Amateur Photographer verdict

It’s an enjoyable build, and the retro camera really does look the part on a shelf or sideboard. 
  • Hidden film canister 
  • Alternative build options 
  • Limited “play” features
  • Uses plastic packaging 

LEGO has treated us to not one, but two, vintage camera builds in its January 2024 release of new sets. 

As well as the fantastic Polaroid OneStep SX-70 camera, we’ve also got the LEGO Creator 3-in-1 Retro Camera, which, at just £17.99 is much more easily affordable, and also makes a great whimsical gift for the camera (or LEGO – or indeed both) fan in your life. 

Having a retro camera – a real one – sat on your shelf as an ornament is a pretty common thing for most photographers I know, so this set feels like it should be very popular with those with similar inclinations. With the added bonus of being able to build it yourself – but of course the downside of it not actually working.

LEGO 3-in-1 Retro Camera at a glance:

  • Price: $19.99 / £17.99
  • 261 pieces
  • Age 8+
  • Three different builds available (can’t be made simultaneously)
  • Camera includes strap and film canisters 
  • Can also make video camera or TV 
Front of the LEGO Retro Camera box, showing the alternative builds you can make with the kit. Image: Amy Davies

This being a “Creator 3-in-1” set, you also have the option to make two alternative builds too, if the retro camera doesn’t quite float your boat. You can make a video camera or a TV instead (note, you can only make one at a time, so if you wanted to have say both the retro camera and the video camera on your shelf, you’d need to invest in two sets). 

The Retro Camera set is labelled as being suitable for ages 8+, which indicates that it should be fairly simple to put together. This is in contrast to something like the Polaroid set, which is designated as 18+ and has more complex elements (and a much higher price point). It’s also worth noting that the “Creator” sets are the type that you’ll often find in supermarkets and the like, and often get reduced in price or subject to special offers far more quickly than other more expensive sets. 

All the pieces that will make the LEGO retro camera. Image: Amy Davies

That said, this set did sell out on the LEGO website on the first day of release, so it clearly is popular – if you definitely want one, it’s probably worth buying it as soon as you can, but just don’t be surprised if you see it at an (even more) bargain price in a few months time.

The retro camera, unlike the Polaroid camera, doesn’t seem to be based on any particular “real” model, but instead is merely reminiscent of old-style film cameras. Or actually, with its classic black and grey colour way, it looks quite a bit like current retro-styled models like the Nikon Zf, or the Fujifilm X-T5 for example.  

Back of the box, showing a view of the back of the LEGO camera, plus the alternative builds. Image: Amy Davies

Although this set shouldn’t be a challenge for even novice LEGO builders, I should preface the next part of the review by saying that I’m quite an experienced LEGO builder. That said, I’ve tried to approach the set with the mindset of somebody that is new to it (or perhaps hasn’t touched any since they were a child). Make sure to have a look at the LEGO Polaroid OneStep SX-70 Review if you’re keen to find out about a more challenging build.

LEGO Creator 3-in-1 Retro Camera: Build Quality 

Being a fairly cheap set, there’s not a huge amount of LEGO pieces in this build, but it is quite impressive what can be achieved with relatively little. 

The bricks come in three bags, which aren’t numbered so you need to empty them all out as you might find some bits that you need early in the build are in different bags. That’s a little disappointing if you were hoping to stagger out the build perhaps, but, it being such a small set, you’re likely to be able to get it fully constructed in under an hour anyway – maybe a bit longer if you’re very new to LEGO, or perhaps if you just want to savour it a little more. 

The bags, instruction manual and stickers for the 3-in-1 kit. Image Amy Davies

The bags, instruction manual and stickers for the 3-in-1 kit. Image Amy Davies

One note of slight disappointment here is that this set (or at least mine anyway) is still using the old plastic bags for the pieces, despite the roll out of recycling friendly paper bags which has been promised for years. Both my husband and I are avid collectors of LEGO and yet have still only come across two sets using the new paper packaging – hopefully it will appear more regularly with time though. 

The early stage of the build as it starts to take shape. Image: Amy Davies

You are supplied with three separate instruction booklets, depending on which build you want to make. There is of course the retro camera, but also a video camera and a TV set. It can be quite fun to make and dissemble a set, to then make it into one of the others – so although the build time is relatively short, the opportunity to rebuild into other builds gives it extra longevity (and better value).

Instructions are pretty easy to follow, being entirely pictorial and in common sense steps. A neat touch with most LEGO sets these days is a marker to show you how much through the build you are so you can gauge your progress. If you lose any of the instruction booklets, you can download them again from the LEGO website, which is helpful.

On the top of the camera we’ve got a shutter button, film advance lever and film winder. The winder rotates around and the advance lever has a mechanism which allows you to flick it, but it’s a shame the shutter button doesn’t actually depress – that’s perhaps my only gripe with this set which is otherwise pretty perfect. 

The rear of the camera with the door open, film strip inserted and the spare strip next to it. Image: Amy Davies

There’s a door which is hinged and you can open to insert a film canister with pictures on it. These are stickers rather than printed pieces, but look quite nice regardless. If you’re struggling to align the stickers on the film strip, a tip is to use a LEGO brick separator – you can stick the edge of the sticker on the tip of the separator and line it up exactly where you want it before placing it down permanently. Sadly, there isn’t one supplied in this set – they’re more commonly found in the higher priced models – so if you haven’t already got one, try using something else with a flat surface, such as a ruler or a butter knife perhaps, anything which helps overcome trying to wrangle with a fiddly sticker. 

Interestingly, you can make two film strips to give you another “play feature” of removing one and replacing it with the other – but of course neither of them actually do anything, and if the camera is on display you won’t even see the film strip, but the hidden element of an opening door is a charming feature nonetheless. 

A small viewfinder hole is found on the back of the camera in the centre – you can look through it and just about see through to the other side, which is a fun way to again pretend the camera is real. 

The “lens” on the front of the camera would be better if it didn’t have the stud in the middle. Image: Amy Davies

The “lens” on the front of the camera is made from a clear plastic piece. This is pretty good from a distance, but the stud – how it attaches – in the middle of the dome is arguably a little distracting from the overall look, as obviously a real lens wouldn’t look like this. For a low cost set however, LEGO would generally only make use of existing pieces rather than mould something specifically, so it’s not particularly surprising to see it here.

A camera strap is included in the set – which is a really nice touch, especially as it has colourful lego bricks printed on it. When I first opened it, I wondered if I could use it with a real camera, but it’s made from paper and not particularly strong, so while it looks the part, it’s not something I’d recommend using with anything heavier than a light Lego kit.

LEGO Creator 3-in-1 Retro Camera: Verdict

On the whole, this is a fantastic set, especially at the price point. I found it very hard to come up with any major negatives here, and I’d recommend it to both fans of cameras / collectibles and LEGO too. 

The finished camera is pretty impressive and looks great displayed on a shelf. Image: Amy Davies 

It’s an enjoyable build, especially given that you can take it apart and make it into something else entirely, and the retro camera really does look the part on a shelf or sideboard. 

Bringing this out at the same time as the LEGO Polaroid camera is an interesting move from LEGO. Perhaps the company realises that many will baulk at the £69.99 price point, but having a $19.99 / £17.99 alternative available at the same time could see it scoop up extra custom for those who don’t want to spend the cash.

Being this price point it’s also a great gift idea for other photographers in your life. It wasn’t available to buy for Christmas 2023, but expect to see it on Christmas buying guides for Christmas 2024 – a great choice (so long as it doesn’t sell out). 

Amateur Photographer Testbench Gold

Related reading:

Follow AP on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok.