Eric L. Woods

RNF: Weird times. Can vintage digital be a thing?

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RNF: Random Neural Firing. Eric speak for those absolutely no one said anything moments followed by my random ponder then rant generator starting off with, “You know what?”. You have been warned.

Sidebar: Recent social and world events may have also broken my gear acquisition algorithm. While I used to be as fascinated by hyper expensive over spec’d gear (for my purposes) as anyone more recently I could not care less. Instead of high dollar media darlings my interest has shifted towards ultimate bang for buck propositions. I have no judgment for those who do clamor for the latest and greatest. Many do need these bleeding edge features. Good for them both.

You know what?

These are weird camera times. Old digital cameras are starting to cost little more, nearly the same, or less than old film cameras. This got me to thinking.

Can vintage digital be a thing?

Wait. Don’t run. Hear me out… Or not. Your choice. Anyhoo.

Oddly old digital cameras share some of the same limitations folks (including me) prattle on about when taking about film. Lower ISO, more grain, and such. Some have lame AF and make you “slow down” as is all the rage with some. But without having to pay for film development.

I have accidentally dabbled in this line of thinking in the past just for fun.

Canon 1Ds Mark II

Here are my positives lifted from a previous write up linked above.

Theory: Always wanted an old school DSLR brick. What if I found an old full-frame DSLR and paired it with a dirt cheap nifty fifty?

Execution: With the help of Manu at the local camera shoppe I secured a Canon 1Ds Mark II and a plastic fantastic 50mm prime.

Cost all in with tax lens included? $350. May have cackled in a less than dignified manner briefly.

  • Fun. Initially, Manu and I stared at the back of the camera for a bit attempting to work out how to accomplish basic tasks like scrolling through previous photos on this 2004 ergonomics festival. Figuring this stuff out is great fun to me.
  • The mother of all melee weapons in the event of a sudden zombie apocalypse. If I dropped this camera I would move my foot out of the way and hope the floor or sidewalk make it out ok.
  • An SD card second slot so no compact flash adapter shopping. Tried downloading with the included cable and no. That takes quite a bit of time.
  • In good light to meh light this thing is quick to focus and take a shot. Very quick as a good DSLR should be.
  • The lens is amazing. No $80 lens should be this good. Just wonderful photo quality.
Canon 1Ds Mark II
  • Pleasing colors.
Canon 1Ds Mark II
  • Thin DOF with this inexpensive lens.
Canon 1Ds Mark II
  • Near film shooting experience for me. The 2004 rear screen being small and low res should be a ding. But I liked it. Why? Since reviewing pics is a multi-press affair and you are only able to really check framing, due to the very low resolution screen being very small, I did not bother. This is a plus since I tended to spend no time reviewing images while shooting leaving the review of images to when I download them.

Here are additional samples (full brief album here) including a couple of shots taken with an era correct borrowed old zoom.

Canon 1Ds Mark II
Canon 1Ds Mark II
Older Canon 80-200mm f/2.8
Canon 1Ds Mark II
Older Canon 80-200mm f/2.8

I traded it soon after for reasons more having to do with my limited attention span than any real camera deficiency. That and it “made sense” to get the MC-11 Canon EF to Sony FE adapter instead. While technically true and I do not currently plan to purchase another I do now miss the 1Ds if I am honest.

Konica-Minolta Maxxum 7D

Minolta Maxxum 7 vs 7D

This 6MP camera was fun, but it was ultimately overshadowed by its film twin the Maxxum 7. The analog 7 felt better in hand and was actually more enjoyable to use. What eventually did them both in was that I was not a huge fan of how the Minolta 50mm lens, the anchor point of any system for me, rendered out of focus bits.

Minolta Maxxum 7 w/ Fuji XTra 400

Personal preference for sure but that is a near automatic no go for me. So off they went. But that 6MP 7D did prove itself more capable than I expected under good lighting conditions. And in poor light it gave an experience and had performance that was reminiscent of film shooting.

