In the wake of my short article "How to Buy a Digital Camera" the other day, several people suggested that multiple lenses aren't really required (quite true) and that these days, you might as well buy a camera with a fixed (i.e., permanently attached) lens on it, there being several very nice options available.
That's fine, except for one thing. I'd like to show you one of the nicest lenses of the whole digital era:
...The Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar 7.1–51mm ƒ/2–2.8. Lovely lens. And the oldest examples are barely 13 years old and probably still in fine condition. Lots of life left in 'em yet.
Of course, you'll have to be happy with an 8-megapixel "Super HAD CCD imager" circa 2003. Not that there's anything wrong with that—just grab a couple of Memory Sticks and off you go!
Who loves ya, baby
Of course, ou could argue that even interchangeable lenses become useless when their whole systems become obsolete. For instance, when Canon switched from the FD system to the clean-sheet EOS mount in the early '90s, infuriating loyal customers whose FD lenses had just become obsolete...
Fixed-lens cameras are fine—nothing wrong with them. It's just that when you decide to get rid of the camera, they fairly define the old saying "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." It's not a conclusive argument against them; just something to take into consideration is all.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Dennis: "Since I was a Minolta Maxxum user, I settled for a Sony F717 while waiting to see if Minolta would ever produce a DSLR. It was a nice enough camera in its day. Around $900 or $1,000 then. Worth around $25 now. I took some nice enough pictures with it in good light. It could still do the same today, but cheaper cameras are better in just about every way, from image quality to viewfinder quality to focus speed, shooting speed, and recording speed.
"I've had my RX100 several years now (and plan to keep using it several more); enough to justify the $500-ish price tag. I love the idea of the RX10 with its pretty fast 28–200mm equivalent, nice ergonomics, and excellent viewfinder, but I don't like the idea of spending that kind of money again on a fixed lens camera. I guess that's mostly because I'd view it as a second camera (much like the RX100 now) whereas if I could really get rid of my ILCs, I probably wouldn't mind spending $1,000 on a fixed lens camera every few years.
"Another consideration is that with a DSLR system, you buy lenses, and you can be sure that whenever you want/need to buy a new camera to use with them, there will be something available. With a fixed lens, there's no guarantee that the company will keep up that product line."
Kev Ford: "Plus you have to learn a whole new control layout with every different fixed lens model; it's not enough to learn lenses' characteristics?"
Anthony Collins: "A link to Ken Rockwell? I feel like I've been Rickrolled. No, new word coined: I've been Rockrolled."
Mike replies: All photo-related searches lead to Ken eventually.
Gato: "I open TOP and see an old friend. Aside from the wonderful lens, that was the only digital camera I ever really loved. They could stuff in a modern chip and processor and I'd buy it again today. Had Sony continued along the lines of the 828 and R1, odds are I would never have owned a DSLR. After using film SLRs for years I was more than happy to be rid of multiple lenses, with the toting and packing and changing. It is a shame that such a fine lens dies with the chip, but cameras today are hanging in much longer than in the early days of digital while lenses, with their electronics and mechanical complexity, age faster than in the old days. So I'm not sure it is as big a thing as it was 10 or so years ago. Just last night I was looking at RX10 prices. I have not ordered yet, but I am sorely tempted."
Jacob Long: "Can confirm, had the Sony F828—that lens was easily as sharp as any of the other samples of Zeiss glass that I parked in front of my Contax film bodies. It's a shame it's permanently stuck to the front of that camera."
thomas hobbes: "The problem with digital is that it seems to be a lot easier to build an amazing and small lens for a fixed lens camera than for an interchangeable lens camera. if only somebody could produce a lens like the one attached to rx1 at even twice the size for an interchangeable lens camera...."
Mike replies: The variables you can eliminate with a fixed lens are what's called the "flange distance," the distance between the sensor and the flat ring on the front of the lens that the lens seats against, which on an ILC has to be fixed to accommodate all possible lenses, and the diameter of the exit pupil, which is limited by the diameter of the ILC lens mount. This could indeed theoretically change the design of the lens in some cases, and influence its size somewhat...although I doubt as radically as 2X.