Cameras are constantly improving. Keeping up with the latest model and its arguably better performance can instill a need for a perpetual upgrade and a bad case of G.A.S. Well, I'm here to turn back the clocks and look at a 20-year-old compact digital camera that is a lot more capable than we might give it credit for. Read on to remember, reflect, and be surprised by this forgotten gem.
Not quite digital, not quite film
Being the dedicated film shooter that I am, it can be frowned upon to dabble in the dark side known as digital. Ergonomically and practically, the Canon Powershot G2, originally released in 2001, feels a lot more like using a film camera than it does a digital one. The chunky design, the slow response of the shutter and zoom, and basically all the other functions make you pause and slow down. These are two of the consistently cited reasons why film shooters tell you they choose this format over digital. So, as you can see, there are some similarities here.
This puts the G2 in a category of its own. The resurgence of vintage digital cameras has blurred the lines between analog and digital and made it possible to yield results that not only look filmic but can also provide a film shooting sort of experience. Pair this with the high prices of film, a global recession, and an ever-increasing societal obsession with nostalgia, and you’ve got a pretty solid reason to get involved in the vintage digicam trend.
Throughout the month of September, I chose to give my bank account a break and leave my film in the fridge, turning to a small collection of early model digital cameras that I own. This was an interesting exercise in which I learned a lot about myself as a photographer and uncovered the reasons why I gravitated towards film in the first place. More on that in another article, though. Let’s get into the specs of this chunky Canon G2 and have a look at the photos.
4 Megapixels in 2022?
Okay, so you are likely screwing your face up or already heading to the comments section to blast me for even broaching the subject of using a measly four-megapixel camera over all the latest and greatest offerings from every camera company right now. I admit this isn’t going to tickle everyone's fancy, but how can you deny at least the novelty aspect of using something that is so big, and chunky, and well, old? My initial feeling when unboxing the G2 was that it would be a kitsch experience and a bit of fun. However, seeing the photos really made me take this camera more seriously, and I used it quite consistently throughout September.
Released in 2001 and marketed as a prosumer compact camera, the G2 featured a 4-megapixel CCD sensor and a surprisingly fast zoom lens, ranging from f/2 - f/2.5, which even today would be decent on a compact camera. A fellow photographer told me they remember paying nearly $1,000 for this camera when it was first released, which is pretty crazy to think when you look at it now in 2022. The fact that it holds up today justifies that price point back then, and following some buzz online in certain communities, this camera is now increasing in value on eBay. "How the world turns," is maybe what some of the mature readers are saying to themselves.
Megapixels are not the only thing that contribute to image quality. The lens is obviously a huge factor, as well as the image recording medium, which in this camera's case is a CCD sensor, something that is becoming quite sought after in the film community, as it is said to produce more film-like colors than modern CMOS technology. In these examples here, you can see the way it’s rendered the pink and green as well as the orange of the chair, which, to me, an avid film shooter, looks pretty similar to the look and feel I’m accustomed to in comparison. The images I’ve been seeing produced by vintage digital cameras with CCD sensors appeals to me more than the objectively better, but arguably more clinical and less interesting modern digital cameras being produced today.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of modern Fujifilm cameras such as the X100V, but the amount of post-processing that happens in camera to make their images look like film, to me, has less charm and novelty than the native, straight-out-of-camera looks you can get from a camera like this.
If you are printing your work, then you will likely want more than four megapixels, and depending on your genre of photography, this may also not be enough. However, with so many of us sharing our work predominantly online, these shots will more than suffice for a platform like Instagram or even a website.
Another point to consider is when these early digital cameras first hit the market, we were viewing them on much lower resolution and smaller screens than we are accustomed to today. I find it interesting that as we revisit this technology, we are evaluating them with an entirely different level of viewing technology than what was available. To me, it’s similar to the difference between using a high-resolution film scanner to review a decadesold negative, versus looking at an original print made optically from the same negative around them time it was taken.
Pros and Cons
Anything old is going to have its limitations when comparing it to gear being released today. Whether you embrace those limitations and use them to your advantage or not is up to you. It’s worth mentioning that the ISO is pretty limited on this camera. While you can go up to 400, it performs best at ISO 50-100. Having that limitation really is similar to the film experience in many ways, so for me, it was actually a pro. I aim to shoot a lot in bright, sunny conditions or use harsh on camera flash as an effect to make subjects pop. But for you, that might not be appropriate for your style or shooting conditions. As photographers, restraints are often used and viewed as creative tools to challenge ourselves. We so often hear quotes from great photographers or even in the comments section here in the Fstoppers community about the gear and camera not making you a great photographer. Picking something like the G2 up and seeing what you create with it, regardless of your opinion on vintage digital, trends, or snobbery around gear, could really be eye-opening as an artist.
A huge pro for me and perhaps for you too, were the amazing JPEGs coming straight out of camera. The G2 does shoot in raw, but honestly, the shots SOOC looked so great I won’t bother in the future with anything else. Similar to some of the Fujifilm cameras of recent years, the G2 has an LCD screen that can be turned around and tucked away from sight, allowing you to use the optical viewfinder and really get in the zone without “chimping” every two seconds. For me, this is very much a pro. Without a decent viewfinder, I am truly lost, and although this one wasn't totally accurate every time, it was close enough. There is also an LCD screen on the top of the camera that will display all your essential settings, eliminating the need for you to go back into the menu on the rear of the camera as often.
It goes without saying that this camera is pretty slow. It takes a second to turn on and makes a delightfully nostalgic Windows 2000 type jingle that will make anyone smile. If it doesn’t, you are truly a monster. The zoom response is also pretty slow, as are any of the functions you choose to change. This could either sound like a living nightmare for you as a photographer, or an endearing and nostalgic quirk that slows you down and reminds you how far technology has come. Clearly, I am in the latter category.
So there you go, a 20-year-old digital camera that you most likely forgot about. Even if you have no interest in hunting one down on Facebook marketplace or in a thrift store, I hope part of you enjoyed this trip down memory lane. I find trends to be fascinating in any genre. Often, I feel they are huge indicators of the state of society on a global level, especially when looking at youth culture.
The digicam trend is on the rise, and while there are so many out there that maybe aren’t even worth picking up and putting batteries in for the Fstoppers readers, I would urge you to consider trying the G2 or a similar model from this era, as it’s capable of so much more than you might give it on face value.