.gbc= Game Boy Camera

23 January 2021 di ejan

This post is also available in: Italiano

For those born during the 1990s it will be difficult to remember, but the older brothers will sure know it well: released in 1998, the Game Boy Camera is a 2-bit monochrome camera that contains a 128 × 112 pixel sensor. At the time of its introduction, it was the smallest digital camera in the world.

Fashionable vintage

Its production ceased in 2002, due to low demand, thus making it a cult object that is -almost- impossible to find today. (Go search in the flea markets!)

Much of his fascination lies in the pixelated rendering of the photos it manages to take, which can be printed later with another very kawaii (cute) accessory producted by Nintendo: the Game Boy Printer (tiny printer that uses the same thermal paper as the receipts, doesn’t requering ink).

Game Boy Camera, color black// source Wikipedia.
Game Boy Camera, color black// source Wikipedia.


Initially designed to be used as an addition to some mini-games or for simple leisure, it soon won the hearts of many.

Especially after the affirmation of the digital, it has made its way for its vintage look (same fate as vinyl) and the Lo-Fi and nostalgic effect that shines through in every photo. The lower definition captures the true essence of the subject behind the lens, giving a truly “magical” halo to even the most banal photo.

Alexander Pietrow, Una ripresa di prova di una torre dell'orologio con Game Boy (a sinistra) rispetto alla stessa vista catturata con una fotocamera moderna.
Alexander Pietrow, A test shot of a clock tower with Game Boy (left) versus the same view captured with a modern camera.

Astrophotographer Alexander Pietrow recently made the history of photography in an unusual way, becoming the first person to photograph the Moon and Jupiter with a G.B.C. placed on a telescope.

Alexander Pietrow, Primi scatti della Luna tramite la Game Boy Camera zoomata.
Alexander Pietrow, First shots of the Moon through the zoomed Game Boy Camera.
Alexander Pietrow, La luna fotografata attraverso gbc e telscopio. Sono visibili i crateri.
Alexander Pietrow, The moon photographed through gbc and telescope. The craters are visible.

Later, the designer Bastian Ekeler brought everything to its quintessence, improving the technique and inventing a definitely more sophisticated method, 3D printing a special adapter to telescopically zoom the camera!

Needless to say, the result obtained is equally interesting, but more enjoyable!

Bastian Ekeleer, Studies on a Game Boy Camera
Bastian Ekeler, Studies on a Game Boy Camera

Examples of photography in .gbc

Among the lucky owners of this unobtainable technology, there are some who document reality in an interesting way by creating particular projects, capable of giving prestige to an instrument that is not very powerful in itself. In fact, you shouldn’t think that taking a picture with the GameBoy Camera is enough to immediately obtain interesting results: like the sisters who shoot in HD, even behind this lens it takes talent to achieve beauty. Perhaps even more: getting a decent shot in .gbc means considering a clever play of balance between saturation and brightness. Which, it is assured, are complicated to manage with a 4-color palette!

A photographic report that stands out particularly for its documentary value is “New York City photographed with Game Boy Camera in 2000” by David Friedman.

With this photographic walk, Friedman manages in a few pixels of resolution, to capture the atmosphere of the Big Apple of the early 2000s, with its most important skyscrapers and the subway.

David Friedman, Rockfeller Plaza
David Friedman, Subway door

Surfin’ the Net it pops up roku.gbc, whose username immediately recalls the file extension it deals with.

Here you can mainly see travel and concert pictures, along with deliberately wavy and pretentious selfies, all key elements of the indie moodboard of the last 5 years.

An example of how this antiquated technology can actually act as the soundtrack of a decade to which it does not belong.

Roku,gbc, Arottenbit's concert (chiptune artist), 2018.
Roku.gbc, Arottenbit’s concert, 2018.

This aesthetic, like perhaps only the great comeback that Polaroids had a few years ago, is also influencing digital and HD photography.

In fact, some photographers work in post-production to obtain the same burnt and evanescent effect.

Lo-Fi Memories

An interesting project is “Lo-Fi Memories” an artbook by Steven Boyar.

A collection of “forgotten” shots of Game Boy cartridges sold, lost and dusty. What a symphony of amarcord!

The idea arose by chance when, buying several cameras online to make up for the limit of 30 maximum photos supported, Boyar realized that many of the previous owners had not deleted the material produced.

Steven Boyar, Lo-Fi memories, inside.
Steven Boyar, Lo-Fi memories.
Steven Boyar, one of the pictures inside Lo-Fi Memories
Steven Boyar, Lo-Fi memories.

Interesting experiment especially to have a gaze at different uses of the G.B.C, since they’ve never meant to be published.

Steven Boyar, one of the pictures inside Lo-Fi Memories.
Steven Boyar, Lo-Fi memories.

David Friedman

Photographer David Friedman has returned to the origins of color photography (and its theory) to do the impossible: get color photos from the Game Boy.

To do this, he uses the scientific and pictorial studies on primary and complementary colors and on the color wheel.

“When the Game Boy Camera came out, I was already shooting professionally using high-end digital cameras,” but continues David “I wasn’t really happy with the image quality of many of them.”

Looking at the images on his monitor, Friedman found that although the Game Boy’s cheap screen displayed images with a distinctive (and unattractive) greenish tint; transferring them to a computer, he found out a retro alternative to the grainy digital cameras of consumption available at the moment.

David Friedman, First coloured picture on a Game Boy Camera.
David Friedman, first color photo on Game Boy Camera.

Color theory

Friedman realized that image processing software would allow him to emulate the quality of professional cameras. And to produce color images. In fact, each color image can be divided into three separate black and white images that represent the quantities of red, green and blue used to compose that image, as in this example:

Each visible color and each color image accordingly, is therefore composed of three black and white photos, each with its peculiar values of blue, red and green.

Friedman then discovers that “If it is possible to create a color image from three black and white images, I could use the Game Boy camera to take three separate black and white images (using filters to capture the red, green and blue valeus of a scene) and then use your computer to combine them into a single RGB image.”

David Friedman, 1.Breakfast, 2. Brian.
David Friedman, 1.Breakfast, 2. Brian.

Useful links:

First photography of the Moon_

Bastian Ekeler_

Lo-Fi Memories_

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