The phrase “Classic Camera” for most of us likely conjures images of a Spotmatic, a Canon AE-1 or a Leica III, all metal and glass models with old school knobs and dials that require a strict diet of film.
But the first camera with a CCD sensor was available in 1975, and the first DLSR emerged as far back as 1986.
So for me, I think we’ve been in the digital camera age for long enough now to acknowledge a growing number of digital classics.
It’s true that the vast majority of digital cameras feel simply like clever yet soulless electronic devices in the same category as a TV, vacuum cleaner or microwave.
But I’ve discovered a handful with enough intelligence in their design, promise in their performance, and charm in their little electronic souls to be considered modern classics.
At least in my eyes.
Examples that come to mind for me are the Pentax K10D, Ricoh GR Digital (I have the III model), and Pentax Q.
Here’s why I’m still drawn to buying old(er) (pre-2012ish) digital classics, and indeed why in another not too distant dimension I’m probably the curator of a digital classic cameras museum.
My 2006 era Pentax K10D cost something like £90 last year, and was around £500 new. My Ricoh GRD III also demanded a heady £530ish when new in 2009, and mine was £150. The 2011 Pentax Q fetched £600 new in 2011, mine in mint condition with 01 prime lens was £120.
The simple fact is I now use cameras that were high end and well beyond my budget when new, for what I consider an incredibly reasonable used price today.
2. Fewer MegaPixels
Hang on, surely the higher the MP, the better the camera? I’m not going to get into the science of the endless MP race, but I’ve used my 2006 Samsung GX-1s with its 6MP CCD sensor and 40+ year old Takumar lenses extensively, and been delighted with the results.
Most of my main cameras now are around 10MP, which is probably unnecessary. But even with 10MP, there’s an excellent balance between having enough detail in the images, but them not being huge bloated files that take up crazy amounts of HD (and cloud) space to store and are slow to process.
I have experiments in the pipeline to shoot with much lower MP cameras (or use the lower res modes of my existing cameras) to see how much really is enough for me to be able to share online and print at at least 8×6 inches and be happy with the final images.
From rediscovering my Sony Elm 5MP camera phone recently, I already know it won’t be 10MP. It probably won’t even be 6MP.
3. Intelligent design and interface
I don’t often pick up a very modern digital camera, but the times I have I’ve been overwhelmed by modes, buttons, menus and at least 37 icons on the display at any one time. Back to that category of over clever gadget rather than a joyful tool that becomes a comrade in art making.
My older cameras like the GRD III and Pentax manage to still pack in all the creative control you need, whilst at the same being simple enough to point and shoot, if that’s what you want.
The physical design of these bodies is great too, with a real photographer in mind, who likes to have a decent grip and the controls in intuitive and instinctive places. Much like the best classic film cameras.
The vast majority of modern digital cameras are pretty much sophisticated computers with a lens stuck on the front. Similar to what I was talking about with the design and interface, a number of older cameras I’ve used seem to be alive with a charm, a personality, a soul.
In other words, with these digital classics it’s possible to have an emotional connection, and see them as a trusty companion in seeking out and capturing beautiful photographs.
Genuine charm is difficult to measure and describe, but some just ooze it without even trying.
5. CCD sensors
As with the MegaPixel arguments, I’m no expert in sensor technology, and my interest is pretty limited. But I do know from experience of, say, my Samsung GX-1s, Pentax K10D and Ricoh GRD III, all of which have CCD sensors, they can produce very “film like” images, especially compared with the more clinical and sterile look I’ve experienced with later CMOS sensors.
The historical theory is that earlier digital cameras were designed and optimised to help their images look like the film photographs that photographers were so used to and, from the sales perspective of the camera manufacturers, had to be lured away from.
Again, not something it’s easy to scientifically gauge. You just look at the images of some digital classics and can’t help but be warmed by their look and feel.
6. The challenge of siding with an underdog
Even a moderate modern digital camera these days can make incredible looking photographs in the hands of virtually anyone who can find the on switch and the shutter button. Look at the vast range of highly capable smartphones with cameras on the market today.
I had a Sony NEX for four years that was very difficult to not make a technically great image with. But whilst I admired it, I never loved it.
Older digital cameras require more user input, more thought and more experience to get the most from them, not to mention their more limited technical capabilities. I enjoy this challenge, and the fact that I can create more than satisfying images with a camera most would consider an underdog, and that cost me a tiny fraction of the latest Sony or Canon.
