I'm a sucker for retro technology. I'm not really sure why, but messing about with old cameras, old phones, old video games consoles e.t.c is my thing. So naturally I spend alot of my free time trawling round charity shops and second hand shops, my girlfriend loves it... Last month, whilst looking at the stuff my local Cash Converters was selling I found this little digital compact camera on sale for FIFTY PENCE. Fifty pence is an absolutely nuts price for a digital camera, yet alone one that shoots the same resolution sized photos as my old faithful, the Kodak C613, so obviously I bought it. I knew nothing about the Traveler camera brand (or Supra as the EXIF tag names it?) but I really didn't care for fifty pence! Even if it sucked it only cost me 50p! After getting home and doing a bit of homework I discovered the Traveler DC-6900 is a German manufactured camera, which I sort of already figured out, and is about 10 - 12 years old.
So what do you get for your fifty pennies? Well the DC-6900 has a 35mm lens equivalent of a 34 - 102mm lens representing a 3x optical zoom, with a minimum aperture of f2.8 at widest focal length narrowing down to f4.8 at longest telephoto. There is also a 12x digital zoom built in (but digital zoom is evil and we always disable it right?...). On the highest setting, the DC-6900 shoots 6 megapixel photos at 2816 x 2112 resolution in 4:3 aspect ratio, and you can dial it down to the lowest setting of 0.3 megapixel; 640 x 480 resolution with some increments in between. The DC-6900 also shoots video in .avi format at QVGA (320 x 240) resolution at 30 fps, with the internal microphone recording audio at 16 bit mono 8,000 hz. Yeah... I know what you're thinking, more on that later...
You get the choice of 6 different shooting modes: Auto, P, Portrait, Landscape, Sports and Night. Portrait mode and Landscape mode basically sets the camera on auto but fixes the focus: Portrait being nearer; 40cm and Landscape being infinity. Sports mode also does the same but fixes the shutter speed at faster speeds (I assume?) and Night mode unlocks the focus, opens up the aperture and slows down the shutter speed, more on that later. You can manually set the flash in any shooting mode between 5 different settings: auto, pre-flash, red eye, force on, and force off. Because I hate flash, I kept it turned off and one good thing about this camera is that it remembers your last flash setting between powering on and powering off! I've used much newer, more expensive cameras than this one that didn't do that! You can also fix focus between macro, normal (auto) and infinity. Macro apparently let's you focus as close as 6cm but as is often the case with these little compacts it almost never works properly, or is so fiddly to get right it's near impossible. Interestingly, selecting infinity focus also automatically disables the flash with no way to activate it again, which might be undesirable depending on your composition? There are also 5 capture modes you can choose between: Single, Continuous (which is actually just 3 shots in a row), AEB (shoots 3 images: one standard, one underexposed and one overexposed), Series + Flash (3 images but with a flash this time), and Burst (which continuously captures pictures until the camera runs out of storage.). I tested Burst mode and it managed 2 photos before freezing for 2 seconds to process... but you might get better results with a faster write speed SD card? Or not? I don't know. There are also your standard 2 second and 10 second self timer options with an additional 10 + 2 second setting which takes 2 shots after a 10 second delay 2 seconds apart.
Shooting in Auto mode will let the camera calculate everything for you: the shutter speed, the aperture, the ISO and the white balance. Contrast, Sharpness and Saturation are all left at normal and you have manual control over the flash. The only thing you can adjust in Auto setting is the 'Quality', between 3 different settings: economy, normal and fine. I thought this might adjust the bit depth or the dpi but seemingly it doesn't, it does adjust the compression ratio though according to the instructions and economy files are genuinely a smaller file size than fine ones. I honestly couldn't tell the difference in my test shots, but I set it at fine for all the rest of the photos I took. And on that tangent, here's a handful of photos all shot in Auto:
My first impression when viewing these on my laptop was: "wow, they actually look alright!" I hadn't got very high expectations considering they looked very grainy, washed out and overexposed on the LCD screen on the back, but it turns out they look nothing like that! Old LCD screens were never that reliable though and have improved ten fold in the last ten years.