Minolta Maxxum 7D
Minolta Maxxum 7D
Minolta Maxxum 7D
Minolta Maxxum 7D
Minolta Maxxum 7D
Minolta Maxxum 7D

But these were very old cameras and this was a couple of years ago. What has happened since? Well…

  • Price
    • Precious film camera prices continue to climb.
      • I currently have film cameras that have increased in value since purchase to a point where I would not purchase them today. For example I bought a Contax G2 years ago, that I sold on for more than I paid a while back. The current going rate for that camera is $1,000 or more which is hundreds more than I paid or sold it for. The full frame digital 1Ds mentioned above cost a couple hundred dollars while a similar film Canon SLR now costs considerably more. I do not see how this can continue like this. Except for the very top echelon of film cameras I just do not see how these steady increases can be sustained long term. Unless it goes from collecting to shoot to collecting for collecting’s sake which is for sure a thing. More power to them but I have no interest in that.
    • Even once dear digital camera prices continue to fall.
      • While darlings like the Fujifilm X-Pro1 still go for prices rivaling some new camera releases if you are willing to broaden your search there are many bargains to be had. While an X-Pro1 was a bit rich for my blood a very similarly spec’d (Sans faux rangefinder window. Don’t come at me. I come in peace. Those are the facts.) and looking X-E2 can be had for hundreds less. I have owned both and was very pleased with both. More on this below but back when I first shot Olympus MFT I would have given my back teeth for an E-M5 and an E-M1. Likely due to the current obsession with new full frame and APS-C, Olympus selling their camera division, and Panasonic pivoting resources to full frame even the best MFT camera prices have dropped considerably on the used market.
  • Even expensive film cameras break.
    • Overall my film cameras have been overwhelmingly reliable. But one experience that served as a warning shot over the bow of what is inevitably to come was my brief dance with the Konica HEXAR AF. I came precariously close to investing in a camera that would likely break since one I bought and returned was broken and a friend at the local camera shop already had to pay to have his repaired. That makes two out of three Konica HEXAR AF examples that I came in direct contact with that either were or had been broken. No amount of analog pixie dust could dismiss this as a significant issue and I walked away. A $50 camera like my Yashica Electro GSN breaking is something that would not faze me, but I cannot say the same about a camera costing $500 or more. So I walked away from the HEXAR. Being mostly solid state there are far fewer things to break on digital cameras in theory. Most any mechanical malady that afflicted a digital camera I have owned could be traced back to deceleration trauma or some manner of poor decision making often starting with, “I could fix that. How hard could it be?” Additionally digital cameras are newer so things like old age do not typically play a factor.
Konica Hexar AF Silver
Yashica Electro GSN
  • Muscled past the first digital mirrorless camera wave.
    • The older DSLR cameras I mentioned purchasing above, the 1Ds and 7D, were old. Very old by digital standards. They were made in the first digital camera wave when manufacturers were just figuring things out. While entertaining the 1Ds controls were nigh inscrutable on first use. The 7D fared better since it sported the same great manual control layout of its film predecessor it had its quirks, like also having a pitiful back screen and a near inscrutable menu structure. While an aesthetic twin it was a massive step back in materials and feel from the film 7. Neither felt fully done.
    • Being newer, up until recently the only “affordable” mirrorless cameras were first wave models that also did not feel fully baked and most all lacked a built in EVF. Try as I might plug in EVFs did not cut it. They were an expensive add on that reduced portability and used up the hotshoe. I tried to Frankenstein an EVF/flash solution with my E-P5 by attaching a flash bracket that would then be triggered by the in camera flash… That was such a mess I sold the whole shooting match not long after. Why? At the time the models with a built in EVF were considerably more expensive.
    • But as time marched on the first wave of no excuses polished mirrorless cameras have started hitting the used market at prices that are astonishing to me.

