Why?

2009, Photography

I have mentioned it before that I kind of look for a different camera, preferably with a larger sensor. I checked the stores during the holiday season and played with some dSLR’s from several manufacturers. But I was so surprised how well my Ricoh camera handles in manual compared to these dSLR’s. Turn wheel there, turn wheel here, to change the aperture push button and turn wheel, exposure compensation, press other button and turn wheel again. There are only dials on top available for basic settings like program, aperture priority, shutter priority or manual mode, scene modes, you all probably know the drill. Many buttons at the back, extensive menu’s, and a overkill of settings. Especially with the consumer and prosumer models intuitive isn’t exactly what comes to mind.

Old School

Now you wonder, haven’t you used any SLR camera in the past? Be calm, yes I did. Had a Nikon and Canon SLR before and used Praktica and Pentor cameras. But these cameras were simple (even my EOS 1000F). The lens had an aperture ring on the lens, there was a speed dial and ISO dial on top, and you had all the important information in the viewfinder. And lets talk about viewfinders. Except for the very expensive cameras, these viewfinders are quite dim and small too. Where are those bright viewfinders? I loved the viewfinder on the Nikon N90, large and bright with all the important information.

And form factor. Most dSLR’s are pretty large and bulky and many cameras look like Canon EOS cameras. Now that is not necessarily bad, but I liked the size of the Nikon N8008 and the Pentax MZ series. Only the Olympus E-420 and E-520 still reminds me of those cameras. But these Oly’s come with the 4/3 sensor and as a result of the 2:1 crop factor it is hardly possible to get a real wide and fast angle prime lens.

Old School

I still believe there is a market for tough and simple SLR cameras like the sturdy Nikon FM2 or the Olympus OM2, built to last and to be reliable. I guess there are enough enthusiastic and professional photographers who would welcome such a digital camera. Dials on top for shutter speeds and ISO settings, large and bright viewfinder with 100% coverage, no internal camera-flash, a swivel LCD screen like the Epson R-D1(s), a full frame sensor, and fully weather protected.

As a result of my current impressions and experiences with these dSLR cameras, the Sigma DP1 becomes an even more tempting camera. Simple interface, still small and when outfitted with the optical viewfinder and the lens hood a quite attractive package. For a camera with a single prime lens I rather preferred a 35mm focal length, but the current price drops are getting better and better. In the UK you could get this camera for even less than ₤300,- (which is currently like €300,-). And hopefully the Sigma DP2 will be the much improved camera with a lens usable for more general photography.

What if Ricoh produces a digital Ricoh 500G, or that Sony has the guts to develop a digital Hexar AF? Too much money is spent on technical features in my opinion.

Old School

Enough dreaming, because eventually it all comes down to taking/making photographs. And I hardly have been able to do so this weekend.

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21 thoughts on “Why?

  1. Wouter, Excellent images! Are these from the GX200? The grainy feel and dark tones complement, to me anyway, the old cameras. Very nice. Also look into the G1. Really a spectacular camera. Not the durable one your are looking for, and the UI needs improvement, but a very nice and fun camera to use. Compact to boot.

  2. Like you, during the holiday period I looked at dSLRs’. At the entry level Nikon D40~60, Canon 1000D ~ 450D with their plastic bodies they look and feel flimsy and under engineered (I speak as an owner of a Canon G9, which with its metal body is built like a “tank”).
    I agree – where is the well engineered equivalent of the Olympus OM2 ~ OM40 (small but solid)?

  3. Thank you yesbuts, small but solid camera’s with a metal body would be nice. The G1 may be a spectacular camera, but am no fan of the 2:1 crop factor and limiting choices of wide angle lenses for the Panasonic.

  4. Wouter, I fully agree with you on the current dSLRs and this is what makes them completely uninteresting for me. The build is also an area where modern dSLRs disapoint completely with their bulky and plastic bodies. Wonder what happened to apreture rings around the lenses and real physical and intuitive controls. I have to confess that I never owned a SLR camera before but having seen and handled them I can’t believe how far back manufacturers have gone with their designs.
    Ricoh is the only manufacturer where the cameras are designed by people actually using cameras and not people who like pressing buttons on a computer.
    At the moment for me at least there are only a handfull cameras I would consider usable and these are, aside from the Ricohs, the Epson RD1 and the Panasonic LC1. I sure hope this year we will see more cameras like these and not like all other current digital cameras.

