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Got An Old Digital Camera? It Can Still Do Magical Things

Tim Brookes 30-05-2013

old digital camera hacksI 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 5 Things You Didn't Know About The First Digital Cameras The digital camera has taken more than 35 years of technological advancement to reach its current stage of development. The journey from original concept to the all-singing devices we have access to today has been... Read More 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.

old digital camera hacks

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…


Sensor Damage

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.

things to do with old digital cameras

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.


things to do with old digital cameras

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 10 Things To Know About Digital Camera Memory Cards Over the past ten years of the digital photography revolution, digital camera memory cards have become increasingly more affordable and larger. Read More , 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.

things to do with old digital cameras


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.

cool things to do with old digital camera


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.

Shoot RAW

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 How To Edit RAW Photos in Adobe Camera Raw Read More . This is particularly pertinent when it comes to older cameras, which will often need more touching-up in post than usual.

cool things to do with old digital camera

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.

cool things to do with old digital camera

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 7 Key Photography Tips for Absolute Beginners These photography tips will help you take better photos, whether you're a beginner or have some practice already. Read More 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 (like this one 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).

old digital camera hacks

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 How To Build Your Own Baby Monitor If you're a recent parent, you've probably considered getting some sort of baby monitor. You possibly considered the utility of a video monitor and then you may or may not have balked at the exorbitant... Read More , 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!

Related topics: Digital Camera, Photography.

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  1. Anonymous
    October 27, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    Hi Tim,

    Great that you've found my image of the 40D sensor useful in your article, but I would appreciate a credit as required in the CC terms of use and perhaps a link back to my Flickr stream where the image is from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/explodingfish/

    Sami Hurmerinta

  2. Anonymous
    June 11, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    My good Exilim camera stopped working after 7 years and exactly after 7000 pictures. Programmed obsolescence?

  3. Gary
    February 10, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    Why do you type RAW when the letters don't stand for anything?
    It's raw, as in raw data, and on a site like this that tries to educate people what you are doing is encouraging something that's incorrect and showing sloppy standards.

  4. mike
    September 24, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    I collect and use vintage digital cameras (1997-2003 vintage). One is a flat-out professional camera, the others range from point & shoot to "prosumer" models.
    I've never spent more than $70 for one and most were $10-30. I've been using Zeiss lens model Sonys, Leica lens Lumix, Nikon, Minolta, Canon, Leica Digilux,
    and lots of Olympus models for a couple years now with great results. The only drawback is finding cards for some of the models (Type 1 memorystick, 3.3v smartmedia, CF and 1st generation XD are available, but not always cheap).
    When I post photos, people are always amazed at the quality of the image, but I think this is due to the crappy-quality of iPhone pics by comparison. I can purchase a camera that originally sold for $1399.00 for $10 at Goodwill or eBay
    that will have a build quality that no new camera I've handled has, and with a large sensor, just might beat the new camera in image quality (even at 2-4 megapixels on RAW or Tiff). $10!...and I always get people asking me about what I'm carrying, so it's a good conversation piece. To each his own, but I truly believe these older cameras have value, and take better photos than an iPhone. Maybe no one cares?...that's cool too I suppose.

  5. Kimberly Trainer
    June 1, 2013 at 11:49 pm

    Thanks for all the info. My RCA SLR digital camera rocks out all old digital cameras. Point and Shoot, Beautiful Photos

  6. druv vb
    June 1, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    Reading through this article, am going to find that old Konica Minolta A2 and give it a new life.

  7. Bruno Pavão
    May 31, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    I have a Sony A65 - which is, in my opinion, the greatest camera I've ever came across to use. I bought that after using a Minolta film camera (which I still own and use here and then), since they share lenses and flashes.
    Even before that, I was using a DSC-V3 - a 7.2 Mp, $700 at-the-time (Dec. 2004) price tag. It was an excelent camera, and my dad used it for nearly 8 years before handing it over to time - time after which it still caught some nice photos. It bricked a few weeks before I bought my A65, though :/

  8. dragonmouth
    May 30, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    "There’s no reason an old camera like this can’t take magnificent photographs"
    It's not the tool, it's the craftsman. A good photographer can take great pictures with a Kodak Brownie. (a 1950s vintage Kodak film camera for you younger folks)

    "The 5D isn’t bad either, but it weighs a lot"
    You should try using a mechanical camera. /grin/

    • Tim Brookes
      May 30, 2013 at 11:38 pm

      The tool/craftsman argument might be the oldest in the book, and while it retains some validity it's also a bit of a fallacy.

      Take the art of high-speed low-light photography, particularly live music. I used to shoot a lot of bands (sometimes 4 gigs a week) using the Nikon D50 I mentioned in this article (and APS-C camera with 6MP sensor, crop factor of 1.4x from what I remember) and a 50mm prime f/1.4 (a Nikkor lens, still the finest lens I own). I would often struggle with abhorrent lighting conditions in dive bars and run-down venues (the best kind), and the grain at ISO 800 on the D50 was about as much as I (or my employer) could tolerate. It should be said I didn't use a flash, it's generally not a practice the live music industry is fond of.

      A newer DSLR could shoot at a faster shutter speed (which means less blur, crisper photos) at a higher ISO (say 3200) with about as much grain as my camera produces at ISO 400. The images would be so much better simply because the sensor's low light performance is leaps and bounds, heads and tails above older models. This is down to simply "progress" in sensor technology.

      This goes hand-in-hand with the "know your limitations" aspect of this article though. If you choose the right tool for the job then you're right - it's down to the skills of the person using that tool. One could argue that being a skilled craftsman involves knowing the boundaries of your equipment, in this case.

      • dragonmouth
        May 31, 2013 at 10:55 am

        The argument, just like any other generalization, will not hold in 100% of cases. But a hacker with a $10,000-$15,000 worth of cutting edge equipment will still take only snapshots.

        "This goes hand-in-hand with the “know your limitations” "
        Don't I know it! Both of my parents had many of their pictures published and took part in artistic exhibitions. I, OTOH, using the same equipment, can screw up a snapshot. :(

  9. Scott M
    May 30, 2013 at 10:49 am

    I have five cameras and use each one for different types of shoots.I find they all have different characteristics and I'm unsatisfied with the quality that I receive from smart phone photos.

    • dragonmouth
      May 30, 2013 at 7:25 pm

      "I’m unsatisfied with the quality that I receive from smart phone photos.¨
      I wonder why. I would be equally unsatisfied with the phone performance of my digital SLR. (/sarcasm) While smart phone cameras are great for snapshots, they are not designed to take pictures or photos, if you can understand the distinction.

      • Scott M
        May 30, 2013 at 7:39 pm

        Yeah I do realize that smartphones aren't cameras.I commented on why i still use them as opposed to smartphones.It is for everyone who always asks why I'm using a camera instead of a phone or phones take equally good photos.If you are a photographer you use a camera.

    • Tim Brookes
      May 30, 2013 at 11:28 pm

      I'd say smartphones ARE cameras now, particularly as the iPhone has been the most popular camera on Flickr (and the web in general) for the last few years. The quality of the sensor inside the latest smartphones puts the point and shoots that people were buying a few years ago to shame! My iPhone 5 geo-tags, captures seamless panoramas, records EXIF data, allows me to instantly share, effortlessly backup and endlessly process my photos. There's no doubt about it that this is the future of consumer-level photography.

      The point and shoot market's days are numbered. Prosumer cameras like the Olympus Pen and other Micro 4/3 system cameras are effectively replacing the bottom rung of cameras. If you want an upgrade these days you have to opt for such a camera, or make the jump to a DSLR. The only thing point and shoots currently have over current-generation smartphones is the optics, and even then most only have a 3x zoom at most.

      I'm not relishing the death of the point and shoot, but the quality really isn't noticeably bad any more. The iPhone 4S had the first camera I feel came anywhere near this quality. One thing I wish manufacturers would stop doing is jacking up the megapixel count though - I don't need 12MP images on my camera, they take up a lot of space!

