Was That Camera Actually Good, or Is That the Nostalgia Talking?

Was That Camera Actually Good, or Is That the Nostalgia Talking?

I’ve bought and sold a lot of photography gear over the years, between system switches and jumping into mirrorless. Some cameras I remember quite fondly and others not so much (it wasn’t me, Canon 7D Mark II, it was definitely you). What about cameras I loved though. Were they good, or am I looking through rose-tinted glasses?

Sometimes I wish I could shoot with certain cameras again. I had that wish granted when I found myself shooting with my old 2011-era Panasonic GF3 (the distant ancestor to a Panasonic GX85, from the now defunct GF line) on an impromptu trip to the Museum of Natural History with my son. It was his first time seeing dinosaur bones. I really loved that camera – it went on almost every trip with me and I carried it everywhere for years. Now, I just don’t get why.

I took that GF3 everywhere. My brother borrowed it to take photos at our wedding. It went to the Dominican Republic, Disney World, and countless trips into New York City as my daily driver. I’d even occasionally take it out for journalism assignments, covering everything from Hurricane Sandy to Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter protests. Its svelte profile meant that it often wasn’t noticed by my subjects. It was even great to sneak into concerts since no one pegged it for having a larger sensor.

They Might Be Giants at Terminal 5 in New York City shot with a Panasonic GF3

They Might Be Giants Play in New York's Terminal 5 in 2012. No one knew what a mirrorless camera was back then, so my Panasonic GF3 snuck in undetected.

I think I figured out what changed my perspective: Having kids. While the dinosaur bones are relatively cooperative subjects, my son moves fast. I notched up the ISO to 1600. Then 3200. When I came home and looked at the files, I remembered that this was a first generation Micro 4/3 sensor, and anything above 800 was a crap shoot. That, and there was no way the autofocus system was going to keep up with a squirrely kid. This is not unlike my old Nikon D2H, actually, so I may have saved myself the trip down memory lane by just using this camera.

I realize now that my love affair with the camera was based on the experiences I had with it. It was never really a great camera, but it’s what I did with it that made it great. I retired it back to the cabinet after the museum. It only saw the light of day because my other cameras happened to be out of town.

Parting with Gear Is Such Sweet Sorrow

There are many ways to look at offloading a beloved camera. Sometimes, it’s a mix of joy and sadness. My wallet gets full, but my heart is empty. I’m usually comforted by the knowledge that the camera had served its purpose and is going to a new home. I got four years of use out of my Canon 5D Mark II and it helped launch my career, and while I was sad to see it go, I’m happy to know it’s shooting a friend’s child (and some journalism) today.

Other times, I’d sooner set the camera on fire than to ever use it again. I felt like this both times with the 7D series of cameras. Perhaps it was a case of being spoiled by full-frame image quality, but that still couldn’t explain the struggle of fighting with their autofocus systems. I still feel like I may have gotten bad copies.

And then there were the times the sale was met with immediate regret. My Nikon D700 was the one that got away. I sold it when I started working at a place where it probably wasn’t wise to shoot Nikon. It’s a 10-year-old camera that still holds up with the best of them today. I can say that definitively without nostalgia coloring my opinion; after changing jobs, I bought another one and still use it on almost every shoot. The D700 has been with me for countless weddings, journalism assignments, sports shoots, portraits and more. Aside from the 5D Mark II, it’s been the camera that’s been with me along for the ride.

Sometimes when I sell something, I’m just not sure. I owned the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G lens and traded it for a 200-500mm lens. I use the 200-500mm lens for sports photography all of the time, much more than the 58mm, but I can’t help the feeling I gave up some “magic” in my portraits. That, or it could be everyone just telling me it’s magic. Sometimes falling into a hole reading about a lens creates false memories, because as much as I used that portrait lens, I could never truly tell how I felt about it. Maybe I should have made more memories with it.

What's Your One That Got Away?

Photography is about experiences and, the camera is just there to capture it all. Do you have gear you really miss? What did you experience with that gear that makes you miss it so much? Tell us your story in the comments below.

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Kirk Darling's picture

Im now in my mid 60s. I did my first deliberate portrait (of my best friend) with my mother's Kodak Brownie Hawkeye in 1965, and had decided to make it my life by 1970.

Over that time, I've had a good number of cameras, constantly selling to upgrade to do more than I could do before. I used various school-owned cameras in high school--Koni-Omega and Mamiya Century rollfilm press cameras. I used my father's 35mm fixed-lens rangefinder, a Petri 7s. My first moneymaking camera was a Yashica Mat 124G--I could shoot weddings and commercially enlargeable portraits with that. Topcon Super D, Canon F-1, Mamiya C330, Mamiya RZ67, Horseman 4x5, Canon AE-1, Canon A-1, Canon Elan, 10D, 20D, 5D....

I've been in a long-term project to collect all those cameras again--although some of them are still kind of pricey. But just this week, I picked up a decent Yashica Mat 124G for a decent price. I'd forgotten how compact it really is.

I still have my Canon A-1. I bought a used New F-1 in 2013 so I could share lenses; I also added a 5D Mk III. I still enjoy shooting with film.

