Our friend Keith Canham with his 20x24-inch view camera
You knew there'd be a large format (LF) camera on this list, if only to show solidarity with that French Foreign Legion of photography, those resolute and brave outcasts the LF aficionados. They didn't need digital for their medium to become obsolescent; they've been noble outsiders for half a century and more by now. And still, few things are more beautiful in all of photography than a well-made traditional contact print from an LF negative, and they know it. (Someday I hope to convince Carl to offer one of his lovely 7x17s in one of our print offers.)
It stands to reason that LF people like big cameras, and some of them actually pine for the biggest big cameras. To them, that's the Ferrari/Rolex/NYC penthouse of the camera world. These things present really formidable technical challenges...but they like that about them.
We're not in a position to claim that the Canham is the "best," whatever that means, but it's at least as good as the best, and Keith is an extremely nice guy and utterly dependable to do business with. (If you're interested in any sort of view camera—he'll even build them to order—give him a call. Tell him Mike sent you. You'll see what I mean.) And if you buy one of these, it will be far more exclusive than any Ferrari or Rolex—most makers can count the number of 20x24s they've ever produced in the single digits.
It's a truly impractical camera. Ain't that grand?
Tied for 8th place in our countdown is the other half of an odd couple, what we felt was the perfect counterbalance for the ultra-traditional Canham that requires a mule and a Sherpa—the absolute latest thing, and one that's effortlessly always with you, assuming you're going to carry your phone. I know almost as little about it. But you've read all the breathless accounts in the past few days—the million pre-orders, the lines at Apple Stores around the world, the 4 million sold in the first 24 hours.
For its part, Apple says the 8-MP camera in the iPhone 4s "just might be the best camera ever on a mobile phone." It's posted some samples on its website so you can see for yourself. The current state of the art, to be replaced poste haste by the next state of the art. But for now, yes, it looks like a good camera for a phone camera, and it's impossible to deny that people find them desirable. Not entirely for the camera functionality, but still!
Previous entries in The Most Desirable Cameras on the Planet series:
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Ed: "Eh, Mike, personally I would love a Canham (and I will own one, not now but ASAP) but not that behemoth...a folder 4x5 will do quite nicely. Just the thing I would like in the sadlebag of my bike (tripod on the other side) and lenses in a little backpack. Greetings, Ed."
Mike replies: Ed, that one's probably Keith's best camera, just too bread-and-butter to do for "most desirable."
Featured Comment by Carl L: "The iPhone is a very good camera indeed. Twenty-four millimeter ƒ/2.4 lens that seems to stay at ƒ/2.4 and change shutter speeds and ISO. I would say up to 8x10 it will deliver very pleasing photos.
"Edge sharpness is very good—better then the Canon 15–85mm on my 60D. You will see JPEG problems at 100%. The HDR works very well on still subjects. The video is cool—the touch screen gives you focus and exposure control as you are shooting. It does not deal very well with very high contrast subjects, i.e. bands on stage. With its large depth of field it's great for product photos for the web and small print work. It does have digital zoom but I'm sure thats no better then cropping in Photoshop.
"All in all I give it an 8 for a 24mm camera that's as small as a large fly. Incredible technology, many thousands of dollars worth of stuff in a $200 handheld device. Still having problems contacting the Enterprise."
Featured Comment by charlie: "I am constantly fascinated by LF cameras and work. I look online quite a bit and at View Camera mag in the store. I keep telling myself it would be the best thing for my hyperactive tendencies. I just don't think I have it in me to spend half the day making one or two photos, and doubt I own the brain needed to understand all the nuance. Some day, maybe.
"I also can't help thinking that LF photographers are the recumbent cyclists of the photo world. Not a bad thing, just a hunch."