I was probably about 11 years old though, so I’ll give myself a break).

    There’s one grainy, fuzzy shot of a dead crow hanging from a tree – our teacher exlained that it was done by farmers to frighten off other crows, who are apparently unwilling to venture into areas where dead crows are. It doesn’t quite match your shots of Eurpoe, I feel!

    • It’s true, having these images at all is infinitely better than not having them. I’m not sure some of these memories would be as well anchored in my mind were it not for the photographs.

  2. Dan Cluley says:

    If it makes you feel better, I’ve got several years of family pictures taken with Kodak
    Disc cameras. That’s going to be a fun scanning project!

  3. Ah, this is wonderful ;)

    I remember having a similar crappy 110 film camera – a Porst Pocketpak EL … as you mentioned the famous Photo Porst company from Germany ;)

    It was around 1975 when I thought I have to improve my photography experience and bought this small camera – lightweight and easy to use.

    Unfortunately I did not came out a single sharp image … and for a very long time I thought it was me … lesson learned … it was this crappy camera.

    Still today, you cannot find any information about this camera on the global web … and I always thought there is nothing you can not find on the web ;)

    • jon campo says:

      I can understand why you are bummed about the softness Jim, but those photos have a certain charm to them, what wonderful memories! All the pictures my family took around this time similarly suck, which is why I was never on board with the whole 110 revival. It also took me a long time to trust Kodak again since we all used Kodak film and cameras and all the pictures were disappointing. As you say, the 35’s that followed were a big step up, they also weren’t cheap. I just put some film through my Medalist last year and was shocked at how sharp the pictures were!

    • We don’t correspond anymore, and haven’t since our late 20s. I’d say we’ve exchanged a handful of letters and emails in that time. But we do have each other’s email addresses, and amusingly we’re connected on LinkedIn.

    • That is a shame. I’m sorry you lost them.

      I’ve always been an organized person and I had my negs and prints well sorted. In the divorce, because my ex was a photographer and had her own values around negs and prints, mine came to me unscathed. I didn’t get much out of the house but I did get my old negs and prints.

  4. Jen Foti says:

    Love the Basney Ford front plate on the Pinto! 😉

    I agree, the photos may be ‘soft’, but what wonderful memories captured! I love your description of the flash charging, that brought back some memories of a simpler time, when we weren’t so rushed…

    • Only a fellow South Bender would know what that plate is! Back then, we didn’t have a choice, we couldn’t be as rushed. Things took more time.

  5. It wouldn’t have mattered if you could have afforded a Pentax or Yashica 110; that film format was lousy. Keystone cameras, of course, were always bottom-end too. Today there are digital cameras capable of images just as bad! :p

  6. No matter what kind of camera you might have had, a brown 75 Pinto would have looked no better. The soft, grainy pictures at least let the viewer imagine that it looked better in real life. :)

  7. Mike Eckman says:

    Like the other comments, I like the look of the Keystone camera. These images remind me of similar vacation photos I took as a kid with my cheap-o 110 cameras. I had that blue and yellow Kodak/Fisher-Price camera that is pretty common on eBay these days. My only regret is I don’t have any of those old negatives anymore for a post like this. Well done.

    Oh, and Annette was cute! Hopefully you stayed in contact with her over the years! :)

    • I’m really happy I was an organized kid who never threw anything away! I have lost only one set of kidhood negatives, but fortunately I still have the prints.

      Annette and I still can contact each other, we have each other’s email addresses. But after our 20s our enthusiasm for being pen pals fell off.

  8. JIm,
    I lived about 10 km east of Cologne in the mid-70s, at the end of the streetcar line that comes into town (then turns south) at the other end of the rail bridge behind the Dom. Had to walk past that end station on my way to school – sometimes got on the streetcar instead of going to school. Get off at Deutz and cross the rail bridge – then wander downtown, visit the Dom, or (if I had a few DM in my pocket) go to the train station and get a local to some neighboring city to explore. How many times did I hike up those 533 steps of the south tower? The golden crypt inside was subject to my Nikkormat, my Kodak 20 (110 camera), and a borrowed Kodak Super 8 movie camera. The picture of the downtown area (all pedestrian, you might recall) from the top of the tower brings back good memories. One of my favorite shots was to capture the crowd on the plaza in front of the Dom – from the top of the tower… Good that you saw all that cool stuff.

    • What wonderful images you must have of Cologne in those days! I visited the city just this once. I did shoot a lot of images from the top of that tower in the Dom, including of the Dom itself. I should upload those somewhere someday.

      • That smaller spire just to the right of center of your photo from the Dom’s tower is the old Rathaus – it was still covered in scaffolding for postwar restoration when I was there. Nearby was a hole-in-the-wall photo shop that sold Ektachrome and E4 processing for about half of anywhere else I found. And I had nearly unlimited access to an incredible darkroom full of high-end gear at school. Lots of TriX and lots of Ektachrome got shot….

