3D’s new meaning: Dated Digital Devotees

Jet into the sun. (Kodak P850)

Are you one? Do you prefer the images from older digital cameras? Do you prefer using the older digital cameras? Maybe they’re all you can afford. There’s no shame in that. In fact you should be more ashamed if the first digital camera you buy is some ultra-expensive, loaded-with-everything, professional grade unit of which you won’t use a fraction of its capabilities.

Using obsolete, I mean classic, digital cameras has become “a thing”: the preference for CCD over CMOS sensors, an absence of techno-glitz like wireless connections and touch-screens, and the realization that the picture is what matters, not how you achieve it. So we sacrifice megapixels in favour of colour gradients. Most digital images are seen at less than 2MP anyway (on a computer screen).

As is often the case with my posts, this one started out going somewhere else so it’s bound to be a little incongruous at times. I was looking around at camera offerings (which is almost a pastime in itself) and noticed one or two (or ten, or twenty) interesting cameras that didn’t actually fit my current equipment needs but were nonetheless intriguing. I’ve got and sometimes use some older digitals, mostly the Kodak P850 – even though it has quite a few operational quirks these days (like a bad habit of resetting to +3 EV and not co-operating with changing this back to zero). I really don’t need any more old cameras. I am no longer collecting cameras. Say it louder: I AM NO LONGER COLLECTING CAMERAS! Nevertheless …

Let’s look at a few anyway. There’s no harm in looking, right? They can’t make you buy.

First let me say there are hundreds of models you can dismiss out-of-hand. Maybe thousands. All those ordinary ‘cookie-cutter’ compact cameras that have #MP and #X zooms and look like they’re all made in the same mold with different names slapped on afterward. It’s not that they aren’t adequate, it’s that they aren’t exceptional. If you’re going to use classic equipment it should be something with at least one unique property that makes it stand out from the run-of-the-mill production.

So in the category of compacts let me suggest a couple that I have: the Canon PowerShot A70 and the Fujifilm F80 EXR. They don’t have to be those exact models as there are many similar ones which will perform as well or in some cases even better. Why I like the Canon is that in addition to an excellent glass lens it has an optical viewfinder. Nothing like it for shooting in the sunlight. In fact that’s one area where the Fuji fails. Canon made several PowerShot cameras with optical finders, some up to 16MP and 5X zoom. Well worth it if you can find one in a thrift store for $5 or $10. Why I like the Fuji is the EXR processor function. It is exceptional. Again there are several Fuji EXR cameras, including the very nice (but rare and therefor expensive) HS20 through HS50 series ‘bridge’ cameras, which have significant zoom capacity.

Duncan the dog. (Canon PSA70)

Now let’s talk about some more advanced cameras. There are a few models I’ve come across recently which have caught my interest. If I were free to indulge myself however I wish, I would definitely buy these (or something similar).

1). Olympus Evolt E-300. This is a micro four thirds camera with pentaprism and interchangeable lenses. It’s only 8MP, but unlike the newer Evolt models it has a CCD sensor (one seller referred to it as a “Kodak sensor”). Some specs from Camera Decision: Olympus E-300

2). Pentax K100D. A mere 6MP APS-C DSLR using the Pentax KAF lenses, it has in body image stabilization (IBIS as it is known). An affordable way to use a huge number of quality lenses. Some specs from Camera Decision: Pentax K100D

3). Samsung GX-1L. You want something different? Samsung is a name you won’t see on a camera often. This one is a 6MP APS-C DSLR like the Pentax, but without the image stabilizer. The one I came across had a Schneider-Kreuznach 18-55mm lens which is bound to be sharp (the S-K on my Kodak sure is). Some specs from Camera Decision: Samsung GX-1L

4). Nikon Coolpix 4500. This is a weird little 4MP (in some versions less) camera with a twist: literally. You twist the body to move the lens into shooting position. They made several similar cameras, known as the ‘Coolpix 950 series’. Functionally it’s no great prize, but the body design certainly isn’t the usual motor-driven-extend-o-lens of other compacts! Wikipedia entry: Nikon Coolpix 4500

Antiquated technology. (Fuji F80 EXR)

Those are just some examples of classic digitals I’ve come across which intrigued me. There are many variations of these, and you have to look up which models have which features (for example the Fujifilm HS10 does not have the EXR processor whereas the HS20 through HS50 do, and the Pentax K110D doesn’t have IBIS like the K100D).

