2.20.2018

A camera buyer's antidote for keeping up with the Joneses. Get a $5495 digital camera for only $250. I'm reviewing mine.

If you're tired of the equipment rat race and frustrated with the demands of trying to stay "current" in the fast moving world of cameras you might be ready to step off the ever accelerating, new introduction carrousel and try an alternate method of assuaging your deep hunger for acquiring cameras. It came to me just a day or so ago as I was sitting around trying to "decide" which camera I "needed" to get next. I've been shooting with Panasonic GH5's and have been very happy with them but then Panasonic went and introduced two new models and the lust for a new camera welled up strong and quick like blood from a fresh knife wound.

I read the same bubbly reviews in the style that I recently decried. I watched poorly done videos of other peoples' renditions of creative spec sheet reading.  I looked in my check register, trying to see where the cash might come from to pay for my obsessive compulsive need for the latest and greatest in camera gear. And then I hit the wall...

It dawned on me that I've been engaged in the new gear dance for well over a decade now and have precious little to show for it. We had a good time deducting the wretched excess from our taxes and we had many a good discussion about the merits of various new models while saluting photography with frosty and salty margaritas but it's hard not to feel
a bit used by the marketing mavens who help craft our serial addiction.

Where is this going? I was in the neighborhood so I thought I'd drop by my friendly neighborhood camera store and see what might be new and different. It was a quiet afternoon in the showroom at Precision Camera and as I looked at the used equipment cases I was reminded that I had never sold off the full collection of Nikon lenses. I still had a 50mm f1.4, a 55mm macro, a 105mm f2.5 and a few other older gems floating around.

In a moment of loose thinking I started looking at the used Nikon bodies, my facile brain thinking up rationales for getting an old "beater" Nikon body for those days steeped in rosy nostalgia when I might like to mount up the 105mm and pretend to be a New York fashion photographer from the 1980's. I have a small collection of older, F series cameras but my brain was crafting an argument about the need for just one old, vintage digital body to fool around with.

I looked at used D610s, D700s and even a very, very crusty D3 but then my eyes fell on an incredibly mint-like camera that I had owned once upon a time --- over a decade ago. A camera that I had used to do a tremendous amount of work with. A camera that I had to buy in a rush because the camera I had been using developed a fatal flaw and I was in the middle of a demanding but highly lucrative job.

In 2007 the Nikon D2Xs cost $5500 (or somewhere in that ballpark). I sent off my damaged camera for repair and showed up to continue shooting the next morning with the new camera. In truth, the Nikon D2Xs was NOT the most expensive camera I ever bought brand new. That dubious honor fell to the Kodak DCS-760 which was a few thousand more. But it was one of the few times that I had to buy a camera under duress. The shoot had to continue. The client had to be served.

When I looked at the D2Xs in the case yesterday I was reminded of all the attributes I came to admire and respect in the old camera. It was more or less bulletproof. It was the highest resolution Nikon available at the time. It was weather resistant. It was part of the first generation of pro cameras to make the switch from heavy and lower capacity NiMh batteries to our current, miraculous Li-on batteries. It had a great finder. It captured files in 16 bit and kept them in 16 bit analog form until late in the processing stage. It had great color. I could go on.

When I examined the camera in the case yesterday it looked like someone had just pulled it out of the box for the first time and put it onto the shelf. And then I saw the price tag. It was marked at $275. Roughly 1/20th of what I'd paid for one --- in the day. I was hooked and walked out the door yesterday with the camera in my hands and no idea why I'd bought it; other than nostalgia and a desire to make sure those yeoman-like lenses in the cabinet back home were in no danger of being orphaned.

So, what did I get for my $275 expenditure? I think that remains to be seen. If there is a camera "spectrum" then this camera sites near the opposite end from my GH5's. It's enormous, bulky and has almost half the resolution of my current cameras. I know from experience that it's no great shakes when used at ISOs over 400. And I can tell you that the total package is not audibly subtle in actual use....

