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TikTok has brought back 2000s-era digital cameras — and it’s worth the hype



Staff member

In a narrow hallway that divides the dance floor and the bathrooms at a local club, I saw some girls snapping photos. Instead of an iPhone, one of them held a retro digital camera above the group's heads at an angle. The flash went off and I squeezed past them as they looked at the screen and giggled. It's a small moment, but it's also part of a much larger consumer trend. Now — thanks to TikTok — '90s- and 2000s-era handheld digital cameras are making a massive comeback, and I can say it's one of the trends that's actually well worth the hype.

Affectionately dubbed "digi cams" online, point-and-shoot cameras have become the new darling technology of Instagram girlies everywhere. This is in large part due to TikTok, where content about digital cameras has turned into a major trend. There, a simple photo slideshow showing off a person's favorite cameras can garner more than 2.4 million views. People share tips for getting into digital cameras. Others talk about the best settings to take the perfect glamour shot. Many people rate the cameras in their collections. Even the cameras themselves are fun, since people decorate their cameras with sparkly stickers and beaded wrist straps.

Nostalgia definitely plays a role in the hype. While some people are buying cheap (but new) cameras on the TikTok shop or choosing to shell out for more impressive new models, many of the videos emphasize that digital cameras imbue the photos with that "vintage" mom-and-dad vibe from the 1990s and 2000s (if that's when your parents grew up, that is). Digital cameras have this nice in-between status where the pictures feel a little bit more retro and novel, but they don't require the hassle or expertise of using film. But this is not just some sort of lo-fi trend — many of the photos do actually just look better than phone photos, thanks to a proper flash and the mechanical advantages of using a camera with a bigger lens. Of course, when browsing online, you can never be sure of how a photo might be doctored or edited, but side-by-side comparisons with shots from iPhone cameras attest to the added layers of color and warmth that snapping a selfie with a digital camera can add. So after mulling it over, I decided to take the $40 plunge and buy a retro camera of my own.

After seeing a clip on TikTok, I ended up getting a 2004 Canon PowerShot G6 because of how it seemed to capture golden light. The act of using a digital camera while out definitely feels different when compared to shooting a pic on an iPhone. With a phone, it's easy to mindlessly mash the button and take dozens of photos in a matter of minutes. With the Canon, I took maybe two dozen photos during an entire night out, and the photos I did take I liked more than my average phone photos. Sometimes I felt disappointed by the number of blurry photos, but that didn't take away from the charm of the experience. The photos that turned out well looked phenomenal — so much so that I already got one printed as a gift to a group of friends I had photographed on a night out.

My iPhone camera tends to bring out an intense white color in direct sunlight, and features like its portrait mode often mistakenly smooth out my curly hair and awkwardly blur it out, as if it's part of the background. Upon looking at the photos from my Canon for the first time, I was shocked by how the retro camera brought out the undertones in my skin and captured a warmer look. As a mixed person who often feels whitewashed in other (nonphotographic) ways, using an older digital camera felt affirming because it literally allowed me to see myself in a new light — one where I look browner, aka more like myself. Details like these might seem minor, but they matter to me.

Online, a lot of the hype seems to come from how hot people can look if they use a point-and-shoot camera to take a picture, but for me, at least, it's more than that. Looking at these photos, I feel more like myself in them. Now I can see depth on different parts of my face — like frizz from a certain part of my curl pattern, or a wrinkle in my smile that I didn't see before. Sure, I don't love lugging around another piece of technology, but the photos make it worth it. And for me personally, I don't know if I'll ever share an iPhone photo on my Instagram again.

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