The $6 Camera

For $5.99 plus tax I bought a highly used Canon Power Shot A70 out of the thrift store. Add to that a four pack of AA batteries for $1.25 plus tax and a borrowed flash memory card from the old Kodak DX3900 and we have a new shooter for $8.11 CDN.


Some (not very impressive) specs: 3.2 MP, 5.4-16.2mm (3X) f2.8-4.8 lens, separate eye-level finder that changes with the zoom, tiny LCD display on the back you can barely read the menu on even with glasses, and a few of the usual controls. All quite worn and weary from years of use. But it is a Canon.

Okay, full image size is 2048 x 1536, still about twice the size of the computer screen or 3X as big as the picture size I usually post. But is it any good? Well it was a bit reluctant to come back to life and a few of the controls are ‘iffy’ at times but I got it up and running on Automatic (it has the other typical shooting modes as well as scene modes and even movie). The biggest problem is a dark bluish line across the top of every image, obviously a failure of the sensor. Hey, this is a camera that dates from around 2003; that’s ancient on the digital camera timeline.

Duncan at the ready

It was a heavily overcast day and most of the pictures needed some post-processing to help the colour balance and exposure, neither of which was correct in any shot. Here’s how overcast it was:


How sharp is the lens? Fairly sharp. Not excellent, not very good, just fair. Good enough for who it’s for, so to speak.



I haven’t tried any of the other shooting modes yet because the picture opportunities are so limited right now. Neither do I see anything in this camera’s functions and features that make it particularly interesting. This was just an experiment in cheap shooting, so to speak.

But here we have an example of … well, digital zooming in the post-shoot I guess. First picture is full frame shrunk down to 640×480, the second is a 640×480 sampling of the full frame:

I will probably shoot some more with this if the sun shines again. I have to say its biggest failing is that the shutter release (push-focus-snap) is incredibly slow. Not “we measured the milliseconds in the lab” slow but “you can miss the shot if the subject is moving” slow. Also the viewfinder is blurred due to the rigors of age. Still nicer than trying to compose on an LCD that appears blank because of the sunlight. Downloading the pictures is an exercise in slowness too, as you have to establish a live link via USB cable and the data transfer is pretty sluggish.

If you’re going thrift camera shopping a couple of things to look out for: the type of memory card (it can be hard or expensive to get the non-SD cards), and the brand of camera. I passed on one that was a make I’d never heard of because it probably wasn’t any good when it was new. But the old standby brands (Canon, Kodak, Fuji, Nikon, Olympus, Sony) are probably okay. Don’t expect to be able to memorize every model anyone ever made nor to find one specific camera you’re looking for. It’s more of a Zen thing.

And especially don’t spend too much money.

One thought on “The $6 Camera

  1. Good advice on buying a camera in a thrift store. If it takes SD cards and AA batteries at least you know it’s going to be cheap and easy to run, and won’t mean a further investment of a new battery, charger or both because it dies after 10 minutes, or an obscure memory stick that was only available for a year or two before being completely redesigned (ahem, Sony!).

    From my last few years of digital compact experiments and purchases I’ve managed to acquire a decent sized Fuji XD picture card, a couple of CF cards (the early Canon compacts used these, and some surprisingly late DSLRs, like Sony Alphas around 2006-2008) and probably a dozen SD cards from 16MB to 16GB. Oh plus two versions of Sony Memory Sticks, though they did far more (

    Generally, you can’t go far wrong with a Canon or Panasonic Lumix pre 2010ish. Most Sonys are really great, as long as it has the right memory stick with it and a cable to connect the camera to your PC to download the photos. I recently picked up an old 2MP Cyber-shot which takes 2 AA batteries, and it came with the original box and AAs! Not given it a proper test yet other than checking it all works. But it was a mere 99p, with the batteries, charger and memory stick, albeit one I can only get about 30 photos on!

    Your Canon doesn’t look bad at all, I bet in decent light with more natural colour around it’ll pleasantly surprise you Marc. They know what they’re doing.

    I quite like that blue bar, it reminds me of shooting with film cameras like the Konica Pop which leaked light every half a dozen shots or more. Easy to crop out if you can’t bear it as it’s right at the top and very thin.


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