7. Rejecting the essential upgrade mentality
Our modern lives are utterly saturated with essentially the same advertising mantra – If you don’t upgrade to our latest product, your life will be irretrievably miserable and all of your family and friends will disown you.
Maybe I exaggerate, but only slightly.
Everything from cars to cameras, and hair products to hoovers are constantly pushed to us as if all other versions before have been entirely useless and only the latest and greatest will do.
I take great delight in disengaging from this brainwashing.
Yes of course in any industry there are genuine technological advances that make possible what was not before.
But, for the vast majority of us making photographs today, can we create anything more beautiful or emotive and inspirational with a camera that was released last week than one released a decade ago? I strongly suggest not, and for many of the reasons above I would argue we can actually make better photographs with these older, simple digital classics, and have way more fun and engagement doing it.
Finally, the pachyderm on the patio.
I know what you’re thinking. But what about the planned obsolescence of anything digital, and the fact that inevitably it will die at potentially any moment, never to take another picture?
Yes, this is a risk, and I personally wouldn’t spend hundreds on a camera that might blink its last shutter actuation imminently.
But look how many of us still use classic film cameras equally dependent on electronics, like the Pentax ME and all its successors, the Minolta X series, or the aforementioned Canon AE-1? With their advanced years, they’re surely more likely to expire than a camera that’s only a decade old, or less?
Looking at it another way, look how many of those film cameras from the 70s, 80s and 90s are still going strong, tens of thousands of images on. Again, if they’re still firing, and also completely dependent on electronics to make a picture, then far newer digital cameras must be a much safer bet for those nervous of digital death?
Whilst I don’t plan to emulate my alter ego from another dimension and fill every last shelf with a digital classic, I do expect to continue to enjoy those I have, and explore a few more here and there along the way.
How about you, do you have any digital classics you’d like to recommend?
Please let us know in the comments below (and remember to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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65 thoughts on “Why I Buy (And Love) Classic Digital Cameras”
Great article, interesting, and well written (grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc). I will have to purchase an older DSLR and take it for a spin. I now shoot mainly film (B&W), but still have many digital cameras on my shelf collecting dust, which I still take out to shoot occasionally. Take care.
Thanks John. There are many DSLRs from around 2005/6 onwards that still deliver excellent images and are fun to use. Many still use the original Canon 5D which I think from that era is one of very few digital cameras – if not the only one – that are full frame.
With my preference for Pentax I went with the K10D, which is APS-C.
My Samsung is a clone of the slightly earlier, smaller and simpler Pentax *ist DS2, and it’s a cracking little DSLR despite being “only” 6MP.
I’ve had a couple of early Sony alpha series DSLRs too, the a350 and a100, and whilst they lack a bit of charm, they’re still very capable, and being Sony/Minolta A/Alpha mount, are fully compatible with all the Minolta AF lenses from about 1985 onwards, many of which are simply stunning lenses.
Ironically, Sony made the sensors for all of the Pentax, Samsung and Sony cameras mentioned above.
John, your blog got off to a promising start, but why only three posts then it stops? Are they the only cameras you had/have?
All things pass through “old” before they get to “classic” and I’m not sure any digital camera has finished being “old” yet!
The thing I experience with old digital gear is that things like charge ports or switchgear is far more likely to fail than the shutter. Or the battery will cease to hold a significant charge and new ones are stupid expensive if they still can be bought.
I just checked. I can still buy a battery for my old Kodak Z730 — for $60, on Amazon. Oy. Camera isn’t worth $5.
Yes I think this is where we need to be selective, and where possible double up and/or stick to one brand.
My Pentax Q uses a different USB lead to my two Ricohs, though they only cost a few pounds. The charging lead is the same for both, just the end “box” that the battery goes in is different. Both Ricohs use the same size battery and I have two with one camera and three with the other, so I’m well covered. New batteries for these camera aren’t that much either – I think because Ricoh to their credit stuck with the same size for many different models.
The Pentax Q I got a new battery for which was I think under £15 (the camera cost about £120) just so I had a back up battery. In practice both batteries last long enough for a typical photowalk, about 90-120mins.
All of the above use SD cards, so I could use an SD card reader and avoid the two different USB cables. But two cables for three cameras is no hardship.