Shooting in 'P' mode (a.k.a: program) gives you more flexibility, as well as being able to adjust the Quality, you can adjust the white balance between five different settings: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, and Fluorescent, the ISO between four different sensitivities: Auto, 64, 100, 200 and 400, you can adjust the EV (exposure compensation) down to -2.0 or up to +2.0, and you can choose between center-weighted and spot metering. For the majority of photos I took in P mode, I changed the white balance to Daylight, stuck with center-weighted metering, didn't adjust the EV and adjusted the ISO manually:
Usually I would be an advocate for shooting with more manual control, but honestly I think the photos I shot in Auto turned out better than in P. Whenever you have to adjust the ISO you have to go through the menu to do it and it gets tedious quickly. Here I shot the first photo in ISO 100 but it was too dark so had to adjust to ISO 400, which actually was too bright!
So surprisingly, this old compact's auto mode actually worked out better than me having more control! In 'P' mode you can turn on the 'date imprint' feature though which put's this retro looking date at the bottom of every photo!
Old School! I wish it was in amber yellow though, not blue. You can also adjust the Sharpness between 3 different settings: Soft, Normal or Hard and the Saturation between 3 different settings: Low, Normal and High but to be honest I couldn't tell any difference in any of my test shots:
In P mode you can also choose between 3 different colour settings: Full Colour, Black & White and Sepia:
Groovy. Then, there's Night mode. Shooting low light photos is always going to be slightly more challenging. Especially with a compact camera when you have no control over the aperture and shutter speed and only have a max ISO of 400 to work with. It's only now that technology has developed further that it's gotten slightly easier. That being said I still gave it a go to see how it worked out and I got a handful of photos that turned out ok:
But the good majority of them were blurry and the camera really struggled to focus correctly, sometimes taking a few seconds and then not focusing correctly on the right spot, maybe because there was such a contrast between the different parts of each image that were lit up...
So night mode is a bit of a mixed bag, you would maybe get better results with the flash enabled, and I chose challenging compositions to test night mode under I suppose.
Shooting video though, is a torrid affair. If you remember back to earlier, I warned you to expect the worst... Nowadays 320 x 240 resolution is postage stamp sized and the quality of the recordings I got are awful, with any movement whatsoever causing juddering and blurring. The built in microphone is dreadful and loud decibel sounds causes it to crackle and cut out completely. Also there's no built in compensation for anything; white balance or EV so you get nice light flaring and discolouration as my example video demonstrates:
But if lo-fi barely watchable video is your thing and you want your videos to sound like listening to anything when you have a really bad head cold, you might find it slightly appealing? Otherwise don't bother. I feel like this was feature that had to be included to shift units and I know this is an old camera and it was new technology for the time, but I don't see any merit in the video mode. Anything you record with this is just going to be a low quality, barely decipherable mess.
But that big negative aside, I'm really pleased with the quality of the photos. So why have I gone into so much detail about the specs and the photos in this post? Because I got all of this from a camera that cost me FIFTY PENCE. It is actually crazy that you can pick up a more than capable compact digital at a price that low. Sure nowadays your latest model compact digitals will connect to your phone and shoot such high resolution photos that you can paste them on the side of buildings or whatever, but say, three quarters, of people shooting with a compact are not even going to want that. They just want something that can take a decent photo they can share on the internet and at best maybe print out some 7 x 5's to keep in an album, and this little second hand camera is more than capable of that. I'm not gonna go all out and advocate you boycott the Black Friday "bargains" or whatever but nowadays technology advances so quickly that previous generations of gadgets become antiquated so fast they are almost worthless, and there is a whole forgotten generation of cameras that will do 90% of what you want a camera to do at a fraction of a price for a new model. Like I said at the beginning of this post, I love retro tech. And you get a real sense of satisfaction from picking up and using old, second hand stuff, that is more personal to you than just going out and buying the latest model gadget or whatever. Anyway, now I'm done here, I'm just gonna see if I can find a great Black Friday deal on the new Canon SX720HS...