The hottest Gen Z gadget is a 20-year-old digital camera
Last spring, Anthony Tabarez celebrated prom like many high schoolers today: dancing the night away and capturing it through photos and video. The snapshots show Mr. Tabarez, 18, and his friends smiling, jumping and waving from a crowded dance floor.
But instead of using his smartphone, Mr Tabarez filmed the prom night with an Olympus FE-230, a 7.1-megapixel digital film camera made in 2007 that had previously belonged to his mother. During her senior year of high school, cameras like this started popping up in classrooms and at social gatherings. On prom night, Mr. Tabarez passed around his camera, which took fuchsia-tinted photos that looked like they were straight out of the start.
“We’re so used to our phones,” said Mr. Tabarez, a freshman at California State University, Northridge. “When you have something else to shoot on, it’s more exciting.”
Gen Z’s childhood cameras, considered outdated and useless by those who originally owned them, are back in vogue. Young people are reveling in the novelty of an old-fashioned look, touting digital cameras on TikTok and sharing the photos they produce on Instagram. On TikTok, the hashtag #digitalcamera has 184 million views.
Modern influencers like Kylie Jenner, Bella Hadid and Charli D’Amelio encourage fun and emulate their early 2000s counterparts by taking blurry, overlit photos. Instead of paparazzi posting these photos in tabloids or gossip sites, influencers post them on social media.
Most of today’s teenagers and youngest adults were infants at the turn of the millennium. Gen Zers grew up with smartphones that increasingly had everything going for them, rendering standalone cameras, mapping devices and other gadgets unnecessary. They are now looking for a break from their smartphones; Last year, 36% of American teens said they spent too much time on social media, according to the Pew Research Center.
That respite comes in part thanks to compact point-and-shoot digital cameras, discovered by Gen Zers rummaging through their parents’ junk drawers and shopping second-hand. Camera lines like the Canon Powershot and Kodak EasyShare are among their finds, appearing at parties and other social events.
In recent years, nostalgia for the Y2K era, a period of both technological excitement and existential terror that lasted from the late 1990s to the early 2000s, has gripped Gen Z. Nostalgia has spilled over to TikTok, fueling fashion trends like low-rise pants. , tracksuits and velvet dresses over jeans. Mall staples like Abercrombie & Fitch and Juicy Couture have reaped the benefits; in 2021, Abercrombie recorded its highest net sales since 2014. Now there’s year 2000 nostalgia for the technology that captured these outfits when they first became popular.
This time around, the poor image quality isn’t for lack of a better tool. It’s on purpose.
Compared to today’s smartphones, older digital cameras have fewer megapixels, which capture less detail, and built-in lenses with higher apertures, which let in less light, which helps photos of lower quality. But in a more-or-less standard smartphone photo stream, quirks in photos taken with digital cameras are now seen as treasures rather than reasons for deletion.
“People realize it’s fun to have something that’s not attached to their phone,” said Mark Hunter, a photographer also known as Cobrasnake. “You get a different result than what you are used to. There is a little delay in the gratification.
Mr Hunter, 37, cut his teeth documenting nightlife in the early years using his digital camera. In these photos, celebrities – including a Taylor Swift from the “You Belong With Me” era and newly famous Kim Kardashian – look like ordinary partygoers, caught in the harsh light of Mr Hunter’s camera.
He is now photographing a new cohort of influencers and stars, but the photos would be almost indistinguishable from his older ones if his subjects were clutching flip phones instead of iPhones. They go back in time to 2007 and “basically relive every episode of ‘The Simple Life,’” he said, referring to a reality TV show from that era starring Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie.
But many new point-and-shoot digital cameras come with the bells and whistles of today, and older models have been discontinued, so people are turning to thrift stores and shopping sites. second-hand electronics to find cameras with a sufficiently vintage look. On eBay, searches for “digital cameras” rose 10% between 2021 and 2022, with searches for specific models seeing even steeper jumps, said Davina Ramnarine, a spokeswoman for the company. For example, searches for “Nikon COOLPIX” increased by 90%, she said.
Zounia Rabotson’s earliest memories are of traveling and posing in front of landmarks and tourist attractions as her mother pressed a button and a digital camera came to life. Now a model in New York, she returned to her mother’s digital camera, a Canon PowerShot SX230 HS made in 2011.
On Instagram, Ms Rabotson, 22, posts grainy, overexposed photos of herself wearing denim miniskirts and carrying tiny luxury handbags. She says she admires role models from her childhood and that taking photos in a similar style makes her “feel like they’re them”.
“I feel like we’re getting a little too technical,” she said. “Going back in time is just a great idea.”
Ms. Rabotson does not fully disconnect. She showcased her camera on social media, captioning her fourth most popular video on TikTok: ‘Pov’ – point of view – ‘you fell in love with digital cameras again’.
On TikTok, teens and young adults are now showing cameras almost as old as them and explaining how to achieve a “new aesthetic”. Cameras are not always welcomed. After influencer Amalie Bladt posted a video on TikTok telling viewers to “buy the cheapest digital camera you can find” for “the overexposed look”, some of the 900+ commenters responded in horror.
“NO NO NOOOOO PLEASE NO I CAN’T RELIVE THAT TIME,” one person commented. “I swear I’m not that old.”
But comments from desperate millennials and people with more modern tastes were overwhelmed by those where users had tagged their friends and asked how to download photos from their digital camera to their smartphone.
Among some Gen Zers, the digital camera has become popular because it appears more authentic online, and not necessarily because it’s a break from the internet, said Brielle Saggese, strategist at lifestyle at trend forecasting firm WGSN Insight. Photos taken with digital cameras can impart “a layer of personality that most iPhone content doesn’t have,” she said.
“We want our devices to blend discreetly into our surroundings and not be visible,” Ms. Saggese said. “The Y2K aesthetic has turned it around,” she added, describing mirror selfies and photos where digital cameras are visible props as “style choices.”
Rudra Sondhi, a freshman at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, started using his grandmother’s digital camera because it seemed like a middle ground between film cameras and smartphones. . He estimates that he takes a photo with his digital camera for five with his smartphone.
“When I look at my digital photos” – from his actual camera – “I have very specific memories attached to them,” Mr Sondhi said. “When I go through my phone’s camera roll, I kind of remember the moment and it’s not special.”
Mr Sondhi, 18, shares photos taken with his digital camera on a separate Instagram account, @rudrascamera. These photos document the range of young adults, from goofing off in a college dorm to moshing during a performance of The Weeknd. When he pulls out his camera, he says, his friends immediately deem the moment special.
For 22-year-old Sadie Gray Strosser, using digital cameras was the start of another stage in life. She took a semester off from Williams College during the pandemic and started using her parents’ Canon Powershot. Her photography Instagram account, @mysexyfotos, cataloged nights out and long drives in low-contrast, washed-out snapshots.
“I felt so off the grid, and it almost went hand in hand, using a camera that wasn’t hooked up to a phone,” she said.
When her digital camera broke last summer, Ms Strosser said she was “so upset”. Later, she started using her grandmother’s Sony Cyber-shot, which had “such a different character”. Meanwhile, she says, if her iPhone breaks, “I don’t care.”
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