Nostalgia alert: the digital camera is making a comeback
1st November 2022

Written by Katie Rosseinsky

The Y2K revival continues apace on TikTok, and now digital cameras are enjoying an unlikely resurgence. Could it be time to dust off your old point-and-shoot?

The year is 2009 and, after some very public planning via the medium of writing on your friends’ Facebook walls, you’re gearing up for a night out and Cheryl’s Fight For This Love is playing on repeat. There are some tough choices to be made: should you wear the latest Kate Moss Topshop drop or American Apparel’s finest disco pants? Is your waist belt wide enough? And how much backcombing is too much backcombing?

Whatever you decide, one thing’s for certain: the night will be painstakingly documented using the digital camera that’s hanging from your wrist (and you’ll upload all 127 of the photos to Facebook the next day).

For those of us that came of age in the late 00s or early 10s, the digital camera was an essential, something to cram in your fake Chanel 2.55 bag along with your Motorola Razr and your Dream Matte Mousse foundation. It cropped up in our first attempts at mirror selfies (with the flash inevitably obliterating half the shot) and recorded countless unfiltered moments in all of their slightly low-res glory (this was an era when ‘photo editing’ usually meant ‘let’s try this in sepia mode’).

As smartphone cameras became sharper and sharper, though, this humble gadget fell out of favour – until now. The digital camera is enjoying an unlikely renaissance, and it’s in no small part thanks to TikTok, where users are showing off the old devices they’ve sourced on eBay or elsewhere, and the retro photos that they’ve captured.  

Open up the app and you’ll find hundreds of videos dedicated to this old-school piece of tech. According to Mashable, the hashtag #DigitalCamera has almost 130 million views. “This is your sign to buy a digital camera,” many of the videos promise, showing off grainy, nostalgic snaps, often marked with a time-and-date stamp in the corner. There are even tutorials on how to recreate the effect on an iPhone camera (one video helpfully suggests covering the lens in clingfilm and adding a layer of lip balm).

The digital camera has even been adopted by 00s-loving stars like Bella Hadid (there are TikToks devoted to working out exactly which device she uses), Emily Ratajkowsi and Charli D’Amelio. It’s all part of a shift from a hyper-filtered aesthetic to something a little messier around the edges: think about the move from the perfectly honed Instagram grid shot to the more authentic photo dump and the rise of BeReal, the app that encourages users to share just one post at a specific time of day, documenting exactly what they’re doing then and there.

“We’re currently watching the modes of how we perform memory come full circle. The early Web 2.0 urge to photo dump was replaced with hyper-curation in the halcyon days of the Instagram grid’s ascendancy,” says Annie Corser, insights editor at behavioural insights organisation Canvas8. “Now, as we crave interaction, engagement and connection in a fragmented social landscape, multiplicity reigns again, both visually and in terms of our identities, and we’re posting more often, and more in general.”

With the Y2K revival bringing everything from the flip phone and wired headphones to Juicy Couture tracksuits and low-rise jeans back onto our radars, it was only ever going to be a matter of time before the digital camera made a comeback. 

“Nostalgia is a key factor here,” says Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee, cultural analyst at Canvas8. In the 00s and early 10s, she notes, lomo cameras or Polaroid-style Instax devices surged in popularity as millennials sought to recreate the aesthetic of a previous generation. Now, Gen Z is reclaiming millennial technology as a retro throwback (feel old yet?). “Analogue cams used to be the devices for a throwback to the aesthetics or familiar visual expressions of the 70s to 90s,” she explains. “But now, digital point-and-shoot cameras of the 2000s are having a moment as they become the new hallmark of nostalgia.”

With a smartphone, a filter is only ever a few taps away, and photos can be sharpened and perfected within moments. The digital camera is a simpler affair, encouraging a more authentic, less curated image – and it offers a reassuring sense of permanence, adds Corser.

“To say people are crying tangibility might seem pretty obvious at this point – rapid digital acceleration, a burgeoning virtual universe and a couple of years of forced isolation has upended what we think we know about permanence, and as much as the resurgence of digital cameras may seem ephemeral and micro trendy, it’s signalling more than a passing fad,” she says.

The digital camera’s comeback, she says, is key to this, as the device is a physical repository of our experiences and produces images that are “redolent of a (just about) bygone era of simplicity and reliability”. In the era of the permacrisis, doesn’t that sound appealing? Maybe it’s time to dust off that old Canon point-and-press…

Image: Getty

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