What is Wrong with Using an Old Camera?

I think one of the things I never quite expected when I have acquired the Sony Alpha A350, was the overwhelming response from so many people around me. The look in their faces, tells a thousand horror stories, as if I have committed one of the biggest mistakes in my life. There would be that standard set of questions on how bad is the high ISO performance, how under-performing the old camera is, and why would I waste my money on an old junk that nobody seems to care anymore. Everyone says there are better and newer options out there. Everyone is disappointed with my decision on getting the Sony. It gets really exhausting having to explain myself over and over again, and why should I have to justify my own personal choice of gear in the first place anyway? 

So I thought ok screw the comments, the A350 really is a dinosaur, so I decided to take the plunge and upgraded myself to a Sony A99. And slapped a spanking sexy Zeiss onto it too. 

Ok, kidding. That A99 belongs to a friend Jack. I would probably need to starve for a few months before I can afford one, and hopefully I don't die in the process. The sad fact of being an engineer in Malaysia. 

Now here is the thing that saddens me, the way people look at cameras, and judge camera performance. Everything revolves around high ISO shooting. If the camera has bad high ISO performance, that camera is automatically branded as a lousy camera. The very plain truth is that I shoot 90% of my photographs in good light, especially for my personal shutter therapy session, when I brought the camera out on the streets, usually it was under hot sun. ISO100 was more than sufficient to cover most of my shooting needs. If I went into the shaded areas, I would bump up the ISO to 200, and the most, 400, and I can still get away with very clean, noise free files. Also, I would not hesitate to go up to ISO800, if needed, even if there was some trace of noise and grain in the image, it is not the end of the world !! Seriously, when I am shooting, high ISO noise was never my priority. It is strange how that is the only thing that everyone seems to be thinking and talking about. Since when photography has become dominated by high ISO performance?

Instead of lusting over what the camera can do at ISO178629101620000, I actually pay more attention to what the camera can do at base ISO. Shooting at ISO100, the camera delivers its best image quality, offering best resolution, with amazing amount of details captured, good tones and rich color information. Sony A350, being an older generation camera uses a CCD type sensor, which renders the color very differently, and to be very frank, I do love the unique color profile this Sony produces. Why emphasize on ISO100? Well, that was the setting I used for almost 90% of my shots. If it delivers good enough image quality, I am happy. Coupled with a 50mm F1.8 lens, I can shoot in dimmer lighting conditions without the need to push up the ISO settings too high. And the 50mm F1.8 lens is cheap. If the lighting gets darker, there are other options to work around the limitations, such as use of flash. Yes, flash is a valid, and very important tool in photography, and for those natural ambient light die-hard shooter, we shall have a separate round of throw-down, but lets not get into that here. 

All images were taken with Sony A350, 18-70mm kit lens and 50mm F1.8 lens. Some images, as mentioned, were taken with a borrowed Minolta 70-210mm F4 beercan. Thanks Jack !

Dim Sum for breakfast

On top of everyone else

They come in a large group

Friendly Chinese Man

Waiting for Breakfast

Morning Market Shopping

How to kill a Chicken. 
Tilt was intended to fit the whole frame. Sometimes that 50mm is a bit tight, when space constraint is a problem. I have been thinking about the 35mm F1.8 lens too. 

Friendly Stranger 


Stranger 2, taken with the beercan. Amazing lens, I must admit. Inexpensive too. 

This boy actually came up to me, and asked to be photographed !! I think after being on the street so often, you develop some kind of people-aura that attracts subjects. 
Taken with beercan. Love the compressed background, and also the creamy bokeh. 


No umbrella

DIY cap

I was shooting with Kelvin, and bumped into some usual suspects, Yeow and Mun Keat. I think KL is getting smaller. 

Rain is not an excuse for not shooting. 

That Sony A99 you saw earlier belonged to Jack. He is one of the photographers that I do admire. We went to Pudu before, and he have had a scene he wanted to do, but he needed high ground. This second visit, he came prepared, and executed his shot. I saw the shot reviewed on the A99's screen, and it was amazing. 
You know a true, passionate photographer, when you see one. 

Jack's beercan, Minolta 70-210mm F4, quite a great lens. I should consider getting one. 

I have no issues using the Sony system. In fact, it was quite the opposite, I was enjoying it through and through. I think I am one of the very few guys that have nothing much to complain about gear. As long as it is digital (I do not shoot film), as long as it has good and fast enough autofocus (sorry Leica, manual focus does not work for me), as long as the system has basic manual control functions, I can make do with it. 

