Collecting Cheap Cameras?

After playing with my inexpensively acquired Canon PowerShot A70, I got to wondering about the viability of cheap digital cameras and how they might fare as collectors’ items. Thus I did a bit trolling on Amazon and came up with a little information, some of which is presented here.

First of all, there is a huge number of brand new low-dollar not-really-brand-name and not-named-at-all offerings starting at about $12. With prices like that and specifications that can only be called “suspect” you can readily understand why you probably shouldn’t put your trust or dollars in something called “YTGOOD” or “Cobra” or “TEXXIS”. Many of these cameras are cookie-cutter copies of one another, and there’s no reason to expect any of them to work at all, much less work well.

However, a few old familiar names popped up too.

Argus

Argus. The name that brought us the venerable C3 35mm camera that every film photographer must have had at some point in their lives. Of course the company that built those cameras went bankrupt and obviously the name got passed along. The name, but not the quality. No matter how much lipstick you put on a pig it will never look like a horse.

Bell

Bell & Howell. In the days of film this name was best known for projectors found in schools, movie cameras, and a few clunky still cameras. Industrial strength and styling, and tractor-like quality – in a world that wanted sports cars. I had a few myself and they were not overly impressive in operation or image quality. Here we see the fine old name hung on more of those cookie-cutter cameras. They kept the worst aspects, and threw out the best.

Poloroid

Polaroid. Edwin Land must be spinning in his grave. The first self-developing cameras were quality units that worked. As years went by efforts to maximize profits saw metal bodies and glass lenses replaced with plastic everything, to the detriment of quality in both cameras and images. (Side note: while the instant camera market was clearly dying, Kodak saw fit to introduce their own. That was a not-smart move that didn’t help them at all.) Again we have a familiar name attached to regurgitated industrial rubbish. Besides, I can’t help but read that second model name as “Sociopathic”.

Vivitar

Vivitar. A company that used to make top-quality and reasonably priced photographic accessories such as lenses, filters, and electronic flash units. I’m sure I have one of their flashes in a box around here, and it probably still works. I know my 135mm M42 lens with their brand on it does! But alas, here is another great house that has sunk to the level of street beggar.

Should you buy any of these? In my opinion, no. The fact is even when they don’t look identical the specifications are so bland that there’s nothing really interesting about them. Largely these are the basic “Instamatics” of the digital world. Some may claim to be waterproof, some of the weirder ones come in odd shapes or colours, but on the whole they are quite frankly cheap plastic crap. Not even Diana F quality.

What should you look for instead? A name brand like Canon, Fuji, Kodak, Nikon, Olympus, or Pentax. But beware of the odd image storage methods like xD cards, Sony  sticks, and Compact Flash as they can be difficult or expensive to obtain if not included with the camera. Even then you are up against the “Plain Jane” aspect for most of these cameras: the same X MP and Y zoom capacity without much else to say for themselves. Also, trolling through Amazon shows a large number of such cameras available for what we can only call ridiculous prices, as they meet and in some cases exceed the cost of brand new offerings that are better cameras. Look around a lot, and be careful with your money.

Here’s an example of something I would buy, albeit I’d prefer a lower price than the $106 it’s being offered for:

NikonS4

I wouldn’t expect it to be a great IQ performer, but the unique design configuration makes it collectible. The one used camera I did buy off Amazon, the Fuji F80 EXR, is unusual and collectible because of the different way it operates – the EXR function.

P1000268

I don’t think I’ll be getting back into camera collecting. At least not per se, but I seem to be acquiring them anyway as I try to fulfill my photographic wishes.

What would I buy to fulfill those wishes if I could? I’m not keen on mirrorless cameras, as some experiments with the DSLR I have show how easy it is to get sensors dirty on anything with a removable lens and mirrorless doesn’t have the extra ‘protection’ of the flip-up mirror, nevertheless some of the things I’m interested in come only that way.

