16th April 2024

A Virtual World of Live Pictures

Technology and Computer

Dig out your old point-and-shoot camera: it might be worth a fortune

Fashion can be a mysterious phenomenon: how can what was once deeply uncool become a must-have item, seemingly overnight? In the camera world we’ve seen film cameras make a noticeable return to prominence amongst the hipster crowd. Renewed appeal of instant cameras has long been fashionable, to the extent that nostalgia over period Polaroid cameras pretty much spawned the whole instant camera revival we enjoy today, and even Lego recreations.

But all that is so last season. It seems today’s cool kids wanting a retro camera are turning to a rather unlikely sector: the humble point-and-shoot digital compact from the 2000s and early 2010s. In research conducted by UK used product retailer Music Magpie, Google searches specifically for ‘Nikon Coolpix’ have increased by over 8500% in the past 12 months, while eBay and TikTok searches are up around 700% during the same period. It isn’t only Nikon Coolpix cameras that are riding the wave of retro resurgence; classics like the Motorola Razr, iPod Nano and Sony Walkman are also seeing increased search popularity, but they all trail the good old Coolpix by a wide margin, at least according to this research.

(Image credit: Music Magpie)

So why are point and shoot digital cameras back in vogue, and why specifically the Nikon Coolpix? Well, as with many fashions, it’s highly unlikely to be down to rational or logical factors, such as the cameras’ performance or image quality. I’ve owned and reviewed many such cameras going back to around 2005, and image quality was never anything special. Things became particularly underwhelming in the mid 2010s when camera phones began to steal market share from traditional compact cameras. All the main camera manufacturers started to reuse key components like sensors and lenses to save development costs in what was, even then, seen to be a dying sector of the camera market. This resulted in the release of ‘new’ models each year that were little more than the previous year’s offering, just stamped with a new model number. Image quality therefore stagnated, and for the last 7-8 years I could confidently say that even a mid-range camera phone would trounce a regular point and shoot camera for image quality, at least at a focal length equivalent to the phone’s primary camera module.

(Image credit: Gavin Stoker / Digital Camera World)

Of course rubbish image quality never dampened the appeal of old toy film cameras like the Holga and Diana – the more vignetting, sepia and light leaks, the better. But that’s all analog character – something that was lost (I’m not counting recreation effect filters here) with the advent of digital photography, so I can understand the nostalgia there. Can we really get excited by digital point and shoot traits like high ISO digital noise and color speckling? But what do I know. At 38 I’m practically a dinosaur. Maybe a Coolpix’s mediocre dynamic range is the new double exposure?

The Coolpix S6900: the hot (pink) camera of the moment if you’re a TikTok influencer (Image credit: Nikon)

Rather, it seems 2024 is the year of the Nikon Coolpix due to more superficial reasons. TikTok stars who I’m not going to pretend I’ve ever heard of – Charli D’Amelio, and sisters Bella and Gigi Hadid – apparently embrace noughties images and retro tech. When it comes to cameras, not just any old compact snapper will do: it has to be a Coolpix, and preferably in pink. In fairness, Nikon’s metallic hot pink of the era would certainly pop in a TikTok or vlog recorded today. Naturally, if you want to take selfies on a retro camera, a flip/articulating screen is rather handy, explaining why 2015’s Coolpix S6900 with its flip screen seems to be a popular choice among the in-crowd. This camera also features a small flip-out stand, further enhancing its appeal to vloggers. But if you want to join this exclusive Coolpix S6900 set, you’d better have deep pockets. Despite the camera retailing for around $230 at launch, used examples are now commanding over $1000!

OK, so it’s not available in pink, but the 1999 Coolpix 950 is still pretty darned cool, right? (Image credit: W. M. Connolley, Wikimedia Commons)

Whether or not we’ll soon see other brands and models of cameras suddenly gain cult status will probably depend on what becomes the camera of choice for TikTok royalty. Imagine how many minds will be blown if the influencers discover classics like the Nikon Coolpix 950, or even a Sony Mavica FD200 – a camera that could actually demonstrate the old meme of “Hey, look: someone 3D printed the Save icon!” (this particular model even has a memory stick slot as well, just in case the whole floppy disc thing is too much hassle).