On the other hand the 12 megapixels it does have are very well implemented. I remember shooting images that my art director friends blew up to mural size (6x9 feet) for the Austin Chamber of Commerce and I remember that we all went "ooooh" and "ahhhh" when we saw the work printed. The camera is fast to operate, has a healthy buffer and makes uncompressed raw images that (when shot at ISO 100-200) punch well above their size. In fact, re-reading the press of the time it was generally acknowledged that files from the D2XS's APS-C sensor were more convincing than those from its closest rival, the full frame, 16 megapixel Canon 1DSmk2.

I've charged the battery, mounted the 105mm f2.5 and cued up the older 85mm f1.8 ai lens for when I figure out that the 105 is just too long for my portrait style; given the cropped sensor. It's on a tripod in the studio right now awaiting a portrait session with a favorite model.

During a bit of down time this afternoon I looked through the files and tossed a few DVDs into the computer and took another look at the files that I'd been able to get out of the same model camera back in 2007 and 2008. They looked really, really good. Meaty tonality and really accurate color. I grabbed a couple of my favorite photos from each folder and re-processed the raw files through Adobe Camera Raw (the latest iteration) and was pleased to see that newer and more powerful software was able to pull out a lot more from the files that Nikon Capture and Bibble had given me a decade ago. It made this fossil of a camera seem to spark up.

Now I am not so convinced that, other than high ISO performance, the progress in cameras has been as stunning and climactic as we may have been collectively led to believe. I'll start shooting some portraits with this ancient camera and let you know what I think. It seems like saving all those big CF cards from an earlier time wasn't such a mistake after all.

$275. I've had more expensive dinners with my spouse. Paid a lot more than that for crappy point and shoot cameras. Spent that much last month on a big V90 SD card. Etc. Etc.

If you want to scratch a camera itch maybe your next assignment could be to go retro and see just what can be accomplished by a camera from a previous decade, placed in the hands of skilled user. The process might just be a blast. That's my challenge to VSL readers today.


Do you have a favorite "historic" camera from a decade ago? If you were to go back and pick up one that you really loved shooting in the day,  which one would it be?

It's amazing to look at what people are getting rid of. Let's see if the D2XS performance matches my memory of it as a good studio camera. If not, what have I really lost?
💬

30 comments:

  1. Oh.I have been looking at my old Kodak P880P and Olympus C-750uz

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  2. I recently sold my D700 thus ending my FF engagement. As it happened I got back my old D70s from my daughter who wasn't using it anymore. Well all that Nikkor glass I had in the store room was crying out to be used. I've shot a few images with my 85mm f1.8, 50mm f1.4 and 28 f2.8. The files are so juicy and sharp. I know better than to go above 400ISO but will enjoy this camera for what it excels at. I haven't done an AB test between the G85 and the D70s yet but will once our deep freeze is over.

    Thanks for bring some sanity back to the marketing treadmill that is the current camera wars.

    Eric

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  3. At a couple notches or more below the Nikon you found, I picked up a Fujifilm S5 Pro a month ago. It has the Nikon lens mount, and I had several Nikkors. A clearance item at a little over $100, but in very good condition, fully functional. Known principally for the odd sensor which allowed an expanded DR, especially for retaining details in highlights, and for good color, skin tones, for portraits and weddings. Interesting to play with, looking forward to being in a portraiture situation where it can strut its stuff. Fun! BTW I was astonished by the costs for CF cards, especially lower capacity ones that once were quite cheap.

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  4. My first digital camera was a Canon EOS D-30. Had a lot of fun with that camera and was happy with it for a couple of years.

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  5. I loved my D2x the colour profile has never been beaten imo.I still use a D700 a lot and love it in fact a 2nd body isn't out of the question and I know this is hard to believe but never had a client complain about lack of pickles or ancient technology

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  6. The D700 is nearly a decade old, though it was probably around 2010 when I bought one. I took more with that than anything else, and loved it.

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  7. Uh - that's a tricky one. I did start out with a Canon 30D back in 2006 and added a Canon 1Ds Mark II to the arsenal around 2008, and while the 1Ds definitely created some beautiful files, I never really made peace with its always-use-both-hands user interface and the exceptionally crappy screen it had.

