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Wednesday, March 3 Front Page >> Mixelania >> Digicam Things >> Digital Cameras

My Digital Camera History
June 2002

Ever since I saw the Epson PhotoPC digital camera back in 1996, I knew I had to get one of these things. I was once on the vanguard of new technology in cameras when I was the proud owner of a Minolta Maxxum 7000i camera in 1989 (one of the first successful auto focus SLRs), but that seemed like a long time ago. Being a digital veteran by this point (okay, so I was still learning Photoshop...), digital was where it was at. Or so I thought.

Digicam History

I bought my first digital camera, that very same Epson PhotoPC, from the guy who let me fool around with it. The price was obscene, but then again, so were most of the prices for the available digicams of the day. One thing about digital cameras: gratification is instant. Satisfaction? Short lived.And it took horrible photos. I'm so embarrassed by the image quality etc, that I don't even want to show a picture of it.

Epson PhotoPC600
Within months of getting the PhotoPC, I sold it and bought an Epson PhotoPC 600. Things were really looking up. The price I paid was about $300 below retail because (sorry to say this), someone bought one and then went into financial trouble and needed a quick cash fix. I helped them out, but also got the advantage of paying a lot less for it than the going price.

The featureset was much better than the original PPC camera, but there were still things lacking. Image quality wasn't the greatest - okay for screen, but really poor for print work. Far too many CCD artifacts existed in the pictures (where the digicam's CCD can't determine accurate colors, so it approximates them through a semi-halftone pattern of primaries).  Still, for the time and era, the PhotoPC 600 was a serious contender for the top of the digital camera heap. With companies like Nikon putting out the joke called the CoolPix300, Minolta putting out the Dimage V (VGA still, Minolta? Sheesh, for a company that singlehandedly created the Auto Focus SLR market, you sure dropped the ball in digicams), and other similarly bad cameras of the time, the Epson was near the king of the hill with the near 1mpixel resolution and featureset.

Sidenote. As I went to update this page, I visited Epson's support page for the PC600. BIG time kudos to Epson for still releasing updates and new drivers and software for the camera, bringing it up to speed with Windows XP and Mac OSX. Kudos big time!

Olympus C-2020
But soon I wanted more. I started lusting after certain cameras - the Olympus Cameras (Olys) and their D600L tour de force were particularly impressive. But by the time I actually had some money to spend on a good digicam, the D600L's time had come and gone.

My next digicam of choice was the Olympus C-2020 camera, which was a technological quantum leap for me in digital camera technology. For the first time, I had a digital camera that had more capabilities and "customizations" than any SLR I owned.

The Oly had everything I was looking for... almost.

  • Fully automatic of fully manual, your choice.

  • Awesome wireless remote that was a real boon to my increasing hobby of still life photography and macro photography.

  • Nice fast lens.

  • The ability to accept threaded attachments.

  • The ability to use external flash.

  • Tons of little tinker-toys built into the camera's internal software that let me really experiment with the pictures I took.

I liked the camera, and I wrote a review at Epinions on it, calling it the best 2.1mpixel camera out there. In many cases it was. The Nikon 950 was the choice for many, but the lack of real manual modes and the limiting of Aperture Priority mode to only 3 settings was a let down for me with Nikon (soon, Nikon would "get it"). The Oly rocked, and a lot of the older photos over at www.coffeekid.com are taken with it.

There were a few things I was not happy with on the Oly. I wasn't a big fan of the Smart Media choice for image storage (though SM cards still amaze me with the size they are). The lack of USB support was a serious omission. I also didn't like how you couldn't just dial Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or Manual on the command dial - you had to go to ASM, then pick the setting you wanted on the back of the camera. I also wasn't real crazy about the Ergonomics.

But I sure did like (and miss) that wireless remote.

As a side note, it seemed to me at that stage that many digital camera makers were really struggling to find the "new form factor" that digital cameras are expected to have. At the time, they were still working on it. Today, we have more refined designs, and cameras like the Sony 707 and Nikon 5700 feel good while remaining small and different. But even today, we still have the occasional goof up, like the positioning of the lens strap buckle on the new Coolpix 4500 - positioned right where your index finger's underside rests while snapping photos. Bad design ergonomics.

Sony F505V
I used the Oly for over a year and was generally very happy with the camera overall. But as new technology came out, I started to lust again. Thanks to my company, I briefly owned and used a Sony F505V, and while the lens and camera layout and design were amazing, the image quality was a joke - Sony was at the time was still tied to the idea that an image should fit on a floppy disk, and the best quality images from this camera still compressed too much in the jpeg algorithm, leaving artifact-heavy images. I quickly resold the camera (at a small loss) and did a LOT of research picking my next digicam.

And it came down to a company that finally found out that digital camera technology was worthy of the attention they gave to their traditional SLR camera technology: Nikon.

Nikon Coolpix 990
As I mentioned above, there were many reasons why I didn't choose the Nikon CP950 camera when I was researching the Oly C2020. When Nikon released their CP990 camera, almost all of the complaints I had were fixed, So I bought one. Initially, I was really happy with the camera, and completely blown away by some of the features, like the macro abilities. Nothing on the market can do macro like the Nikon CP990 can, out of the box at least. The ability to focus down to 0.8 of an inch, the ability to have a focal plane of less than 2mm is amazing. The Nikon CP990, out of the box, can take photographs of things you cannot see with your naked eye.  Pretty cool stuff.

