Re-learning the joys of a "Beater" camera. Who cares if it gets wet? Exploring the urban landscape with a twelve year old camera...

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?


  1. Read this at 1805 and at 1806 went Fred M and what is the first listing?

    "I'm putting my classic 1D up for sale" at $375...

  2. For me, 2010 was the year when digital cameras became "good enough". I've never spent more than $1000 on a camera body, so I've never ventured into the world of the mega DSLRs and their cutting edge tech. However, back in 2010, I was intrigued enough to dip my toe into the world of mirrorless cameras. I bought a Sony NEX-3 that year and still use that camera to this day. 14 megapixels ... images look good on Instagram or Facebook ... 4x6 prints hold up really well. I have newer and "better" cameras, but that NEX-3 still rides along in my bag sometimes as my second camera, usually with 16mm + fisheye adapter attached. It's a little tank.

  3. I found a working copy of the very first film camera I owned, a Pentax H1a, and had so much fun using it that I thought it would be interesting to find copies of every model I have ever owned or at least my favorites.

  4. Nice images. The Nikon D1 and D2H which I bought used are as capable in good light and even older. The D1 is from 1999 I think and has only 2.7 MP and the D2H has 4.1 MP, but is nice for sports with 8 frames per second which is more than enough for almost anything.

  5. Last December, I needed to shoot some family group potraits for our annual holiday card. Instead of reaching for my beloved m43 Lumix GX7, which is already two models old and got me salivating for the new G9, I grabbed my 12MP EOS 5D classic with the trusty 70-200 f2,8IS lens mounted.

    The lighting was perfect at our nearby Pacific Ocean facing beach, as the rich, warm colors of the setting sun captured the kids and our two Samoyeds in all their splendor, with perfectly soft bokeh of the pier and the waves in the background.

    Judging by the reaction of those who received our cards, this was by far the best family photo they had seen taken by me. And they would never have guessed it was created with a 12 year old camera.

    I now have a newly rediscovered toy to play with, and I didn’t have to pay a penny. What a bargain!

  6. Kirk...you are on to something.

    Just looking at your photos I see a little more playfulness in them today. Using cheap gear and just enjoying yourself has its own liberating effect on a person's photography. I contrast that to your posts where you have to sweat technical requirements to put something into a 4k uber ninja special crop format for a client. It is the same joy you have in those Panasonic G85 posts versus the serious Sony A7 posts.

    I just took a step back and cut my gear expenses by over half. I find the same joy when the file opens up and it just works..and the van gets paid off early so I have a double bonus in happiness.

    Thanks form the fun and informative posts. It helps remind me to think about developing skills over tech every day.

  7. Ha, ha! Love your posts. Just bought the 'old' Panasonic G85 with the now obsolete 16 megapixles sensor. Love how the G85 handles, as well as it's output.

    Seriously, thank you for being a voice of humor and sanity!

  8. To paraphrase Mae West - it it not the number of pixels that matters, it is the quality of thos pixels.

  9. I picked up a Sony F717 about a year back for about $40 and I'm just in love with the 5 megapixel files. The built in zeiss lens is just insanely sharp and there is something about the color rendering of that sensor. I remember drooling over the futuristic (for 1999 anyway) space age design way back when it was released, but the $1000+ price was way out of range during my college days. It's strictly an iso 100 camera and the operations are a bit slow, but it's just so fun to use.

    jus like you, the danger is that it made me curious about other forgotten cameras that may have unique visual signatures...


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