We should pay more attention to the growth of photography, more so than just emphasizing on getting better gear or newer camera that has better ISO capabilities. Take Jack for example, he has his vision of the high angle shot, and he went through the trouble to have his shot accomplished. That has nothing to do with gear choice, but determination and will to make the shot happen mattered more. Know how to connect to the subjects you are photographing. Pay more care to composition and overall image arrangements. Pre-visualize your shots, plan ahead your framing. Wait for the decisive moment, and master the controls of your camera, exposure settings and all the other smaller tricks to make the best out of what you have. Learn to act quick, and think quick. You will improve to be a better photographer. 

Lets stop measurebating, and start taking more photographs !! 


  1. Only the gear geeks care about how old your camera is. Regular people don't. I was doing some beach shooting early in the summer with an old Nikon D1x and a fairly large lens. A man and woman came over, probably in their early 40s and commented on what a nice camera I had and that it looked so expensive. And yet when I go out with the Leica, no one notices at all. Perceptions are meaningless. Use what works and what you can afford. Great images as always.

    1. Thanks Libby !! You spelled it out so clearly, use what works !! The right tool for the right job.

  2. interesting topic especially for a people like who doesn't even use a dslr or mirrorless but a compact for photography(x10). somehow new gear are always tempting and people will always question on the gear you used when you show them your photo.
    Anyway great that you have such strong stand (which i don't think i have as new gear are more tempting compare to old one) and great image (like "they come in large group")

    1. Thanks MY for the kind words. Indeed newer cameras will always be tempting even to myself, but I always asked myself is what I am currently using good enough? Almost all the time the answer is yes !

    2. welcome, again i should say great you have such a strong stand and be so satisfied and convince of the decision you made even after countless question.i guess i will just expect more work from your sony,that will be the best reasoning :)

  3. Donald W Leitzel11/21/2012 04:14:00 AM


    I enjoy using my E-500, and EP-1, but sometimes it's fun to put a roll of film in the old OM-3 (purchased in 1984).
    And return to my photographic roots. I say if it work use it. Some people get to hung up on the latest gear.

    Don from America

    1. Hey Donald,
      E-500 and E-P1, wonderful cameras those are !! E-500 is using CCD sensor, which has amazing Kodak colors.

  4. Some time ago I used a Panasonic LX5 for almost a year, almost exclusively. I figured when Juha Haataja can do it, maybe I can do it as well?

    It's an amazing little camera and it made me long for light weight. It's the reason I switched from Nikon to Olympus.

    High ISO on the LX5 meant ISO 400. That was just workable when using RAW and post-processing in Photoshop, using Topaz Denoise or Noise Ninja. And guess what? It was perfectly possible.

    The LX5 had a 10 megapixel sensor, and when I used a square aspect ration (as I did almost always), my images had 7.5 megapixel. Cool, huh? But that was the standard only six, seven years ago. If it was good then and if we had plenty of pixels then, why wouldn't it suffice now? I loved the LX5 and I wouldn't want to miss the experience.

    Today the LX5 is just an almost unused backup camera, but not because it is so bad, no, only because the OM-D is so good, and that without having so much more weight.

    1. Panasonic LX5 has been regarded very highly as a great compact camera. Of course the OMD is miles ahead, no doubt about that. nonetheless, for general shooting, I do believe the Panasonic would suffice !! Rarely do we need to push up beyond ISO400. And yes, I use Noise Ninja too, when I use very high ISO settings. Like you mentioned, it works well.

  5. Keep shooting and don't explain anymore what the sony camera is and what a great camera is it and you didn't make a mistake when buying it, this is boring. Please!

    1. Please leave a name when you comment next time.

  6. Hey Robin, this is the marketing strategy of the big company to convince the mass that new camera take great shot. I seen a lot of people buying in DSLR but know nothing about the camera and shoot everything in AUTO. A lot of photographer did care about their equipment as they need to show off to their clients to make business (but doesn't mean they take good Picture) Nevertheless, please keep up your effort and we fully your post

    Francis from Toronto

    1. Hey Francis
      True, it is the marketing strategy to drive more sales, only by selling new cameras can they earn more. Nonetheless the product cycles are getting shorter and shorter. It is crazy to have camera releases so often now.

  7. Totally agree with you. I still use my old E-PL1 camera simply because I cannot use 100% of the equipment because of the lack of experience. I decided to learn more instead of investing more money in equipment, apart from lens (the kit is sloooow).
    If I buy a new camera it rather be the camera with better steering controls (E-PL1 really sucks in that matter).