So old film compared to old digital.

Sidebar: My film cameras are not going anywhere for now. This is a pondering exercise rather than a film camera bashing one.

But I must admit that with the dwindling cost advantage justification over time, which played a large part for me, the film argument comes down to an experience based justification. And even that is losing some merit. I will use and counter my own arguments below.

Technical limitations encouraging creativity

  • With film you are locked into one ISO per roll. This causes me to either adjust my shooting style or come up with other ways to shoot a scene that play into those limitations. Even if you fail you can still get an interesting, unexpected result. Succeed and you get a pleasing feeling of accomplishment.
Contax G2 w/ 45mm f/2 & Fuji Acros 100
Fuji Acros 100 at Dusk
  • While not as restrictive as one film speed older sensors do limit you from simply cranking the ISO into the upper regions as those images are likely to fall apart. As mentioned in an earlier post this has also caused me to adjust and create shots that I might not have otherwise.
Carnival.

No “chimping”

  • I get the Leica MD Type 262 with its lack of a back screen to review images. There is truly something to just focusing on the act of taking images and leaving review for later. For me it does make the shooting more enjoyable. The “reasonable” part of me does indeed howl, “But I can just turn off or flip around the back screen! Why am I paying extra for fewer features. This makes no sense.”. While this is true I would not do this with current cameras since most have ample battery power to cope. If the screen is available I will inevitably use it to review images. Older DSLRs like the ones mentioned above may have back screens, but mid 2000s tiny screens have laughable image quality so turning it off would do just fine. While the back screen is available on early EVF equipped mirrorless cameras there is motivation to turn it off. Speaking of earlier technical limitations pitiful battery life. I am much more prone to disable the back screen to improve battery life with older mirrorless cameras. Olympus even puts a dedicated button on their cameras to quickly disable the back screen. When out shooting for fun I will often do just that.
Pics for Blog Post - Olympus OMD E-M5

Selective Shooting/Slows You Down (aka speaking of battery life)

  • Film cameras limit you by the 1) number of exposures per roll, 2) the number of rolls you have on you, and 3) how much time and/or money do you want to spend developing and scanning frivolous photos. When film was the only option I do see why some cameras I use have burst mode but with only 36 shots available per roll that is something I never use.
  • While older DSLRs often have great battery life older mirrorless cameras limit you by the number of batteries you have on you. Want to burn through a battery? Get slap happy with burst mode so like film I tend to be more reserved and selective in my shooting.
  • So bottom line both old film cameras and old digital cameras slow me down and put more importance on getting the shot right instead of just plowing through exposures.

Film Look

  • This often has a lot to do with grain and a general lack of fidelity giving an image a pleasing look in these times of pixel peeping and astronomic pixel counts. Well many of these cameras like Fujifilm and Olympus offer in camera simulations that do a credible job of replicating that experience. Black and white simulations are my favorite. Add in a lower resolution sensor and it only helps with that experience.
Night Gallery
Trees and shadows.
dinner rush

I do get the Leica M Monochrome. I am not even going to lie. I want one. And once I locate my long lost money tree I will be all over that camera, but until then simulations will do just fine. Along those lines this video is hilarious.

This ends my blog title based dissertation. My take?

I think vintage digital can be a thing.

And I am not alone in this line of thinking evidently. I recently saw a video where a photographer was looking at the most recent Fujifilm X100 release, the X100V, and he makes a case for buying the older X100T instead. Let’s see if I can find it. <Pause for 3 minutes of furious googling and YouTube searches.> Here it is:

I definitely see his point. This is sound advice for those who want an X100. And it is a great deal for $500. Looking back at earlier models makes sense. Cameras that were once media darlings not that long ago surely still have their merits today. I am actively pursuing this line of thinking in a tandem blog thread currently. And if you can make peace with the inevitable reduction in features you can save yourself a good chunk of change and still have a very satisfying photography experience.

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