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Friends Getting Ready 2
Friends Getting Ready 2
Anna Thetard / Her Campus

What the Digital Camera Means for Our Generation

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Cal State Chico chapter.

The digital camera is undoubtedly the current going-out necessity. Maybe you or a close friend have been charged with being the “digi cam friend,” responsible for documenting the evening or girls’ trip on an early aughts camera, downloading the files from the memory card, then sending them out the next day (or at least some time in the next several business days). It’s a heavy weight to bear. Whether a camera produces photographs in a crystal-clear resolution with impeccable color grading or with a distinctly vintage hazy aura, the pictures look fantastic on an Instagram grid. It’s imperative to get them sent out as soon as possible. But what exactly is the fascination with this new, or rather old, method of photography?

An obvious answer lies in the very ethos of Instagram – the aesthetic. Depending on the quality of the camera, the resulting photographs can fit almost any vibe one could go for. A cheaper camera that takes fuzzier, almost washed-out pictures is great for an indie sleaze look; a slightly higher quality camera is great for taking food shots, portraits, or anything that you could find on a casual, candid Instagram account; something like the legendary Canon PowerShot G7 X (which retails for only about $1000) takes gorgeous, almost editorial pics for a highly polished and curated look. Digital cameras have just about taken over Instagram. I’m sure you’re following at least of few of your friends’ “digi cam” accounts, maybe you even have your own. Always with a cute name, either cheeky or pretty on the nose, these accounts represent the painstaking effort of downloading and posting an entire catalog of photos. Whether private or public, they’re a place where we can look back at the intimate moments, the silly moments, the moments that maybe didn’t make it to the main account but are near enough to our hearts to be documented, the moments that were an accident or blurry but had to be on the account due to “journalistic integrity.” But even if that isn’t the case for some, the digital camera resurgence seems to stretch beyond simply an Instagram upgrade.

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@deuxmoi, Canva

A more immediate, or perhaps more cynical, response may be that it’s simply a trend, another element of the Y2K revival that has permeated the (fast) fashion industry for the past few years. Not surprisingly, in this current iteration of the 20-year trend cycle. Third-year Kenzie (a fellow HC writer), while appreciating the aforementioned aesthetics, doesn’t really get the hype. “They’re cool, but I wouldn’t buy one for myself, you know?” Understandable, as it could just as soon be unfashionable, passé, to upload a batch of digital pics. One day, we might look at them the way we now look at 2013-era square aspect ratio preloaded-filter selfies taken in the Instagram app. The internet has condensed trend cycles to last for only a fraction of the time they used to; the editing techniques that gained popularity even as recently as post-lockdown are rarely seen anymore. And while there’s no doubt that many camera options are well outside the budget of your average college student, even the cheapest options can be a financial stretch. Why pay for one unnecessarily? The cheapest ones you can get (from a reputable source, not a scam) (unless you can find a really good, legitimate eBay deal) are around $30-$50, and that’s not including memory cards, an adapter, or a charger. But departing from our phones for photos altogether, changing the way we take them instead of merely the way we edit them within our phones, seems a more drastic change than we’ve seen previously. What could possibly account for the scope of this trend?

There is something incredibly satisfying about taking a photo on an actual camera. Humans have always had a close relationship with cameras since their invention, a second pair of mechanical eyes. It used to be much more costly, more laborious, more time-consuming, etc. The taking of the photo was in itself an occasion. Photographs used to mark especially significant moments, now we take them of absolutely anything that catches our interest. But the act of taking a photo on a camera, for as long as we have been able to do, is still a special experience. It is a uniquely human thing: capturing a specific moment in time, creating an object for posterity. So much so that the camera apps on cell phones have features that replicate the experience of using a real camera. When you hit the button to take the picture, the shutter sound you hear isn’t any actual shutter operation of your device, it’s simply a sound made to invoke the feeling of using an old camera. Photo editing software functions are also all named after the operations photo developers would use for old-school picture modification in darkrooms. Photography is such an obvious yet overlooked part of our history, being one of the primary ways we have begun to document it, so it’s not surprising that our generation has rediscovered and reawakened the love for it.

There are certainly other factors as to why so many of us seem to adore our digital cameras or to be drawn to them if we don’t have our own. On a tactile level, it’s more satisfying and more fun than just using your phone. And since we use our phones to take pictures of, well, anything really, using a digital camera on a night out, or at a scenic location, or at a special event makes taking the pictures and the pictures themselves feel much more meaningful. 

There is also an ingrained element of nostalgia. Second-year Sydney, who has been spending time revisiting childhood movies and connecting with her older family members in record shops, feels particularly connected to the emotional aspect of using a digital camera. She says it feels more “personal” and “wholesome” than simply using a cell phone. The revamped use of cameras in this decade takes us back to a time when a single device had a singular purpose. Cameras were for taking photos; vinyl records, cassette tapes, and CDs were for storing music; record players and radios were for listening to music; phone books and contact books were for keeping track of how to get in touch with people; the list goes on. Now, all of that and more happens at one fixed point – the cell phone. Putting your phone away for an evening, turning instead to a device that will only take pictures, allows you to be more free to live in the moment. When Sydney describes the digital camera approach to documenting experiences as “healthier,” I can’t help but agree. Our generation seems rife with nostalgia – even as mere adolescents, we look back at the days before COVID, the days before it was common for everyone to own a cell phone, wondering what life might have been like if that never happened. Or do we just yearn to go back to those days? Maybe that hunger is what the digital camera, in some small way, satisfies, and the aesthetics are just a bonus. 

Josette Travis

Cal State Chico '25

Josette Travis is a third-year student at Chico State. A Chico local with an ever-growing love for her hometown, she is a passionate academic, currently studying Physics, as well as Theatre and Dance. She is an avid lover of the arts, with interests in literature, cinema, art history, fashion, and performance. Through her involvement in Her Campus, Josette is branching into the world of content creation and online journalism, and hopes to usher in the revival of the lost art of print journalism. She is passionate about the ability of online spaces to bring communities together and foster change in our world. In her free time, Josette loves spending time with her family, her cats, paperback books, and Pinterest. She enjoys the many cafés and park spots around town, and connecting with everyone who has chosen to make Chico their new home!