A New Black & White Project

Junk Drawer Find

Glenn and I talk photography a lot. We’re both as interested in the subject – not just taking photos but the entire hobby, the gear, the technology, the art.. the whole package. We are constantly sharing links with each other, to interesting articles and videos on the subject.

The other day Glenn sent me a link to an article which talked about old Nikon Coolpix cameras becoming popular again. In this particular instance it was one of the later, pink Coolpix models with a flip-out screen. I remembered that I had bought an ultra-compact Coolpix back in the late noughties, and decided to retrieve it from the kitchen junk drawer. By good fortune, also in my junk drawer were its battery and charger.

I hadn’t looked at this thing for well over a decade. I don’t remember why I bought it fifteen years ago, quite truthfully. I think perhaps because, around 2009, the quality of its images was greater than the camera in my phone at the time, which was most likely a Blackberry. This was also around the time I joined Facebook, so I expect it would have been in my pocket to capture moments to share when my DSLR would be too conspicuous or cumbersome to have on-hand.

Truly, I’m not even sure how it survived my move to Leeds nearly 11 years ago, but there it was in my junk drawer! I put the battery on charge and began to Google information about this particular model.

It’s a Coolpix S220. It’s claimed that it has a 1/2.33″ CCD Sensor. That SOUNDS like quite a big sensor; about half an inch! But NO!  Misleading sales trickery be damned, that’s a sensor surface of just 6.08mm x 4.56mm, capturing an effective 10 megapixels! Its focal range is equivalent to 35-105mm and its ISO range is a healthy 80-2000. ISO 80 is wonderful! ISO 2000, on this camera, not so much.

The infrared-converted Nikon D3000 that I have also has a 10 megapixel CCD sensor, but the two are of course worlds apart. The Coolpix shoots JPG only, and that’s just for starters. It is the absolute epitome of a point and shoot. Because of the sensor’s tiny physical dimensions, throwing the background out of focus is pretty much a non-starter except for extreme close-ups, and I have absolutely no control over the aperture or shutter speed in any circumstances and the camera’s dynamic range, while not terrible, is very much of its time.

Nevertheless, 10 megapixels is more than enough to print at a decent size if I so wished – the images I upload and share on my blog are always resized to a mere 4 megapixels – and the sensor being CCD means that it’s also quite a low noise camera.

Wait, what?

Am I actually thinking about using this little old thing? I actually am! Here’s why…

Looking around the camera, which after 10 years or more living in the junk drawer with no battery inserted, had forgotten all its settings, I see an opportunity. As you, dear reader, know well, I’m looking for a new project to take on and I believe this little camera is fit for the task. This is not about image excellence. It’s not even about image quality. It’s ONLY about light, subject and composition. This is my personal take on “digital lomography”.

I’ve set the following options in the menus, from which I have chosen NOT to deviate:-

ISO: 80
Single/Continuous  Shooting Mode: Single
Colour Options: Black & White
AF Area Mode: Centre
Distortion Control: On
Image Mode: 10 megapixel High Quality

Before I decide on the precise parameters of my Coolpix project, I’m doing a bit of field testing, just to determine what the camera CAN do and in which situations it will perform or fall short, relative to any project. Since the camera shoots in the 4:3 ratio while my preferred image ratio is the 3:2 that my DSLRs shoot, I’ve already determined that images may be cropped as desired. As for image editing, there’s only so much you can do anyway with a JPG image but I’ve decided that, to the extent that it’s possible, I’m comfortable with a bit of post-processing images. This probably would marry with the limited things I did in the physical darkroom in my youth, such as a bit of dodging and burning etc.

Nikon Coolpix S220 – field testing

Glenn and I took a day out yesterday, around Ripon and Masham, to do some street and wildlife photography. Along with my two main cameras, the D800 with 50mm and D5300 with 150-600mm, I dropped the Coolpix in the top pocket of my jacket.

I don’t know if it was the novelty of the thing but I used the Coolpix quite a bit. I found it rather fun – even perhaps a bit liberating – to point, frame and shoot rather than to give a thought about shutter and aperture settings. 

Even though there’s no viewfinder and the screen on the back of the camera is shockingly poor quality and difficult to see in sunlight, the tactile experience is immeasureably better than using a phone. I quickly began looking for abstract compositions.

The fact that the camera weighs just 100 grams means that it can go anywhere without a second thought. It’s yet another camera in my proverbial bag, with which to have fun with my photography. With a bit of luck it may even offer the opportunity for me to focus on the thing I’ve spoken about a bit recently; the creative side of photography and documenting the curiosities of the world around me.

I’m predicting that there is quite some fun to be had. I hope you enjoy coming along with me on this new photographic adventure! 😀