Assuming money were no object, the ‘Holy Grail’ would be a Fujifilm X-Pro3. I seriously would like to try one of those because it is so ‘film-like’ in design and function. Using the EXR has really piqued my curiosity about Fuji’s X series.

Otherwise, for my own purposes it would be nice to try a high-MP (at least 24 to have a 1/3 advantage over my current Canon) camera just to see the difference. I know it wouldn’t be much, but just how much it would be intrigues me.

I’d like to have a full-frame sensor for the same reason; not that I expect either to make any spectacular difference in the pictures I take, but to see the subtle effects I expect to find.

Another addition would be something with a flip-up LCD (despite my constantly iterated objections to them) so I could do waist-level view pictures. None of these are great reasons to shell out hundreds of dollars for a camera.

Especially not when you can have fun for a few dollars with a little patience and searching.

The other camera I recently didn’t buy.

I’ve just read two more blogs written by people who have joyously gone off the deep end and opted for Sony Alpha 7 mirrorless cameras. In one case it was a “first camera” (nothing like buying a Ferrari for your first car, eh?) and in the other it was to replace older equipment with the usual trumped-up claim about updating/improving. Truth is they wanted a new toy.

I guess people don’t read. Or at least not the right things. Or perhaps they don’t understand what they read. Or maybe they just don’t really think. I’ll bet that’s it. In reality very few photographers have need of something like that Alpha.

This past week in addition to doing silly things with my ‘experiment’ camera that cost less than $400, I talked myself out of buying a Canon M100 that was on sale for around $350. The reasons I wanted it were pretty flimsy: it has a fold-up LCD which could be used as a waist-level finder (someone should incorporate that in a DSLR), it’s 24 MP which would allow great digital zooming, it takes the EF-M lenses which offer additional adaptation possibilities, and it was on sale (I could buy it locally too, with a further discount).

Screenshot from 2019-12-05 13:36:28

Here’s why I ultimately didn’t buy it: I wouldn’t really take that many waist-level view pictures, the extra digital zooming doesn’t add much especially with a lens that’s only about 3X to begin with (it would be sort of compensating for that), the lens adaptation means needing more adapters even for the lenses I’ve already got (additional expense), and frankly it wouldn’t really add much to my photographic experience. So I let the sale expire.

In truth I’m trying to sell my Nikon W100 right now as that is a camera which doesn’t really work for me. If I can get some money for it I’ll buy a replacement for the ailing Kodak V1003 (which has added short battery life to its other symptoms now), such as a Canon Elph 150 (used). Yeah that’s a 20MP CCD sensor, 10X zoom, small fit-in-your pocket camera which I would use – based on what I already do with the old Kodak.

Now if I were to act like these Sony buyers I’d fork over $1,500 for the Fujifilm X 100F ’cause it looks like a 1950s 35mm rangefinder camera and of course neat looks are what’s really important, right? Sure it’d just sit there on the shelf looking totally retro, but on the other hand after forking over more than the rest of my digital arsenal combined is worth I’d be scared to risk using it in the real world.

Such is the silliness of the heart leading the mind.

Anyway, here’s a nice shot of the half moon taken the other night with the Nikon P610. Which also cost less than $400 new.

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Are we headed for self-driving cameras?

I was reading a review of the Sony A7iii written by someone who’d traded his Nikons for this thing that cost nearly as much as my Nissan Xterra, and without dissing the writer I want to make some points about what he said against his new toy. Here are his “cons” and my “comments”:

