Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ten years in a life, through the lenses of five different cameras

Writing the camera post yesterday, I realized I had come full circle on digital cameras.

Ten years ago in late 2001 (I don't remember what month), I bought my first "useful" digital camera; meaning it could take a picture large enough, and at high enough quality, that I didn't need to scan developed film or prints to post online anymore. 

A few years ago I wrote a post called "Camera lust" where I talked about my history with film cameras; but I didn't really touch on my digital history, except for the D80. 

I'd had digital cameras before late 2001, but they weren't particularly useful. There was no circumstance, including basic shots for web sites, where their output could be used without questioning the sanity and good taste of the person posting that picture. 

The very first digital camera I owned, was some ridiculous Sony Mavica that saved pictures to a floppy disk. Looking at google, I think it was an FD90... Which would line up, since I probably bought it in late 1999 or early 2000, when I was a boom imaginary millionaire. 

Frankly, I don't remember anything about it except it was expensive, never worked properly, and the photos were utter crap. I don't have any of the pics from that time period saved; and as I said, I don't really count it, as it wasn't a useful camera, it was a novelty item. 

That same year I got as a "techie stocking stuffer" a tiny little digicam the size of a zippo lighter, mounted on a key chain, that could take 8 really awful 640x480 photos. I remember it was something like $150, and they were sold at high end "gift" and novelty stores, techy stores and novelty web sites. 

Basically, these were toys, not really cameras. 

The camera I bought in 2001 replaced a Minolta Maxxum 3xi I'd had since I think '93 or so; and that honestly had never been that great (particular compared to the manual focus Nikon it replaced). But, combined with a decent scanner, I was able to take, and use, a lot of great photos with it (if not very quickly or conveniently).  It's what I started my first web design side business with all the way back in 1994 or '95... 

I actually kept the Minolta all the way up to 2004, when I sold it, and all my lenses filters and gear, with the plan of buying a DSLR (but I had a major financial hit and ended up waiting til late 2006); but I almost never used it from late 2001 on. 

As it happens, the camera that I bought in 2001 (after I'd been in Ireland for a few months), was, like the camera I just bought in 2011, a Fuji: The first of the FinePix big zoom cameras, the FinePix 2800 zoom; which, at the time, was $400 (I had the euro version which looked slightly different).

Honestly... it was a piece of crap. Almost all digital cameras were crap at the time, and this was among the best of them (as witnessed by the many 4 and 5 star reviews)... but it was still crap. 

I mean, it took pretty good photos, but the autofocus was awful ( and there was no manual focus), the flash was just as bad, if anything the autoexposure was worse, and the camera had the worst shutter lag... it would be about 2-3 seconds from button press to actual image capture. It used a proprietary image card scheme (with DRM that didn't work either) that had horrible performance and capacity and cost a fortune to boot; and it had a battery life of about 80 shots (on 4x AA batteries) without flash. 

It was a 2 megapixel camera, which had a theoretical zoom range of 38-228m at f2.8-4.8... but I just don't believe it, because the low light performance was utterly horrible. IT had a theoretical max shutter speed of 1/1500sec, but again I don't believe it because anything moving whatsoever was nothing but a blur. 

Oh and it had a "continuous drive"... of 1 shot per second, for two shots, at 320x240.

It was also the first digital camera with both zoom, and video (though you couldn't use the zoom with the video. When you went into video mode the lens would pull in to minimum zoom); with the ability to take a 320x240 videos with sound, up to 60 seconds long, none of which were ever in focus. 

All that said, I took a lot of good pictures with it for the less than a year I had it.

These pics were taken at my house in Bray, Co. Wicklow, Ireland; one night in January 2002, after too many bottles of wine... Wolf blass cab shiraz blend I believe... a '98 maybe?  Very good year that  (date and camera verified with EXIF data. All pics are unedited from the camera, click to enlarge):

My friend Imogene, in a pic I later used as the basis for some artistic photo editing work 

My friend Ronan, playing with his sword.

Imogene again, in what is probably my favorite pic of her ever; having just fallen asleep.

Me, "surrendering" to Imogene behind the camera

Funny enough, I still have that knife (or rather Mel does. I gave it to her as a gift), AND that shirt, and those stuffed animals in the background. And yes, I do look exactly the same today only fatter and with a shaved head. My family reach a certain appearance, and then seem to stop aging for about 30 years. 

