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Monthly Archives: April 2008

Cameras, cameras, cameras.

Why are there so few real choices in the ocean of digital cameras?

Every once in a while, I get fed up with the bulk and in-your-face quality of my digital SLR camera (Canon 30D) and frustrated with the toy-like nature of my compact camera (Nikon P5000) and look for a viable alternative.  By viable, I mean something that costs less than $1000, so as I go through the description of what I’m looking for, banish the thought of the only product that currently even comes close (the Leica M8 -which is upwards of $5500 + lens).

Here’s what I would like to see on the market:

A camera with a rugged, compact, all-metal body.  Something along the lines of the smaller-sized 35mm film SLRs that were plentiful during their golden years.  The fit and finish should be of high quality.  The product will have fewer bells and whistles (i.e., “features”) but everything done will be done with attention to detail.  Quality over quantity, may conventional market wisdom be damned.

A large sensor.  Not full-frame, but APS or even 4/3 would be nice.  8 megapixels would be fine, 10 is plenty.  I would gladly take even 6 or 7 if I could take high-ISO shots in natural low-light settings (without flash) without excessive noise.

Real through-the-viewfinder manual focus.  That’s right – I don’t need or want any auto-focus capabilities.  Give me a high-quality lens with smooth focus and aperture rings.  For this type of camera, I wouldn’t mind ditching zoom lenses altogether.  There are plenty of cheap ultrazooms and DSLRs with zoom lenses if that’s really needed.

High-quality viewfinder.  Bright, good eye-relief, with a clear indication of what’s in focus.  I don’t care if the design is a rangefinder or TTL.  But it needs to be good enough to bring back the joy of really seeing through the camera and having it work as an extension of the photographer’s visual system.

Manual controls for everything, most importantly, shutter speed and ISO.  Knobs should be knurled and operate easily while looking through the viewfinder.

A secondary monochrome LCD display to display settings (shots left, quality, ISO, shooting mode, etc.).

Some other odds and ends:

Metal tripod mount, proper hooks for a strap, AA battery support, instant on, decent (5 fps) motor drive.

Things that can be left out:

A built-in flash.  Include a hotshoe for people who really need it, but leave out something that is otherwise mostly an annoying toy that ruins as many pictures as it enhances.

A big LCD display.  Even I find myself compulsively reviewing shots right after I take them, or showing other people.  But does it ever change anything?  You don’t really know how the shot came out until you download them and can take a good look on a large display, or better, print out the picture.  Keep it pure, keep it simple, and focus on the elements that impact creative control, spontaneity, and picture quality.  Elimination of this feature will save bulk, cost, and battery life.

Movie mode or voice recorder.  Again, not jobs for this particular tool.

Interchangeable lenses.  A decent built-in, 28-35mm equivalent fast fixed lens would be perfectly acceptable.

The new Sigma DP1 comes close on many counts (large sensor, metal body decent non-zoom lens), but misses on a real manual focus and real viewfinder.  That’s a deal-breaker since composing shots with an LCD is as natural as communicating through an interpreter.  Just take much of the fun out of it, at least for me.