  • Comfort in the hand.  To me both of the Nikons were more sculpted to fit my hand than the A7iii. I hear ya. One of my biggest complaints about cameras is that the bodies seem to be design for non-humanoid lifeforms. Give me an Exakta trapazoid any day.
  • The D5500 had a very useful touch screen that had a number of uses.  You could tap the back of the screen to take a photo.  You could flip through photos you had taken or enlarge them with pinching in our out.  And you could go through the menus.  The Sony does not do any of this.  And it is remarkable that Sony has not included it as they make millions of cell phones every year that do. I call this one point for Sony, as I hate those LCD screens. Some of that has to do with my eyesight problems, but if you’re a Display Fan try shooting like you can’t see what you’re doing ’til you get it on the big computer screen. Then welcome to my world.
  • The D750 had marked buttons on the body to instantly get to the function you wanted to adjust.  The buttons were laid out so you could find them without looking.  I would have to say that now after a LOT of practice I now know where the Sony buttons are by sight or feel. Oh my yes! Lack of intuitive control placement is a major problem with camera design. You shouldn’t have to spend weeks learning which insignificantly sized and illogically located button can be programmed to do what vital function. Photographers know this. People who design cameras clearly do not.
  • The D750 had a top lcd panel that gave you an overall view to how the camera was set up.  I used this top panel all the time when using this camera. Well the Canon has this on the back screen and it’s kind of useful. But not so much so as giving separate and marked controls that don’t need a detached readout.
  • The Nikon menu systems are easier to use than the Sony system. Mind boggled. My Nikon’s menu system is daunting compared to the Canon’s, which also doesn’t make a lot of sense. The idea that Sony’s is worse …
  • The Nikon DSLRs both have better battery life than the A7iii.  However, the Sony battery is big and it is not a problem for me. Battery life is a major issue with cameras. Usually it’s due to powering zoom or focus motors. My Kodak eats power from both (especially with the constant focus active) and feeding an electronic display. The Nikon improves on this by not focusing until asked to. The Canon creams them in battery life because no EVF, no power zoom, and only focuses when asked to. It’s not rocket science.

His last telling comment was this: “So if I had it to do over again would I make this switch?  No.” He was missing his Nikons. I don’t know about you but I’d be really sad if I just forked over that kind of cash and was disappointed with the result. I can’t help but think much of his disappointment is due to the issue I mention frequently: camera designers aren’t photographers. This isn’t just a “familiarity” thing – he’d used the Sony for a year – it’s a “I can’t get used to the way it functions” thing.

One other comment about the review: his favourite piece of glass for the Sony was a 15-year-old Sigma lens originally meant for another camera. That doesn’t surprise me either.

What I really took away from this fellow’s brave and honest review was that it pays to be skeptical of all the hype about new equipment. And if you’re considering making a purchase, reading the on-line reviews is not enough. It’s pretty important to hold the thing in your hands for a while when you’re going to be shelling out thousands of dollars for it. If the camera shop won’t let you, bugger ’em.

It would seem cameras are turning into the photographic equivalent of self-driving cars: a whole lot of inadvisable technology trying to take the place of a functioning human brain. My advice is to use that brain first before you buy and make really, really sure that what you buy will add to your repertoire, not just subtract from your bank account.

And now a picture of the moon, because I like pictures of the moon.

DSCN1948
Taken with Nikon P610

 

Staring into the plasma reactor

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I have a long, hard day of travel ahead of me today. There’s much that could go wrong, so let’s hope it doesn’t.

Fortunately I was able to start the day with a laugh, reading a couple of articles about really good cameras. One was the usual Canon vs. Nikon argument with the typical flawed assumption that there’s some kind of “ultimate” design which supersedes all others and therefor is best for everyone. The other was a bragging about how silly the Canon/Nikon/Fuji/Sony snobs sound – to a Hasselblad 150MP snob. Who then provided further amusement by posting “proof” of how superior his images are. On the Internet. Where the screens show his pictures just as poorly as they do my own 1/10 the resolution cheap camera results. He then went on to talk about the importance of “cropping”, which term he (like so many others) used incorrectly to mean post-shoot digital zooming (there is a difference). To be fair, his pictures were good and he is commercially successful but … well he fell into every one of the “Phools” I wrote about. With pretty poor writing skills as well.

So here’s me being a different kind of photography snob again, amused by the usual kind. Don’t think I don’t appreciate the irony in that as well. :p