The 99p Digital Camera Club

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…

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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.

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I’ve crossed paths with a few old Cyber-shots before.

I really liked the tiny DSC-L1, and in fact the first cameras I used with any kind of artistic intention were Sony Cyber-shot phone cameras like the Elm j10i2.

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.

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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.

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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.

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– 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.

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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).

Thanks for looking.

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13 thoughts on “The 99p Digital Camera Club”

  1. Funny you should ask, my roommate and I have been doing some housecleaning and came across three old digital cameras. Two are Canon Sd1000’s and one is a Leica branded unit with a significant dent that looks like a packet of ramen noodles with a lens. I don’t think Bob has ever taken a picture in his life, so where they came from is something of a mystery. I charged up one of the canon units, and it seems to work well and take a good picture, but there is no provision for adjusting exposure that I can find which is a bummer. The pictures are all a bit overexposed.

    1. Jon, a quick look at the spec of the SD1000 and I would expect very respectable pictures. I’ve had older and lower res Canons (4 or 5MP) that have made very decent images, especially in good light. According to the spec on Canon Camera Museum it has -/+2 exposure compensation. Most digital compacts I use I start with -0.3 exposure compensation, and some need -0.7. Maybe try that with your as it’s consistently overexposing?

      https://global.canon/en/c-museum/product/dcc539.html

      What about the Leica, does it work?

      1. Thanks for the link Dan, I will play with it some more. One appears unused, one well used. I have the manual but couldn’t find anything about exposure compensation, thanks for the tip. I haven’t sorted out how the Leica functions yet, it doesn’t seem to take sd cards, maybe it used floppy discs?

      2. Do you know which model the Leica is? I’m intrigued!

        All the Canon IXUS models I’ve used have very similar layout and controls. If you press the Function/Set button in the middle of the control wheel, the exposure compensation is very likely to the first or second option in the menu that appears on screen.

  2. My first digital camera was a Fuji a205 which is a chunky little brick of a camera with 2 MP. As I recall, it took really nice pictures with that typical Fuji bias toward the Blue/Green side of the color spectrum.

    The oldest digital I currently own is an old Canon D60 with 6MP that I was using for my eBay product photos.

    1. Thanks Rob, I had a similar FinePix, 3-something I believe, so I guess 3MP, a year or two ago, with the sliding lens cover. Being a big fan of Pentax 6MP DSLRs I would expect the old Canon to be able to deliver a similarly satisfying experience and final result.

  3. I had a Kodak Easyshare (don’t know what model) around the same time. It had 3MP and I also remember the colors being very pleasing right out of the camera – in good light of course. I think it was the DX4330. I only had it for a year or two when a roomate borrowed it and never gave it back… next after that was the DSC-P200 with 7.2MP and a Zeiss lens, I remember paying something like 430 dollars for it in 2004 (588 dollars today!), my first “serious” camera… that I kept until my first Pentax DSLR in 2013.

    1. I was following a few of those era Kodaks on eBay about four or five months ago, but one didn’t come up at the right price (ie about £10!). I’ve heard plenty of good about things about what they’re capable of.

      I expect your Cyber-shot was very capable. I’ve had 4, 6 and 7MP Sonys and they’ve all been impressive. But yes isn’t crazy how much the cameras that seem so low tech and can be had for literally pennies these days were hundreds of pounds in their day.

      Which was you first Pentax, was it the K20D?

      1. Yes the K20D. In many ways it was great, in other ways it was frustrating.
        My dream camera maybe would be the K10D sensor in the K20D camera body 🙂
        But recently I’m really liking what I can do with the K-S1 sensor… especially when shooting JPEG and doing some basic processing later in Corel Aftershot Pro – the software I started my DSLR journey with, and that I now got back to after a while away… I learned that to use it with JPEGs it’s great, basically defying what it was designed to do (a RAW developer with some interesting added added things).

  4. The colors look very natural and neutral without looking dull. Also, I think that without processing power of computers companies were forced to make lenses optically corrected, with digital corrections I feel images have a perfection my eyes neither have nor envy. I started very late with photography so my first camera, a gift from my older brother, was a nice HP R607 with 4.1 megapixels. I recall those days the market was driven by megapixels and surely that .1 or .2 would be seen as an advantage, seeing it at the distance seems funny n.n

    1. That’s a very interesting point about the lenses Francis. I do think later digital cameras seem to have had more time and money invested in the processing power rather than basic optics and sensor capabilities, meaning they end up capturing a mediocre shot with a mediocre lens, then trying to process it (sharpening, HDR, noise reduction etc) to cover up the inadequacies of the basic components. The early ones evolved from film cameras, so the lenses were more likely to be based on formulas that were tried and tested in film bodies.

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