I wasn't sure what to expect when I twisted a 55mm macro lens onto the front of my newly acquired, ancient D2XS camera and steered my car toward the my familiar stomping grounds. If the mainstream photo press (incuding bloggers, v-loggers, gear review sites and more) are to be believed then any camera older than a year is so fraught with technical deficiencies that it's mostly unusable for any photographic work more demanding than a quick social media post but I wanted to see for myself just how atrocious the files might look --- especially since I've had the opportunity to use much more modern cameras, like the Sony A7Rii and A7Riii as well as the Nikon D810. I was prepared for devastating disappointment.
As I left my car a light rain started falling but I decided to believe all the reviews I'd read in the distant past and left the camera and lens exposed to the elements to see if all the talk about "weather resistance" was bogus or an actual thing. By the time I'd walked the first mile a steady rain was being propelled toward me and my unprotected camera by a zippy north wind. Every once in a while I'd brush the accumulated water off the camera with my gloved hand and wipe my glasses clean with the front of my sweatshirt.
It was a dim and contrast deficient day. At ISO 200, using the lens at f4.0 and f2.8 the shutter speed mostly hovered around 1/125th. Sometimes higher, sometimes lower. The rain and cold were good disincentives for sidewalk traffic so downtown looked a bit deserted. A few brave food trailer operators were open for business but as I walked by there wasn't a customer in sight.
So, what did I find out about the decrepit and obsolete camera during and after my two hour long, outdoor adventure?
Well, first of all, I have to give credit to the camera and lens for not giving up the ghost because of the rain. Neither of them seemed worse for wear and when I removed the lens back at the studio there was no sign of water intrusion into the camera body or into the workings of the lens.
The two important controls on the camera; the exposure metering and the focusing screen passed all my tests. The meter seemed to accurately nail every situation I threw at it while the screen had enough bite to it to allow me to manually focus the lens, at wider apertures, with no front or back focused images. I didn't really test the camera's ability to do white balance as I used the "cloudy" preset and also because I used the raw file format.
During the course of my soggy walk I shot about 150 images and chimped a little bit but the battery indicator didn't budge from 100%. After years of using Sony's dwarfish batteries I'd forgotten just how efficient the old DSLR cameras are with batteries; and also how big the batteries in the old pro cameras were.
The camera is hefty but as I'm generally only carrying one body, one lens and my favorite credit card (for necessary coffee and potential, emergency camera equipment purchases...) it was hardly overwhelming or overly burdensome.
The most pleasant part of the adventure was my triumphant return home with a still functional camera. I rarely subject my cameras to a couple hours of rain without some sort of protection since I actually buy my own cameras and can't just return them to a promoter or P.R. person with a shrug...
I plugged in a USB3 card reader and ingested the files I liked into Lightroom. Of course I was expecting them to be an unholy mess. I mean, really, the camera's sensor score didn't even top 60 on the DXO site!!! But surprise, surprise! The files were nice and rich. Detailed and sharp. Color neutral and tonally virtuous. It's almost like I shot everything with a current APS-C camera.
While I didn't test it today I am sure that modern cameras will outperform this old professional tool as soon as the ISO starts to rise. But, to my eye, keeping the camera between 100 and 320 ISO means getting files that rival current higher end tools in everything but sheer resolution.
This revelation, that ancient top-of-the-line cameras can be as effective (in a smaller operational envelope) as current cameras is dangerous. Dangerous for me and, I think, dangerous to the camera makers.
The danger to me is that my wily brain will now start to fabricate reasons to buy alternate lenses so I can "explore the vast potential of old tech..." I'm already unearthing stuff from the cabinets that I overlooked in the last giant Nikon purge. I'm already scrubbing through the Precision-Camera.com website, looking for locally available bargain glass (after all, if the old cameras are this good how might the older lenses fair?).
The danger to camera makers might be an wider awakening to the idea that (other than lower high ISO noise) not much has really fundamentally changed in camera I.Q. over the last five or seven or ten years and maybe it makes more sense for cash strapped, potential professionals to mine the junk yards of the retail camera world to find that cast-offs from that coterie of buyers who have an insatiable need for the newest and greatest stuff.
As someone who until recently made most of my income taking portraits the thought had crossed my mind that a couple of these old D2XS cameras and some select older glass would be more than adequate for just about any real business need. And would be available for a song... I'd miss things like eye detection AF, and, of course all the art modes but if push came to shove you could make the old stuff work for just about anything the newer cameras can do. Need bigger files? There's a menu item in PhotoShop for that...... For now I think I'll just be happy with the new toy and stop wasting money on these kinds of nostalgic adventures....... But I did happen to see a copy of my very first Nikon interchangeable lens digital camera on a used shelf. It was a D100 for about $95. I wonder how that one is holding up?