My Love of CCD Sensors
Featuring Nikon D1x and Los Angeles Downtown
My first camera was a Nikon Z6, a mirrorless camera with a 24.5 MP BSI-CMOS sensor. Lightweight, with more-than-enough megapixels, and a zoom lens, Z6 was a perfect all-around camera for me.
Last spring, I went to Berlin, and I could not bring my camera since I was backpacking. So I bought an affordable film camera (Nikon F601) in the city + Portra 400 film roll. When I processed the roll in LA, the photos looked… better than any of my photos from the Z6.
It looked more lively, warmer; more sunlight was captured. Of course, I could always go to Lightroom and adjust my digital photos into “film looks” but this process would always kill the naturalness of the photo and look “Instagramish.”
As a normal college student, I cannot afford Kodak Portra 400 regularly. Film photography is an expensive hobby, so I became interested in what makes film look film.
The question was why does the CMOS sensor produce cold and lifeless photos? CMOS tends to blow up highlights and washout colors, and I could never get a satisfying result from lightroom as an amateur photographer. Then, I discovered CCD sensors. More specifically, Nikon D1x.
I purchased the D1x since it was an affordable professional Nikon camera back in the day. This thing uses a CF card (it’s ancient). On a weekend, I carried the camera in downtown Los Angeles. With the small screen in the back of this tank, I could barely tell what I took, but when I brought the photo to Lightroom, I was shocked at how more colors this camera took in compared to my Z6.
The photos felt more alive, and warm, which I liked. Technically speaking, the CCD saved more highlights and CMOS saved more shadows. At base ISO, CCD is more sensitive to small color variations and tonality. CCD looks like a photo from an album and CMOS looks like a photo from a billboard.
Of course, there are disadvantages to using CCD sensors. They are mostly on old digital cameras with low megapixels. D1x is a 5.3 MP camera. Personally, I don’t have a problem with this, since the biggest I’ll print is a 4x6. Most cameras with CCD sensors are bulky (at least compared to modern mirrorless cameras). CCD sensors perform terribly in low light. The D1x only goes up to ISO 800 (which looks bad already).
With everything comes a compromise. However, I will rather capture a lifeful photo with bad specs than perfect commercial-look photos.