    Greetings from another engineer from Poland

    1. Hello Arek,
      E-PL1 is indeed a very good camera. It is very slow, I agree on that, and having better functions and controls would be great (control dials). Nonetheless, I am still loving mine !

  8. Hi Robin. Great set of photos again. From the pictures, i can almost tell which are the ones from the beercan.
    The beercan lens you were using is the US model ... with Maxxum as the nomenclature. The Europe/Asia model does not have this nomenclature. As promised, i will pass mine (Asian model) to you. I believe you can exploit the lens much better than it sitting in the dry box for the last 15 years. I'll pass by KL sometime in December. Will hook up with you and pass you the lens.
    Cheers :)

    1. Hello Calex,
      Looking forward to seeing you in December !!

  9. sad times when people care more about gear than taking photos! poor mind people. your A350 is great because YOU are great.

  10. I came from the Minolta/Sony mount and found my way to the M43 mount (and your blog for that matter) which I like very much due to the weight and performance :)

    1. Hello Moises,
      Thanks for telling me, and also I hope you are enjoying your m43 system !

  11. You want old gear? I still use my E-1. That's old.

    1. E-1 is a great camera !! Built like a tank, great Kodak colors, and amazing dynamic range.

  12. I've been using my LX3 for over three years now. It's the only camera that I have but for the type of photography that I do, I don't feel inadequate.


    1. hello will,
      thanks for sharing. LX3 is a great camera, a few people I know still stay faithful to it !

  13. "Since when photography has become dominated by high ISO performance?"
    Since people exclusively use SLOW zoom lenses and still expect to be able to do photography at night with them?
    Of course absolutely noise-free, the one mortal danger of anyone using a digital camera, the feared n-word.

    1. Hey Alex,
      it is sad to see how people have become obsessed with noise free images. I think photography is a lot more than just noise!

  14. Hello Robin,
    Thank you for sharing yet another wonderful images of street's characters. On top of the other great images, Jack's image really shows his passion and determination to get the image he wants. Love the fire within him.
    New camera? Wow! The camera suppliers load the market with new product everyday. I think I let go that issue except for the second body, my saving is still on OMD for it's light weight, weather-sealed and my root, Olympus compact camera user.
    As for the Shutter therapy, I will release my 'gian/itchy fingers/addiction' this evening before the heavy shooting this coming weekend. Hope no rain and beautiful evening sky.
    May you have a great day.
    John Ari Ragai

    1. The sky is beautiful, with good evening light !!

  15. Hi Robin,
    Great photos. Regarding the beercan, you called the bokeh creamy, on the Russian forum of Sony community they call it "moist" :). Some Minolta lenses have this kind of rendering (85/1.4, 35-70/4) and beercan is one of them. It's a mediocre tele-lens, slow lots of CA, but very good for portraits :)

    1. Thanks for the info RTI. Indeed I am loving the background blur rendering of the beercan !

  16. Hi Robin:

    Although I use the Nikon D700 as my main wedding photograghy pro camera with 3 Pro glass Nikon lens, I have the D300s as backup (sold Fuji S5 Pro), and of course the Olympus EPL1 for personal use. I also do the occasional video jobs for weddings as I have the Canon GL2 pro camcorder and occasionally rent the Canon pro XHA1s. For video album jackets and disk photo labels, I actually just carry along the Olympus EPL1 with 14-150mm lens and take park photos of bride and groom, instead of my other gear as it is lighter to do the photo label work. Who says you cannot use a EPL1 for paid work (for the photo disk labelling anyway on video jackets) and clients like the album case and disk photos labels so much (particularly the Olympus colours I imagine) they ask for the digital files. In good light the EPL1 camera can still shine with photos and a good lens.

    If I am doing strictly a photography job, I stay with the 2 Nikons FX and DX. Tempted to trade up from D300s to D600 but bigger files means slower workflow over large quantities of files like 1000 per wedding. For now the D700 with pro glass works great and has lots of detail. I am building a DX lens collection for D300s that works well, so I can take on vacations and leave the heavier FX at home and use a backpack for DX with lens. I will also bring along the EPL1 naturally with some lenses.

