Last Camera Syndrome

Last Camera Syndrome is a term coined by Nikon guru and camera market expert Thom Hogan.

Basically LCS is a state of mind you have when the camera in hand is good enough and you’ll likely never buy another one unless:

  1. You lose or total your camera or it breaks and cannot be repaired.
  2. The camera makers come up with something that solves a problem for you.
  3. You are convinced by marketing hype or Internet reviews/chatter.

When it comes to single lens reflex cameras I have never had a problem with (1.) I always protect my photo gear in a solid carrying bag, I wear a strap, I don’t go in dodgy areas, and Nikon SLRs have been a bulletproof option so far.

The above photo was taken in 2001 with a Nikon FE “automatic” camera – manual focus, manual aperture adjustment, manual film advance – only the shutter speed was automatic. At the time I had been using this camera for close to 20 years and for me it was my Last Camera. Then my eyes started to fail and I could no longer focus it properly.

Fortunately, Nikon had come up with (2.) in the form of autofocus. So I got a new Last Camera – F80 autofocus film. This camera had a lot of features I liked – Program mode, autofocus, automatic film advance. I complemented it with a bunch of real Nikkor lenses – not the third party stuff I had been using with the FE.

Here’s a photo taken with the F80 in 2002.

I liked the F80 system a lot and probably would be using it today, except for one minor problem – digital photography happened.

My film Last Camera got stored away in 2006 and I went through a series of fixed-lens digital models. None had the requisite number of megapixels or the shooting performance to suit me. The closest product was a tiny Canon S90 purchased in 2010.

Finally, in 2015 Nikon came up with another (2.) moment and solved the sensor dust problem that had been keeping me from interchangeable lens digicams. So I finally gave in to (3.) The Nikon D5500 and a set of DX lenses accompanying it was a very nice system indeed. Did it become my Last Camera…well…

By now I was getting older and traveling a bit and the idea of carrying around a big clunky DSLR and a bunch of lenses on a cruise ship did not appeal. The S90 was very nice but it did not have a viewfinder and was hard to use in bright sunlight. I was running into a lot of bright light in the Caribbean and Mediterranean. So after a TransPacific voyage, the S90 was retired in favor of my current travel camera – a Panasonic ZS50. This one has a small sensor, big zoom lens, electronic viewfinder.

So perhaps in my case, it’ll be a Last Two Cameras Syndrome. Here’s the rationale:

DSLR: These types of cameras are losing sales and the manufacturers want to market mirrorless replacements – especially in the APS-C segment like my D5500. I don’t want to dump my camera and the 9 Nikkor lenses that I can use with it. So Nikon’s effort in (3.) marketing hype above isn’t working for me. The D5500 may not be my Last Camera but it’s likely the last DSLR I’ll buy.

Besides, there’s no way I could take a photo like this with anything but my DSLR.

Travel Zoom: I could never imagine needing a bigger zoom range than I have with the ZS50. It’s also light and easy to pack. There are plenty of megapixels, and the electronic viewfinder works well in bright sunlight.

Here’s a photo taken inside a church in Rome with the ZS50. It’s in these situations where the small sensor gives mediocre low light performance. Either I have too slow shutter speeds, or too high ISO to get really great pictures. It’s OK though. I can work around it most of the time.

To improve the situation I have to either:

  1. Get a larger sensor and smaller zoom range, plus pay a lot more money for a faster lens.
  2. Start lugging more weight and gear around.

I think over this problem from time to time but I’m not optimistic the camera guys have a total solution. There’s only so much you can do before running afoul of the laws of optics. You can have light weight, decent low light performance, and affordable cost. Pick two.

In decent light I get this, so I can live with the odd church scene that isn’t perfect.

Now Panasonic does offer a larger sensor model with a pretty good travel zoom but the current price premium is a bit more than I want to pay. That would probably be a better Last Camera candidate so I’ll continue to follow this segment of the market.

There is a third candidate for Last Camera and that would be no camera at all – simply use a smartphone.

Yes, I have a smartphone. Yes, it has a camera. But to get a real state of the art photographic tool in a smartphone I would need to pay more than twice what my Samsung A50 retails for. Even then I’d get nice results at wide-angle and very short telephoto ranges. OK if I were posting photos on Snapchat/Instagram or using a selfie stick to place myself in front of the Colosseum. But I’m not.

So what’s the bottom line? I will never have Last Camera Syndrome if that means having only one camera. I am pretty close to LCS with two cameras. I won’t upgrade my DSLR system because by the time I might want to, Nikon won’t be making them anymore – they’ll be going Mirrorless. There’s a chance I might get a new travel zoom if I can get improved low light capability and keep the tiny size and low weight.

Besides all that, at my age it’s a difficult decision to buy green bananas.

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