    I sold off the 1Ds after upgrading to my current workhorse (Nikon D610) a little more than four years ago but actually kept the 30D and have used it for my family pictures now and then. The last session was a very impromptu portrait session with my teenage daughter a week ago, where the 30D was coupled with an adapted Asahi Pentax Super Takumar 55mm f/1.8 from around 1965 and for the intended use (an invitation), the files were beautiful.

    Still, my all time favourite camera is definitely my Nikon D610, especially when coupled with the Nikon f/1.8G lenses (love the 85 mm) - relatively light, compact and creating beautiful files that still makes my clients happy.

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  8. Kirk.

    I still have one of these with the 17-55 f2.8. Plus a 105mm f2.8 Sigma macro lens.

    I was going to try and sell it, but its not worth a lot. I bought it second hand in the first place with only 2000 shutter actuations on it. It was purchased from Grays of Westminster in London, you may have heard of them. It has good memories, if a camera can have that.

    It big and heavy compared with my M43 cameras, I had the G5, GX7, GX8 and now the G9. Oh , and about 2000 shots per charge, the battery is enormous.

    However with good lighting its possible to get some truly wonderful quality images. The sensor hit the sweet spot for the time it was made.

    You could also drive nails in with it !!

    All the best from the UK.

    Frank Langford



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  9. Hi Kirk, an Olympus E20 sits in my dinig room to take pictures of dishes with two flashes, - built in for front and FL40 to the ceiling. Bought it here in Austria for € 60 incl. wide angle adapter and flash. Also use Sony R1, an old friend of Yours.
    Much fun for very little money.
    Your blog gives me a lot of joy day per day.

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  10. I have gear envy. That is a mint looking example ! Lovely. And your points are well made.

    It is a little newer, but I was looking at some D700 files in their 12mp FF loveliness the other day. They still look great.

    Granted the high ISO performance of cameras these days is a big step forward but given good light, there is nothing wrong with the old stuff. If you have little need for high ISO work the new cameras are hard to justify.

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  11. What a bargain, the other good aspect of this camera is that it should help to build your swimming muscles because of the weight of this monster. But, really it was a great camera, I tried my friend's Nikon years ago...very nice camera.

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  12. Like blood from a fresh knife wound?!?!? Really, are you in the middle of your second book?

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  13. You are full of pleasant surprises Kirk. I gave up on trying to keep up with the rat race. I just can't decide what I want-mirrorless, stay with Nikon, FF? It's just too much and there's no way I can keep up financially so I stopped worrying about it and I'm sticking with what I have for now. That would be a Nikon D300 with some decent lenses. Throw in the wonderful little Sony RX100, first version, as a pocket cam, and my iPhone 7+ for 4k video and I'm good. Still have my 6mp Nikon D50 and still use it once in a blue moon as a nostalgia piece and the files still look pretty darn good. I'm planning a trip to Europe in July and I am contemplating shooting film only. It might be a bit of a pain to travel with all that film and then there is the processing (ugh) but I just might do it. Europe on film sounds tantalizing.

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  14. "and no idea why I'd bought it"
    Because you like to play. No need to justify it in any other way.

    (I've got a drawer full of old camerae (Latin for room, so is this the correct plural form?) that defy rationalization.)

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  15. Nice way to scratch that itch without a lot of money!
    But how do you print 6'x9' from 12 megapixels without pixels the size of baseballs?

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  16. You are a compulsive equipment junkie, Kirk.

    My own favorite was the original Canon 5D. I used one for eight years, and those files still look beautiful. However, it was impossible to keep the sensor totally clean, and I spent countless hours zapping out dust spots from the skies in my architectural photos. I will not own another camera without automatic sensor cleaning.

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  17. I'v gone m4/3 for the last few years of my photo obsession. Once in awhile I charge the battery (the original) of my ancient Nikon D2H mount the 50mm f1.4 or maybe the 35mm f2. I like the monochrome results the camera gives me. Better than the color in my opinion. The camera is bulky, heavy and feels great in the hand- 4 mp never looked so good. But not for more than a couple of hours. Walking around our small town it just feels good to exercise that camera and have a good walk. Sounds like an assignment I like- shoot that "old" camera for a few weeks and see if old vs new really results in any significant improvement.
    Good blog entry today- I'm sure we all have had the itch for the new when our old was new and exciting at one time.