These were taken in Wexford a few days later:

A beautiful young lady named Carmel, just before her 18th birthday (literally. It was the next day). In this shot she reminds me of Liv Tyler. 

Carmel again, looking far younger than 18... though the picture was just a minute after the previous.

My friend "Hec" (actually his name is Dave, but everyone calls him Hec) later that night.

And Aiden, whose parents house down the seaside we were all crashing in that stormy weekend. For those of you who know my stories about Ireland, yes, this is little gay Aiden (and yes, this was THAT night... and those are my stuffed animals too).

Here are some pics from Glendalough a few months later... including some of the what I think are the best photographs I've ever taken... I'll let them speak for themselves:

I had the 2800z less than a year, because it broke three times in 9 months, and eventually the factory replaced it for me under warranty with the replacement model, the FinePix 3800/S304 (I had the european version, the S304), which at the time would have cost me $400:

The 3800 was a better camera in every way; but still, not so great. It had all the problems of the 2800z, just less so. It definitely got in the way less of getting good photos.

It was a 3 megapixel camera, with the same lens range but worse aperture, same 1/2.7" sensor size (tiny),  same awful battery life... though it could at least do 2 frames per second for 2 seconds. 

Again though, you could take good photos with it. 

These are pictures I took in New Yorks Central Park at the end of 2003.

The Beresford, central park west; from the turtle pond near Belvedere castle: 

The wooden bridges in the ramble

I also had the 3800 for about a year before it broke for good; though it was my best friend Jim who ended up breaking it (he dropped it on the floor),  not a manufacturing defect. 

I replaced it with this HP Photosmart 935 right at the beginning of 2004; which, at the time cost (once again) $400:

At the time it was the best camera HP was selling... Yeah I know, buying a camera from HP? I needed a digital camera that day,  I was going on a trip to the Utah canyonlands and my other camera was broken; and it was the best thing they had at Best Buy that I could afford.

As it happens, these cameras were made for HP by Pentax, and they were pretty decent. A hell of a lot of web designers at the time were populating their sites with photos from these cameras. 

The 935 was a 5 megapixel camera,  with a 1/1.8" sensor (pretty good for the time, and for these days for that matter, especially since it's 1/3 the pixels they squeeze into such a small area today), auto ISO up to 400, a zoom range of 37-111 ad f2.6-4.8; and it shutter priority, and aperture priority. Like the Fuji before it, it could record short film clips, but at least at 640x480. Still had the short battery life, with AA batteries though (maybe 250 shots with lithiums).

For compact cameras at the time, this was really good; and again, it was a five star reviewed item. I was certainly able to get a lot of good shots with it for several years:

The Utah Canyonlands, March 2004:

I climbed those rocks by the way. As late as 2005, I was still pretty fit on the days my knees were cooperating. I actually did the river trail up Zion canyon in water up to my waist on that trip. 

Me, visting my aunt Helen and family in New Hampshire in 2004.

Two of my three youngest cousins, Madison and Bailey (the daughters of my aunt Maureen).

Madison (who is now 14... good lord...)

And Bailey (who is now 11, and still has a goofy grin by the way)

And Hunter, who was I think 13 months old then?

The aunt on the swing with me is Maureen, the aunt at my feet is Helen, and the one looking too cool for school there is my cousin Caitlin (who is 6 years younger than me).

Me, actually in the same shirt as above) with my Mother and Grandmother,  in late 2004 after moving my mother into her new house (you can see here, the weight gain seems to have started). 

Some pics of the family from early 2006

Again, these are all original, from the camera shots; so some would benefit from some cropping and some exposure and white balance correction. 

I had the HP up til late 2006, when I got my DSLR, the now dead Nikon D80:

Basically, other than cellphone pics, until yesterday every pic I've taken and posted on the blog since October of 2006 was taken with the D80; most of them with the 18-135mm kit lens. 

And that brings us up to yesterday, when I bought a new Fuji HS20; which I'm looking forward to taking some great photos with.

It's amazing how far digital cameras have come in the last 10 years... from 1 megapixel to 16, with 710mm zoom lenses, and full high definition video... It's a different world.

You can click here to see a feature comparison of all the digital cameras I've shot with over the past ten years... the changes are just amazing (once again, provided by from whom I also got some of the review pics above).

Since there are so many shots from the D80 here; and since I haven't had a chance to take many interesting shots with the HS20 yet... I think I'll just close up with these couple shots of my family... far the biggest and most important thing to happen to me in the last 10 years: