Your Digital SLR & The Wave Of Technology: Repair, Upgrade, … Manipulate?

Up until recently, photographers had to make a one-time investment in their photographic equipment. A purchase of a sophisticated 35mm SLR or medium format body with sharp professional lenses that providing optical quality surpassing that of any consumer camera. This was done as a photographer was getting out of school or into the business; now in the digital age photographers are investing in new equipment on average every 12-18 months to stay ahead of consumers.

Camera manufacturers are coming out with new technology it would seem every quarter, the top of the line digital SLR from 5 years ago is today’s paperweight as it has been surpassed in quality by even a $300 point and shoot digital camera. There is some irony in the speed of the transition of technologies with digital cameras. After all the first digital camera was invented by an engineer for Eastman Kodak named Steve Sasson in 1975, but digital SLR’s were not in the public eye until the early 1990’s and not really affordable until the turn of the century.

When you purchase a camera today you can’t help but naturally wonder, “when is the next version coming out?” Constant upgrades and improvements are part of the digital age. For years photographers awaited new film to be introduced to help with various aspects of color and contrast, it was as natural as putting $5 down on a counter and loading a roll into your aforementioned “one-time investment” that was your camera. However with digital the upgrades are not rolls of film, they are image a sensor, LCD screens, built-in image stabilization, HD video capability and more!

With all of these features your current digital SLR is a renaissance machine in the golden age of technology and enlightenment. Equipment can become antiquated, components can break down and you find yourself asking, “is this worth fixing, can’t I just buy a new and better camera for a little bit more?” The sad answer for those who clung to camera gear for years is yes.


Repairs can often cost more and provide you with less considering the wave of technology

At Unique Photo store manager Scott Kearns is faced with this scenario on almost a daily basis. “A customer can come in with a damaged digital SLR, it will cost him over $250 in repairs which is reasonable but it is going to repair older technology which limits some of his options in the future.” Which is true, new image sensors that work with specific lenses, adjustments in memory formats, cameras are improving and moving forward and sadly not all the time are they looking back.

From the beginning of the Digital SLR movement camera manufacturers have tried to lay down guidelines and basics for all their SLR’s. For example, Nikon made sure that any lens with an F-mount would be compatible with any Nikon Digital SLR. Sounds good however they fail to mention full functionality will not be guaranteed, in the age of face detection sophisticated TTL metering and even GPS capabilities your lenses might only work in a strict manual setting only.

This makes a new camera sometimes not necessary but even mandatory for future capabilities. How can you use a camera with all the bells and whistles but not have the right lenses or flashes to use with it? Technology advances, and the gear become obsolete. And it is more often than not you need to have someone such as Scott Kearns does for customers at Unique Photo, help you weigh your options of what is worth fixing and when it is time to upgrade to more modern technologies.

Parting with your investments on a regular basis or faced with the aspect of repairing or not repairing equipment can be a tough decision. Sometimes it is clear and there is no second thought about it. Your camera has a damaged image sensor, to replace it costs $600, or you can buy a new upgraded version of your camera compatible with your current equipment for $750.

Not all decisions are as easy and transition for whatever reasons financial or attachment to your equipment can prolong your decision to upgrade with the times. Recently I upgraded to a Nikon D300 digital SLR, 12.3 effective mega pixels with live view LCD and a CMOS sensor that can achieve low noise at 3200 ISO. Quite the step up from my previous digital SLR body, which was a Fuji Finepix S2 which in the late winter of 2002 I purchased new for the bargain basement price of only $2,800. I would like to think that I am one of the few who really got their money’s worth out of my investment.

What can you do with your old camera gear?

What can you do with your old camera gear?

Back then $2,800 for a SLR camera that didn’t take film was a miracle! Heck, the predecessor was the S1 from Fuji was considered a steal at $3,500 when Nikon’s 2.74 mega-pixel equivalent was still well over $5,000. I upgraded my Fuji S2 cause after 6 years of use, it was showing some signs of age but still functioning and I wanted to use the more sophisticated technology of the time, hence the D300 to still use my Nikon lenses. But what to do now with my Fuji S2? They sell on Ebay and Amazon (if you can find them) for a whopping $200. Like many photographers, I have found creative ways to keep my gear that is still functioning and put it to practical use and I have made technology do the work for me.

Many photographers are sitting on medium format film cameras; they longer can justify the cost of the film and lab’s for the quality of a digital SLR. But why sell it for the price of a low-grade digital camera when that’s all they can get for it? Some just put it up in the window in the studio so people know it’s a photo studio, or perhaps, “this guy is really good, look at that old big camera! He has been around and knows what he is doing.” Another photographer I know uses his film backs as a physical storage for his memory cards, marketing options with your older equipment functioning or not is limitless. However, when the gear functions, and has a digital base you have just opened up a new window.

IR Examples ©

IR Examples ©

Not willing to take a mere $200 I re-invested in my Fuji S2 and converted the image sensor to infrared. Sensor manipulation is something that has made my backup digital SLR now one of my favorite toys to utilize. Companies on the Internet convert select digital cameras to IR for a fee of a couple hundred dollars, price varies depending on the camera. Many will begin to say this can be done with appropriate image software and some time in front of the computer, but the sensor will provide a better RAW image as opposed to a manipulated one, and I for one would rather have more time behind the lens instead of in front of a computer

Technology will always improve, and we as photographers must accommodate along with it. How we do so and in the most creative of ways will always help us get the most out of my gear. Like many Nikon shooters I purchased a D300 only to watch the announcement a month later of the full frame Nikon D700 for a little bit more. Soon after the rumblings of what the “Nikon D400” will be, but for now I have two digital SLR’s. One giving me cutting edge capabilities with the latest technology and science from Nikon, and the other helping me get back to the art of photography. Money well spent, and money saved all in one motion.


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