Camera Technology: Rapid pace of change – last 20 years

I first became interested in Photography sometime in high school.  This led me to ask for a specific 35 mm SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera as a High School graduation present.  One of the parental units apparently felt they should “consult” with a colleague who they apparently perceived as a “Photography Expert”.  The colleague’s recommendation:  “Buy Brian a Sears brand “110” camera – they are a lot cheaper”.  “OMG!”

I ended up buying the one I originally picked out:  A Canon AE-1.  If memory serves, this camera was introduced about a year earlier.  I had done my “homework” and read the photo mag reviews and felt this was the best 35 mm camera for me.  This period in photography was during the transition from manual exposure to auto-exposure.  Most 35mm SLR cameras at that time were either manual exposure (where you had to use a separate hand-held meter), or semi-auto exposure where you looked in the viewfinder to align needles after first choosing the aperture you wanted, and the camera would then choose the shutter speed for you.  This seemed backward to me, since I thought it would be “more” important to allow the photographer to choose the shutter speed.  Apparently, Canon thought the same way as I did. so I bought this wonderful camera and I think it cost a couple of hundred bucks (including the standard 50mm lens) – a ton of money back then since I was only making about $2.50 an hour.  I loved this camera and was out and about almost every day that first year shooting pictures everywhere.  At the time when it came out (1976), this was a revolutionary camera since it was one of the first that used “electronics” and had a CPU (of sorts).

About a year after that first purchase, Canon ups the playing field, and comes out with it’s “A-1”.  This was the “top-of-the-line” consumer SLR, and it not only had “Shutter Priority” auto exposure, but gave you the 2nd option of having “Aperture Priority” as well.  There were many other features that came along with this camera but being honest, I have now forgotten them.  Oh, after just reading the Wikipedia article, the other revolutionary feature was a totally “programmed” auto exposure mode where the photographer didn’t have to choose either shutter speed or aperture.  The camera would figure out the best combination of shutter speed and aperture for you.  This was THE camera for me.  So, I went to “Studio Camera” (Grosse Pointe Woods), and traded in the Canon AE-1 for this camera.  If I remember correctly, without the trade-in, the purchase price was around $400, not including the standard 50mm lens which, obviously, I didn’t need.  [Is Studio Camera still in business?]

This was such a great and revolutionary camera, it lasted me for exactly 20 yrs.  I didn’t feel a need to upgrade to any other camera during those 20 yrs.  However, due to getting older, I was having trouble with focusing, and it seemed “Auto Focusing” was the current “rage” in 35mm SLR camera technology.  In fact, I was way behind this new technological curve since Canon had started selling their first (really expensive) auto-focus SLRs around the 1987-1992 timeframe (again, according to Wikipedia).  So, in 1998, I started to look at Canon’s auto-focus 35mm SLR line-up and I found one in my price range – the Canon Elan II (introduced in 1995).  Right now, as I write this, I actually don’t remember how much it cost me – I’m going to say, it was probably a couple of hundred more than the A-1.  [I wish I knew where that receipt was for that purchase – ah, it must be in the garage with the 40 or so boxes of other receipts (JUST KIDDING)].

And, once again, I LOVED this camera (the Elan II) as well.  It was a really nice camera, and this new-fangled thing called ‘auto focus’ helped out a lot, let me tell you – no more out of focus pictures – ok, well, most of the time.  By this time, the internet and eBay was just starting up, and a few yrs after the Canon Elan II purchase, I was able to sell the Canon A-1 on eBay, probably getting a couple of hundred for it.  The problem with moving from the Canon A-1 to the Canon (auto-focus) Elan II was lens incompatibility.  All my lenses I had purchased over those 20 years (I had about 5 lenses: three prime lens [24, 35, 85mm], a 70-150mm zoom and a very special 90mm Vivitar Series 1 Macro), were NOT compatible with Canon’s new EOS/EF (auto focus) lens mount.  Fortunately, I was able to sell 4 of the 5 lenses on eBay, including the Vivitar Series 1 Macro (later on, I regretted selling this lens – since it’s now pretty rare and is worth a lot more now than 15 years ago).  On the other hand, the thing about this lens incompatibility was (by this time with newer lens technology), I didn’t need to replace those 3 prime lenses and my zoom, since I was able to purchase just one zoom lens, incorporating all of them into this one lens (a 28 to 300mm zoom).

The point of this story:  how technology is evolving now at a much quicker pace than it did in the 60’s and 70’s…[I used the Canon A-1 for 20 yrs].

After owning the Canon Elan II for 7 years, the next camera purchase was in 2005.  Again, it seemed I was behind the camera technology curve:  There was this new thing called “Digital”.  Can you imagine:  It’s now totally replaced FILM – oh, the HORROR (lol).  Canon came out with their first (really, really expensive) Digital SLRs after the turn of the century (21st, that is).  But, it took another few yrs, until they were within (almost) reaching distance of the average “prosumer” buyer before I decided to get into this new (Digital) game.  No, even in 2005, the price of DSLRs were still quite costly – in comparison.  I purchased the Canon Rebel XT that year (2005), and it cost a few hundred more than the Canon Elan II – again – sans lens – body only.  For those interested, this was an 8 megapixel camera.

I kept the Canon XT for just 6 years before upgrading to the “latest” Canon technological  triumph, the Canon 60D, in 2011 (introduced in 2010).  I’ve now had this beautiful camera for two yrs, and the price of Prosumer digital cameras are coming down, as evidenced by the fact that this camera cost the same as the Canon XT 6 yrs before.  It suits me very well.  The Canon 60D came with an 18 megapixel sensor, and has a 3 inch “live” viewfinder (i.e., “monitor/screen”) on the back – helping out my pair of 50+ year old eyes.  And, this “live” viewfinder is also “articulated” – you don’t have to hold the camera to your eye to see what you’re shooting at (similar to the articulating screens on video cameras).

So to sum up, the “first” camera (the A-1) lasted for 20 yrs, moving to an auto-focus camera (Elan II) for 7 yrs, entering the Digital age with the Rebel XT for 6 yrs, and now have used the quite wonderful 60D for the past 2 years.  Based on this trend of rapid updates in camera technology, will I be buying the next camera 3 years from now??  I wonder what changes are in store for us in the next three years?

Update (April 6, 2014)
A month or two after posting this last yr, I went out and bought the Canon 70D (replacement model for the 60D). The higher end 7D is long in the tooth (4 yrs now) and is due for a replacement soon. We’ll see if I trade in my new 70D for the next version of the 7D (aka 7D Mark II). For now, I’m very happy with this camera (the 70D), it shoots gorgeous video (of my granddaughter Lailah), and I actually bought it for the HDR capability but have not used that function yet.