Now we have to talk about prices. For one thing, you may be choosing a classic camera because you’re no relation to Bill Gates and can’t afford multi-thousand dollar Fujifilm, Sony, or Leica machines. Even if that’s not the case it’s too easy to overspend on an old one. Always remember the camera that is working today may not be working tomorrow, especially if it isn’t new. The cameras I mentioned above range from $6 I spent on the Canon to $60 on the Fuji, and the ‘numbered’ ones were all listed for between $100 and $200 CDN (that’d be a lot less in the US, believe me). Ultimately the price should be what you feel you can afford and not a penny more. Beware auctions like Ebay: make your maximum bid and then stop; there will be another one along if you miss out. Patience is a virtue. So is frugality.

Side note: I’ve seen offers of groupings along the lines of “20 untested digital cameras for $60 – plus shipping” (shipping often being as much or even more than the price). You know what 20 untested digital cameras are worth? Right: $20. It isn’t that hard to test a camera, so assume “untested” means “not working”. I tested a couple of dozen that my Dad had picked up cheap and found all but one – which happened to be a Fuji and the best in the bunch – did work once you stuck batteries and an SD card in them. I still had to give them away. It’s not like fixing one of these is a practical option, after all.

If there are a lot of photographers near you, get together and form a club. That way the group can more easily afford a larger selection of cameras to work with. Just watch out for people hogging one model to themselves! Most importantly, have fun.

Ol’ Olds. (Kodak DX3900)

As for me, I will continue to “put the brakes on” when looking at old cameras. Especially as it looks like I will need a Canon SX70 to replace the ailing Nikon P610: since it is my “main” camera replacing it with another used machine is courting disaster, and the Canon best fits the specifications – aside from being pricey at $600+.

But hey; you never know when the ‘brakes’ will give out, eh?

Addendum: CCD means Charge Coupled Device, whereas CMOS means Complimentary Metal Oxide Semiconductor. They are the two types of image sensors you will find in digital cameras. The former is usually fewer megapixels in resolution, but generally has a greater tonal range. The value of this is subjective. One curious side effect of fewer MP for a given size sensor is that it is more sensitive to light as each pixel covers a larger area. So a lower MP but same-size sensor can yield better low-light results.

Also, be aware of what kind of memory card your used bargain camera takes. Not every one uses the now-standard SD card. Olympus and Fuji, for example, often used xD cards which are now somewhat hard to find. There are adapters for these to use micro SD, but the reviews on them are mixed as to fit and quality for any given camera. Likewise Sony used a variety of “memory sticks”, and in the Mavica 3.5″ computer disks – good luck finding those or a machine to read them. Even the Compact Flash cards can be difficult to obtain at a reasonable price these days.

Remember too that a working used camera may not work as good as it originally did. The screen/EVF may have faded, the sensor may not deliver full contrast/correct colour or may have hot/dead pixels, and the exposure may be off or inconsistent. All this in addition to the fact it probably did not perform to the high expectations of today in terms of speed and accuracy in focusing – or even snapping the shot (a lot of older cameras have quite a noticeable delay between the button being pushed and the image being captured). You have to expect these things.

Well that wandered a bit!

Since writing this I note that the camera offerings mentioned above have all sold but one, so I guess they were pretty good deals for someone!

2 thoughts on “3D’s new meaning: Dated Digital Devotees

  1. Ha, you’re well and truly hooked on the digital classics Marc!

    I have the Pentax K100D, as I think you know, and the Samsung you mention I would make an informed guess uses the exact same 6MP CCD sensor (made by Sony). You can’t go far wrong with any of the Samsung GX or early Pentax DSLRs with either the 6 or 10MP Sony sensor.

    I had one of those old Nikons where the body swivels in the middle. Very intriguing and very well made, but I never kept it long enough to get the best from its humble (2MP I think) sensor.


  2. Nice writing! I´m also a fan of this obsolete junk… …err, Classic Cameras, nothing beats CCD! Pentaxes mostly in my collection, 6Mpix *istD and DL, and much loved 10Mpix 200d. Compact Canon S95 is also in active use.

    In my own photography the limitations of these old cameras is really boosting creativity and brings great joy in the process.

    The reason i started to reply (other than thanking you about great writeup) is to point out that the Samsung GX-1L is a sister model of Pentax *ist DL2, K-mount and all.


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