Kodak DC 210 vs Nikon vs Canon vs — Does it even matter anymore?

My first digital camera, a 1 Megapixel Kodak DC 210, now a relic, sitting in front of future Nikon and Canon relics. The DC came with an 8 MB, not GB, Compact Flash card.

The first digital cameras I used were the school’s Sony Mavicas that stored images on floppy discs and the Apple Quicktakes.  It wasn’t until the affordable Kodaks came out that I finally got one of my own.

My dad bought me that Kodak DC 210.  It was on discount for about $400+.  I was in college then and it seemed like such a large sum of money.  Of course it was nothing compared to what pro film cameras cost, but for someone living off student loans it was a lot.  I really wanted, and needed it.  Even though I was a Drawing and Painting major at the University of Georgia, I was always interested in anything that could help my art.

To put things in a historical setting (and to antiquate myself with the young folks), this was before cameras were in cell phones.  This was even before cell phones.  The only affordable ones for students were the black brick like Nokias that now for some reason only appear in war movies used by certain people to trigger things.  We still shot film, Polaroid 600 was still readily available at Wal-Mart, and college graduates were just about to enter the working world right at the .com bust.  Back then, technology hadn’t matured enough to allow everyone and their mother to post every nonsensical thought in one spot–there was only AOL, CollegeClub, Asian Avenue, Friendster, Hot or Not, and that other silly site that let you wonder who had a crush on you.  Asian kids started off their online personas by adopting handles that had some alpha numeric uPPer and L0Wer cA5e italicized thugged out garbage.  Artists and creatives who felt compelled to showcase their art and designs online had to create something in good old HTML.  We also had big black portfolios back then and critiques were given in person, and not sugar coated.

One of the first things that popped in my head was that I could use the digital images from my new camera for reference photos for my artwork.  At the time, even my professor was still using peel apart polaroids as references for his murals and drawings.

I also thought it would be great to be able to take photos of the various artwork we did for posterity.  With the DC 210 I captured friends’ artwork and used them in a Macromedia Director project I made for our exit show.  I used only that little camera, even set at a miniscule 640×480 resolution, as to not fill up its 8MB memory card.

Kodak DC 210: Details of Marietta, Charcoal on Stonehenge, 2000

Kodak DC 210: Marietta, Charcoal on Stonehenge, 2000 | Back then I didn't even care that the image wasn't sharp, I was happy to just get my works into the computer.

This was probably the moment where I realized I no longer had to scan my artwork on the flatbed.  A digital photo was good enough, especially when I was used to scanning my 18×24″ and up artwork in sections and stitching together in Photoshop.  The same thinking even applies to modern day DSLR’s.  There’s nothing stopping a person from shooting multiple images to make a larger one.

With the DC I could document the progression of my artwork. Since I worked slowly and methodically on these somewhat photorealistic charcoal drawings, it was nice to have the steps, something I wouldn't have done with film.

Kodak DC 210: Details, Charcoal on Stonehenge, 2000

Even though the Kodak was always with me, I was moderate with my shooting, simply due to the deficiencies of the camera.  It used AA batteries, took a few seconds to shoot and store images, and transferred images to the computer via a very slow serial port.

Still, it was nice to take pictures on random outings or lunch with friends.

Athenstown, Pencil and Photoshop, 2002 | Reference photos from the Kodak DC 210

Besides using it as a visual diary, a little personal theme began to develop out of really cherishing that little camera. Quoting myself from a different post:

I carried it everywhere with me and would ask random strangers to take their picture. It was a good way of meeting people, breaking the ice of sorts since I would also have a satchel of prints showing my resulting art. Some would say no, and with it the inevitable awkwardness would set in, but you couldn’t get discouraged, you would just move on, and ask for forgiveness for creeping out someone. This wasn’t street photography by any means, which is normally associated with more covert practices and an eye towards moments, juxtapositions and compositions. Oftentimes, this was just “Can I take your picture?”

Suzanne, Pen and Ink / Photoshop, 2002 | Reference photo from the Kodak DC 210

These street and event portraits, I would simply use for reference photos for my drawings and paintings. I guess after a while it became a theme, an actual artistic body of work that just happened to grow out of us just being who we were, regular working stiffs that liked going to events, eating at restaurants, and traveling.

Suzanne 2, Pencil / Photoshop, 2002 | Reference photo from the Kodak DC 210

I wouldn’t say this was trendsetting by any means, but at the time we were all in the early stages of this so called social age, the age of collecting people and the questionable level of connectivity and understanding that we were all supposed to be reveling in.

Suzanne 4, Charcoal / Photoshop, 2002 | Reference photo from the Kodak DC 210

You can capture a person with a click of the computer or camera, but in the time it takes to draw a “pretty girl” it gives you time to think about all sorts of things–like life and how we fit into everything. The instant photograph was just the starting point. No one really had any time to sit for portraits anymore, we were all too obsessed with the latest popularity technology and our short memories and patience, and this theme was a play on that.

Kai, Charcoal, 2002 | Reference photo from the Kodak DC 210, on the streets of New Orleans

Drawings of strangers, Drawings of friends, Drawings from photos, turned back into disposable photos for a disposable culture.

Stranger, Pen and Ink / Photoshop, 2002 | Reference photo from the Kodak DC 210, Sanford Stadium, Athens, GA

Some became friends, some became muses, but most are just drawings. Nothing more in this revolving door of social interaction. Templates to work on line weight, color, contrast and value. It was never intended to be fine art by any means, but it sure was fun to do and share, which I think is still the main goal of both art and photography…

Linsie, Pen and Ink / Photoshop, 2003 | Reference photo from the Kodak DC 210, Pensacola, FL

Lonie 1, Pen and Ink / Photoshop, 2003 | Reference photo from the Kodak DC 210, Jacksonville, FL

Details: Hello, Goodbye, Charcoal, 2003 | Reference photo from the Kodak DC 210

Fast forward over a decade, and things have really changed.  Technology has given voice to many who didn’t have much to say to begin with.  I’m sorry to have that cynical view.  Artists already tend to be early adopters, spending food money on gear or guitars to achieve their vision.  Technology marches on, and becomes what the masses demand it to be.

The photos from that Kodak camera, they were bad quality wise, but it was pretty much all I had.  The images posted here are a mere 600 pixels wide, and the images on other social sites and mobile phones need not be any larger.  At some point we have to ask ourselves, how much is good enough?  I’ve owned and used a number of cameras in my short career.  Most of the ones in this current era, are just incremental upgrades of the last “big thing” that made us whip out the credit card.  I was treasure hunting at the Goodwill a few months ago and found a Kodak DC (same as the one I’ve been writing about here) selling for about $8.  It’s a camera that obviously no modern person would ever think twice about…

I believe that when anyone starts off on any personal endeavor that’s when you are the most free and most creative.  When you’re young, you take pictures for the fun of it, compose and light things without a care.  When you become a seasoned “pro,” it’s more about battling with tools to maintain a certain level of consistency and quality.  You learn more about the things you can’t do as opposed to the openness of when you first started out.

I love cameras.  I love lenses and photographic devices that let me capture whatever.  I like reading up on them and when a spark appears when I see what a particular tool can allow me to do better or easier or differently, I usually buy it.  However I don’t think I’ve ever needed a camera to make or remind me of the moments that are great just being in.

…Like that time on the bench on that random weekday in the spring, remember?

Posted in Art, Photography, Writing and tagged .