Why use an old digital camera in 2021? (a short essay piece)

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NixonS Regular Member • Posts: 419
Why use an old digital camera in 2021? (a short essay piece)

Hi all, I thought I'd write a short little essay piece because I feel like it. I say 'essay,' but not in a literal sense if that makes sense. I mean it's going to be wordy and I'm going to say a lot of things that are just my opinions

I believe I am aiming to write this piece to a specific audience -- other beginner photographers like myself. But if you're more of an experienced photographer, or a professional, you might find what I'm about to say interesting if you have a moment spare to read.

The question I pose is, why use an old camera for photography in this current time, or the future perhaps? Today I'm using my Canon EOS 5D as an example.

Canon EOS 5D (the first)

This is a 15+ year old camera that I bought second hand from a camera store chain approx. 2 years ago. The reason I got it was firstly: the price. And secondly, it was to be my second camera body as a backup just in case anything happened to my T7i, the first digital camera I ever bought. The 5D costed $400, came with a second-hand warranty and two batteries + a charger. Before deciding to pull the trigger to buy it, I did a little research. It was ultimately Mattias Burlings' YouTube video that led to my decision. 2 years later, it's still an awesome photographic tool that I use for the majority of my photography. And I'll also explain why I use it more than my T7i, even though this a 15 year old camera with less overall features.

Not like your smartphone.

I mean that in a few ways. I think what the general consumer doesn't know is that older cameras don't become paperweights over time like many smartphones and other electronics do. After awhile, if the updates don't cripple your phone, the lack of updates will. And by that, I mean the updates can/may slow down the users phone. At the same time, at some point the user will stop receiving updates. And in a few years, that phone will not be able to use the latest apps. It's not exactly the same with computers as you can change parts, but some people will just buy a new computer if their current PC slows down or isn't as responsive as it used to be. With most cameras, the manufacturer may provide only one or two updates for their cameras throughout their entire production run.

This 5D here still takes photos without any hiccups. In fact, the only time it may slowdown a little is during playback. But the action of pressing the shutter button and getting a well exposed photo is instantaneous. I like to compare aged cameras to old video game consoles, I'm thinking of the Playstation 1 as an example. There's still a ton of people playing retro consoles, or playing 20+ year old games on emulators or modern consoles without any issues. These older consoles are made to last. Similarly, these old cameras were made to last, too. And as such, I'm still using it. With the only quirk being inherent to older 5D models: there's a chance the mirror might pop out as quite a few users have reported this strange occurrence. Apparently, a quick and easy fix is to just glue it back on, which I find quite funny

Here's some history about the 5D. It was the first lightweight full-frame DSLR that Canon had made up to that point, being released in 2005 and was priced at approximately $3300 USD. It's other full-frame offerings, the 1DS and 1DS Mark II were chunky, heavy and expensive DSLRs. It seemed as though the 5D was to the 1DS series back then, as the 6D is to the 5D today. The 5D was meant to be a 'more affordable' full frame option for the masses. And it has a very similar appearance to the Canon EOS 1V, a 35mm full-frame film SLR released 5 years earlier.

Since it's a DSLR, it offers a lot of advantages over a phone. Full manual control, multiple auto exposure modes, interchangeable lenses with hundreds of options to choose from, solid ergonomics, doesn't take a long time to power on (0.2 Sec), a very shallow depth of field with large aperture lenses, And the list can go on and on. Of course, the phone has it's own advantages. JPEG processing is very impressive, especially now with night sight or similar modes, as well as quick and effective HDR during auto mode. But I do know for my needs a DSLR is my tool of choice for photography. They say the best camera is the one you have with you. For me, that's the 5D as I take it out whenever I get the chance.

Better than a rebel?

Better in this case is quite subjective, as I don't use the features like WiFi or Bluetooth on my T7i. Nor do I use it's extensive creative auto modes. My preference is either shooting in Program or Manual, centre-weight metering, single centre point AF (back-button focusing), auto WB and JPEG + RAW. And that's how both my 5D and T7i are set up. With the way they're both set up, they're both very similar cameras. But I think I realise that in hindsight, I probably would have preferred the 5D as my first camera over my T7i, and for a few reasons.

