My first digital camera…

I’m the owner of the weirdest smartphone in the world – it doesn’t have a built-in camera. This means that if I want to be able to take pictures spontaneously, I need to lug my digital SLR around. I love using it, but it’s very big and heavy, and on a couple of trips by plane recently it wasn’t possible to squeeze it into my hand luggage. I need a small shooter for trips like this, so I had a dig around in my camera cupboard to see if I could find something useful.

I actually have several digital compacts knocking about, but using them is made difficult by the horror of proprietary rechargeable batteries AND proprietary charging cables. ARRRGH! I’m far too disorganised not to lose these things, and of course, without the right chargers/leads, the cameras become useless. I only have one camera that can be charged by an easily-available adaptor, and even then I’d lost it – thankfully I found a suitable replacement in a nice independent electrical shop in Dorking, Surrey – I occasionally travel there for work. Anyway, charger acquired, I came home and revived the camera concerned. It’s a Centon DC5, a little compact I acquired in 2006. It was the first proper digital camera I owned – I was quite late to the party – and by then it had been out for a year or two. It was at the budget end of the market, and was well-regarded for its features, but not for the quality of its output! However, I was keen to shoot with it a bit, and see if it’s suitable for occasional use. Since I got my first DSLR in 2009, I’ve not used it much, and according to some pics on the memory card, I’ve not used it at all since 2014.

So…having blown the dust off it, charged it up and reset the clock etc., I decided to have a little shoot with it, and compare it (perhaps rather unfairly!) to my current DSLR, a Pentax K-S2. How would they compare? We’ll see.

Centon DC-5, shot on the K-S2
K-S2, shot on the DC-5!

On picking up the DC-5, it did feel quite nice to hold, and it’s quite well laid out, with decent controls and a fair selection of shooting modes. However, the screen is tiny, and the whole thing felt positively geriatric – especially as the battery runs out in minutes because it’s so old. Anyway, I decided to take the two cameras out for the day and see how they performed. In the sections that follow, the DC-5 picture is on the top, and the K-S2 is on the bottom.

Round One: my house

Just as I ventured out this morning, I took a picture of my house in the gloom of a damp November morning.

Hmm. The DC-5 isn’t off to a good start there. The detail in the darker bits is very poor, much of the shot is under-exposed and dull, and the noise is terrible. The K-S2 is sometimes guilty of making photos look much brighter and punchier than reality, which can be annoying, but let’s face it, the K-S2 fairly easily wins here.

DC-5 0, K-S2 1

Round Two: Café, part one

Here’s a couple of shots I took at lunchtime, showing off my current reading material. Taken under quite low light, but I decided against flash – the DC-5 only has two flash settings, “off” and “nuclear”.

Hmm…although the K-S2 picture is sharper and technically a lot better, with less noise, I think I prefer the DC-5 shot. I know it’s a bit blurred, but that’s more down to hand holding in low light. The noise is still a bit of a problem, but I think the picture is better exposed, and the colours look a lot closer to how I observed them, especially the blue panel on the left, which looks murky in the K-S2 picture. I’ll be charitable and give the DC-5 a win here.

DC-5 1, K-S2 1

Round Three: Café, part two

Couldn’t resist a shot or two of these books on offer in the café.

Oh dear – the DC-5 has dropped the ball here. The whole thing has a rather odd orange cast that makes it look rather sickly. The K-S2 has coped much better with the light in this scene, and rendered it far more naturally.

DC-5 1, K-S2 2

Round Four: North Berwick, part one

I took a train out to North Berwick this afternoon, and shot a range of scenes to see how the cameras compared. Here’s some colourful sheds first.

I think the DC-5 has done a better job on the sky, but again a lot of the colours are all wrong, and two of the sheds look completely wrong here. The K-S2 wins again, I think – it looks far more natural and realistic.

DC-5 1, K-S2 3

Round Five: North Berwick, part two

I really liked these doors – they caught my eye as I thought the colours were striking. They led into boat sheds of some sort.

Whilst the rendering of the DC-5 version is reasonably good here, with rather more natural-looking colours than the previous two examples, it looks a bit cold and pale compared to the K-S2 version, which does look somewhat more as I recall seeing it. It’s sharper and clearer too, so we have another win for the K-S2.

DC-5 1, K-S2 4

Round Six: North Berwick, part three

Let’s see how the cameras cope with some nice beach scenes.

I’m of the opinion that these are both good photos, and it’s hard to decide which one wins. The DC-5 seems to have set the white balance for the sand and the water, making it appear quite natural, while the sky looks a bit off. The K-S2 has made the sky look pretty spectacular, but has rendered the sand a bit too blue for my liking. I’m going to have to examine them a bit more closely and think about this.

