I have two ageing digital SLR cameras, my first originally purchased Nikon D50 from 2005 and a Canon EOS-5D which I came across second-hand a few years ago. Despite being an entry-level camera that’s getting close to its tenth birthday, the D50 is still very close to my heart being the first digital SLR I owned and learned on, as well as being the first camera with which I was able to make some money out of my photography.
The 5D isn’t bad either, but it weighs a lot and is showing its age far more than my Nikon. That said, I’ve not given up hope on it yet. There’s no reason an old camera like this can’t take magnificent photographs, though there are a few things to remember when pushing your kit to the limit.
Dirty Cameras Mean Dirty Photos
No, not those kind of dirty photos – I’m talking about fungus, dust specks and marks on the glass or sensor. If your old camera is getting on a bit, there’s a good chance it could do with a clean. Unless you’ve only ever changed lenses in a vacuum, you’ll have all kinds of fluff and dust to contend with and for that you could probably do with a dust blower. They’re cheap, $5 rubber-on-plastic affairs that help dislodge loose debris from your camera’s internals.
If the situation is worse than this, don’t go touching anything on the inside but instead consider getting the camera cleaned for a flat fee. There are lots of camera servicing centres that will thoroughly clean the innards, though you’ll want to opt for a wet-clean using solvents on the sensor if your kit is badly in need of a clean.
It’s also possible to buy these sensor cleaning kits online, and doing it yourself is considerably cheaper than paying someone else to do it. That said it’s also quite a fiddly operation that requires just enough solvent, the right applicator and a steady hand. Sensors are delicate, and one false move could mean a marked sensor (yes, forever). Which brings us on to the next point…
If said fungus or dust has been there for long enough, or you (or someone else) has botched a cleaning job and marked the sensor itself in the past, there’s very little you can do. In fact, there’s nothing you can do. That 5D I mentioned earlier? Yeah, it’s got sensor problems – mostly fungus after being used as a wildlife photographer’s go-to shooter. The only thing you can do if your sensor is showing up marks or scratches is to choose a wider aperture.
By shooting with a shallower depth of field, those scratches and marks will be far less obvious (quite possibly invisible) on your images. This means no high f-stops unless you’re excited by the thought of hours spent in post removing marks and imperfections. If you’re affected by “sensor blight” it might be best to invest in a 50mm prime (a nifty fifty) or other fast lens and shoot wide-open.
Replace Your Batteries
You will undoubtedly need to replace your old camera’s battery, particularly if this is something you have never done before. Batteries are notoriously bad at maintaining capacity, but the good news is that you can save money by buying third-party batteries. Some third-party batteries even out-perform manufacturer batteries, and seeing as your camera is long past its warranty period you don’t have to stick to first-party replacements any more.
Remember to recycle your old batteries in a responsible way, rather than just throwing them in the bin. Some camera shops will even recycle them for you if you ask nicely enough.
Thanks For The Memory (Cards)
Flash memory doesn’t last forever, and though it’s unlikely you’ve personally ever burned through all the available write cycles on a slab of NAND; you might want to pick up a few spare cards anyway. Many older cameras use FAT as a file system which cannot use volumes larger than 2GB, so stick to cards below this size.
This might at first seem limiting, it’s not actually a big deal considering older cameras do not guzzle space like the 20-something-megapixel full-frame monsters of this era.
Know Your Enemy
When you’re shooting with older technology it’s important to remember the limitations involved in doing so. Digital cameras have evolved leaps and bounds in the last decade, which makes the older models look outdated and inferior. This isn’t necessarily true, and the gap can be narrowed with a better awareness of your device’s abilities.
Low light performance on older cameras isn’t so hot. It’s one of the main areas where new cameras will put old ones to shame, so keep it in mind. High ISO values will generate a lot of noise and grain, so you’ll need to lower your shutter speed or open up your aperture (use a lower f-stop) to let more light into your camera. Always use the lowest possible ISO and consider a monopod or tripod for steadier, brighter longer exposures.
Lower read times and smaller memory buffers means that continuous shooting modes will cap-out earlier than modern cameras. This might mean you’ll have to be more conservative with the shutter and more patient when waiting for long-exposures to develop and when waiting for queue of images to be written to memory.
Rather than using lossy JPEGs, shoot RAW. Always. Even on your newer cameras. Why? Because making alterations to exposure, white balance and just about every other variable is infinitely easier with RAW, uncompressed data. This is particularly pertinent when it comes to older cameras, which will often need more touching-up in post than usual.
Older cameras might not offer the same level of accuracy when it comes to colour reproduction, temperature or even adequate exposure. Having a RAW file means you can make up for your camera’s misgivings in post, which makes shooting RAW the best way of getting the most out of your kit. The fact that you’re using old equipment means that the smaller sensor will produce smaller images which occupy less space on your available memory, even for RAW files which contain a lot more data than JPEGs.
Consider All Possible Uses
There’s no reason your old kit can’t be used alongside your newer equipment, but consider the potential uses for maximum effect. Theoretically you can use your older kit in more risky situations as it has less monetary value attached to it, and would cost far less to replace. Don’t forget about protecting your glass, though.
With the purchase of a remote trigger, you could mount your old camera somewhere and remotely fire it while walking around with your main rig. In a pinch it could serve as a second camera. Provided it’s not too heavy an old digital SLR might make the perfect starter camera for your children, a younger sibling or friend – though be prepared to be answering questions and demonstrating usage for a few months afterwards.
Convert To Infrared
Infrared photography used to be all the rage, and all you needed was a roll of infrared film and some filters to block non-IR light waves. These days our digital cameras are built to keep infrared light out and so in order to take stunning IR photos you will need to have your camera converted. This can be an expensive process, with prices starting at around $300 for the full service.
You could of course also do this yourself, though you stand a fairly high chance of messing up your camera if you do it wrong. You’ll also need to find instructions for your model (for some Canon EOS models) and to purchase any glass or filters you want to use. It’s not a cheap process, nor an easy one, but the results can be spectacular as you can see above.
Point & Shoot?
Digital SLRs are a lot more useful than old point and shoots which generally show their age far quicker thanks to cheaper, smaller sensors. That’s not to say they’re useless, particularly if they shoot video, and can be mounted on dashboards, bicycles or even pets for capturing the moment (albeit a slightly pixellated one).
Some can be used as a webcam with the right drivers, so research your model and see if it’s possible. Old webcams make great baby monitors, security cameras and more. Old point and shoots are ideal for use by young children as they’re automatic, easy to use and fun. I’ve heard children like fun.
Do you have an old SLR? What do you use it for? Share your tips in the comments, below!