  5. The Ricoh GX200 has excellent controls. I agree. I must say, I have used Pentax, Canon and Nikon DSLRs and the best handling and feel (for me) was Nikon. I really like their D40, D40x, D60 for their size and my style of shooting. Also the D300 is built like a tank and has an enormous amount of customization available with buttons and controls for anything you night want to change quickly.

  6. Truth be said, since I got ahold of the Ricoh cameras it has turned harder and harder to shoot with anything else..!! There is no clear alternative to this little fantastic cameras, and I´ve done my share of searching… If it was possible to make a GX200 with an APSC sensor (keeping the body size and design that is..) and a 24-70 equiv. lens with an fixed 2,8 aperure, that would be the only camera I would ever need/use. Dreaming, as opossed to this hobby we have chosen, is cheap..

    Cheers!!

  7. @Cristi: There are more designer and developer teams of several manufacturers who love to photograph, but might have different priorities. It is more difficult to develop a photographer camera when you have to add a huge list of functions to the camera, that many people eventually hardly use anyway. I do agree that the Epson R-D1(s), Panasonic LC1/Leica Digilux 2, and Ricoh GX and GR cameras are some of the best examples on the market.

    @Marco: You might be right that those Nikon cameras mentioned are nice for their size. But I like to have a camera without a pop-up flash. You could be right too that the D300 is built like a tank, but all the buttons and customization features are the things I don’t want on camera.

    @Erik: I do agree with you on using a larger sensor in the camera and a fast lens. I don’t mind the camera to be slightly larger.

    @Mark: I know it will, many cameras do 😉

  8. I agree 1000 percent. I have a canon 400D and to get to the manual settings is no easy feat. it’s “okay” if you’re doing certain landscape shots where you have at the very least the benefit of time. But, as a street photographer, mucking around with two buttons as opposed to a dial makes all the difference when you’re talking about on-the-fly adjustments. It’s just not done. you end up either doing an aperture priority or shutter speed priority because it’s just one button you press.

    I have a G10 and canon almost got it right by putting the exposure comp and iso as dials on the top of the camera. I end up using the iso and exposure comp dials as relatives to speed and f-stop. it’s the next best thing but not the best thing. put the damn f-stop and shutter speed as dials. what the hell is so difficult about that?

    in the end, dials work best, not flimsy buttons in menus. i had an old nikkormat with the f-stop setting on the lens, the speed and iso as dials.

    hopefully the complexity game that these camera companies are doing will eventually run dry and simplicity — real functional simplicity — will be “en vogue” again. yeah, and i bet if this simplicity comes back, it’ll be at a pretty penny. go figure

  9. I’m with you re: the overall hype with technology on modern dslr’s

    I recently have been shooting film with a simple M2
    no batteries. no in house meter /3 basic framelines
    and its GREAT / learned alot about light & metering be it the sunny 16 rules or a CVII meter in the pocket if I need it…
    As for a small digital
    I will either buy again the DP1 but most pron=bably hold out for the DP2
    the size of the sensor, the foeven sensor & such a simple interface its hard to Beat
    Best to You in The New Year- H

  10. Best wishes for you too Helen. I keep following your journey with your M2 on GetDPI. You seem to be more aware of your photography, because of the simplicity of the camera. And I really love that and it is fascinating.

    And the DP1? That is probably the best digital alternative, besides the Epson R-D1(s) and the Leica M8(.2). But certainly with a more attractive pricetag.

    Thank you for commenting Helen.

    Cheers,
    Wouter

  11. After this week, I have gained a greater understanding of how simple and intuitive Ricoh controls are compared to DSLRs and cameras like the G10.

    http://lifein28mm21mm40mm.typepad.com/life_in_28_mmand_21and_40/2009/01/cattle-.html

    The G10 is a fine camera, especially when it comes to the top controls, but the screen menus are too much and too easy to accidentally activate.

    Simplicity in camera operation and focus on composition has become increasingly important to me. Unless I am using a DSLR in a professional capacity, I don’t want to be bothered with all the complicated menus, in addition to the size and weight. I am now on a quest for a one camera solution…a simple solution. The Sigma DP1 sounds great…the anticipated DP2 sounds better, but in the meantime, I’ll stick with my GR and possibly a future GX.