Mark Harris's picture

Looks like we have the same loves.
The D700 is still my backup and/or second camera. I don't shoot much sport, but when I do the D700 takes over from the D810 - faster to shoot and process, and plenty of quality. I didn't make it to the GF3, but the GF2 became my stunt camera - the one that gets too close to danger, and once spent 18 months in a box making a timelapse through a Swedish winter. It's still going strong.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Same with me. The grip bumps up the speed to 8fps! And the smaller files are easier to work with on the D700.

5dmk2 was for sure a beast of its time. When I sent my MK4 in for service I borrowed a 2 from my university and it felt like a dinosaur. After shooting the 6d, 5dmk3 and mk4 the 2 just couldnt hold up anymore. Some cameras sill have a spot in my hear like my old nikon d70, my first dslr and my OM1 my first film slr back in the 90s

Richard Reed's picture

The D700 was my first full frame camera and I was just blown away the IQ of the camera then. While it is showing its age to a degree, the fact that it is still so revered and used even today speaks volumes about how solid that camera is. Nikon missed an opportunity providing a true successor to that camera, though I think that just added more to the cult status of the D700.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

True. By every objective measure the D750 is a better camera ... but it just isn’t the same ...

Dallas Dahms's picture

Canon D30 > Canon D60 - improvement but still a dog.
Canon D60 > Nikon D70 - wow!
Nikon D70 > Nikon D200 - hmmm... how could they go backwards?
Nikon D200 > Nikon D700 - oh my. Does ISO 6400 really look like that?
Nikon D700 > Olympus E-M1 - honey, I'm home.

tiago tagawa's picture

I miss my voightlander 20mm pancake. Such a compact wide prime, not bigger than a canon 40mm. Sure, not a beast of a lens, but quite fun to use.

I really enjoyed my last film camera, a Canon Elan IIe. Very simple by today's standards except for the unique eye tracking no longer seen today. For the still photography I did I don't recall the AF being any worse than a modern camera of today. I could swap out film mid-roll and reload later on, eye activated DOF preview and AF, and rear button AF activation and lock.

Spy Black's picture

"I realize now that my love affair with the camera was based on the experiences I had with it. It was never really a great camera, but it’s what I did with it that made it great."

...unless you stumble on greatness by accident. :-) Very true about the associated experiences with it however. My first camera was a Nikon F Photomic I saw in a pawn shop window back in '73. I had never seen a camera like that before, it looked totally weird. I think I bought it out of curiosity more than wanting to do photography. :-D I had no idea what I had just done. :-)

I shot film up till about 2010. I started messing with digital around 2005. I never felt a need to update from my two favorite cameras, my F FTN and F2SB. I shot with them right up to the end. Although I bought other cameras later, mostly as curiosities, they were my workhorses for life. I was thinking of building a little wooden cabinet with a glass front for the two of them, with their respective 50mm SC and Ai f/1.4s on them. They have served me well, and are an integral part of my life. My old posse, below.

OOOO the Nikon Ftn. My mom found one for me at a garage sale. I still shoot with it today. I love that little powerhouse. It's built like a tank, yet light, portable, and a whole lot of fun.

Matt Williams's picture

This definitely resonated with me when you mentioned the D700. I sold mine late last year after getting a D810, and man do I miss that camera. The D810 is phenomenal, but I am almost definitely going to purchase another D700. I was looking back through some photos of the last wedding I shot with it and there’s just something about the images, some kind of organic, magical quality that I just don’t get out of the D810. I’d rather use the D810 for landscapes or astro any day of the week, but for portraits, there’s just something about the D700. And I can comfortable print 13x19 images from its files. Glad to see I’m not alone in feeling that that camera was something special.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

There is a bus at Stony Brook University that has images I shot with a Nikon D2H wrapped around it, so indeed you can get very large prints out of even older cameras.

Seems like there's a lot of love for the D700 on this thread!

Richard Reed's picture

I sold my 1st D700 for D800, but later returned that and repurchased a D700 for many of the reasons you gave regarding your D810 experience. I couple years ago I went all-in with mirrorless, so I sold that D700 for a Fuji system, but a year later went back to a D700. Something about how that camera felt in hand, the look of the files and the selection of affordable Nikon mount lenses that work just fine with the 12MP sensor. I have an X100F for my Fuji fix, but the Nikon will always have a home in my collection.

Matt Williams's picture

I love Fuji too - I currently have an X-Pro2 with a few primes that I use for walking around and as a second cam at things like weddings because it’s much easier carrying that + a DSLR around than two DSLRs. I love the Fuji cameras and their lenses but I’ll always have a Nikon for more deliberate work (portraits, landscapes, astro, etc).

My camera timeline: Agfa Clack, Pentax ME F, Canon 5D II, Canon 600D, Sony 7RII - Each of them was a revolutionary camera, I loved all of them and I still own all the digital ones, but mainly because the 5DII and 600D are so heavily used I could never sell them in good conscience

Michael B. Stuart's picture

All the marketing stickers on that Sony though!

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I have no idea why in 20 years I have never removed them. I love the “Interpolated megapixels Images one” which translates to just stretching the .8 megapixel image so that it is 1 for marketing purposes

Ramon Acosta's picture

I love the files I got with my Bronica GS-1! I'm on the lookout of a fuji 6x9, but if the Bronica and it's macro lens appeared in front of me, I don't know if I could say no.