Breathing New Life Into Your Old Camera

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In the ever-changing digital world, it is often financially difficult to keep pace with the technology and constantly acquire the latest and greatest gear. Many of us save up our hard-earned cash to get the latest camera, only to see it be replaced weeks or months after we acquired our new toy. That can be disheartening, of course, but here are a few tips on how you can breathe new life into your aging digital camera.

I was going to conclude with a few thoughts, but let’s begin with them instead…

  • Remember/learn/know that an older digital camera is completely capable of creating great photographs—even if it is one or two generations behind the latest offerings from that same manufacturer. This is fact.
  • When digital cameras came out, professional photographers were regularly using cameras that had between 2MP and 6MP of resolution and poor high ISO digital noise characteristics, yet they were still making great images.
  • When new cameras come out, the main advances are usually in resolution (more megapixels), processing speed (larger buffers, faster saving), processing capabilities (better ISO noise performance), and improvements in autofocus (speed/accuracy/options).
  • None of those improvements serve to make the camera you currently own obsolete, so you can still take the same great photos your camera took a few weeks ago before the new version was announced. Keep on shooting and don’t lose any sleep thinking your camera is no longer relevant.

If you think your long-in-the-tooth digital camera is in need of a facelift, please read on.

Firmware Update

Some manufacturers are better than others about continuously rolling out firmware updates for legacy cameras. If your camera is from one of those manufacturers, congratulations!

If you want to make sure that your camera is tuned up and ready for action, log into its manufacturer’s website and make sure you have the latest firmware installed. If you don’t, then get it uploaded and go out shooting!

Also, many of today’s lenses have their own internal brains (crazy, I know), and they might be eligible for firmware updates that will increase their performance, as well.

The relatively inexpensive 50mm lens is a great place to improve your image quality.

New Glass—Part I

When it comes to instant improvement in image quality, for any camera, regardless of its age, there is nothing that delivers as instantly as a new lens—especially if you are shooting the “kit” lens or lenses that came with your camera.

Assuming that you do have a kit lens, the first foray into improved optics that I would suggest is the classic 50mm (or 50mm equivalent if you have a cropped sensor) lens. Not only are these lenses usually spectacular in performance, but you might also be shocked at how reasonable they are to acquire. I wax poetic about the praises of these lenses in this article.

If your preferred shooting style is specific—landscapes, sports, macro/close-up, portraiture, street photography, etc.—you may want to look at a lens that better matches that genre of photography instead of the 50mm. Check out this article for some more thoughts on those considerations.

Change up your focal length options by going wider…or more telephoto.

New Glass—Part 2

Depending on what lens or lenses you already own, you can give your photography, and older camera, a fresh new experience by getting a lens with a focal length beyond what you already cover with your zoom or prime lenses.

While an 18-55mm kit lens on a cropped sensor APS-C camera feels pretty wide-angle at the 18mm setting, you will be surprised at how much wider a 14mm lens looks through your viewfinder. On the other end, extending yourself into the further telephoto ranges is always very fun for a photographer. Seeing the world at 200mm or 300mm, when you are used to the nearer telephoto field of view, can be really eye-opening.

Regardless of whether you go wider or longer, you might feel like your camera has found a new way of exploring the world.

Using older, manual focus lenses can be a creative boon to your photography.

New (to You) Glass—Part 3

Consider affixing a “vintage” lens to your camera. If you have a DSLR, go hunting for an older manual focus lens by that manufacturer (with the same lens mount) and take it for a spin. If you are doing precision technical photography, this might not be a great option for you, but if you are less concerned with sharpness and flare and other fun characteristics of older lenses, you can go out and make some great creative images while embracing the limits of the older lens.

For those with interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras, the world of adapters and vintage lenses is your oyster! You can pretty much put any kind of lens on your mirrorless camera with the right adapter, so take a deep dive into the B&H Used Department and see what inexpensive vintage lens strikes your fancy.

Accessorizing

Another way to give your camera a new look and/or feel is through accessories. How much you want to spend, or which direction to go, is totally up to you, but here is a short list of ideas.

  1. A new camera strap: This might seem trivial, but… News Flash! Your camera’s factory strap is not the best strap ever made. B&H sells a bunch of different straps of different materials, colors, tech, and just overall coolness than your factory camera strap. And you can take your new cooler strap with you when you get a new camera!

  1. A new grip: Some cameras have the option of adding vertical shooting grips and battery packs, or attachments that make the camera chunkier to hold. The vertical grips and battery packs can be a bit pricey, so I don’t recommend grabbing one just before you upgrade your camera, but, if you have some years left with your machine, a new grip can give the camera an entirely new tactile feel. This may be an accessory to find in the B&H Used Department to save a bit.

  1. Tripod: I said, above, that a better lens was the fastest way to improve image quality instantly. Well, the tripod is a close second. If you don’t have a tripod, or if you have a sub-par inexpensive tripod, it might be time to invest in a tripod that will last you for many generations of whenever you upgrade your camera. I dissect the tripod in this article and recommend some full-sized and travel ones.

  1. Flash: If your camera does not have a built-in flash, or even if it does, a dedicated shoe-mounted speedlight can easily expand your artificial lighting capabilities. Flash photography isn’t always simple, but, with modern technology, it is easier than ever and maybe a new challenge for you as a photographer. Also, like lenses, you can likely use your new speedlight on a future camera.


Infrared Photography

If you are upgrading to a new or different camera, one interesting option is to convert your older camera into an infrared digital camera (or apply filters to your lens to get a similar effect). Infrared photography is definitely not mainstream, and you can make some truly unique images with your modified camera. If you want to check out this alternate world of seeing, then check out this B&H Event Space video.

Online Inspiration

One thing you can do to build up some confidence in your older camera and find inspiration is to go online to websites like Flickr or Instagram and look at images that other photographers have created with your same camera. If they can do it, so can you!

Also, pay attention to the lenses they are using because that could help you figure out what glass you may want to add to your kit!

Keep Shooting!

Hopefully, some of the above suggestions will serve to give your older digital camera a fresh new look or feel. As I wrote above, even though something newer, faster, and shinier is on the market, that does not mean that your camera is suddenly incapable of capturing great images, so shut down your computer and go shooting!

Do you have other ideas for extending the life of your digital camera? Let us know in the Comments section, below!

4 Comments

*Your camera gear is all well and fine, but having an eye for what makes a great photograph is more important. I have a good friend that has won many awards for his artful photography. He was born with a good eye and spent many a year using film until I introduced him to digital. The transition took a few years but eventually he took to it with gusto and became even better with his art. He has provided good advice such as, "If you must choose between a great camera body and a great lens, go for the lens. It's far more important!"

  So far, he has never steered me wrong and my photography has improved dramatically over the years. 

Hey Michael,

That is sound advice from a friend! I wonder how many photographers have gone from the entry-level APS-C Mark I to the Mark II and attached the same kit lenses and had very similar photographic results.

Thanks for reading Explora and sharing your experience!

Best,

Todd

Hello. very informative and useful article. thanks a lot. I will definitely try to do this with my old camera.

Thanks for the kind words, Tim. And, thanks for reading Explora!

Best,

Todd

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