  12. @Mark: You mean, your 40D is too complex? 😀

    @James: Thanks for sharing that. The G10 is definataly off. I only want a camera that takes pictures, and nothing else. Lets see what 2009 brings. Good luck moving West.

  13. Hi Wouter, Love the site and your comments. I agree with you on this subject. I use a Fuji S5 for my pro work and thanks partly to you I bought the GX100 about six months ago. Fantastic camera. Ideal for my landscape work. Excellent quality. I even now use the GX100 for some of my pro work. I get sick of this button, that button, this dial, that dial. So, for a lot of my personal work I use a Leica IIIC. I love it. No meter, no electronics, no plastic. Just quality workmanship and real glass (non of this polycarbonate rubbish for me). I also enjoy using my Fed 3 among others. Real photography! Perhaps one day people will recover from this photoshopped digial fetish and complete obsession with increasingly controlling gadgets. All the best.

  14. Thank you so much Chris. And always great to see a pro use such a small camera for pro work too. Simplicity and ordinary dials are the things I like to see in a camera. It should take a picture, instead of taking over my thinking.

    Since there is no real digital camera available it might happen that I look for an older film camera too. In the meantime I should use my Ricoh GR1 film camera more often again.

  15. In some ways, I tend to empathize with your initial observations but believe that we need to accept some compromises to obtain continuing benefits from the digital imaging age. I’m not a digital fanatic, having originally started serious photography with large format view cameras 4×5 through 11×14 and Dagor and Protar VII lenses, but I find that the image quality of my own work seems to have improved as I adopted recent digital imaging technology. ( I do still shoot 4×5 black and white film.)

    I believe that carrying over our views and beliefs from the film era to the digital age is fundamentally unsoud because of the inherent difference between a film camera, where you can always change to a new and higher quality film on the next sheet or roll, and a digital camera where the imaging characteristics can never be changed for the life of the camera body, the basically unaffordable Leica M8 system being the only exception known to me.

    Imaging in the digital age is basically an electronic process and sensing hardware and algorithms are still evolving rapidly in quality and capability. The technology is not at all mature yet, so we should see major improvements in dynamic range, color reproduction in camera and in final exhibition prints, signal to noise ratio, etc for some time to come, even if one ignores the megapixel marketing hype.

    Evolving electronic sensor capabilities are much more available financially to all of us because they are incorporated into cameras that are attractive to a mass market and thus can be produced much less expensively due to high volume efficiencies.

    Optical technology seems to be fairly mature and the recent incremental improvement in optical quality seems marginal.

    During the film era, photo hardware was relatively mature, indeed somewhat stagnant, while film capabilities evolved rapidly. In that technological situation, buying a camera body for the ages made a lot of sense. It was easy to keep up with photo technology improvements because these could be easily “upgraded” when you bought your next roll of film.

    In contrast, buying an extremely expensive digital camera body for the ages is probably just a recipe for spending a lot of money to be fairly obsolete in three years rather than two.

    So, perhaps the best strategy to get the best affordable lenses and then insist on backward lens compatibility in new digital camera bodies that include the latest useful technology. Pentax has been excellent in this regard and so their mature full frame lenses are still in production and still very good, just waiting for a decent full frame body ( if that ever occurs!).

    We will also need to accept some consumer-friendly compromises in order to keep new camera body prices within reason.

  16. Thank you so much for your lengthly comment and thought. I do agree with you that film cameras are so much more matured (and likely fascinate me more than digital cameras) than digital cameras. I certainly don’t talk about mass products, not even most Ricoh cameras are mass products.

    But I do think that in between the many consumer-friendly cameras there is still some room for more “classic” cameras. It seems there is hardly any choise for those who don’t want all the fancy features. The M8, too expensive, the R-D1 discontinued. In the last 12 years of digital photography it is all about upgrades, sure the technology still needs maturing, but do all these cameras really need to be replaced within 2 years? Maybe the economy was a driving force too. There was money to spent, and consumers were willing to buy new camera’s. But the situation has changed and maybe some manufacturers will lower the cost of development. Time will tell.

    Maybe I still believe in fairy tales and that one or two manufacturers will cherish the more traditional photographer with a more classic digital cameras. Maybe Pentax, maybe Ricoh, but certainly not one of the big three.

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