      • By the way, Porst was something intermediate between Spirotone, Fotomat, and the Sears Photo Department. The had their own brand film but I have no idea who actually made it. They sold Porst branded cameras that at that time were thinly disguised Prakticas. I never used them because they attracted tourists. I remember not caring for the available Fuji slide film although I used it because it was cheaper than Ektachrome. What was REALLY sweet was an Agfa slide film called 50S. Came in a silver box with a little blue dot. The saturation and sharpness were incredible. I never saw it in the US.

        • Yeah, my memory is that all Porst-branded stuff was made by others. They did their own film processing and printing but otherwise were a sales/marketing company in photo gear.

  9. tbm3fan says:

    At 15 I would have been using a Kodak Instamatic. Luckily I bought my SRT-101 in 1972, when I was 19, and was able to take that to Europe in 1976 with a few other lenses. Spent three months in Europe and shot tons of Kodachrome only except for one roll of Agfachrome. Guess which film has shown a little bit of fade when viewed today.

    • I lacked any ability to handle a manual SLR in 1984. But if my budget had been $100 rather than $20 I could have bought an early 35mm point-and-shoot like the Canon AF35ML and have been faaaaaaar better off.

      My mother in law shot a lot of color slides in her late teens and 20s. We have slides going back to about 1948! The Kodachromes look great (though a little battered from poor storage and handling) and everything else looks terrible.

  10. kurt munger says:

    Your XR308 pics look just like mine, and with the same subject!! Funny how we were in the same city at the same time with the same camera. For some reason I wish I’d kept the XR308…

  11. Rick says:

    My brother used to sweet-talk Mom into typing his essays for school. I typed my own. Yes, I still feel superior.

    Hey, I worded goodly, and I worded hard in those days. I was prolly collapsed in a heap after so much word-crushing, so getting a little typing assist was mom’s way of saying “Crushed it again, can’t wait to read it, I’ll just type as I go so you can recover.”

    Yeah. That checks out.

  12. Well done for still having your photos. I always wanted a 110 when I was younger, I felt they looked really cool and spy-like. The ones I have tried recently are better than I expected. I wanted to see your photos from your youth so I saved this to rad later. I am glad I did, but no I ant to go to Germany.

    • It’s a lot easier for you to visit than it is for me! I’d love to go back one day.

      I have all of my childhood negatives, save one roll that’s gone missing. I had foot surgery in 2014 and was on my back for a week, so I ordered a cheap film digitizer off Amazon that would take my 110 and 126 negs and spent the week digitizing them all.

  13. jopho says:

    I too took a crappy 110 on a once in a lifetime trip, a year of college in Europe. It was a Kodak Ektralite 500 that my grandmother had given me a few years before. Yeah, the photos are all grainy and soft, but I still love them. And I still have the camera and use it from time to time. And I still enjoy it and the graininess. :)

  14. davepowell01 says:

    Before digital came along, several of the better 110s were in my favorite travel kit. In order of image quality, I’d say they were the:

    Kodak Pocket Instamatic 60 (custom engineered in Kodak’s labs for their 1972 release of 110 cartridge film… and which produces extremely fine photos)
    Canon ED 20 (with a real nice f/2.0 lens AND it doesn’t use the Pocket Instamatic 60’s nearly impossible to find K-type battery)
    Minolta Autopak 470 (which becomes an even more pocketable “brick” with its flash removed)
    Kodak Ektramax (with a superlative f/1.9 lens that delivered beautiful night shots)

    With the availability of new emulsions, 110 photography is becoming popular again. And I can personally recommend any of these as tremendous compact shooters! In fact, I once did a shoot-off between the Pocket Instamatic 60 and my 35mm Nikon FE SLR (with f:1.8 Nikkor). And in an “equal” competition (with the same scenes shot at the same times, and printed at approximately the same 4 x 5 sizes), the Pocket Instamatic 60’s prints looked as sharp as the Nikon’s… and even exhibited slightly better dynamic/tonal range.

    Not too scientific, of course, but the test made me confident that those tiny cameras were more than adequate compact traveling companions for my needs.

    • I used to own an Autopak 470! It was the best 110 camera I ever used. It even beat my little Rollei A110. The Lomography film is pretty good. We’re fortunate to have it at all!

  15. davepowell01 says:

    We sure are fortunate Jim… it’s a great time for film! A long time ago, I bought a lot of cameras at yard sales, kept some, and resold the others on eBay. And I can confirm that the Rollei A110 didn’t seem to stack up to the Minolta 470 or the others in my list. I was bummed too, since it’s so cute!

  16. Pingback: Back to 110? Agfamatic Pocket Sensor 2008 – Urban Adventure League

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.