I know older cameras seem to have less consistency with memory cards – Canons used Compact Flash (CF) cards for years, Olympus and Fuji used SmartMedia, Sony used various evolutions of Memory Sticks.
In my experience of digital cameras and camera phones, Sony are the worst for keep “evolving” the technology, like batteries and storage media.
A clever workaround is to use micro SD cards and adapters for some of these. I know for some of the Sonys with Memory Sticks, you can get a dummy Memory Stick that a micro SD card slots into. This means not only that you can use a more universal memory card across multiple cameras (there are also dummy SD cards that take a micro SD card) but also that you can upgrade the memory.
For example older Sonys with Memory Stick Duo cards, they usually came with something like a 16MB or 32MB card. Using an adapter with a micro SD card of even something small (these days) like 2GB massively increases the number of images you can save. A 2GB micro SD is maybe £6 or 7. Then you could get a couple of adapters and use the same card, or buy another, and it’s all you’d need.
Kind of like having one camera then different adapters to shoot different lenses, but in this case one (micro SD) memory card and a couple of different adapters.
So I think you raise a great point – check out the memory cards the camera uses, the availability of new ones – or the micro SD adapter version – plus the same for batteries and cables.
This is one reason I’ll never have even a dozen very different digitals, just too many different cables, batteries, cards etc! But a small collection with overlap of batteries, cables and memory where possible is very enjoyable.
Your approach is smart and will reduce your risk considerably.
I feel a follow up article brewing, a follow up to both this post, and an older couple of posts about getting started cheaply in film photography, something like “How To Buy And Use A Classic Digital Camera On A Shoestring”…
Jim, further to my comments above, I remembered a number of older digital cameras use good old AA (or sometimes AAA) batteries. I have seen Olympus, Fuji and Panasonic Lumix models, I’m sure there are others. Plus my Samsung GX-1s (which is a clone of a Pentax *ist DS2) takes AAs, so I would expect all of the great Pentax *ist range do. Get a decent set of higher mAh Duracell rechargeable AAs (like 2000mAh or more) and they last ages on a full charge.
The *ist range all use SD cards as far as I’m aware, so these cameras, to use one example, are an option of a digital classic that use currently, widely and cheaply available power and memory options.
Again, as with the MP argument, the older cameras were simpler, with smaller screens and layers of functions, so it makes sense that they required less memory, and less power.
Oooh yeah, I forgot how digital cameras from just 10 years ago were more likely to take AA or AAA batteries.
My Kodak Z730 at 5 MP does truly lovely work in good light. I print images from it up to 8×10 with no trouble.
My brother-in-law takes the same view as you (mainly with Nikon DSLRs) and has had som outstanding cameras for very little money (relatively speaking). He’s shooting a full-frame, pro-spec camera at the moment with additional battery pack etc. and paid a couple of hundred quid for it. OK so it “only” has 12 MP (or thereabouts), but as you rightly point out, so what?
He had an older one (a D30 I think) which used compact flash rather than an SD card. But once I’d procured one for him from a mate in our IT department – problem solved.
Looking forward to seeing your photography experiments using lower MP 👍
Thanks Natalie, I’m quite excited about it too. I’m much more drawn to how we can take simpler more rudimentary equipment and try to create something pleasing, than overly complex tools that remove virtually all decisions and pleasure.
I have in mind a couple of 4MP digital cameras from the mid 2000s… More soon!
Very interesting perspective as usual Dan. One certainly cant argue with the results you get. I love, love, love my Canon D40. I only have one lens for it, a 24mm pancake that works out to about 40mm on full-frame. You gave me the idea that 10mp was enough, so when a trusted repairer had this one for sale I grabbed it. I do wish it were smaller, but you can’t have everything. It certainly seems well built, and I plan to use it for years to come….
Jon with a DSLR especially, 10MP is an abundance of resolution. The downside is the bulk yes, but at least this era of DSLR (like my Pentax K10D) is very comfortable to handle, which lessens the impression of size. It might be the size and weight of a breeze block, but it fits my hand like a glove! If that makes sense!
If you get tired of the size, check out the PowerShot G series of Canon digital compacts, I’ve read many good things.
Ha! Ignoring my own thoughts in a comment on one of your previous posts, I came across a first generation Leica D-Lux on eBay today and I took the gamble (well, very reasonable price, reliable seller and decent return policy – so not too bad).
I’ll probably explain in a coming blog post, but the short version: 35mm focal length (instead of the 28-ish in most compacts and all smartphones), viewfinder & flash (both tiny though), 4:3 ratio, and a brilliant anodized aluminum body in Leica design (better looking than 99% of the digital cameras, so more fun in use).
But above all: I looked again at the images I shot with the first D-Lux I owned (which died ten years ago – that’s the only scary part of today’s purchase), and they have everything that I miss in the current over-sophisticated smartphones. Beautiful colors, really “film-like” output, and almost impressionistic lo-fi. Yes, 3.2 megapixels is brutal, but it’s my personal resistance to the trend – I read today – where they are working on mobile phones with 5 to 9 lenses.
Robert, sounds exciting!
I agree about the 28mm starting point, for me it’s a bit too wide for many shots. I prefer a compact with a prime, but if they have a zoom, then yes either start at 35mm or better still have a wider option but be able to set it to start at 35mm by default. Which is what the Ricoh GX100 has – 24-72mm lens with step zoom (24, 28, 35, 50, 72mm) and you can save any of those focal lengths as the default start up setting. Brilliant.
I’m really keen to hear more about your Leica, and see what you come up with. These days 3.2MP does sound inadequate on paper but I bet once you get to know it again you can coax some very pleasing images from it.
What do you mean by 5 to 9 lenses?
Yes, 3.2MP is pushing the limits, especially in low light. But the full resolution files are actually quite similar to the film scans I get back from the lab.
I was referring to a story on DPReview yesterday (“Light reportedly has phones with ‘between 5 and 9 lenses’ due out later this year”).
I’m planning some 4MP camera experiments very soon!
I think the “success” of making photographs with lower MP cameras comes down to how large you want to print. If you are not going beyond (or far beyond) 100% of the original image size for the physical print, they should be perfectly ok. Especially if you don’t mind a bit of grain/noise, which you and I don’t.
But if you’re using a 1.3MP camera then blowing the images up 300% say, then of course you’ll lose resolution. I’m very interested to see how 4MP photographs translate to my most common 8×6 inch prints.
Oh I see re that camera. I don’t quite understand why you want a camera with 5 to 9 lenses, I guess 5 primes are better than a zoom?? It’s like compact cameras have got as good as they can get in terms of image quality, so the manufacturers are thinking about what new gimmicks they add to keep selling new ones…
Well, it’s actually worse: it’s a PHONE with 9 lenses (and 64 megapixel shots). For ten years I have been an avid advocate of mobile photography, but this goes against everything that have made camera phones so appealing: pointing and shooting without technology getting in the way.
I guess there’s a niche market there for people who want to always chase the latest tech and highest MP, and who have very deep pockets! For me that’s deeply into gadget territory, and yes as you say, not in the spirit of the greatest appeals of phone photography – that it’s always then in your pocket and ready to point and shoot.
Frank shared an image on his blog the other day taken with an iPhone 4S, I really liked the look of the photograph.
Phones are becoming too clever, trying to do too much.
Love it, and have commented.
I would recommend any else following the thread here to follow Robert’s link above.
Just reading the title had thought- it must be CCD, hehe.
Completely true about colors, so alive, though the high ISO performance is sad thing (CMOS is irreplaceable in low light). If only would have some extra cash, would try Sigma with Foveon.
Article is thought inducing- having few Canon lenses realized that I could couple them with CCD full frame Canon DSLR, seems the only one is 1D, while splendid in colors is bit low on 4 MP res. (while spending 100+ eur only).
Love the point n.7!
Hey, thanks for your comments.
Yeh you’ve got to love the CCD sensors.
When I got my Pentax K10D I read that the images are unusable at ISO400 and beyond. This is a great exaggeration, I’ve used it at ISO400 in decent light and it’s more than adequate, and in fact you just get a little more of that film grain like noise.
In colour, at ISO100 the K10D is delicious, it reminds me of shooting my favourite colour film, Fuji Superia 100 in how the images look.
I assumed the original Canon 5D was CCD, but apparently not, surprisingly given it came out in 2005 when CCD was the norm.
I’ve thought about Sigmas in the past, like the original DP1 which makes stunning images. But mostly I’ve read they’re fantastic in the final image but not much fun to use.
Re point 7, yes I love going against the herd!
I enjoy reading your blog, though very rarely do comment. Forgot to say that I meant noise for compact with 1/1.8” (Powershot A630) that is 1/10 of K10D, whose noise amounts are almost on par with EOS 650D, very decent performance (checked test shots on dpreview). Canon says that 1D sensor was outsourced, makes sense now, why all others are CMOS.
At last- in digging through all the geekery found this beauty- https://petapixel.com/2016/07/01/look-back-epson-rd-1-worlds-first-digital-rangefinder/ though the prices are not far from value of kidney (or Leica).
Sensor specs and performance are a whole world of discovery!
And it’s something that’s quite different in digital cameras compared with film cameras.
With film, if you used the same film stock, then only the lens really changes how the final image looks, the camera body has little influence other than how much light it allows the lens to let through.
With digital, different sensors have different character and pros and cons. I know from using my Ricoh compacts a fair bit now that they can blow out highlights (eg sky!) quite easily, and give a deep enough depth of field that I can shoot with the lens wide open virtually all the time. With the sensor in my K10D by contrast, the highlights are far more balanced and controlled, and the depth of field with an equivalent focal length and aperture lens is vastly more shallow. Shooting wide open even with say an f/2 lens is not something I would do often as the DOF is to narrow.
It’s another layer of learning and experimentation that you don’t need to do with film cameras, and actually I think digital photography is significantly harder because you need to be aware of – and balance – a greater number variables.
Dan, I had a query about how to use the comments facility connected to your blog. I sent a private email but got no answer. Didn’t want to ask question here in the wrong place but don’t know how else to contact you. I’m not getting notifications of a lot of the comments probably because I am not using the “facility” right xoxo susanJOY
Susan, when you reply on any post (this is the same on any WordPress blog) just make sure you tick the little box that says “Notify me of new comments via email”. You’ll initially get an email to say you wish to follow the thread, so confirm that (I think the button says “confirm follow”) then when there’s a new reply to the thread you should get an email. Let me know how you get on.
Dan, when I say I want to get new comments to the email I get another email which sends me to a site that has a list of all your posts with empty boxes on the left. I haven’t known what to do. do I tick all the boxes because I want replies to all of your posts. in a muddle with it. xoxo susanJOY
Once you click the “confirm follow” button in your email, it just shows you all the threads you are following, across various WordPress blogs. You don’t need to tick or untick anything.
Thanks Dan xoxo susanJOY
I still use a Nikon D50 (6mp) and it still takes good photos on the Pentax side I have the Pentax K-x
the earliest digital camera I have and it still works is a Fujifilm DX-10 (1999) its sensor was not quite 1mp
I believe it was 810,000 pixel (1024×768)
Glad to hear Chris, yes Canon, Nikon, Pentax and others all made very capable 6MP DSLRs 10 or 12 years ago, that are very affordable today and of course give you access to decades’ worth of lenses.
I had a Pentax K-x, it was my first DLSR actually. Coming from Pentax film bodies I was so disappointed with the viewfinder (VF) and trying to focus with old manual lenses that I sold it on after a matter of weeks. A huge factor in getting the K10D was the VF – one of the biggest and brightest on any Pentax DSLR.
I would be curious to see and hear how the images from your old Fuji come out now, if you feel like giving it an outing for old times sake…
As usual, I disagree with you Dan (and partially agree). Yes CCD’s have a look to them. But that look can easily be achieved with CMOS and Lightroom or proper out of camera Jpegs. I get the look from my CCD Leicas by selecting the Kodachome preset in LR from most CMOS cameras. I know you don’t want to use LR. (I have stopped it at version 6.14.) So I don’t have to deal with the subscription. But if you take the time with the jpeg output settings of most any digital camera, a CCD look is possible.
Also, I have sent in both of my CCD Leicas and now I have to wait for 9 months for the CCD to be replaced. This was once free but now it will cost me $900 EACH!. This is just one of the many Leica digital ownership issues. Why people still buy the digital Leica cameras is beyond me.
Corvus, thanks as always for your interesting input.
When you say “But if you take the time with the jpeg output settings of most any digital camera, a CCD look is possible” – do you mean with the camera settings, or by taking a “neutral” jpeg from the camera and processing afterwards with software?
Why do you need to send your Leicas away for replacement/repair, I thought any sensor would last decades, especially in a high end camera?