The image quality was amazing too. For the first time, I had a digital camera that could do quality 4x6 prints that, tied in with a capable printer (HP 882 Pro, or the Epson 870 Photo Printer) could produce photos that the average person would find impossible to distinguish between traditional film photographs. Even 8x10s were great with some tweaking in Photoshop.

I cannot say that I am still a huge fan of the camera though. There's a lot of things I tolerate about it, and there's a few things that I cannot stand about it. I guess the worst goes first - I really missed the Oly's wireless remote, so I shelled out the $150 for Nikon's incredible rip off of a wired remote cable. The thing rarely works, and it even crashes my camera at times. Feedback is slow, and half the time you click the shutter, nothing happens. I felt royally screwed by Nikon by this "accessory".

Other things I tolerated on the camera include the almost-constant red eye (thanks to the close proximity of the flash to the lens), the cost of some accessories, and the massive amount of featuritis that has gone into the camera. The camera really does everything possible with a digicam, and has a LOT of specialty settings, but the problem is you have to dig through reams and reams of LCD menus to do some of them. Things that should be one or two button presses (like presetting the white balance) are buried levels deep in the menu system. I found myself looking wistfully at times towards the Olympus E20, a camera way out of my price range, that puts 90% or more of the camera's functionality into analogue (ie, buttons or wheels) outside the LCD menu. Nikon designers still hadn't quite "got it" by this camera's inception. They need to read a book called "The Design of Everyday Things" and understand that featuritis must stop at some point.

I guess I sound negative, but only because I felt burned by the $150 remote cable that was previously wireless and FREE in my Oly 2020 camera. Overall, the camera's picture quality continues to blow me away, and the 5 segment auto focus feature, the accurate white balance settings, the high speed modes, the matrix metering, the special features like slow flash sync, quick pic reviews, variable Speedlight settings (works really well with slave flashes once you find the sweet spot balance of reduced speedlite plus stopping the camera down a few stops to darken the image (made brighter again by the extra flash power)), and other features are a real boon.

But I kept this camera for quite some time. Almost 2 years, in fact.

Nikon F80 SLR
I guess because I was suffering from "far too much technology" inside the camera, back in 2001, I went back to my roots, as it were, and bought my first true SLR in some 9 years (I had long since gotten rid of the Maxxum cameras and my F4) - a Nikon F80 (N80 in the US). I'm a Nikon convert in the traditional SLR world, having owned a Nikon F4 for a few years until I was forced to sell it due to financial reasons.

I say I own it, but actually it is a more of a gift to Jeanette, my s/o. She has expressed a newfound interest in the hobby of photography, so together we're going to use this new SLR to share a hobby together, and get back into traditional picture taking. Why? Because just like some people prefer the old fashioned lever espresso machines over super automatic modern brewers, having a good old traditional 35mm camera just feels good. Of course, Nikon went and hard to go build the new D100, based on the F80, didn't they? Hrmmm, do I have $3200 Cdn dollars lying around someplace?

Click for larger image
Coolpix 2500
Finally, a point and shoot I can respect.

Nikon Coolpix 2500
I bought this bad boy based on a few things. First, Nikons take spectacular pictures, and their optics pack a punch, and I knew that, even though this camera was a budget point and shoot (I paid $440 Cdn for it, not much more than a quality film point and shoot), it still packed a wallop of features. I also bought it because, to be honest, I was getting a bit antsy over Jeanette borrowing my studio digicam (the Coolpix 990, and now the 4500).

The featureset impressed the crap out of me:

  • 3x Optical Zoom in a very  tiny package

  • Nikon's swivel platform with a new look. I'm totally sold on the swivel.

  • Takes CF cards and I got over 1.5 gb of them (for my CP990, my Pocket PC, etc).

  • Point and shoot for dummies - 12 preset modes, a true point and shoot with some flexibility, gotta love that for quick shots.

  • Some manual ability - okay, not much, but you can fine tune the white balance, picture modes, and more.

It's a nice, pocketable camera that I don't need to worry TOO much about. It doesn't approach the image quality of the CP990 (or the 4500), but it surpasses many other digital cameras, some costing twice as much. And it's cute. :)

Coolpix 4500
Coolpix 4500
My current digicam for doing my studio photos and more.

Nikon Coolpix 4500
This is my current (as of July 2002) digital camera. In fact, I just got it a week ago. It's more of an evolution over the 990 than a revolutionary camera. It is a 4 megapixel camera, has more refined controls, but Nikon is still making design mistakes with this camera, and featuritis rules over in the Nikon labs - this camera has 16 "preset" features on it. Yawn.

But I didn't buy it for that. I bought it for four main reasons: Nikon takes excellent, saturated pictures; Nikon's matrix metering and white balance modes are industry leading. This camera works equally well with my office iBook Macs and my PCs. Fourth, almost all my accessories for the previous Coolpix (except my ac adapter) work with this camera - my fisheye lens, telephoto lens, wide angle lens, filters, and yes, even the crappy, dreaded wired remote.

Lastly, I bought this camera because, well, I really wanted a Nikon D100, but I chickened out in the last minute over the price, the "newness" of it all, and well, the price. I may get one this fall, who knows.


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