As we’ve spoken about before, the sheer affordability and availability of used cameras makes it difficult to resist picking up “just one more” for the collection.
In recent times I’ve restrained my spending far more than in years gone by, but I’m still drawn in once in a while.
A couple of months back, I revisited a typically dangerous eBay saved search – digital cameras, UK only, £1 or less.
And came across this…
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P51, from way back in 2002.
It sports a surprisingly not very wide 41-82mm (35mm equivalent) f/3.8 – f/8 lens and 2.0 MP (I’m not sure why Sony felt the need to add the “point zero”, does it make it sound better than just writing 2 Mega Pixels?) CCD sensor.
As you might have guessed from the specs, this Sony was nowhere near cutting edge even in its day.
I would say it was firmly in the lower to mid range of consumer cameras, and even back then, the more expensive cameras would have had larger sensors (1/2.7″ in the Sony) and faster lenses, like f/2.8 or f/1.8.
Still, I’ve never used one of these era models, and it only cost, you guessed it, 99p, which bought me the camera in its original box, plus the memory card, charger, cables, plus what look like the original two Sony Cyber-shot branded AA batteries, which still seem to work fine.
I’ve crossed paths with a few old Cyber-shots before.
My Sony experiences have mostly been very positive.
The only negative I recall are how Sony seemed to change their memory card format every year or so, forcing users to upgrade with them if they chose to upgrade their Sony camera, rather than being able to use any existing cards.
These days this is virtually a moot point however, as most old digital cameras come with whatever memory card they require already inside.
In the case of the P51, the card included is a Magic Gate Memory Stick – about the width of an SD card but twice as long – with a total capacity of, wait for it, a heady 32MB!
Which, at highest quality, allows for 33 shots.
It’s like shooting film again!
Following this feeling, the Sony also feels more like a compact film camera, as it’s not the now standard slim rectangular shape of digital cameras and phones, with the screen taking up 95% of the rear surface.
The P51 is more chunky and curvy. So it handles pretty well, and has a pleasant weight to it.
Shooting with the Cyber-shot so far, these are my main notes –
– The screen is small and hard to see.
It doesn’t help that it’s a bit flaky and blacks out completely now and again. The P51 is easy to shoot one handed though, so when it’s really bright, I use my free left hand cupped above the screen to block out sunlight and see better. And it’s perfectly usable for 19 out of 20 potential shots.
– The lens is to the far left of the camera.
This means plenty of space for your hand to wrap around and grip, but it takes some getting used to as looking from behind the camera I keep assuming the lens is roughly central, then my compositions are too far to the right. Easy enough to adjust for with the screen of course, just odd.
– The AF works surprisingly well.
I’ve used far newer and supposedly better cameras where the AF is far more unreliable. It’s clear when the camera can and can’t (hardly ever) lock focus. It goes pretty close too, around 5cm.
– The colours are pretty good straight out of camera.
You might recall I’m often banging on about my impatience with post processing, and how I love cameras that can be set up to produce images I love straight out of the camera, in other words, the zero processing dream.
Whilst the Cyber-shot of course doesn’t have the ability to produce lovely natural warm colours like my Pentax APS-C DSLRs with their vastly larger sensors (which are Sony made, ironically) and lenses, it delivers colours better than most, in my view.
There’s a theory that early digital cameras were developed to give colours and a general look close to film, so those considering making the leap from film to digital wouldn’t find the difference in the images too vast.
From my experience of older CCD sensor cameras, this seems to hold out, whereas newer, higher res CMOS sensors often feel too cool, sterile, and, well, too digital, in their final image.
– As well as decent colours, the images overall are better than I had expect from “only” a 2MP sensor and an 18 year old camera.
The sharp bits are sharp enough, and like many older digitals, the out of focus areas disappear pretty pleasingly, without looking clinical or processed to within a millimetre of their lives. Make your own judgements from the photographs in this post, all straight out of camera on the standard colour setting.
– Using the P51 is closer to shooting film than virtually all other compact digital cameras I’ve used.
The limited 33 shots of the memory card (forcing upon me a trick I’ve tried before with other cameras), the pleasing colours, the interesting and now unconventional shaping, and the way it somehow encourages you to slow down and compose more carefully than a modern digital with high speed burst shooting and a card capacity for 1000s of shots, all add up to this Sony feeling closer in spirit to a late compact film camera, than more modern digitals.
The final images too somehow remind me of those I made with 35mm film compacts five or so years ago.
I don’t plan to shoot with the Cyber-shot P51 exclusively this month, but I’m sure this won’t be the last you’ll see of it.
What’s the oldest and lowest resolution digital camera you recall using?
Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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