I’ve had quite the journey with rediscovering film photography over these past two years. I’ve shot several different cameras, about 300 rolls (yes, 300!) rolls of film, experimented with color negative, color slide, and black and white film, and now am home developing black and white film. While it hasn’t been the cheapest hobby I’ve had (though it’s still cheaper than bikes) it’s been loads of fun. Even with the ever-increasing costs of film, I’m still sticking with film.
Yet a couple weeks ago I got my hands on a new-to-me digital camera.
Even though I love film, digital photography still fills a roll in my life. I often use my iPhone to take quick snaps of things, especially for art reference. But I also need it for my day job of working with Emee and her event planning biz. We do a lot of site tours and I’m the designated photographer. I’ve done a little bit of film photography for it, but the costs add up. I’ve used my phone and Emee’s iPad, but they’re just a bit awkward for me to use, especially the iPad. What would be handy was a digital camera.
While I got rid of my last dedicated digital camera shortly after I got back into film, Emee did have one. Like many folks, she had one she used back in the aughts, and when smartphone cameras became adequate enough at the dawn of the teens, it got forgotten about. I’m sure this is the case with a lot of people, and there’s millions of now-worthless digital cameras stuck in the back of junk drawers, just like it was with film a decade before that.
The particular camera is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28, which was released in 2008. It’s a pretty middle-of-the road consumer camera, comparable to lots of cameras of that moment: a 10 MP sensor, a zoom lens from 27mm to 486 mm (18x zoom), “intelligent” auto exposure, plus a bunch of shooting modes. The styling screams “bridge camera”, a grafting of SLR and point-and-shoot design elements that started in the film era in the 90’s and pretty much died out not long after this camera was made. (This hybrid styling approach was the rage in the 90’s, just look at hybrid bicycles, to some the “unholy union” of mountain and road bikes, all in a “dumbed down” package.) Oh yeah, it’s got a “Leica” lens. While I appreciate Leicas from a distance, it’s not likely that I’ll own one anytime soon. So it’s funny that this is the third “sideways Leica” I’ve used. 1
I used it a bunch during our second Columbia Gorge trip at the end of March. It came in handy for our multiple site visits. The Lumix has a bit of heft and includes a shoulder strap. And it also has a viewfinder, so I enjoyed looking through that vs. squinting at a screen. Mind you, the viewfinder was also a screen, a pretty lo-res screen at that, but I preferred it to using my phone. The photos I got were generally decent. Nothing too exciting, but adequate to my needs.
I read a few contemporary reviews of the DMC-FZ28, and it got OK reviews, though it didn’t seem like any reviewer was particularly inspired by this camera. And that’s pretty much it: I couldn’t find any talk of it after 2009. It makes sense, as digital cameras is such an evolving technology. Camera bloggers would be talking about the next big things, not lingering on this middle-of-the-road machine. Compare that to the present film blogging community, where I can find articles praising cameras even older than this Lumix. Certain old film cameras will get multiple loving tributes. But the DMC-FZ28? Nothing. (Typing this, I realize this may be the only retrospective account of this camera.) There appears to be some renewed interest in the earliest (late nineties through mid aughts) digicams, but most of it seems based around simple nostalgia (which usually is about things at least 20 years old) or the quirky results derived from such primitive machines. The Lumix DMC-FZ28 is just not old enough to inspire true nostalgia, and its photos too “good”, too “hi-res” to give off a Lomo vibe.
Yet, it inspired some nostalgia for me. Like a lot of things with me, I got into digital photography pretty late in the game. I was still using film up until about 2004, and the next five years was mostly devoid of any type of photography. I just wasn’t into it, preferring to be “in the moment” with travel than snapping pics. In retrospect, I wish I did take photos, as my memories grow ever hazier. I’m thankful when I was about to embark on my first big bike tour, my Pacific Coast Tour in 2006, a friend learned that I didn’t have a camera, so he loaned me his. It wasn’t the best camera (maybe a couple megapixels) but at least I have a record of that trip.
