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Requiem for a Camera

Nikon Coolpix 990

Recently I have been reduced to taking photos with my phone. It’s handy to have a camera in your phone, but these days it’s just about all I have.

For years now I’ve had the use of an old beat-up Nikon Coolpix 990 from work. I had it with me when we evacuated, and so was forced to keep it for several months when campus was closed. In the months after Katrina I took it with me everywhere — there were so many strange and amazing sights in the city in those days which I felt almost duty-bound to record.

We bought another camera at work, an Olympus C8080, and so the Nikon became our second camera, which I borrowed extensively. And truth be known I liked it a lot better than the Olympus. I shot some test photos that illustrate why.

But the Nikon has slowly deteriorated. I guess it’s taken a few knocks over ten years of use. Pieces have fallen off. The battery door won’t stay closed. Neither will the door for the media card.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I suppose I should confess that there have actually been two Nikon Coolpix 990s in my life. I accidentally ruined the first one by leaving it out in the rain. I was so ashamed I never told anyone, and purchased a replacement off eBay out of my own pocket. Because I kept this a secret, it seems to me like there was only one camera, when in fact there were two. This reminds me of the multiple Severians embedded in the narrative of The Book of the New Sun, but now I am digressing most egregiously.)

Some time over the past month it’s just ceased to operate entirely. That makes me sad. I’ve taken more photos with that camera than any other in my life, I’m sure. Thousands of photos, probably tens of thousands.

So, today I am shedding a tear for an old dead soldier. What I liked most about the Coolpix 990 was that it took good-looking photos without much fuss. I used it as a point-and-shoot for the most part, since I don’t understand much about concepts like f-stops or ISO settings. But I also liked the form of the Coolpix 990. It doesn’t have that traditional barrel-shape of many cameras. It’s relatively flat, which made it easy to sling over my shoulder while riding around on my bike. The twisting body is also pretty cool, and made it easier to take candid photos where people didn’t even realize that what I was holding was even a camera.

Before the tears dry, I’m already thinking about buying a new camera for my personal use. I’ve realized that, artistic pretensions aside, what I really want is a compact point-and-shoot, something small and easy to use. Of course it should also be capable of taking great pictures. And I’d like to spend less than $500.

So I’m thinking about the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V.

Published inGeekyPix


  1. Lee Lee

    I actually feel a similar pain B, as our old Nikon Coolpix 7600 is starting to show dramatic age. That sony camera sounds and looks amazing! We’re looking at a Nikon Coolpix L200, which is a hybrid between a dslr and point and shoot. The biggest problem we are having at this point is time between shots and actually transferring the images has become a pita. I always liked pictures of you with that camera. It seemed to have a personality like you, different but interesting…

  2. Julie (Marietta,GA) Julie (Marietta,GA)

    Please buy a new camera asap. I am in desperate need of more pictures of my old neighborhood. I’ve come to realize that you are the only person who can captured the “soul” of the area.

    P.S. You also promised us some pictures of your new home!

  3. I’m a big fan of the Canon ProShot A-series. I’ve had two – one got submerged a year or so ago, and I bought an A570 IS to replace it. They’re relatively inexpensive, use SD cards and standard AA batteries, are good point/shoot cameras, and are fairly small and pocketable. I moved up to a Canon DLSR this year, but still use the A570 as a backup or when I need something to fit in a pocket.

  4. I take mountains of car pictures with a rather beat up “slim” cybershot DSC-T10, and my storm pictures were all taken on a miniature cybershot DSC-U30. My wedding photographer was shocked to find out I took all those car pictures on a battered point and shoot.

    They have taken good pictures and taken a beating, but I’ve run through both of them in three years and change apiece – my current one is having steadyshot motor issues where the whole camera spazzes out. May not be the longest-lasting camera, especially with a little one running around, you’re going to want to give persephone her own camera soon enough.

  5. I have a special affection for all things living and otherwise that went through the flood with me. I personally saw so many pictures that you took with that camera. We should have a funeral and bury it will full honors.

  6. jack jack

    Get a camera that can shoot RAW files. There are a number of point and shoots that can do this now.

  7. toneknee toneknee

    Ability to shoot RAW files is a good feature and so is a manual exposure mode. Here’s a good camera to consider:

    I’ve recently purchased a Canon D-SLR and yes I had to learn all about f-stops, shutter speeds, and ISO’s. Learning to control exposure settings is actually fun as I’ve discovered. There’s just so much more artistic flair you can add to a shot than having the camera do it for you. Just last week I went on a hike out here in the central Cascades and took a shot of a waterfall that was along the trail. The waterfall was called Bridal Veil Falls. It plummets down about 1500 feet from a mountain lake. With a slight bit of imagination you can see why it was called Bridal Veil. However, setting my shutter speed to a quarter of a second I was able to achieve a blurring effect in the picture. The effect of this exposure time made it seem as if there were indeed several bridal veils draped over the rocky face of this cliff.

    With RAW files you can take this a step further by actually tweaking both the exposure value of the picture and/or making the colors richer…or perhaps even changing the “color temperature” of your shot. You can do this in Photoshop or Photomatix.

  8. MF MF

    I’m also looking at getting a new camera — I can’t find anything I’m in love with, but I’m leaning toward a Canon S90 — I’ve had bad luck Canons, but that was more than ten years ago.

    Uh — anybody else out there have any good camera advice — I want something small that I can carry anywhere, that takes pictures that are good enough to publish, and that can take the first picture really fast. It should have a good zoom too.

    I loved my old Konica-Minolta!

  9. Jaime Jaime

    I take tons of photos too and bought a Canon A1000 IS–it is small and compact enough for me to carry everywhere, uses rechargeable AA batteries and doesn’t require charging very frequently. Easy to use and some nice features too. This one is a 10mp version, but there is now a 12 mp version. I paid around $200, but I think it is now cheaper. Pretty much all of my photos on my FB profile were from this camera.

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