The first is the price. Because both cameras behave similarly for the way I shoot, I don't have much of a reason to use a camera like the T7i over the 5D. The only real reason I can think of is dynamic range. From my observation and at ISO 100, I can recover a lot of shadow detail in the CR2 files with my T7i. With the 5D, it's a little more tougher. And as a beginner, this teaches me the fundamentals of proper exposure. And if I decide to commit to underexposing my shot for creative reasons, to make that choice carefully with my 5D knowing that I may not be able to recover much detail in post.

And like an old film camera, there's was no auto ISO with the first 5D. You have to set it manually in most modes, except green auto mode. Which sets the ISO automatically for you, but only up to ISO 400. This was a pain for me at the start until I realised later on that I don't like auto ISO sometimes. I preferred to set my ISO like a film SLR and commit to it, only changing it when required. For example, in poor lighting situations.

There's a lot to like about the 5D over most rebels. Firstly, it's pentaprism viewfinder is much brighter and clearer than the pentamirror viewfinder on most rebel cameras. This annoyed me as a beginner as I couldn't tell when something was in focus with the T7i, whereas I trust the 5D more as I can tell when the part I'm focusing on is sharp. Not much chimping is required. The only issue with the 5D is that the LCD screen has a very low resolution and isn't very colour accurate, giving some of my photos a puke-green aesthetic lol. This is hilarious to me, because if I show the images via the back screen to someone else they immediately notice the bad colours

Another thing I like about the 5D is that it's just a purely photographic tool. It's so tempting (and I'm the fidgety type) to play around with settings, play with video, use liveview mode. With the 5D, there are no distractions because you have none of that fun stuff. I just take a photograph and move on. I rarely touch any setting on my 5D as there is very little to touch. Just your typical image setting (JPEG, RAW, RAW+JPEG), picture mode (standard, portrait, etc.), white balance, custom functions, sounds, et cetera. And not much else. You can't even set a max ISO to use as there is no auto ISO.

Note, I haven't mentioned the full-frame sensor. But only because to my eyes and the way I shoot, the results almost look the same between my T7i and 5D. But I will admit, both DSLRs produce very gorgeous results. I'm especially fond of editing, and I like to touch up my photos a little in Lightroom. Use presets and edit to my taste. So if you notice any weird colours, that may be my fault. In fact, it's definitely my fault But I love the fun of photography, and to me post-processing is apart of that fun creative process.

Here's a cat photo.

My furry friend, Charlie

I bet you weren't expecting a cat photo in this post, but in the world of literally billions of cat photos on the internet, why not add to the pool of images

A few things to note with this photograph. This was shot at ISO 1600 and I see some reviews harp on about how bad the ISO performance is at high ISOs, I'm talking 1600 and 3200. But it's really not that bad in my opinion, and you can see that if you zoom in. The thing is, if you edit the RAW file to your preference, it's easy to recover. In this case I applied a noise reduction of +20 and increased the sharpening mask to a value of +80 to reduce the 'coarse' noise. This was also slightly underexposed, and so I increased the exposure to +0.5. I think this critique of the noise really only applies to the JPEGs, the problem is with the JPEGs you see a lot of chromatic noise, lots of red/green/blue speckles. And my theory is that a lot of older cameras don't apply any noise reduction to the JPEGs/RAWs, which is why you see that issue more so with the JPEGs compared to the RAWs, as this is easily correctable. But without a doubt, you don't get as clean of an image as you would if you shot this at ISO 800. But imo, the ISO performance is quite acceptable. And is still acceptable at 3200, but as most users of the 5D mention, we're going into noisy town territory. However, in a pinch I'm happy to use ISO 3200 if required. Granted that I clean it up a bit in post.