I didn’t get my own camera until 2009, when I claimed an abandoned Kodak V1233 Zoom from the hostel lost-and-found. Like the Lumix DMC-FZ28 it was an adequate camera, and it was also very small, fitting into a pocket easily. This is what I documented a lot of bike tours, like my Cross-Continent Tour of 2011, on. It met an ignoble end at the end of 2012.
I did get another digital camera the next year, but by then I had my first smartphone. Yeah, the photos were pretty crappy, though I tried to mask as much of that I could with filters and editing. But the days of bringing a dedicated digital camera with me everywhere was gone. The Canon PowerShot was bulky, so I usually only brought it with me on tour. By the time of my last digicam, the much more compact Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS6, I might not even take it on a tour at all, as my iPhone 8 camera seemed just as good. I wouldn’t start taking a non phone camera with me again until I got back into film.
Using the Lumix DMC-FZ28 reminded me a lot of using my earlier digital cameras, especially that Kodak. It brought back memories of bike tours, of documenting my life in a way that I hadn’t done before. That feels good.
But the new-to-me Lumix is also limited in the same ways that Kodak was: highlights and blue skies tend to get blown out, auto mode favors wide apertures even in good daylight, leading to less-than-sharp pics (I resorted to aperture priority set at f/8 to get around this), and digital noise is prevalent in low light settings. All this is hard to tell when previewing with a 2.5″ lo-res on-camera screen, unless you zoom in on every shot, and that would be tedious. So I wouldn’t realize how meh some of the images were until I got it home and looked on the laptop.
It’s easy to see why the consumer grade digital point-and-shoot market declined so precipitously around the turn of the aughts: Smartphone cameras have bigger, higher resolution screens than those digicams, so it’s easier to see if the shot is good or not. And the smartphone could share the photo instantly, vs. plugging the SD card into a laptop (and you can’t even do this on a Mac anymore without an add-on). 2 Not only that, but the improved AI on today’s smartphones just make better photos than something like my Lumix can, despite the smaller sensor.
Still, the photos from my Lumix are good enough, and sometimes good enough is all you need. I’ll keep on using this camera for work purposes, and maybe a bit for my own needs. But I doubt I’ll go down the road of buying up a bunch of old digital point-and-shoots. Though who knows: maybe the nostalgia wave will eventually increase the value of these machines? Maybe it’d be worth it to buy a bunch up, sit on the stock? Nah. The speculation game never has any appeal for me. I’ll enjoy this one camera for now.
Technical notes: I am not the best “camera reviewer”, as I tend to talk about my feelings vs. technical specs. If you like all those details, it’s best to take a look at the manual for that.
1 My previous digital camera was also a Panasonic Lumix sporting a Leica lens. And I briefly owned a Minolta Freedom Tele, which was dressed up and rebadged as the Leica AF-C1.
2 It’s also worth mentioning that when Instagram was launched in 2010, it was designed as a smartphone-only app, so if you wanted to use it back then you couldn’t use a digicam. That of course has changed, and now you can even upload to Instagram via laptop without complicated workarounds. Still, Instagram will probably forever be optimized for smartphones.
You mentioned the DS6. I still have and use one!. I bought it for $30 when I got rid of my smart phone the first time. I am unable to get over not having a viewfinder or EVF for any creative photography, but for stuff intended for online (like eBay listings), it’s great. I find it to be better than my iPhone, particularly at macro. But then again, my iPhone is the bottom of the line model from six years ago…
Hi! Greetings from Spain. I have the FZ28 since 2008 as well. Just put it out of the drawer and looking for some news about hte camera, found your article.
Its a great camera, I definetly will give it a second chance.
I just bought a used 30x zoom Kodak digital camera too!
Only because digital zoom still continues to be terrible.
And $2,000 for a smartphone that has 10x optical zoom is a bit rich for a retired pensioner.