Do you realize Digital Cameras used to suck?

I was looking through some old photos I took from 1998-2002, some using a 1 megapixel camera while the rest were from a 3 megapixel camera. I had seen these images dozens of times before, and remembered them as well-composed, sharp photos. I was really getting into photography back then and I recalled the photos as my best work. Taking a fresh look at them today, the first thing that hit me was whoa, the photo quality is terrible! There is clearly a lot of low resolution blur going on. What happened to my mind’s beautiful memories of these images?

Here’s one I shot at SF’s MoMA. I remember thinking it was so arty and geometric and I recall it not being blurry but looking really sharp. If you look at it now, the screen over the window is a completely pixelated blur. I recall the same feeling when looking at Jason’s photos from Web98. I remember when the photos were new and I thought they were great back then but looking at them now, the quality is worse than my first cameraphone. Another old photo of bloggers got this reaction from me today. Back when I first saw it 6 years ago, it was a great photo. Today, it looks awful, severely limited by the technology of the day.

With the advent of better sensors and digital SLRs, it’s pretty astounding what comes out of a digital camera today. In an instant, I realized how fast and far the technology progressed in less than ten years. Could you imagine if traditional photography progressed from gelatin silver prints to medium format in less than a decade?

12 Comments

  • One can only wonder what another decade will give us…
    But I will say that I still like the photos that my VGA Mavica (640 x 480) took from 2000 – 2003, even if I was mocked thoroughly for using it. But many of my photos were at night and I liked the graininess and would further push it in Photoshop.
    Now that my camera phone is 3 megapixels and takes print worthy photos, I miss the almost vaseline filter quality of the photos that my old camera phone took.
    Then again, sometimes it is the constraints that make for a good photo and not the level of equipment or quality.
    On that note, I will vote for the SF MoMA photo as lovely, even up against 10 megapixel, Aperture/Photoshop photo illustrative lovelies…
    ;o)

  • I’m hoping that an Esper machine is just around the corner.

  • A small niggles, but silver gelatin is just a fancy word for B&W film, which most B&W films still use today. And photography mostly progressed downwards in image formats, from large to small in terms of negative size.

  • edit: “just fancy word for *a* B&W film *processes*”

  • A few other things I’ve noticed w/ digital images from the past.
    1) we often “manipulated” them before uploading them to websites due to the slow links. These downsized and “optimized” pixels cause pain to the eyes to view these days.
    2) Unlike the better editors of today, which apply progressive edits to your original image instead of progressive changes to each “version” of the image, we used to endure numerous saves (each with loss due to JPEG format). Some of these we see on these websites are almost certainly lousy “lossy” versions of the meager-to-begin-with originals (by today’s tech standards).
    3) I used to think this picture I took was awesome (link to flickr pic). Now, it looks like Atari 2600. Same deal. I remember it being so sharp and vivid, and I received compliments far and wide. But seriously, is that a bird or a Dr. J versus Bird basketball back there?
    4) Thanks for the link to Red Pine #5. Great pic.

  • This is why the last three times we went to the Cayman Islands, we took so many of the same pictures.
    Every time we went we had a new camera where the quality of photos was substantially better than the camera we had on the previous trip.

  • The same mind trickery happens to me with old movies; special effects that I could have sworn I remembered as “unbelievable” and “seamless” now look completely laughable.

  • I just purchased the Canon SD800. It’s freakin’ awesome!

  • I once had a Fuji MX-1200, that had a grand 1280×1024 resolution. It was so noisy you had to reduce the photos to 640×480 just to not see the noise. It was a revelation to get a Canon that was blurry when you zoomed in.

  • Indeed. Technology follows an exponential improvement rate. Ray Kurzweil has a lot of very interesting things to say about this:
    http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/327/

  • On a similar theme, Wired’s got a piece on how Darren Aronovsky decided on old-school special effects for The Fountain because they age much more gracefully than CGI.
    Has anyone written about the takeup of various forms of film photography? There are always tradeoffs of quality against accessibility. And for all the complaints of film snobs, it’s worth remembering that the people who are using 3MP digital cameras now haven’t abandoned Leicas or Nikon SLRs: they using 110 or 126 cartridges or Disc film or APS, all of which got pooh-poohed by 35mm types. And that’s pretty remarkable, if you consider how long it took for the entry-level snapshot camera to be a half-decent 35mm and not a crappy 110.

  • First time to your blog and this article caught my eye. Yesterday I was thumbing through my wooooonderful Yellowstone photos from four years ago. I excitedly opened the scrapbook anxious to see the photos so vividly in my mind only to be greated by fuzzy looking photos. Funny but they didn’t seem fuzzy when I took them.
    I have a wonderful husband who purchases me a nicer camera for each anniversary. So far I’m up to a Nikon 7.1 megapixel. Do you think in four years these photos are going to look fuzzy?

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