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  18. Nikon D50 - my first DSLR I bought in 2005 - remains a quiet resident of one of my drawers. I believe it would be still able to gain traction with me when put to use again (it has been capable of delivering nice IQ at least when not stretched too far beyond base ISO).

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  19. I could see it now. The blogosphere declares that Kirk has moved back to Nikon!

    I've been collecting some old Olympus digital cameras for a while now. Great fun at bargain prices and it does scratch the G.A.S. itch.

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  20. My Sony R-1, besides for having great mojo, is the coolest looking camera that I have and it has bigger buttons on the back than my G85 making it a better cold weather camera when wearing gloves. And while I think that for me lens size is more of an issue than camera size that D2Xs looks like I might not want to carry it around all day.

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  21. When I can"t buy what I want, I buy something else. In Psych 102, I think this behavior was called displacement :-)

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  22. This moved me to dig out my venerable Sony R-1 -- a camera I resisted buying until it was thoroughly obsolete and affordable as a toy.

    If Sony had fixed the RAW shooting speed I would have bought it new, and if they had continued the series I might never have owned a DSLR. Instead I spent a thoroughly unhappy time with Nikon and then a somewhat happier time with Olympus before I pounced on the first mirrorless Panasonic as soon as I could get my hands on one. Despite periods of infidelity with Nikon (D800) and Sony (A99 and A7r) I keep coming back to Panasonic and it keeps working for me.

    Pondering the R-1 I wonder where we might be in photography if Sony had never bought Minolta and stayed on their own course. They did some very interesting things back in the early days of digital.

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  23. I still miss my Leica IIIg. I could carry two bodies, five lenses, and a few rolls of film in a Benser Case about the size and weight as a six pack of beer.

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  24. Thank you for a note of sanity about the constant upgrade rat race in digital cameras. I detect that more and more people are concluding that the old camera they already have is more than adequate and they have no interest in upgrading. But this does not bode well for camera and gear makers. I recently looked at my "only"-10-megapixel files from a Sony R-1, and they look fine to me.

    As for your question about re-buying a camera from 10 years ago: I bought another Rolleiflex 3.5E to replace one I should have never sold in the mid-2000s. And after CLA and a new finder screen, this newer 'flex cost a bundle, but it is astonishing optically, especially with "obsolete" Panatomic-X film (shot at ISO 20 and developed in Rodinal).

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  25. I found a Vivitar 200mm Nikon f mount - made by Komine. It arrived and looked new. Likely an unsold unit sitting around a camera shop for a long time. I found a guy in Michigan who still does AI conversions and for an additional $35.00 got a lens that renders pretty good images on my D7200...

    Yes, it's manual...
    Yes, its only got a few lens elements...
    Yes, its built like a tank

    It works...

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  26. Kirk, got to say I loved this post. I have always had regrets every time I sold a camera, but none as much than when I let my D700 go for a D800. Never really cared for the D800 as much as the D700. Not really sure why, just didn't. The files ate up my hard drives and slowed down my processing time. Subsequently sold it, and bought a D750, which I have been reasonably happy with. Not quite as much as the D700. I have reached the point in life, and photography where equipment really doesn't matter. I take mostly travel images, and make my own personal books after each trip. My keeper ratio has improved, but not because of better gear. I just understand my cameras and the interaction with light much better. Old gear is still great, love it. Your work is terrific, keep it up. Eric

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  27. Recently went for a walk with my old Panasonic L1. Picked it up late 2007, when on a long business trip in Texas. Amazon were selling them off for $800, when £1 bought $2. I bought it for the lens.... It’s a quirky old thing, but produced some nice results (and still does).

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  28. Nice pickup.
    Integrated grip, color and responsiveness should be great.
    I've got a D70S as a backup if I don't want to use the shutter of my D600.

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  29. Still earning a living with my D700, D300, D7000 combo. Always on the lookout for another used 700 at the right price. Nikon got it right with that camera.

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