Have you seen my digicam, lately ?
As an aging hipster, or is that hickster ? I can’t decide sometimes if my Southern drawl disqualifies me from the former. Where was I ? Ever heard of a digicam ? It’s some weird pronunciation of “Digital Camera” that is code for anything from the early 2000s as digital cameras entered the market, and is noted for its use of CCD sensors and sometimes good – but mostly meh – lenses. The list of manufacturers is endless, with Vivitar, Kodak, Fujifilm, Yashica, Olympus, and Nikon all jumping on that bandwagon. They’re nearly all zoom lens cameras, either digital or optical. I remember searching for “Optical” zoom lenses when I was big into digital cameras. I still think the Kodak Z740 was an amazing camera.
So what’s the big deal ?
They’re making a comeback. Yeah, I had to read that twice as I was typing, but there is a movement devoted to using only early digital cameras for their aesthetic qualities. Some say they have a film quality, others that the CCD has better colors than modern CMOS sensors. They may have a point since even the first Leica digital had a CCD. Of course, they might fail to mention the color banding and chromatic aberration of CCDs, but “yo, it’s more like film, bro!”
No, not in the slightest. It might have a lens quality similar to point-and-shoot film cameras, yes, but a competitor to a film camera it is not. With these old CCD sensors there is a lot of magenta shift and blown highlights, at least on some earlier ones. The later models peaking around 10-12megapixel are actually pretty sweet but still not even close to wiggling my biscuits the way film does.
Down to the crossroads
They meet at the crossroads of price and availability, two things that are currently kicking film’s ass right now. A 36 shot roll of color C41 film is roughly $9-$15 US at the time of this writing. Add in $8-$15 for development and scans and you’ve got what it costs to buy a Fujifilm Finepix from 15 years ago that actually makes some damn fine images. Toss them into Adobe Lightroom, crank the grain setting, drop the blacks and pump the shadows, and you’ve got a retro analog look. It’s hard not to see that Kodak and other film manufacturers might be seeing a repeat of the early 2000s switch from film to digital.
It’s not just film that’s expensive, either. A Pentax K1000 or Nikon F3 on eBay — one that doesn’t have a lot of “READ**” or “UNTESTED” in the subheadings — is hovering between $200-$400! Film cameras have exponentially gone up in price tenfold since I got back into film in 2015. I bought my Olympus mju for $4.99 at City Thrift in Memphis in 2017 and sold it for over a hundred bucks 2 years later!
It’s film’s fault, really. No, seriously. There was a resurgence in film photography over the last decade and it’s drawn a lot of folks — including some of us Gen-Xers – back into the market. Of course, we’re older and a lot more successful now, with more disposable income than when we were in our twenties, so film camera prices aren’t as big of a shock to us, financially.
Those damn hipsters
I can’t just blame the film. Those damn hipsters, me included, gobbled up film cameras left and right, snapped up all the film back when it was cheap, and crammed our Instagram, 500px, Flickr, and Facebook feeds with cool over-saturated over-processed images, all while sitting back like we just took a huge hit from the hookah, smoothly proselytizing in our best Cheech and Chong voices “yo, film is the way to go, man.” And yeah, film is amazing and sometimes it takes a shortage of it, or an over-saturated digital camera market full of a dizzying array of choices putting us on our heels, to run back to the simplicity of it. But it came at a cost, both good and bad.
A Salvage Economy
So why not the modern digital market for cameras ? Have you seen Mirrorless camera prices ? Even second-hand you’re looking at hundreds of dollars. Those in a lower economic bracket, or first starting out in photography aren’t necessarily ready, willing, or financially capable of dropping that sort of money on new tech or popular film cameras. So there’s a secondary market for old digital cameras, and that’s actually a good thing!
Digital electronics contain heavy metals and other toxic chemicals. These end up in landfills to eventually degrade and poison water supplies, or are shipped off to third-world countries to be picked apart for their valuable parts to be resold or repurposed. Either way there is a community negatively impacted. Putting these old cameras out on the market again before sending them to the landfill fills a demand both for the seller and the buyer. It’s basic economics, but I’d like to think of it as salvage economics. Let’s keep these cameras out of landfills for the next decade. By then, the recycling processes might be even better than today, and there will be a Camera Recycling center near you and me.
And so here we are in 2023, film is scarce and expensive. Well, more expensive than scarce. Digital cameras are expensive, and everybody’s mom or dad has an old
digicam in a drawer or on a shelf that just needs an SD card and some new batteries to make this next gen of photographers start out cool and learning.
Not Hyperbole, Not Meiosis
This isn’t good or bad, left or right, up or down, great taste or less filling. It’s alternative. There are some very talented digicam shooters out there. Even I broke out my crappy plastic, battery-sucking, shutter-laggy Takashi FX521 and joined a Facebook group devoted to digicam photography. I’ve shot more — digital and film — in the last week than I shot all of last year.
I’m in a good place. Thanks Digicam!
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