It's because of this simplicity that many of the very early film cameras can still be used
today. The shutters can usually be repaired if necessary and light leaking bellows can
be patched or replaced. Film is still available (indeed, it's currently
enjoying something of a resurgence) and the general love of the vintage charm
of such devices is being cherished by not just the old timers but the new
film is not dead by a long way.
this article is about the longevity of digital cameras, so, how do they
start by defining longevity a bit.
a digital camera first becomes discontinued (often due to a new version taking
its place) we could define the older model as defunct. Actually, I don't think
that's a fair or accurate definition. Film cameras were upgraded in a similar way by
manufacturers, yet the older models (like their digital equivalents) remained
popular for along time. The new versions often cost more, whilst the previous
version's prices dropped (through manufacturers' discounts or via the
second-hand market). The difference between the latest and the last models
often isn't huge, so the appeal of a camera which is nearly as good but much
less expensive, makes the older model still relevant (for a time at least).
the newer model itself gets replaced then the older version shifts down the
mortal coil one more time. After several updates, the once shiny new digital
camera is now looking a bit dated.
cameras, of course, had the same experience. However, they received updated at
a much slower rate than their digital counterpart. The older film cameras had
more staying power!.
is quite different from twenty or thirty years ago in terms of modern
manufacture. Although the digital camera is far more technologically
complicated than film gear, modern production does allow for a quicker turnover
of ever newer models (Sony's particularly known for this). Innovation in
technology is changing rapidly and, like computers, seems to be outpacing
itself on a monthly basis, or so it would seem.
marketplace has changed too in the last decades. Manufacturers face an ever
more fierce competition and one way to fight that off is by constantly
they can't stay still too long.
also helps reduce the longevity of digital cameras. Obsolescence is a big
reason to ditch the older camera. Batteries become difficult to replace,
firmware and software are no longer supported, connection sockets become outdated and so on.... Once
those factors come into play it starts to seal the fate of an ever aging model
of digital camera after only a relatively short few years.
factors spur the demise. xx megapixels were once regarded as plenty. Now we
have xxx megapixels, then xxxx and so on. There's a lot of marketing hype going
on too. xx megapixels were actually fine, but we are cleverly convinced
otherwise on a regular basis!
course, it does become difficult to support the idea of keeping an ever aging
digital camera. 6 megapixels is OK for many things but does look meagre
compared to a more standard 24Mp (as of 2021).
addition to the pixel count, some other factors make older digital cameras less
desirable. Having owned most of the Sony alpha series I once bought an a7ii as
an everyday carry-around / spare camera. I owned an a7riii at the time and realised
just how awkward the controls of the older model were (despite having
previously owned that model and not really noticed at the time!). It seemed
that the advance in ergonomics has been glacial, almost drip-fed, over the
model range. One would think that it can't be difficult to design a camera
where the buttons are basically in the right place early on in a modern
camera's design. However, for whatever reason, it hasn't panned out that way.
The sceptic in me thinks it's a deliberate ploy so the manufacturers have something
new each time (it must be getting tough finding new features at the rate that
some camera models get replaced). It all just means that the desirability of an older model really is affected
(for me anyway).
so obsolescence, new features and technology, better ergonomics all conspire
against the cheaper prices of aging models. This tug of war, push-pull effect
will only end one way; that the newer model is kept while the older versions
are skipped (eventually).
wonder how long it takes before the mark one is finally disregarded by even the
least demanding photographer? Five, ten years probably at most.
we tolerate cheaper cameras and accept that they will end up in landfill (one
appalling aspect of consumerism) then where does that leave the more expensive
cameras (which include high-end Sony, Canon, Nikon, Leica, Hasselblad, Phase
One etc). Professional high end cameras tend to get used much harder. Wedding
photographers will wear out shutters at a great rate, the press and sports photographer will hammer
their gear in all weathers etc. Many top photographers don't necessarily treat
their gear with kid gloves; they don't have time to always be placing gear back
in its box and polishing it on a Sunday. At these levels in the profession the
camera gear, whilst vital to the work, is there to make money. I'm not saying
we treat our gear badly, but it is an tool and in constant use, so it will wear
more than in the hands of a careful amateure. It may be the case that, even though cameras
at this level of hardiness, will only last a finite amount of time before
repairs and servicing become too expensive and a new camera is needed.
between the cheap plastic (almost throwaway) camera and the very expensive
professional high-end model, there is a large range of prosumer cameras out
there. This is the bit I have most concern with. If I bought a Leica, with its
premium manufactured body, then I'd want to have that for a lifetime. Leica's
are supposed to get better with age! Vintage Leica's have a beautiful patina
acquired over many years of use. The brassing adds to their love of ownership.
A modern Leica won't be around long enough to gain this aging. Long before any
signs of loving use have developed the camera will be obsolete, irrespective of
its premium price tag. The software and firmware will eventually not be
supported when manufacturers concentrate their resorces on the newer models. Repairs (especially electronic) won't be either possible or
economically viable in time. I think that's a great shame. Even a vintage Nikon FM gets
a patina (the brass metal showing though where the camera has been handled over
many years). But the Nikon is still serviceable. It's relatively simple (being
all mechanical) and film is still available. But the early digital Leica is,
alas, doomed to become an expensive paperweight. It may have a longer time to
get to that stage than a Sony, but, in my opinion, it's a greater shame than
the Ford Escort equivalent.
solution to this waste would be a modular design; one that would have the high
quality, fine workmanship body of a Leica but with replaceable internal
components and a lifetime firmware / software support. The whole camera would
be serviceable. We are at the stage where the ergonomics must surely be there
(generally, our hands are the same and the buttons and dials won't be changing
now). The envisaged design would be high-end (you'd want to be keeping it for
years and expect it to last, so would expect a good level of mechanical
resilience). The internal components would all be replaceable, as modular
units, which would allow for further sensor and processor development etc. The
design would be more traditional, which would hopefully add to the longevity
appeal. Customers would invest in such a concept with the real expectation of
owning this camera for life (their life, not the product's). Imagine a digital
camera which is twenty, thirty years old or more; one that has maybe passed
through many hands or been in the same for that time; a camera made of such
high quality that it wears well and wears beautifully, yet is always up to date
technologically. Imagine the reduced landfill benefits. I know that this is
largely a pipe dream. The manufacturer would have to survive for the whole time
or be able to be taken over by an equally committed business should they
fail. But I think we are at the stage where this concept isn't far off becoming
All images made by me