    Nikon still has great performers of lenses in DX that are not too costly for personal use and you can save 1/3 or more buying second hand lightly used (as I did) and lots available online in the big city. Nikon's DX 16-85mm VR and the small sized 60mm micro G (1:1 macro) (actually FX) both work extremely sharp on D300s and I am very impressed with results. Other relatively sharp lens for DX with very good reviews online at photozone.com are 35mm G F1.8, 50mm G F1.8, 55-300mm VR and these do not cost much even brand new at $250 to $350 new Canadian or USD. I know you have friends, Robin, that shoot with Nikon DSLR and they can tell you which lens are great they like. Other point to mention, is that the D300s outperforms the newer Canon D60 and 7D in colour depth marks on DXOmarks and I agree with that, despite the older Nikon sensor from 2009 and performs well up to iso 800/1600. FX works better in lower light though.

    My point of all this, for hobby or personal enjoyment use, one does not need to go to FullFrame and keep in a reasonable budget if one wants to use a DSLR. Other advantages of non full frame are lighter smaller lenses for travel, and lower cost to acquire. For weddings I need the FX for work to stay competitive in my area in Toronto, but DX still works wonderfully as a backup and also personal use. It also does well in good light for pro use.

    I totally understand why you picked the Sony camera as backup, and you are maximizing its uses. Have a great day!

    1. Hey Adrian,
      Thanks again for sharing your precious thoughts on your camera choice and shooting preferences. It is great to hear that you use the E-PL1 professionally, and your clients actually like the files !! Indeed, as you mentioned, with good lighting condition, that E-PL1 should not be underestimated.

      Surely for pro work, it is crucial to have more capable equipment, and more powerful gear means we miss less shots. Having that extra assurance means we can focus on the job better and worry less about gear performance.

      Nonetheless, I did mention very clearly that Sony was for my personal use only (and as a backup, in case the Olympus fails), and even so, my friends around me just could not understand that, and worse, kept poking on the "high ISO noise issue" argument. They all make same conclusions, that I will regret this camera. You know it gets very, very frustrating. Hence the rant in this blog entry.

      I don't see how the Sony has anything complain worthy when I shoot everything at ISO100 under good morning sun. In fact, I am falling in love with the CCD colors, it is just amazing, the tones are quite different from what I get from Olympus (not that Olympus is bad, I love Olympus colors). Having something different to play with can open up fresh perspective too.

  17. Robin, you are completely correct - let others blabber about "high ISO performance" and noise and whatnot; it's all completely irrelevant. For the work you do, your equipment (and that definitely includes the old Sony) is not just adequate, the results are brilliant! It's never about the gear, but all about the photographer.

    Heck, I use a old D80 and even a D100 and get -to my eyes- more than satisfactory results. In film, I use Contax equipment that's 70 years old, Nikon gear that's 50 years old, and medium format stuff that's about my own age. It's the results that count. And trust me, even pre-war optical systems can be fantastic. Only gearheads and pixelpeepers (that probably never print murals or billboards) whine about ISO and noise and whatnot.

    You are miles above those, because you are a really talented PHOTOGRAPHER instead of a nerd pixel peeping on his LCD screen trying to find CA at 400%. Hah!

    1. Oh my, they consider D80 old now? It is the same generation as my A350, if I remember correctly. Thanks for the kind words again, but then again, like usual I do not deserve them at all !

  18. Well Robin, just to let you know that being an engineer here in Italy is far worse than in Malaysia ...

  19. For that matter, being an engineer in my area of the USA right now is no great thing either although it's never really been great in the past now that I think about it. But I'm employed for the time neing and that's something to be glad for.
    FWIW, I generally think older cameras are very under-appreciated by a lot of people for what they can do. I've still got an older 6mp body that I still like to use. So surprise people with your older dslr I say.

    1. Yeap, I am still being employed too, and I agree, that is really something to be thankful for.
      I know right, using older cameras does not mean it is bad, if it serves its purpose well, it can still take great images !!

  20. Couldn't agree more Robin!

    I wish more people would stop obsessing over gear and shoot more. If i'm being perfectly honest, i have to include myself in that category to.


  21. Let's be honest, Robin: the A350 wasn't a Sony Alpha model that got lots of consideration at the time of release; a bit like the Canon 50D (following the impressive 40D) during the same period, many people considered its sensor pixels too cramped compared to its direct predecessors the A200 & A300... But as mentioned in an earlier post, this particular model somehow succeeded well in preserving typical CCD qualities (awesome boisterous colors at base ISO) while ironically adding a unique, unexpected bonus to the mix (i.e. some VERY fine grains at higher ISO settings) thanks to the crowded 14.2 megapixel real estate...

    So BRAVO for the lucky finding, and all my congratulations for assuming such a daring move against the trendy currents!!!

    Today, the A350 would certainly be the model that I would desperately seek if I had not given up my entire Alpha-mount gear so as to finance a new, great Olympus E-5 adventure!

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