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The Digital Camera Resurgence

What might this recent trend be telling us?

Credit: Instagram


While the origin of digital cameras can be traced back to the 1960s-70s, the first true digital camera was built in 1981. However, the first digital camera to go on sale was the Dycam Model 1 in 1990. To keep a long story short, the digital camera quickly developed into a compact format and by the mid-90s, they were in regular use, hence why they were most popular with our parents. So, why are they popular again in the age of smartphones?

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, retro is “relating to, reviving, or being the styles and especially the fashions of the past, fashionably nostalgic or old-fashioned.” Considering that most of Generation Z were still children and preteens while their parents were mainly using digital cameras, I think the newfound popularity of digital cameras means that they are now considered retro.

If you’ve been on social media, or basically around any Gen-Z individual within the past year, you’ve probably noticed something. Digital cameras are back and bigger than ever. From influencers to models to college students, one of the most recent trends is using a digital camera, as opposed to a smartphone that usually comes with a pretty good quality camera,  to take pictures. The reason for this resurgence? It’s pretty simple: Taking photos on digital cameras is just more exciting than what we’re used to. To some degree, the technology is so “old” that it feels new and that’s typically how nostalgic trends seem to start.

For some, it’s a way of re-living the 2000s, and for those too young to experience that era, it’s a way of living in an era they never got the chance to experience. This is not all too surprising considering the recent surge in admiration for the Y2K era. The nostalgia has mainly been seen in a return to fashion trends from the time. With the rise of digital camera use, we’re now seeing this spread to what could be called outdated technology.

Credit: The New York Times

The “quirks of photos taken with digital cameras are now considered treasures instead of reasons for deletion.” The quality of photos that digital cameras produce provides a window into the past and present, a sort of uniqueness amongst the countless pictures taken by iPhones we see on our feeds.

This latest craze is the epitome of the Gen-Z inclination towards the past: their urge to live in a time before theirs, in an idealized version of a different era. But of course, we are not the first generation to do this. Millennials often feel nostalgic about the 80s, and Gen-Z and Gen-Y have shown interest in trends from the 1990s. Naturally, there has been an overlap with that, too. This is all because of the phenomenon known as the nostalgia pendulum, which supposedly happens every 20 years or so.

It is said that fashion and culture trends labeled old or outdated after their initial popularity come back into the mainstream every 20 years due to younger generations discovering and re-popularizing them. The nostalgia cycle affects just about every facet of pop culture, from fashion to TV to music.

Although using digital cameras was certainly a thing in the 2000s, they were also still around about 10 years ago. Does this mean trends from the 2000s and even more recently are becoming outdated and, therefore, retro at faster rates? Is the nostalgia loop getting smaller? The answer appears to be yes. A major cause of this is the increased access to past cultural phenomena. Because of the internet, Gen-Z has every trend that has existed in history right at their fingertips, something that was not available for previous generations. There is no longer such a long waiting period for things to fall out of fashion and back in again.

Credit: RetailMeNot

The revival of digital cameras has also shed light on the recent Gen-Z desire to spend less time on social media and their phones in general. The delay in getting those pictures onto our phones and social media is almost a complete switch from the instant gratification we’re so used to, allowing us to live in the moment a bit more. Perhaps this trend isn’t just a passing fad, but is an excuse for us to really connect with one another, face to face. If taking pictures on something other than a smartphone lets us be on them just a little bit less, I think it’s definitely a trend that we should applaud.


Hannah Barnes is a second-year Film and Television major and an online writer for Rowdy Magazine. She loves using her digital camera instead of her iPhone to capture moments with friends just to feel nostalgic.


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