Moments and Compacts

My entry into digital photography was with a compact camera.

In those early days, digital SLRs were $20,000. That was way too much of an investment for a rapidly changing technology. So I opted instead for compacts such as the Olympus D-400 zoom. It featured a 1.3 MP sensor generating 1280 x 960 images that were viewable on a 1.8-inch color LCD postage-stamped on the back. And it cost less than $1,000. This was late 1999.

Compacts thrived in the early days of digital photography. We didn't have iPhones and Samsung Galaxies. So we recorded our family memories with compacts, then uploaded them to computers for sharing, most often as email attachments.

Before long, the rise of smartphones spelled demise for these compacts, and manufacturers have evolved their form factor into expensive replacements for larger cameras. The Sony RX100 IV, for example, is currently selling for $950.

There are, however, still reasonably priced, highly versatile compact digital cameras available. They don't get the attention they once did, but they're fun to shoot with. For a recent trip to Santa Barbara, I packed an Olympus SH-2 that's selling for $350.

For me, it's like stepping back in time. The camera slides easily into my front pants pocket, its zoom lens extends when I switch on the power, and I compose the image on a fixed LCD positioned on the back.

Of course today's models are high resolution, include WiFi, and have a host of creative functions that we could only dream of 15 years ago. But the experience is still very similar.

This really hit home last night. A group of us were sitting on the beach near Stearn's Wharf as the sun was setting. Everyone had their mobile devices. I pulled out the Olympus SH-2.

The kids had just been through freshman orientation at UCSB. They were excited and tired. The adults we feeling something different, a sense of pride, and of loss. We're going to miss them.

I pulled out my compact camera to capture the moment. The photo already looks like an image from the past. One that I'll want to hang on to forever.