I've heard from some users of the 5D say that to their eyes, the images that come from the 5D are very film like in terms of colours and the noise looking more 'grain' like compared to other digital cameras. I can't really comment much on this, but at the very least, I can safely say that every ISO value is usable, which I can't say the same for with my T7i. The T7i can go all the way to 51200, but at that stage the images that come from the sensor are extremely noisy and are difficult to salvage. I limit myself to 12800, which is still noisy, but can be recovered with some success.

Another point to note is the AA filter on the 5D. It's a 12.8 megapixel sensor, and a lot of users mention that it's fairly weak. And I noticed that too, moiré shows up easily with fabrics and patterns. To me, this camera has a very good sensor, and I have heard some people say that Kodak collaborated with Canon to calibrate the colours? I actually can't find anything on this, and it does seem odd to me that Kodak would work with Canon and Canon not mentioning it in ads or to the press. Apparently there's evidence, I haven't seen it yet. But that would be pretty cool if that happened.

Maybe it's the colour science or the auto white balance, but I feel as though I never need to do much editing to get my images to sing. And in some cases, I just apply a little bit of contrast and call it a day. I love it.

Most underappreciated feature of this camera? The shutter. It annoys non-photographers, but to my ears it sounds exactly like a EOS film SLR. Something like a 1V, for example. It has good oomph to it, and it makes me feel as though I'm taking an important shot. Of blueberries lol.

More photos with the 5D.

Photo Compilation (Pt. 1)

Photo Compilation Pt. 2

As someone who started my photographic journey just recently, I don't think I've found my 'style' yet. I've taken over two thousand shots with this 5D and I'm going to honest, 98% of them are awful. And I know some of you are thinking, 'well if these are your better shots, I'd hate to see your bad ones'

To me at least, these shots are ones that I'm happy to put my name to. It's easy to look at what other people are doing and feel defeated that you can't get the same photos they do. I don't like to look at it that way. I see what other people are doing and just follow my own path, taking inspiration from other great work from fantastic photographers. As I tell myself, I'm still learning

As with music, I'm bound to take the exact same photo as someone else. But the difference is -- I took it. I took it on a different day with different lighting at a different place. If you look above where I have some photos of a lighthouse, ocean and cliff (at cape schanck), how many other people have been taking photos in that same area? Probably hundreds and thousands. And better photos as well. In the end, I'm still inspired by those better pictures. Sorry I went on a bit of a ramble there.

Why use a old DSLR?

You'd think me strange for saying this, but I don't mind using an older camera like this for photography. I am fascinated and drawn to shiny new toys. The higher pixels, better ISO performance, better dynamic range, IBIS and eye autofocus. But I have to wonder, I have been thinking of getting an R6 for awhile. Will I need it? Probably not. I do want one though!

At the same time, I'd be content with using this if it was my only option and if I couldn't have anything else. And paired with the 40mm, this becomes a very capable general photography kit. It's not too heavy, the lens is almost as sharp as a knife up to f/11. And I much prefer the 40mm over the nifty fifty.

If your interested in getting older equipment, keep in mind it may not have the features you need. Throughout this post, I'm not suggesting everyone should own a 5D, or a Nikon D700, or Leica M6. I think you'll know what specifications you're after, and the issue with old tech is that it was released to be competitive with other tech at its time. In 2005, most DSLRs did not have liveview, video or auto ISO. No IBIS, no auto HDR, no a lot of things.

Even so, you need not look far to find good camera deals. I think I've seen the 6D for around $800 AUD in a local camera store? Now to me, that's a much better option than a rebel.

Also, one more thing to consider, some camera brands will not offer repair for discontinued cameras. I knew the risks and inherent fault with this particular camera, but it's something to be aware of in general.

And with all that rambling and nonsense said, happy shooting. Not shooting literally, but for photography

 NixonS's gear list:NixonS's gear list
Canon EOS 5D Canon EOS 70D Canon EOS Rebel T7i Canon EF 85mm F1.8 USM Canon EF 100mm F2.8L Macro IS USM +5 more
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