My First Digital Camera: the Phoblographer Staff Remembers

Hello Kitty Digital Camera

Those of use who were born well before the turn of the millennium may still remember the early days of digital photography. When we were kids, people were still using those old-fashioned cameras that ran on these “film” canister thingies that could only take 36 pictures at a time. The word “megapixels” hadn’t even been invented yet, and we were used to the slow pace of shooting through a roll of film and waiting for it to be processed and the pictures printed at the lab. Then sometime in the late nineties and early 2000s, the first digital cameras started to emerge. Slowly but surely, we saw the photographic world transition from chemical film to digital sensors. In this blog post, the Phoblographer staff reminisces about their respective first digital cameras.

Editor in Chief Chris Gampat

Olympus E-510

If we really want to get into this, then my first digital camera was my old Nokia cell phone. You see, my Dad was very tech savvy but my mom wasn’t. And when my parents divorced and I lived with my mother, it took a photojournalism class to convince her that I needed a digital camera. But before that, I was creating pretty good photos with that camera–it was well before Instagram.

But then, an HP point and shoot changed the way I shot by introducing me to manual mode. Later on, I would upgrade to my first real camera, an Olympus E-510 DSLR that I would use to cut my teeth in the photo world.

Executive Editor Julius Motal

It was an Olympus Camedia camera (the model number escapes me) that my folks got me for Christmas in 2001 or 2002. I remember being excited as I think I wrote to Santa for one, but I was such a youngin then that it’s difficult to remember the exact circumstances (or what I shot, really). It became the family’s workhorse, replacing my dad’s film point and shoot, for major holidays and vacations. It served its purpose, but it was well before the days when I took photography seriously.

julius motal a580

In my photography era, my first digital camera came in the form of the Sony a580 in December 2010 after roughly two years of shooting film. I was due to fly to Thailand the next month, and I knew I couldn’t foot the bill for all the film I’d shoot. With a sizable Minolta kit, Sony was the best option, and the a580 was the last of its OVF kind. It was also the last one B&H had when I bought it, and it’s been a true friend ever since. I’ve no idea what my next camera will be, but I’ll be shooting with the a580 for as long as it holds out.

News Editor Felix Esser

HP PhotoSmart M407

The camera I’ll be talking about wasn’t actually my first digital camera, but the first one that was actually usable, and the one that would have me ditch film altogether. I was in my early twenties and had just started college, when I found myself lusting for a “proper” digital camera. Having just spent four weeks with relatives in Canada shooting mostly film, I decided that this photographic medium was far too inconvenient. As I’d been a tech geek for all of my conscious life, I knew that digital was the future.

So I rang up my dad and asked him if he’d like to buy me a digital camera for Christmas. He said yes. So when we next met, he presented me with my first actually usable digital camera: an HP PhotoSmart M407. The camera was brand-new back then, having just hit the market, and sported a whopping four megapixels! ISO only went up to 400, and the display was a tiny and low-res 1.8″ 130k dot panel, but I didn’t care about any of that. What I cared about was that it took pictures that were actually quite decent, and that was all that mattered.

The PhotoSmart M407 had one major flaw, though, and that was its battery life. It nom’ed away at the two 1.5V AA batteries that powered it like they were caramel candy, and even the incredibly pricey lithium cells that I bought wouldn’t last very long. After one and a half years, I was so frustrated with it that I decided it was time to move on. But in the meantime, the little HP camera helped me capture quite a sizeable amount of memories. My next camera, btw, was a Panasonic FZ30. I bought after lots and lots of research, and it served me well for over three years. Of all the cameras I ever owned, that one is still my favorite.

Features Editor Abram Goglanian

Canon_EOS10D

When I started looking at Digital SLR cameras, it was late 2004 and I was attending the Brooks Institute of Photography. I was shooting film extensively, and I was thinking a DSLR could be a suitable “Digital Polaroid”, so I didn’t have to buy so many boxes of Type-55 Polaroid pack film for my 4×5 view camera! Admittedly, at that time I didn’t want to “switch” to digital. I didn’t think that the cameras were good enough to replace my trusted film equipment. I knew that it would be the inevitable future, but I wanted to hang on to film as long as it was possible. (Call me a purist.)

I decided to look at the 10D because it had just been replaced by the 20D and I was already shooting a pair of EOS 3 film bodies, so I had access to lenses that would work properly. At that time, there was no way I could afford the 1Ds or 1D Mark II that were the top of the line at the time. The 5D hadn’t been introduced yet (though I would wind up with that camera when it was released), so APS-C was the only way to go. I managed to win one on eBay for the princely sum of $350, which was an absolute steal considering that same camera cost $1500 the year prior. With 6 Megapixels, a squintable 1.8″ rear LCD, and an ISO rating that went up to 3200 (though it was really only usable to 800 at the time), I was set for shooting digitally alongside my extensive film equipment.

I pushed that camera to its limits and beat it up pretty good in the 2 years I owned it, but it worked like a champ and I’m sure it made the next owner after me very happy with its image quality. Surprisingly, despite being an “early” DSLR, the image quality actually was very good for a 6MP camera. In fact I still have three images on my wall that I just re-printed from this camera, and they look just as good in print as the files from my more modern cameras.

As stubborn as I was about switching to digital, there was no denying it was going to rapidly start improving from that point onwards–I just didn’t realize quite how fast that shift in the market was going to take place. I appreciated this camera so much for making that transition to digital very gentle for this die-hard film shooter, and I will always remember it fondly.

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