Saturday, 25 February 2017

Ten years of digital photography

It was ten years ago today, Sunday 25 February 2007, that I bought my first proper digital camera (mobile phone doesn't count!). The Nikon D80 was a mid-range digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera, with a 12.1 megapixel sensor. I traded in the kit lens it came with (an 18-135mm zoom) for a more useful 18-200mm zoom, which broke in December 2012 after five and half years of almost-daily use.

Not long after, the D80 body itself packed up. Now it's worthless - a collection of partially-working bits that could theoretically be used to repair another D80, which in any case would be worth little, being worse in every possible way than what's what's on the market today. [Movie prop?] So, unlike old film cameras, which will keep on working for as long as film is produced, this former digital wonder is fit only for recycling.

Below: museum piece, unused for over four years. Shutter still works, but card reader no longer 'sees' SD card; menu on rear screen works, but playback doesn't.

I replaced the D80 as my principal DSLR with a newer, smaller, lighter, better specced but bottom-of-the-range D3200 at that time, which itself replaced by the even more compact D3300 in December 2014. Now, my D3300 (24 megapixels) shares time around my neck with a compact Nikon CoolPix A and a superzoom bridge camera, the Nikon CoolPix P900. Each of the three has a specific purpose - the CoolPix A is a lightweight travel camera, great for the bike, great for landscapes; the P900 is for clear-skies shooting of distant objects - aircraft, wildlife, the moon. But the D3300 is the most universal, the fastest operating, the best all-round camera. The cheapest of Nikon's DSLRs, I can totally recommend it; the newer D3400 is a few grams lighter and can transfer images direct to your phone, but prices on the D3300 are some 500zł/ £100 lower.

The D80, which introduced me to digital photography, was much heavier (body-only 630g compared to 455g for the D3300) and together with the heavy (though universal) zoom lens it was quite a weight to carry around all day. But it did prove revolutionary. Before I bought the D80, my principal camera for many years was a Leica M6 rangefinder, sitting unused now since 2007, alongside my M2, M3 and Nikon FM2 (all owned since the 1980s). Shooting film might today seem cool, retro and hipsterish, but spending lots of money on film and processing, and waiting days to see the results is why digital beats film hands-down.

Over the 10 years since I bought the D80, four times as many photographs have been taken as during the entire course of human history, since  Nicéphore Niépce took the first photograph 1826 or 1827. It was only 25 years ago that the first photograph was posted on the internet. 2015 was the first year in which humans took more than one trillion photographs, up from 380 billion in 2011. How many will still be available to look at in 100 or 1,000 years time remains to be seen.

In the meantime, with over two billion mobile phones around the planet already boasting good cameras, the ability to capture images has reached pretty much every person that wants to capture images of the world around them. My first proper camera, a Nikon EM, cost £118 back in 1979, the equivalent to two week's pay in those days. The vastly more capable Nikon D3300 is currently available in the UK for £336, equivalent to three day's pay.

Having photos displayed on a computer screen is better than looking at paper prints, and of course with Photoshop you can adjust exposure, colour balance, perspective, as well as being creative. I do miss making those big 16" x 20" black and white prints, but for that you need a darkroom with smelly chemicals, a tall enlarger and space for large trays - developer, stop bath, fixer and water.

Less than six weeks after buying the D80, I took the decision to start a blog, but more about that on 1 April. Without that camera, I would not have started blogging.

I bought the camera at a Dixons Duty Free shop - can't remember whether it was at Heathrow or Luton - returned home, charged up the battery, read the manual while waiting, took a few test snaps in my room, long deleted, and went to sleep.

The next morning, I took the photo below from my window. Taken at 200 ISO (the fastest speed the D80 could go), f4.2 at 1/50th sec, lens at 31mm (46mm in 35mm/full-frame equivalent).

Below: Ten years after my first foray into digital. See the tree how big it's grown. Note also the new houses (under construction) to the left of the photo. Taken on my D3300 at 200 ISO, f4.2, but for some reason the shutter fired at 1/120th sec.

'Proper' camera sales are falling as the cameras in our phones get better optically and operationally. In 2013, nearly 14 million DSLRs were sold globally; by last year this had fallen to a little over 8 million. And sale of 'mirrorless' cameras (interchangeable lens but non-reflex, such as the Leica M10 or Sony A7) has remained static at 3 million units sold over those past four years.

My dream camera would be a full-frame mirrorless Nikon that will still be able to take Nikon F-mount lenses with a body that's much lighter and smaller than current DSLR bodies. The excellent Nikon D810, with its 36 megapixel sensor, weighs a mighty 965g (more than double the weight of the D3300 body). A full-frame body weighing around 500g would be perfect, thanks. Will buy.

This time last year:
Between atheism and creationism

This time two years ago:
A peek into the Afterlife
[the best piece I've written about my spiritual quest]

This time three years ago:
The new dupes of Moscow

This time four years ago:
Late-winter commuting, Jeziorki

This time five years ago:
My Nikon D80 five years on

This time six years ago:
My Nikon D80 four years on

This time eight years ago:
Nikon D80 two years on

This time nine years ago:
Nikon D80 one year on


Pan Rail said...

Processing the negatives takes only one hour in professional lab, e.g. in Foto Relax at Pasaż Wiecha. You can also order prints and scans.
Of course, for blogging digital is more versatile but having Leica and FM2 and not using it sounds to my ears like blasphemy ;-)

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Pan Rail

Yes! Foto Relax - I used to process my films there, have hundreds of envelopes with negs from that place. They take up as much space in the attic as about 50 1TB external hard drives :-)

My film cameras are up for sale :-)