First of all Leicas are only expensive. Leicas are not ‘high end’ cameras. Leicas ALWAYS have more faults than Japanese/Chinese made cameras. My first Leica M9 had a faulty range finder from day one. My Leica Q had to be cleaned 2 times before the sealed sensor was correct. My Leica SL is just a majorly flawed camera. (avoid at all cost.) They refuse to fix the SL with simple software updates.
The old CCDs in Leicas were made by Kodak. An American company, that says it all. Their CCD sensors corrode over time. (Faster if in a humid environment.) Once corroded it looks like the sensor is very dirty. Even before everyone in North America started sending in their CCD based Leicas, the wait time for repair was usually 3 months. Now the wait time is 9 months. Nobody talks about this because they don’t want to admit that they wasted a lot of money on an overpriced turd.
My complaints are only for digital Leicas. The film ones are much cheaper and you don’t have to deal with sensors or software fails. Also for the most part the Leica lenses are very good. The only big fails are the 28mm F1.7 in the Q and the Summilux 28mm. both of which have horrible distortion at the edges.
As far as Jpegs go, you can cook them to taste in the camera settings. Just like you are happy with the bold mono setting in your Pentax Q. You can find the same happiness in colour jpegs by adjusting them in camera.
The best example I can give is the Nikon N1 v3. I downloaded 31 film simulations for that camera and I’m happier with the jpegs than the RAWs. I often print out the N1 v3 jpegs directly from the camera.
Sounds like some high end (price wise) cars like Ferrarris, Lamborghinis etc, they’re much coveted but in practice unreliable, a fortune to buy and even more to maintain.
Also reminds me of a Porsche that came out (924?) that had something like a VW van engine in it, but was still sold trying to give that Porsche brand and cachet.
Currently, (digital) colour just gives me too many options, too much for my head (and eyes) to process. With black and white it’s easier to get a look I like across different cameras, either in camera if the camera has enough flexibility in that area, or with Snapseed afterwards.
In time as my experience and confidence builds I’m sure I’ll routinely return to colour and be able to get more consistent looks across cameras.
Always interesting and helpful to hear your experiences and thoughts.
I never equate one type of product to another. As you might say ‘It’s like chalk and cheese.’ I can only equate from country to country. Italian products have a passion about them, makes them lovable. German products are generally cold and passionless. (I like my German Leica more when it has an Italian Luigi Crescenzi full case on it.)
So I would not compare cars to cameras. Also I have over 160 000 miles of travel on various Ferraris and have never been stranded at the side of the road. However I’ve been stranded over 18 times in only 10 000 miles in one British car. In fact, every single British car I have owned has left me stranded needing a tow truck at least once. So whenever someone mentions that Ferraris are not reliable I have to mention that they are wrong, (even though I do not want to mention my ownership of them.) Overpriced maybe, unreliable definitely not.
Lamborghini is also a good example of this since they are owned by Volkswagon. There is a lot of passion missing from the current line of Lamborghinis. Since you are not a car guy and this is not a car site I will tell you that; Lamborghini makes an SUV and there is no V12 in it. Back when Lamborghini was Italian, their SUV did have a V12.
Now back to CCD’s.
Generally I’ve stuck to German and Japanese cars in my life, as both are pretty reliable. I’ve fancied quite a few Citroens in the past, as they have some different and quirky designs. But the reliability has always put me off. I’d rather have a dull looking car that doesn’t let me down, than a pretty one that does. Of course if you can have both, even better!
Yes that’s probably enough car talk!
Not sure this is a recommendation but on a whim I recently bought a Nikon 1 V1. I have no idea why and haven’t used it significantly yet but I like it’s clean looking design.
As real real ‘classic’ I also have in my cupboard a very old Casio digital camera (model QV-700) which is from before they were measured in megapixels; resolution is 640 x 480. It did work but haven’t tried it for a long time.
SilverFox, just looked at the Nikon 1 V1, I do like the smooth, round edges and the pretty minimal design too. They seem very affordable now compared with the £800 (!!) they retailed at new.
As I said in another comment, with MP size much of it comes down to how big you want the final image, whether digital or prints. If you can produce big enough images for your needs without magnifying the original digital images out of the camera by more than 100% (ie not beyond the original full size) you should still get pleasing images. In theory, there are of course other “quality” factors.
So your Casio might be fine for say 6×4 or similar prints, but the quality insufficient blown up to 12 inch wide images.
Let us know if you fire up the Casio again!
