Going Mostly Digital

2003: My first digicam, a 1999 Canon PowerShot A50, was a reasonable choice as a snapshot camera and first digicam four years ago, but it’s been very much left behind. The worst problem is shutter lag, which has cost me more pictures than I care to remember. Sometimes it just doesn’t want to shoot – until you’re putting it away.

We’ve reached the point where digital is good enough to replace film most of the time. It’s great for snapshots, assuming a good lens, anything 3 megapixels (MP) or beyond should make a decent 8 x 10, and prices have made 3 MP cameras very accessible. I’m telling myself the same thing I tell my customers – digicams are often good enough to replace 35mm film cameras.

Looking at the Fujifilm FinePix S5000 announced last month, I’ve come to the conclusion that it offers the capabilities I need to replace my film cameras 80-90% of the time. I’d prefer a 28-200 zoom range, but the Dimage 7Hi sells for over US$1,000. I’d like the 28-116 range of the Nikon Coolpix 5400, but it sells for about $800. And 5 MP is more quality than I really need, although it certainly would be nice.

For US$500 the S5000 offers a 3 MP image sensor, can create 6 MP images when I need them, has variable ISO from 100 to 800 (albeit only 1.3 MP at the fastest setting), and a fast 10x optical zoom (37-370mm equivalent). It doesn’t go down to 28mm, which is the biggest drawback, but Fujifilm makes an add-on 0.79x conversion lens that gets close enough. Add that for about US$160, a 128 MB xD Picture Card, and two sets of NIMH batteries and a MAHA charger, and I’ll be set.

At retail, this whole setup would cost about $800, which is way beyond my budget.

Why Do It?

Fujifilm SuperCCD

Fujifilm SuperCCD

90% of my shooting is snapshots, and 98% of my shooting never gets printed bigger than a 4 x 6 print. A 3 MP digicam is far more than I need for that – and enough for the few times I do want to print an 8 x 10. With Fujifilm’s SuperCCD and interpolation technology, I can even produce a 6 MP image good enough for a 12 x 18 print should I need it.

With a 128 MB card, I’ll be able to store about 150 3 MP images, which should be plenty for anything I can think of. No more having to change rolls in the middle of something. No more having half of the family reunion on one roll and half on the next. That’s a convenience that film just can’t offer.

The zoom lens is almost two stops faster than my Tamron 28-200/3.8-5.6. The S5000 is f/2.8 at the short end and about 1/5 stop slower, f/3.1, at the long end. That minimizes the need for fast film (I usually shoot ISO 400 in my film cameras). Also, just imagine how big, heavy, and expensive a 370mm f/3.1 lens would be!

The S5000 has a close-up mode that gets you down to 4″, which pretty much makes my macro lens obsolete. The only places the S5000 doesn’t match my film equipment are lens speed (I have a pair of f/1.8 lenses, which is 1-1/3 stops faster than the S5000’s zoom lens) and extremely wide coverage (my 19-35 Vivitar Series 1 zoom is a real treat when you need a lot of coverage – or just want to play with weird perspective).

Still, if the S5000 can replace my film gear 80-90% of the time, there’s no reason to keep all of my film equipment. The ideal would be to hold onto what the S5000 can’t replace and sell the rest, including my old PowerShot A50, to finance the purchase of a new digicam.

Good-bye, PowerShot

I really won’t miss the PowerShot A50. It was a nice compact model in its day, and 1.3 MP was all I really needed, but the shutter lag is frustrating, and it goes through batteries pretty quickly. Worse yet, it’s easy to accidentally turn it on when putting it away – so my first add-on was a Canon battery charger and battery. I soon added a 32 MB card and later bought a second rechargeable battery.

The A50 sells for $100-125 on eBay, the charger for $50, and the batteries for a pittance (sometimes as little as $5). That 32 MB Compact Flash card I bought isn’t worth much, either. I’m hoping to get $150 for the kit.

Good-bye, Nikon 4004

I haven’t bought many cameras I regretted since the trouble laden Miranda Sensomat RE I bought from my Dad back in 1973. Three repairs in four months – at least they were within the three year warranty – and then immediately traded the whole kit in for a Minolta SR-T 101.

