Take Photos Like It’s 1999

The year was 1999. Good quality digital cameras were in their infancy and the photography magazine that was delivered to my mailbox every month included articles passionately arguing the merits of digital vs film.

The cooking time of the meat was controlled by either leaning the metal spear toward or away from the coals.

Even then, digital photography felt like the inevitable winner to me but as I wrote this story, I remember why there were die-hards who held out in defense of film.

At my job, digital photography was a very exciting technology. My office mates and I researched several and settled on buying a Kodak DC260. It was among the first cameras with more than 1 megapixel of resolution and took sharp, focused images. While it sounds strange, many digital camera models before that time took fuzzy, blurry pictures. Some of the pictures we took with that camera are scattered throughout this story.

Memory cards were also incredibly expensive at that time. If I remember correctly (and I would love if any of you can help me out), a 16 MB (not GB) card cost well over $100. That same card held around 48 pictures at the 2nd or 3rd highest quality setting (which is what I selected most of the time). Downloading the card was an excruciating process that took hours. It even involved a cord that connected the camera to the computer. My first card reader seemed like an incredible luxury when I got one several months later.

This camera also ate batteries for lunch. Investing in several sets of rechargeable batteries and a “fast” charger were essential.

This colorful area of Buenos Aires was called Tango Town.

In November 1999 I was fortunate to be part of a group that traveled to study grazing management in Argentina. Hubby was also part of the group as we both had the same job at that time. We were determined to take advantage of the digital camera on the trip, which lasted 10 days. We did bring a disposable film “backup” camera, just in case.

We selected our technology carefully. Hubby’s office computer was newer and much faster than mine, and my office camera was better. So, my office computer and his camera got left behind. We invested in a second memory card and in extra rechargeable batteries. We also took our video camera along. It required rechargeable batteries and tiny VHS-C tapes.

Argentina uses 220/240 volt electricity and a different outlet than we have in the U.S. We acquired a travel adapter, but the expense was such that we could only get one. This meant we could only plug in one item at any given time.

By Day Two, we were pros at the technology drill. Every evening, upon arriving or returning to our hotel room, we immediately set up a triage center. We could never do everything at once, so we had to prioritize. Downloading the camera card usually took priority, but it also took several hours. The computer had to occupy the plug-in for that time while the camera ran on battery power.

We did our best to get at least one card downloaded before going to bed, but for the second card, we had to set an alarm. We would wake up to check on the progress and make sure the download had not stalled, or that the camera batteries had not died.

Once all the photos were finally copied to the computer, we emptied the card/s for the next day’s tours.  We could then unplug the computer and plug in a battery charger. Depending on our battery status, that meant choosing between digital camera batteries and video camera batteries. If both were needed, another alarm was set to wake up and switch them.

Ava Perone’s tomb

Not everything went smoothly. Sometimes, we slept through the alarm, or the download stalled early and we had to start over. Sometimes, we simply ran out of time to get everything downloaded and/or charged. There were times we were downloading pictures on the bus ride between tour stops and making the trade-off between battery supply and memory supply. If we could free up space for even 3 or 4 pictures in those situations, we were ecstatic.

For the most part, we managed to get digital pictures of everything we wanted. After the trip was over, it was also a great treat to combine our digital photos with other tour participants. Some of them used a digital camera and some scanned their prints, but we were feeling pretty tech savvy when we created and copied CDs with everyone’s photos AND posted some on our respective websites.

Fast forward to 2018 and I now travel with enough memory for thousands of pictures and enough batteries that I could go a week without charging if necessary. The point-and-shoot Kodak, albeit a sophisticated one for its time, has been replaced with a DSLR (three of them actually) and collection of lenses. The video camera with mini VHS tapes has been replaced by our phones and we have even added a 360-degree camera to the fold (you’ll hear more on that in the near future).

Have any of you used digital cameras as long as I have? Did you have similar experiences?

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