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Ode to my first DSLR, the Canon EOS D2000

It’s with a mix of melancholy and wonder that I take this trip down memory lane. I had long planned to write about my first DSLR camera, the EOS D2000, a Canon/Kodak mashup from the early days of professional-level digital photography cameras. What I hadn’t planned on was the recognition, in the final days of DPReview, that the camera was born the same year that DPReview was.

It takes on a different shade of blue to see the parallels, a physical object that acts as a reminder both of time’s passage and of how far we’ve come as a newsroom and industry. ‘Poetic’ may be overstating it, in the same manner as Kid Rock in a short brim hat doesn’t make him Leonard Cohen. Let’s settle on a ‘coincidence.’

Picture it, 2004. I’m at university majoring in photojournalism. I’m learning the craft, and up to this point I had shot and developed nothing but 35mm and 120 film. Digital cameras were becoming common by this point: digital point-and-shoots were a trendy gadget, cellphones like the Motorola Razr and T-Mobile Sidekick brought the first mass market adoption of cameras in phones, but DSLRs were still expensive and out of reach to someone like me.

As I was working my way through school I leaned on film for as long as I could, but even in 2004 the writing was on the wall that photojournalism was going digital.

The pros had already moved on from carrying bags of chemicals for makeshift darkrooms to set up in hotel bathrooms. Before digital, photojournalists would run from an assignment to develop film and make prints, before grappling with transmitting images as three separate color plates, each taking 15 minutes or longer, over a telephone connection back to their newspaper or wire service. If the developer didn’t fail or the telephone line didn’t lose connection and all went well, editors would be able to retrieve and publish the images in time for print.

It was clear that the future of photojournalism was digital capture and digital file transfers. Once I started taking on daily assignments for the school newspaper, going digital was no longer optional. Luckily for me, a few years earlier our local newspaper had donated their used cameras to the school, and that’s how I got my hands on a loaner Canon EOS D2000.

Finding the EOS D2000 in 2004

The EOS D2000 had been released in 1998, about six years before I got my mitts on it. The camera was a rebadged Kodak Pro DCS 520, a model created by Kodak engineers trying to produce digital cameras in the 1990s for the professional market. At the time, Kodak was experimenting with early digital sensors, some as digital backs for film cameras. One of the designs they landed on paired a Canon EOS-1N with a CCD sensor.

Canon saw potential in the mashup and produced their own version under the D2000 name. Often regarded as Canon’s first digital SLR (and the grandfather of the Canon EOS-1D), the D2000 is a 2MP CCD APS-C EF-mount body. The camera shot 3.5 fps in 12-frame bursts and accepted CF cards via two adapters that slid into PCMCIA card slots. It used a rechargeable Ni-Cd battery, allowed audio notes via a built-in mic, boasted a 1.8″ color rear LCD, had the option to use Firewire for file transfer and included an at-the-time very notable addition of an anti-alias filter.

Canon sold the EOS D2000 for ¥1,980,000 upon its release in 1998, which was approximately $15,000 at the time (that’s about $27,000 adjusted for inflation).

When DPReview founder Phil Askey reviewed the DSC 520 in 1999 (with a mention that it was identical to the D2000), he marveled at the ergonomics, picture quality, color, speed, LCD previews and histograms. Askey concluded the camera was a ‘work of art’ in his review and ‘the Jaguar of the digital photography world where all else are Fords.’

Transitioning from film

So that was 1998. Six years on in 2004, here I was holding this relic and happy for the privilege. The D2000 was quick to pick up and use, its film body controls familiar and its basic manual controls working as expected. I remember being enamored with changing ISO on the fly; it felt like magic. Learning about buffers, navigating menus and the limits of my memory cards was new to me.

I used a 32MB CF card, which gave me about 15 frames in Kodak’s proprietary TIFF format, at the highest quality. This limit made me shoot digital like I shot film: slowly and methodically. (Even today I can’t break the habit of triple-checking focus and composition, and I rarely make more than two frames of a scene.) I eventually invested in 128MB and 256MB cards and I thought it was insane that I could shoot more than 24 or 36 frames with no worry.

