I love old digital cameras, they do the opposite of film in that while film is something many people call timeless,” old digital cameras have a definite sense of place. Back around the Millennium the market was flooded with a glut of decent to horrible point-and-shoot 35mm cameras. Everyone had at least 2-3 of these cameras. While they weren’t great most people were happy enough with the results they were getting with them. Along came digital though and it offered something very novel and that was free photo developing. Instead of $5 to have a roll of 24 images developed, plus another $5 for a roll costing 42 cents per image, you were being offered a camera that could take an infinite number of images for free. This camera was sold in OfficeMax very quickly down at $80 with a coupon after it hit the market. For many families, this camera or one like it would be their first experience with digital photography. It made sense too since you would only need to shoot about 200 images to offset the cost of film. Or in other words, after about 8 rolls of film it would have paid for itself. But now lets look at the Argus DC3200, 1.3megapixel camera and see what it can do.
First off, we need to talk specs.
This camera is a 1.3MegaPixel beast that takes 4 AA batteries to feed it’s 6 volt internals.
The lens is tiny but says that it is equivalent to a F~2.5 35mm lens. That lens is fixed focus.
For memory the camera has only enough internal memory for one large image. That memory is volatile meaning that if your batteries die all your pictures do too. That’s why it has a Compact Flash memory slot for external memory cards.
The camera shoots at it’s highest resolution 1280x1024 It also has digital zoom but that would chop the resolution in half. Yuck!
It also says it needs a Pentium 300 MHz or higher computer to run the software.
On the bright side of all those vastly outdated specs the camera does has USB and surprisingly was detected by several machines I plugged it into, including a Mac. None of the machines could control anything in the camera but did detect the memory attached and could copy the images just fine. It’s actually pretty impressive and darn pain free. It’s also very good design since many of the old digital cameras can’t be used on modern machines due to a lack of serial ports. Many of these cameras could only be connected to through serial. Images on this camera downloaded at 0.5Mbps. Slow, but not a problem given their file size at less than 1MB each.
Shooting with this camera is a pain. The camera beeps, but that doesn’t mean you took a picture, you have to wait until it has beeped a second time to release the shutter button. This took a lot of getting used to. You also do not get instant feedback like we are used to on modern cameras. Instead you have to twist the dial on the back of the camera to leave the photo taking mode and use the review mode. That’s a major bummer but then again we are spoiled by cell phones and their power. This was likely done to conserve battery power. Speaking of batteries. This camera chewed through batteries. I was only getting about 40 images per set of batteries. On the plus side this camera has a built in flash and it does work as well as any point and shoot camera does.
When it comes to picture quality this camera falls flat in a ton of areas. With any camera it’s not about the megapixels, it’s about the quality of the pixels and sensor that you have. For example the canon EOS line started with the EOS D2000 a camera that only had a maximum resolution of 1728x1152 in an APS-C sensor. With only slightly lower resolution the Argus DC3200 can’t even try to match that camera because the sensor is tiny.
With a very small lens feeding light into the sensor it must boost the signal from those pixels to get enough light data for an image. This results in a lot of noise and hot spots. It is this noise that gives those early digital cameras and Myspace photos their very dated feel. It’s not a good thing either. Then we also have a dark vignetting appearing in a ring around the image. This is the result of cheap glass that is inadequate for the sensor. This is again a bad thing.
I used this camera alongside my professional gear on several landscape shoots and found it to be failing miserably in what was direct sunlight. Shouldn’t a camera be having it’s easiest time in direct sunlight? The dynamic range is horrible. To the cameras credit though it did seem to do a good job with white balancing itself.
In conclusion. I’m so glad we left this era of bad cameras behind us in favor of great cell phone cameras. But I do love how dated the images look. We can’t use this camera in any meaningful way to make decent photography, but we can use it to make art. You can’t reproduce the Lo-Fi image quality a camera like this produces with filters, nor would you want to. I like it! The camera is a joke compared to your cell phone and that’s what makes it fun. I paid my $5 and got my value out of this camera. Since it works with a Windows 7 or 10 machine, you should definitely pick this camera up if you find it in a yard sale.