Maybe I should write a future post called something like “Back From The Dead – New Photographs With Digital Cameras You Thought Were Deceased…” and invite everyone to contribute. : )
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My first digital compact was the Panasonic LX3 which at the time (2009) was about as good as digital compacts got. I eventually sold it and got the original RX100, a great camera but one I never liked the way I liked my LX3. Earlier this year having sold the RX100 and not willing to pay $900 for the latest version I started looking for second hand LX3s, something it wouldn’t have occurred to me to do if I hadn’t started buying used film cameras. I didn’t find one, but I did find a great LX5 complete with box and original software. I got it for not much more than $100. It felt like an old friend and I love it. The LX3/5 is definitely a digital classic. I wrote a little more about this and posted some pictures from both cameras on my blog at https://ollithomsonphotography.blogspot.com/2018/06/a-new-old-favourite.html
Olli, love to hear about your Lumix history. I’m keen to explore them, and the RX100 so it’s useful to hear your experience.
What are the differences between the LX3 and LX5?
The differences aren’t that great. The LX5 was an incremental change. They both have the same 10MP CCD sensor, the body and controls are very similar. The main difference is in the lens which goes from being a 24-60 (equivalent) zoom on the LX3 to a 24-90 on the LX5, both starting at f2 with the LX5 topping out at f3.3 at 90mm.
There may be some difference in the video specs but since I never use video I’ve no idea what these would be. While it’s the same sensor the LX5 has a little better performance to my eye at ‘higher’ ISO’s which effectively means ISO 400. On paper it also has some performance advantages in terms of speed but I’ve never noticed a difference.
The LX5 also offered an optional electronic viewfinder which you can still pick up second hand and I’m thinking of getting one of those at some point. I find as I get older and my eyes aren’t what they once were composing on a small screen is more challenging, though the screen itself is fine.
The major criticism of the LX5 is that Panasonic started using a chipped battery, which wasn’t the case with the LX3. Non chipped batteries still work and as far as I can tell the only downside is that the battery life indicator does not function without the chipped battery. That said, I picked up some Wasabi batteries and everything works as it should.
While the small sensor (larger than the average compact of the time but a lot smaller than the RX100 type camera) is a limiting factor to some degree, I’ve never had an issue with up to ISO200 and few problems at ISO400. I’ve found that as processing technologies have improved over the years, images that I was struggling to work with have become easier. I’ve always shot raw so I’ve been able to revisit my old raw files and reprocess them with better results. I’ve also regularly printed 12 x 10 inch prints from these files. In fact, I think all of the images from the LX3 that I posted in the blog post I mentioned in my earlier comment have been printed at that size. I’ve also printed some of the cleaner ones at 18 x 12 and they look fine to me.
The LX5 in turn was replaced by the LX7 which introduced some further changes – primarily a faster lens (f1.4-2.3 but with the same 24-90 range), and a CMOS sensor in place of the CCD. It also has a built in ND filter and takes a higher resolution add on viewfinder. I’ve never used one myself but if one came up at a good price I’d be tempted.
For me, the LX3 and now the LX5 have those intangible qualities that make them fondly remembered even after they are long gone. I can’t tell you exactly what it is that means that while I respect the RX100 series I love the LX series, probably something to do with the handling, the feel of the camera and the results, but something else on top of all that. If I ever work it out I’ll let you know.
The LX3 was announced in 2008 and the LX5 in 2011 so they are both within your classic digital timeframe. I’m happy to recommend either or both for your collection. At the time the LX5 was released Panasonic UK did a couple of short promotional videos with Charlie Waite. If you do a search you’ll find them both on YouTube. It’s fascinating to see what a professional photographer can achieve with one of these little cameras.
Brilliant, thanks for all the info Olli, very useful. I know the Lumix cameras have a devoted following, and not without reason. Time to explore them more I think…
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To shorten a long story, I added a simple Kodak 10MP 5X zoom digital to my arsenal – to carry with me in the car so I could always shoot something I find interesting. The main reason being if it is broken or stolen along the way it’s no great loss. I also agree with your sentiment about file size: invariably I shrink my on-line pics down to 640 x 480 anyway so they don’t use up so much of my limited data allowance (satellite ISP). I don’t feel new cameras are upgrading so much as just adding on ‘features’ for the sake of it.
There’s a much, much longer version of my tales of cameras, but it would take pages to write.
