With 36MP digital cameras widely available, and even smartphones offering 19MP plus, the manufacturers try to tell us the more MP, the better your photography will be.
But after coming to love a small collection of classic digital cameras in the last year or so, mostly around 10MP, I’m starting to wonder how many MP we really need to make pleasing images.
I have a 6MP CCD Samsung DSLR which makes lovely images, nowhere near what I would consider to be too grainy or low quality.
Also, the recent rediscovery of my 5MP Sony Elm camera phone, which, despite its tiny sensor, is still capable of some very satisfying photographs, lowered the minimum MP bar further still.
The next step in my experiments then, is to try 4MP.
For this venture, I came across, in an unconnected way, a Sony and an Olmypus, which, though unplanned at the time I found them, both have a 4MP sensor.
First up then, the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-L1 was released around 2004, with a tiny 1/2.7″ CCD sensor.
In fact everything about this camera is tiny, and reminds me of the Sony Ericsson camera phones I first cut my photography teeth with in the mid 2000s.
Despite its diminutive stature, handling is actually rather good due to the depth of the camera, the vertically curved front part of the body, the raised grip dots on the rear, and a cleverly placed strap lug which doubles as a thumb rest.
The lens is a Carl Zeiss Vario Tessar 32-96mm f/2.8 max. Pleasingly, with this focal length being very close to my favourite of 35mm, I can just switch it on and use it as a 32/2.8 prime, not needing to adjust the zoom.
At first glance the Sony seems to have few controls, but within the straightforward menu there are most of the options I need, including exposure compensation, ISO, contrast, saturation and a b/w mode.
AF seems impressively fast and accurate for a 13 year old camera, and both the central square and a green dot in the screen flash, then remain on when focused, which is very clear to see. It focuses close enough too, always a potential deal breaker for me.
Another plus is that unlike many cameras, the Cyber-Shot appears to remember all your settings after your turn it off, aside from the b/w mode.
But because it also remembers where you were in the menu, I can leave it on the “P Effect” setting and just power up, choose Menu > b/w in a second and I’m good to go.
The battery is lithium, standard with most compacts. The memory is Memory Stick Duo Pro. Handily although the camera came with a couple of native cards, the former owner invested in a neat adapter that lets you slot a micro SD card in a Memory Stick sized body. This plus a 2GB micro SD gives me more memory than I’ll ever need (1005 images, the screen tells me!), especially with only 4MB images.
Something to consider when investing in older digital cameras is the memory format, but with solutions like the micro SD adapter it means I could use the same micro SD card in the Sony with the Memory Stick Duo adapter, and in my main three other digital compacts with a micro SD to SD adapter (which most micro SD cards come with anyway).
One memory card (plus one cheap reader) then offers great consistency across a number of different cameras without needing different cards, readers and/or cables for each.
Back to the Sony, there is little else to say. Which is not because it’s dull or featureless, but because it just seems to have all you need and nothing you don’t, in a super discrete and compact package. Seriously, I have pretty small hands, but I can still hide the camera almost entirely in a loose fist.
On the minus, you could grumble over the pretty tiny screen, though it’s surprisingly sharp and detailed enough both to compose, and to confirm you’ve got the required part of the image in focus. Plus, like everything with L1, it’s perfectly proportioned. Did I mention it’s tiny?
Oh and it cost me less than £7 plus postage.
But what about the major point of this two part experiment? Can a 13 year old 4MP camera make decent photographs in 2018?
I’ll let you judge for yourself. All images in this post were made with the Sony DSC-L1 plus a tiny bit of post processing via my usual Snapseed b/w preset.
I love what it can do, and it’s by far the smallest camera I have, whilst also handling very well. It’s got me seriously thinking about whether I need 10MP £100+ cameras when this little 4MP gem which cost me around £10 ticks so many boxes.
In the next week or two I’ll continue to experiment with the Sony as well as giving the Olympus pictured above a few outings too, with a follow up post reviewing that camera.
Have you used a 4MP digital? How did you find it?
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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