Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My Dearly Departed Digital Friend

Like every other night for the past week, I found myself wide awake at 3 a.m. today. Any reasonable person would probably have been trying to get back to sleep or doing something productive or seeking medical attention. I sat around missing my D1h.

I'll be perfectly honest with the fact that I have an emotional attachment to that camera. I'm aware how idiotic it sounds that I consider that pile of metal and circuits to be a friend, but it's true. And when it stopped working properly almost two years ago I was devastated. I can't count the number of adventures I've been on with that camera. Its underwhelming 2.6-megapixel sensor helped produce some of my all-time favorite images. We've both fallen into the same river (which, surprisingly, was not how the camera met its end). It was tough. It was loud. It was heavy. It was marvelous.

It was easy to see last night that, judging by the pile of dust gathered on top of it, I hadn't picked it up in some time. Not that I really had a reason to anyway. At first I thought the problem was just a bum CF card. But when D1h refused to acknowledge any of the cards I knew were working, the gravity of the situation hit me. The part that was hardest to swallow was not that it couldn't be repaired (because I'm sure it can) it's that I wouldn't ever have it fixed.

Unfortunately my dear D1h is now a disposable item. Just like so many other items of the digital age. Having it repaired would be like having my top-of-the-line laserdisc player fixed. Or refurbishing my Motorola DynaTAC (Thankfully I don't own either of these items, thus I have no concerns over their demise)

The economics of the ordeal is one major reason to leave D1h shelf-bound. A used body can be picked up on eBay for less than $200. This is $1400 less than I paid for mine six years ago, which was $2900 less than someone had paid for it new just three years before that. This camera can currently be bought for 4% of its original price and the cost of repair would likely exceed the cost of replacement. But I don't want a replacement.

The other reason not to repair it, the one that really hurts, is that it's just not good enough anymore. In its day, it was a magnificent beast. But that was nine years ago. To a digital camera that might as well be 90 years. D1h can no longer compete in this world.

Mourners (left to right): Franken-Graphic, Hasselblad, N80, Retina, 4x5
And the worst part is, D1h is just a child compared to it's co-workers that gathered around for an impromptu funeral. Hasselblad, like me, is in its late 20's. 4x5 is 31. Retina just turned 58. Franken-Graphic lost track a while back but parts of it are damn near 70. And each of the elderly cameras is still capable of producing beautiful images, much more than D1h ever was or will be able to do.

Granted, some of the geriatrics have their quirks and limited functions. The Retina sticks in the slow shutter range and the self-timer is broken. Franken-Graphic only has two shutter speeds that work, a number of missing screws and a distrust for any artificial light source other than M-sync flash bulbs. All but the N80 are incapable of metering.

Unlike D1h, if any of these were to stop working I would have them repaired (actually N80 might have to be replaced). It wouldn't take a computer scientist to fix the classics. All you need is a grandfatherly figure with tiny spectacles and an abnormal appreciation for springs. If one of the old-timers broke, it would be tangible. A bent spring, a broken aperture blade, torn bellows, or simply gunked up. They wouldn't be stopped by one inanimate piece of silicon's inability to talk to a separate inanimate piece of silicon. They wouldn't even be stopped by a dead battery as all but N80 contain no battery. D1h used some of the single worst batteries I've ever encountered. They were expensive, didn't hold a charge for very long, and would inevitably suffer from death by memory.

The older cameras I use have passed the test of time. They have proven over the decades that they contain some of the finest mechanics and optics ever used to make an image and they continue to prove it every time I release the shutter. But even the finest optics ever made wouldn't change the fact that D1h will always be a D1h. In less than a decade is has been surpassed time and time again by cameras that are becoming increasingly more intelligent than the majority of their operators.

I tried one last time to bring D1h back to life in the hours before the sun came up today. It wouldn't have been the first time that I successfully ignored an electronic problem away. I was amazed that the battery could still take a charge. The shutter will still fire and it gives all the physical impressions of a camera that still works. Sadly, that's just not enough.

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