About a year ago, I borrowed a Nikon D40 camera from my friend Mandy who wasn’t using it and it got me hardcore into photography. I had the artistic eye but none of the technical knowledge I needed to take decent photos. I was shooting in automatic a lot and my skies were always perfectly white, everything else overexposed and washed out to a sickening degree, and was using iPhoto on Mac to edit them. It could only be described as adorable. I want to go back in time and patronizingly ruffle my own hair.
But upon getting that camera, I didn’t realize it would eventually lead me to where I am today, nor did I think I would be able to get as much use out of it as I have. It straight up changed me. I didn’t realize I’d be sharing my photography with almost a thousand followers on a daily basis on Instagram, forging friendships with the best local photographers in the city, writing a dumb blog post about it, and creating a website to host my work because people are interested in buying it. It’s a little bit hard to believe I could put onto digital film the sights I see every day and be able to show others exactly what I mean when I talk about how beautiful Cincinnati can be (I choose not to shoot the random Kroger bags flying through the air or scratched and discarded lottery tickets in the alleys). But the D40 is tired and has a scratched mirror, plaguing every shot with horrible black lines and blotches. I could theoretically edit them out of every shot, and I have painstakingly done so (trust me, it’s not fun), but it’s getting so time consuming that I’m spending more time fixing images than creating them. It’s time to put my trusty friend to bed.
It walked me through the art of photography better than I could have ever hoped for in the time I was using it. With it, I saw fiery sun rises out of a 9th floor window over the Big Mac bridge and purple sunsets from atop Mt. Adams in the Celestial parking lot on a warm Spring night. I saw the Times-Star building in intimate detail with a 70-300 lens and studied every detail of the Roebling Bridge from Covington Landing. I saw a lonely woman looking over the edge of a parking garage from a block away, contemplating something I didn’t understand. I saw the contours of a snow-covered and busy 4th Street in the dead of winter with people everywhere and the Italianate details of Over-the-Rhine in close detail. I saw my friends smiling back at me as I told them to squeeze together for a group photo. I witnessed a thirsty flood ravenously consuming Sawyer Point and rainy afternoons from the 15th floor of a building in the CBD. All of the things I saw through its viewfinder were things I saw every day regardless; the only difference is it gave me the opportunity to capture it and keep that image forever.
The D40 is an old device, though. It’s basically the equivalent of a 90 year old Nepalese Sherpa who knows how to Sherpa but can’t do much more than Sherpa at this point. It doesn’t do video, it sports a powerful 6 megapixels, the LCD screen resolution is low and doesn’t have live view among several other missing and dated features for a camera that came out in 2006. But it’s still the best camera I’ve ever had. You don’t really need all the other stuff because the pictures I took with it were good enough for me. All I need is the viewfinder and a few buttons to switch my settings and I’m good to go. Do I want better tech? Of course. This straightjacket isn’t cutting off that much circulation to my brain. But the point is you don’t need the latest and greatest to do what you want. The technical shortcomings didn’t prevent me from doing what I wanted to do, and unless you’re a professional who knows a fair amount about photography, I doubt you’d notice my camera’s shortcomings. And if you have noticed it, keep it quiet; no one knows I’m a fraud yet and I’d like to keep it that way.
Even though I’m retiring the D40, I do not plan to stop doing photography. Just the opposite, actually. Last night I ordered a Nikon D3200 for very cheap and while it’s refurbished and not fully up to date with the newest stuff on the market, its specs are much higher and I’ll be able to get more out of it. I can shoot video as well, which is exciting since I’ve been getting more into that recently. I pushed the D40 as far as it would go, I think, and now I’m upgrading to something more modern that will allow me to take it further than before. But I couldn’t have gotten to this point without that camera. I needed to cut my teeth on something solid without the frills before I moved on. I’ve been into painting and drawing for most of my life but I knew nothing about how to take a good picture until this last year when I learned on that camera. It was an invaluable tool and teacher all at once.
So fare thee well, old D40. You ushered a new creative era into my life and represent a milestone in my time spent on Earth. You’re the best little camera I could have possibly used to learn how to do what I do. And thank you, Mandy, for giving it to me to use. My creative renaissance would not have evolved without either of you.