These are the actual cards I used at the time. In 2020 I happened to run out of memory on my main cards during an assignment and pulled these out of my bag. I think I got 10 frames on the 128MB card, which was enough to save the day.

I was sold. In a way, the D2000’s buffer wasn’t really that far removed from how I was already shooting film: waiting for the moment, one click at a time. I liked to think I was seeking the ‘decisive moment’ as Henri Cartier-Bresson might say, but really I hadn’t broken old habits created by being cost-conscious for years prior.

It wasn’t until I took on more sports photo assignments that I learned to embrace the decisive motor drive.

D2000 and sports

In 2005 I headed to Reno, Nevada for an NCAA basketball tournament.

Imagine a baseline of eight photographers on each end of the court. With every play at the hoop, fast break, steal or pass a sea of camera sounds cascades across the floor: “Clickclickclickclickclickclick…”

I’m in the scrum as well. If you don’t see me, you could certainly hear me.

I’m the one going: “………click…………click……….click…”

By this point the professional world alongside my ancient camera was already multiple generations deep with digital photography, and the go-to sports camera at the time was the Canon EOS-1D Mark II N (there were a few Nikon D2X users, but very much in the minority).

The Mark II N was an 8MP APS-H CMOS camera that was fast and reliable. It shot at 8.5 fps at burst rates of 48 JPEG frames or a 22-frame burst in Raw, and it supported JPEG+Raw dual SD and CF card writing. There’s a reason that the Mark II N was the standard sports camera of its time.

So at the basketball tournament there’s a sea of Mark II N cameras, swooping left and right to follow the players up and down the court, capturing multiple frames in front and behind the action along with the peak moment that would be circulated on websites and in newspapers in about an hour.

Amidst all those clattering motor drives I try to hold my own at 3.5fps.

Rat-a-tat-tat-tat – ‘Got it!’ exclaims the seasoned pro as he looks at the back of his camera. Another chimes in, ‘Wait till you see what I got!’

‘Show me!’

‘You can see on the front page tomorrow.’

Friendly competition can be found on the sidelines, but so can some mockery.

Between plays the professionals from local and national newspapers and wire services give me the odd side eye glance. An AP photographer asks me what museum I stole the D2000 from; another photographer joins in to take another pot shot. It’s a rough evening; there are many key frames I’ve missed, but there are also others I’ve nailed.

By day two of the tournament I’d learned the lesson that if I see it in the viewfinder I’ve already missed the moment. I’m starting to hone my ability to anticipate the key action. My peers who had given me a ribbing the day prior were starting to take note as well.

I can’t say if it was genuine kudos or driven by pity in seeing me create actually good images given what I was shooting with, but there were more nods of approval and offers of encouragement. Jokes were replaced with ‘Not bad’ and ‘Wow, you got that, I missed it.’

The mighty D2000 was an old-timer, but it still had some life in it!

The D2000 in retrospect

Looking back on the D2000 in 2023, I still kind of hate you… old friend.

The biggest pain wasn’t the burst rate or the limited memory cards, it was when it came to actually getting photos off the card. By 2004 support for the camera’s file format was disappearing. It only worked in Mac OS 9 (and below) and required special drivers for PhotoShop to covert Kodak’s proprietary TIFF format into a standard JPEG.

For all the aggravation, though, it’s a camera I still have a fondness for, and I find myself wishing I still had it (seriously contact me if you have one to part with). For one, carrying it around was great for the biceps. There’s also an upside to learning with a relic: it forced me to learn my gear inside and out and work to the best of its and my abilities within those limits. I think this made me a better photographer in the long run and also taught me that I should only chase the shiny and new gear once I’ve outgrown my current setup.

I had some good times with the lumbering beast. It eased me into digital by forcing me to slow down and think like a film photographer. It was also a great conversation piece: I always got an odd look and the spark for a lively conversation was instantly created.

Plus the camera let you play Pong. Pong!

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