Photographing Santa Rosa New Mexico With a Vintage Nikon Coolpix
A few months ago, just for fun, I bought a lot of old point and shoot digital cameras on e-Bay. They were sold as untested, and the box had 28 cameras in it. I paid around $75 plus shipping, so under $5 per camera. I figured if I got a few working point and shoots, it might be some fun. I used digital point and shoots exclusively for years, so I have a soft spot in my heart for them.
When the box arrived, I unpacked and started cleaning and testing the cameras. Some needed specialized batteries, while others used typical AA batteries. Several used the same styles of rechargeable battery, so I ended up buying a few different styles of Nikon and Canon batteries for them. As of this writing, 17 work. There are a few I still haven’t tested, mostly due to having obscure batteries.
The box of cameras was like a time capsule of camera technology from the early to mid 2000s. Mostly three to seven megapixels, they represent the typical consumer technology of a time when digital cameras were evolving quickly. The cameras cleaned up quite well and working on them provided a few afternoons of fun. When planning a fall trip to New Mexico, I decided to take three of them with me and use them in various places along the way.
Perhaps my favorite of the three is a Nikon Coolpix 5200, a 5.1 megapixel point and shoot from 2004. The camera features a small aluminum body, a 3x zoom lens, 15 scene modes (didn’t use them), and a small 1.5″ LCD display on the back. The camera also has a tiny optical viewfinder that isn’t even a half an inch across. It powers up rather quickly, with a nice little chime. I mostly left it on default factory settings, except for setting it to the highest resolution.
So what is it like to use an early-2000s vintage digital camera in 2022? Admittedly, I love point-and-shoots, so I am biased, but the camera was really a joy to use. It’s small, light, and the battery lasted nearly the entire trip before needing a charge. The camera performed well in good light, with good colors and adequate sharpness. The photos are certainly nice enough to share on social media and this blog.
When I stopped in Santa Rosa New Mexico, I used the Coolpix to take some photos of vintage motels and signs. The default white balance has a bit of a yellow tinge to it, which I think works well on these shots taken in the bright New Mexico sun.
The La Mesa Motel is located on the outskirts of Santa Rosa, and features a wonderful sign with an arrow motif. I suspect it would look great lit up at night. The motel gets great reviews online, and if I had been spending the night, I’d probably have stayed here.
The Tower Motel didn’t look to be open, with part of the sign broken away. I liked this view of the motel office and sign with the awning above.
The Motel La Loma also sports a vintage neon sign, one that is probably also lit at night.
The sign for the Sun and Sand motel still stands, although the motel appeared to be in the process of being torn down after a fire. This photo illustrates the zoom feature of the lens, as the sign is quite tall. Zooming the lens didn’t seem to lead to any falloff in picture quality.
Overall, I really enjoyed using this camera. It’s sort of amazing how great the quality is, despite the age. Older digital cameras used CCD sensors, instead of the CMOS sensors in use today. CCD sensors are quite sharp, and have good colors. However, they are slower than CMOS sensors (important for video) and use more energy. They’ve mostly been phased out of digital cameras at this point. Here’s some more information on the Coolpix 5200.
Nikon Coolpix 5200 Specifications
- Announced in February, 2004
- 5.1 MP resolution
- 3x Nikkor ED zoom lens with aspherical element
- In-camera automatic red-eye removal
- 15 scene modes
- 640×480 pixel, 30fps movie mode
- Up to 2,592 x 1,944 pixel resolution for still images
- Retail price in 2004: $480 US (wow!)