Marc, thanks for your comments.
I think there is a huge range of around 8-10MP digital cams from the likes of Sony, Canon, Kodak and Panasonic that can deliver lovely images in a small package that cost just pounds.
When I’ve been looking at “classic” vintage digitals, my cut off seems to be about 2012 or so when they seem to getting silly in the MP spec (16MP+), and include stuff like GPS, wi-fi etc. Like you said, just adding features to try to sell more cameras, not offering any genuine benefit in terms of usability for the photographer.
I switched from 35mm film to digital in 1999. Even though I prefer shooting digital, I still have two 35mm film camera, although I don’t use them. I use an adapter to attach the lenses to my Fuji X-T2.
I still have my first digital cameras, a Sony DSC S70 which I used to capture the early adventures of my young family. I have 16″x20″ photographs of my family, taken with that camera are hanging on my wall.
The camera still works. I still have Sony memory sticks. And I can find replacement batteries on Amazon.com. I may experiment to see what I can do with that camera 20 years later.
I have a soft spot for Sony Cyber-shots. My first cameras I use with any intention were Sony (then Sony Ericsson) camera phones. I have a couple of early (4 and 5MP) Cyber-shots now that I love using. Both are tiny too, but handle surprisingly well for their diminutive dimensions.
The one thing they have annoyed with me over the years is changing the memory media. I remember every time I got a new phone (I think I had three Sonys over perhaps six or seven years) the on board memory and supplied memory stick was too small to get more than a few photos on, and was a different (and incompatible) format to the previous higher capacity memory stick I’d bought for the phone before.
That aside, once you have an old one with the right memory stick and battery, they’re fantastic!
I’ll be interested to see how it goes if you decide to use yours again.
I was able to source a battery and charger from amazon.com for under $10. I found a memory card I my pile of “used” gear. I’ll find a sunny day for a walk around with the S70.
Looking back I don’t think Sony made as many types of memory card as it felt like at the time. So once you get one of each it opens up dozens of old Cyber-shots as options!
great article, quick question….you mentioned buying bargain cameras for around £20-50. I definitely see lots of these around but lenses add additional cost for interchangeable lens cameras. How do you get round this with your GF1, NEX3, Pentax K30 etc?
Hi Graham, thanks for reading and your question.
The majority of digital cameras I’ve bought and written about are at the bargain end. For example the Samsung NV10 I just wrote about, which is a classy little camera and cost a fiver, plus a new battery which was something like £8. It’s great to use, tiny and lightweight, and gives me pictures I’m very happy with.
I do have and use other cameras that are/were more expensive, usually because they were either higher end models originally, newer, or both.
For example before I got into digital classics, I had a Sony NEX 3N which I bought used for about £130 I think, and sold on a few years later for perhaps half that. I never had a native lens for it and used all kinds of vintage lenses and adapters that cost any from £5 upwards (for the lens) and usually about the same for the adapter. So once you have the camera body, you can have a “new” one by just getting a new (used) lens for very little money.
The GF1 cost around £50 I think, and the lens I use most on it now, the 7Artisans 25/1.8, was about the same. For that total £100 I would say it was great value, it’s a lovely camera and super capable.
My newest (to me) Pentax K30 was £150. This was a £600 camera new though, in 2012, and for what it does I think it’s good value. I could probably sell it tomorrow for the same price.
However I did have a Samsung GX-1S which is a Samsung branded clone of the Pentax *ist DS2, which cost around £50, and I sold for the same about 18 months later. So that’s a much cheaper option.
Regarding lenses, yes of course there is an additional cost, and there are a wide range of options available, from adapted lenses to budget end native lenses, to high end optics that can go into £1000s.
The advantage with interchangeable lens cameras is you can buy them pretty cheap (like the early NEX/Alpha bodies and older Micro Four Thirds bodies from Olympus and Panasonic, or a ten year old DSLR from Pentax or Canon) then get going with a cheap lens or an old manual lens and adapter (a great 50/55mm M42 or Pentax K lens can be had for £20, an adapter might be £10), and then get other lenses down the line, as your budget allows.
If you really want an interchangeable lens camera then it can still be done cheaply (well under £100, and I’ve seen Canon and Pentax DSLRs with a kit lens go for under £50 regularly), if not quite in the sub £10 or £20 bracket you can get an amazing little digital compact for.
What are your needs specifically and maybe I can recommend something?