I think I need to give the point to the K-S2, for producing a rather more vivid image.

DC-5 1, K-S2 5

Round Seven: North Berwick, part four

Some more views from the beach.


Given that this scene was taken sufficiently late in the afternoon for a lovely golden light to be bathing everything, the DC-5 has done a rather poor job and decided to give everything a rather sickly green look instead. Poor show, really – the K-S2 has made it look warm and natural, much as it appeared in reality. No prizes for guessing the winner of this round.

DC-5 1, K-S2 6

Round Eight: North Berwick, landscape

Turning away from the sea, here’s a view across the golf course to North Berwick Law, the large hill that overlooks the town. Worth climbing, but I didn’t do that today.


Not a bad effort from the DC-5 here – I think the green of the grass in the foreground is good, but the sky is a bit OTT and there’s not so much detail in the darker parts of the picture. K-S2 wins again.

DC-5 1, K-S2 7

Round Nine: Closeup

I liked these little details I saw on a gate into someone’s garden.

This one was close. I think the K-S2 has brought out some details better, especially the rust on the handle, but it has produced a dark image, and I’m going to be charitable and give this one to the DC-5. I think it’s only fair to be nice; it’s a bit old now, after all. Not a bad performance, really.

DC-5 2, K-S2 7

Round Ten: Heading home

A shot on board the train heading back to Edinburgh.

I’m actually going to make this another win for the DC-5. It’s a tricky scene, to be fair (although, I freely admit, a boring photo). Bright daylight through the window is mixing with artificial, fluorescent light on board the train, and that’s a challenge for any camera. I think the DC-5 has shown a surprisingly strong performance in getting the colour temperature right, showing the seats and the panelling in the train to be just right, and also rendering more detail in the view out of the window. Not bad at all, really. The K-S2 has opted to set the colour balance for the daylight, rendering the train interior a bit on the green side.

DC-5 3, K-S2 7

Bonus Round: Printing

I recently acquired a Canon Selphy CP-1300 printer, which produces glossy 6″ x 4″ photos, and I ran off the round seven photos to see how they reproduced on paper. I won’t bother scanning them, as they’ve largely reproduced as they did on the screen. The green tinge was still bit of a problem with the DC-5 print, and the K-S2 print had that golden sheen I liked. Another win for the K-S2, giving the DC-5 a final score of three, against eight for the K-S2.

 

It’s probably very unfair of me pitting a cheap 2004 five-megapixel consumer compact against a fairly high-end enthusiast DSLR of 2016, but it was interesting to return to using an early digital camera to see what it was like. Certainly the DC-5 is still usable, but the battery life is terrible, it takes seven seconds to boot up when you switch it on, and the ergonomics are ghastly compared to a modern camera. It only works with memory cards up to 512MB, which you can’t buy any more, and the results are generally worse than even a budget smartphone camera. The only advantage it had over the K-S2 is how small and light it is, and for that reason I think I’ll use it when I don’t have room for my much bulkier K-S2.

Using the DC-5 wasn’t a particularly charming experience in the end – it’s nowhere near as much fun as loading up a vintage film camera and shooting away with it. Using something like an old Olympus Trip or Kodak Brownie introduces an element of artistry and unpredictability into photography that an early digital camera just can’t match. It tends to reproduce things quite clinically and coldly, and doesn’t offer the control, flexibility and capability that my DSLR has. That said, I was looking through my hard drive last night, and for about three years my DC-5 faithfully recorded a number of precious moments in my life, including significant milestones for my children, and for that reason alone it’s a keeper. They may not be the best photos in the world, but they’re priceless to me, and I don’t care if my kids look a slightly odd colour in some of them.

2 thoughts on “My first digital camera…”

  1. Fun challenge! The old camera didn’t do too badly, given how photographic technology has advanced since its time. I do remember the flash settings on these old digitals being the worst ever – I think it’s where I developed my lifelong dislike of flash photography. Still, as you say, they did the job of capturing the moments you want to remember and that’s the important thing.

    1. Agreed, it’s not too bad, although some photos I took with it today came out rather oddly, with very strange colours, so it’s not completely foolproof! It’s also pretty poor in low light, as it only goes up to ISO 400 and down to f2.8. My current DSLR goes up to a silly five-figure ISO number, I don’t even know how high it is. I usually don’t go beyond 1600, as it gets a bit noisy above that. I’ve got an f1.4 lens, so a combination of the two means I very, very rarely use flash.

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