Then there’s the Nikon N4004. It’s a perfectly fine camera for those who want to take snapshots, but for anyone who knows shutter speeds and apertures, the fact that it provides no indication of settings in the viewfinder is a frustration I can’t live with.

At least I picked it up cheap, my first spare body, a backup just in case my Nikon N6006 needed service. I spent more than it’s worth to repair it last year, buy my niece wanted a starter camera. That fell through, and now it’s time to sell it. Closing at $50-80 on eBay, I’m guessing $65 for the body.

Good-bye, Original Tamron 28-200

One of my customers broke her Tamron 28-200, decided she wanted the extra reach of the 28-300, and said I could do with it what I wanted. This is the original 28-200 AF, the one that doesn’t focus any closer than seven feet. It’s a great outdoor lens, and it’s just like the first lens I bought for my N6006, so was willing to pay for a repair.

I sold my first one for about $135 a couple years ago, then bought a new close-out second generation Tamron 28-200. Looking at the Blue Book at work and closing prices on eBay, I’ll be fortunate to recoup the cost of repair. I’ll probably get $70 out of it – or maybe sell it locally with the N4004 and a case for $150.

Good-bye, 50mm 1.8

The second lens I bought for my Nikon was a 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor. I wanted a fast lens for low light situations, but I don’t think I’ve used it more than once – and really don’t need it at all now that I have an 85/1.8.

I picked this one up on usenet for $60, and they’re currently closing on eBay for around $80. This is one thing I may actually turn a small profit on.

Good-bye, 75-300

I’ve had a few times where 200mm just wasn’t enough reach – especially for shooting that albino squirrel last winter. So I picked up a cheap used 75-300 f/5.6 Albinar-ADG manual focus lens.

This is easily the worst lens I’ve ever owned, but it does provide 50% more magnification than my Tamron at the same f/5.6 aperture. Still, the S5000 will give me zoom to 370mm, so there’s no point keeping this one. It may fetch $20 on eBay.

Nikon FE

I’ll probably end up selling my black Nikon FE, a very clean specimen of this 30-year-old camera. Prices range all over the place on eBay, topping out at about $130. As clean as this is, I’m hoping to get close to that.

Tamron 90/2.5 Macro

My other manual focus lens is a wonderful old Tamron 90mm f/2.5 Adaptall lens that goes to half life-size. It works very nicely on the Nikon FE – or using the focus indicator in my N90s (a camera I have no intention of selling). I don’t use it often, but I really like this old lens.

None have sold on eBay recently, the Blue Book puts a top value of $140 on it, and with macro focus to 4″ on the S5000, I might decide to part with it. Or not. This one would be hard to part with.

Nikon N6006

My first Nikon and my first autofocus SLR, the N6006 really was all I ever expected to need in a film camera. 1/2000 top shutter speed, 1/125 flash sync, decent high speed program setting. More camera than I’d ever owned.

And then we got a used Nikon F90x, the international version of the N90s, in our used case. It was irresistible. It’s more camera than I ever dreamed of owning – 1/4000 top shutter speed, 1/250 flash sync, wide-area autofocus, and high speed flash sync (if I can ever afford a compatible flash).

The N6006 has served me well, but the N90s has replaced it. The N6006 was a great backup camera, but if I’m going to be 80-90% digital, there’s no more need for film backup.

As with the FE, prices are all over the place on eBay, ranging from under $100 to over $200. My guess is somewhere around $130.

The Keepers

I’ll still have the F90x, my second generation Tamron 28-200 (the Super), my Vivitar Series I 19-35, my 85mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor, and my Sunpak flash, so I won’t be leaving film behind. But I’m willing to part with two-thirds of my gear to finance a good digicam.

And just maybe in three years I’ll be able to buy a Nikon digital SLR body with a 6 MP imager and full-frame coverage with my lenses, which will let me take the next step forward in digital photography. Time will tell.

Adding It Up

All told, with a little luck on eBay I should be able to net $800-900 for this equipment – more than enough to cover the Fujifilm FinePix S5000, wide angle adapter, 128 MB memory card, and two sets of batteries.

Of course, working in a camera shop, I’ll be able to get a discount on most of this. Depending on where everything falls, I may hold onto that Tamron macro and the N6006 body. That will also depend on how well everything else sells.