For twenty years or so – from 1980 to 2000 – my photography was pretty uncomplicated. I had a manual 35 mm camera, shot color slide or print film, had a few extra lenses. Took the camera on holiday or used it at home.
Occasionally I got shots like this:
Of course, many times I found myself in poor lighting conditions and ended up with blurry or unusable images. The camera was manual focus, I had to adjust the aperture myself, and often the film just couldn’t cope. That was the nature of the beast 35 years ago.
Around the year 2000 my eyes were getting so bad I could not use manual focus any longer. So I mothballed my faithful old FE and got an automatic focus Nikon F80. This was still a film camera, even though digital technology was starting to come on strong. I had my doubts about a digital SLR though – sensor dust problems were a deal breaker back then, and film was still better in my view.
I added a few autofocus lenses and soon had a fine film based SLR system. This was in 2002-2004, and I shot mostly print film which I could scan digitally – first the prints, then the negatives. This system worked OK up until around 2006. At that time I became convinced that I was a total dinosaur – hauling film through airport scanners, toting around a film body and 4 lenses, running out of film at inopportune moments. It was time to go digital.
I didn’t get a digital SLR though – dust on the sensor was still a problem. Instead I got a series of increasingly smaller digital point and shoot cameras, culminating with my Panasonic ZS-50 in 2016. That’s my main vacation camera now. It’s the size of a deck of cards, has a long zoom lens and does just about everything I’d want from a vacation camera.
I get to take pictures like this:
I did eventually get a digital SLR – by 2015 Nikon had solved its sensor dust problem. I also got some new autofocus lenses. My old lenses still work but I have to focus them manually and their focal lengths are not really compatible with the new camera.
The new SLR system is excellent, but after the experience of a small capable point and shoot I do not carry it on any air travel holiday – it’s just too cumbersome. It’s nice for car trips and home photos.
The SLR does take great pictures though. Here’s one with my old manual focus lenses taken a couple of years ago.
With the above cameras I seem to be well set up digitally, but the typical snapshooter today would consider me to be a dinosaur all over again. While I was improving the digital hardware in conventional photography, a whole revolution in imaging was going on with the general public.
Very few folks I encounter on holiday have a small point and shoot camera of any type, let alone a big honking SLR. They are using their smartphone for photography.
Twelve years ago – when I was seriously getting into digital – the iPhone and Android smartphones were coming out with their own digital cameras. These cameras basically sucked optically and in general performance, but they have steadily gotten better. My current Samsung A50 – a relatively cheap smartphone – has three lenses. It takes excellent snapshots and wide-angle photos. Real cameras are still better at telephoto and low light imaging but the gap is narrowing.
The best smartphone cameras make the most of the fact that they are part of an always-connected computer system. Computational photography allows a relatively tiny lens and sensor to simulate the blurred background of a big DSLR system. Recently I read an article about how the latest camera technology from the Google Pixel made it possible to snap a photo of the Milky Way on a smartphone. When the image quality gets that good, the conventional camera makers should start worrying.
There’s also been a revolution in workflow. A dinosaur like me snaps images on an SD card, which then goes into a card reader and onto a PC. The smartphone user just takes a pic, and shares it on Snapchat or Instagram. I can’t even do that unless I find a way to copy my pictures to – wait for it – a smartphone. No way to get to Instagram or Snapchat from my PC.
I believe my way of doing things gives me better optics, more picture storage capacity and a viewfinder for bright light photography, but does the typical 25-year-old selfie snapper care about that?
The point and shoot camera that the average person used in 2006 is gonzo – dead and buried. Makers like Canon and Nikon must get their sales from enthusiasts and pro photographers now, and those markets are much smaller.
I have my doubts that should I need a new small camera in 5 years’ time, there will be anything out there for me. Maybe I’ll be toting a smartphone on vacation. Who knows?
Such are the first world problems of a digital dinosaur.