      Oh and SLRs are still miles ahead of phones, but that didn't really need to be said!

      • Scott M
        May 30, 2013 at 11:46 pm

        There isn't a smart phone on the market that is able to take a shot as nicely as my old point and shoot Sony DSC-H7 with its Zeiss lens.Point and shoots days may be numbered but only because phones are more convenient to take a photo.There is no comparison with a quality camera lens like a Zeiss.

        • Tim Brookes
          May 31, 2013 at 12:32 am

          Well yeah, the DSC-H7 is what I would consider a prosumer camera, not a point and shoot. At least in terms of size it's a prosumer "bridge" camera. It's not pocketable like a normal point and shoot or a phone and it has a ton of manual features and a fast, dynamic fixed lens that standard point and shoots don't generally have.

          It's one step away from an SLR, though I bet the low-light performance is outshone by the latest smartphones these days (just like SLRs of the same era).

          I think prosumer cameras with interchangeable lenses are the future. The micro 4/3 system has really taken off, even Sony are now using it. If you intend to replace that camera with a similar model at some point, and you stick with Sony, I bet it'll be a M4/3 bridge camera!

  10. Jose
    May 30, 2013 at 10:23 am

    Is there anything I can do with my old non-digital SLR (other than using it as a paperweight)? Does anybody buy these things?

    • dragonmouth
      May 30, 2013 at 7:17 pm

      You can always try taking pictures with it. There are many photographers, professional and amateur, who not only use mechanical (non-digital) cameras but prefer them to digital. However, depending on the model you have, it may not be as easy to use as a digital. And, of course, you would have to use film which is much more expensive than memory cards.

      • Gordon
        June 3, 2013 at 12:26 pm

        I love my digital SLR, but I am not convinced that using film is outright more expensive.
        i) Film photographers are more careful with their shots, unlike many digital users who see each shot as expendable.
        ii) The difference in the upfront cost of the latest digital SLR compared to ongoing use of a film SLR would pay for hundreds of rolls of film and processing.
        iii) Using an older camera means that spares could be gotten very cheap. Though you would have to find a second one for sale.
        iv) Film cameras don't need a bag of attachments for recharging and backing up.

        • dragonmouth
          June 3, 2013 at 4:53 pm

          "Film photographers are more careful with their shots"
          Having grown up around professional photographers, I can tell you that they are not. They take tens or hundreds of shots of the same subject, out of which they wind up with 2 or 3 shots they deem good enough for publication. They buy film in bulk rolls (100 or more feet/roll) and load their won cassettes.

          "Film cameras don’t need a bag of attachments for recharging and backing up."
          They may not need attachments for recharging but they need a bag for all the film they go through in one shoot. 36 shot rolls of film are light but they are bulky. Bulk magazines can hold film for hundreds of shots but when you have to carry 4 or 5 magazines the weight adds up. In contrast how much space do ten 64 GB SD cards take up? How much do they weigh? How many pictures can you put on all of them?

          "The difference in the upfront cost of the latest digital SLR compared to ongoing use of a film SLR would pay for hundreds of rolls of film and processing."
          Yes, it would. However, at the rate that the pros go through film, those "hundreds of rolls" may not last as long you may think. BTW - most pros develop their own film, they do not use commercial labs.

          "Using an older camera means that spares could be gotten very cheap. "
          Professional quality film cameras in good condition do not lose their value. Top of the line Leicas and Hasselblads cost almost as much now as when they were introduced.

  11. Catherine M
    May 30, 2013 at 6:56 am

    Still very happy with my old Sony DSC-M1. It still does everything I need it to do. I agree that if you know everything your camera can do and do well and you master the art of using your camera just about everyone will get more out of even the simplest machine.

    My hubby picked up an additional used one for $10 that we use as a parts supply (he is very talented if I say so myself) but because I am very protective of my camera it has had very few issues. We do not have to be a disposable society.

  12. Catherine M
    May 30, 2013 at 6:50 am

    Finally an article that I want send to my kids - you don't have to have the latest and greatest to be happy.