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Thursday, 18 March 2010


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We have three Nikon bodies and a mix of lenses but, I am a one lens guy and can't shake it, I use a Nikon 18-135mm. All I can say is, "it works for me".

Two equivalent designs but one "cheap" with high tolerances and another - expensive with metal mount! What a great subject for holy wars! Those might last for years and years to come and never release user's attention for other important things. Very smart marketing strategy!

Mike, wadia mean "coated for digital"? The only additional requirement I am aware of is to meet the needs created by the sensor being more reflective than film.

I got so fed up with Canon L lenses (chromatic aberration problems, light fall off, smeared corners, poor QC) that I started buying Hasselblad Zeiss and Pentax 645-A lenses on ebay, all of which work very well on my 5D2 (with adapters of course). I even dug out a 1.8–55mm SMC Takumar from my old Spotmatic, which as it turns out might be the best lens I own–next to my Zeiss ZE 21mm.

Seriously though, are there some special optical qualities that are better for digital? Beyond the need for just plain good lenses that is?

don't forget the minimum 9-blade diaphragm for the beautiful bokeh

That would make a lovely egalitarian camera. The Radical Camera.

"wadia mean 'coated for digital'?"

I've only had this explained to me--I'm not an expert. But how it was described to me is that most lenses are coated "strategically." That is, depending on their spec, price, and technical requirements, various surfaces might be multi-coated, single-coated, or even uncoated. 35mm lenses often don't perform quite their best on digital cameras because they are coated for light passing one way through them--from the outside in, of course--but digital sensors can be pretty reflective, and "bounce" the light back thought the lens from inside to outside. Expensive lenses tend to be coated much more thoroughly from the start, and often tend to make the transition to digital without a hitch. Tamron, for one, discovered early on that by coating its early digital lenses the same from the back as from the front, it was able to realize significant performance gains that way. Many inexpensive lenses are now "coated for digital," but it's still possible to find 35mm lenses that don't perform on digital cameras quite as well as you might otherwise expect them to.


Have you been taking "Michael Reichmann Pills" by accident?

To expand on the "coated for digital", I would also request "optically designed for digital", meaning the exit pupil of the lens would spit out light as perpendicular to the sensor as possible.

Leica (or rather, Kodak) got around this by offsetting the lenslets on its M9 sensor by ever-increasing amounts as they moved away from the center of the sensor. Because this new camera wouldn't have any legacy lenses to deal with (nobody would make adapters for it, right?), the lenses could be built the right way from the beginning.

i love prime lenses. almost all of what i shoot is done with them. but... why bother specifying a prime here, if you want 4 fl over a very short range? from what i recall about your 'taste' in lenses, it doesn't run to particularly fast ones. i would bet that a short-range zoom at f/2.8 (ideally, f/2, but that seems like it might be pushing it) would be about the same quality as any one of those 4 primes, and probably sell for less (given cost of development and production--not really factors in this game, i know).

so why not simply spec a standard zoom instead of 4 primes? high quality, f/2, reasonably compact, 35-50mm. with a simple zoom lock, even, for those who want to pick their ideal angle of view and nail it down.

i ask because i wonder, maybe you have a reason for specifying prime rather than zoom, and i'd be curious to hear what it is.

OK, I'm not following the math here. If 35mm on this system is "equivalent" to 40mm on 35mm, then the diagonal of your sensor is around 37-38mm. You said the sensor is 4 cm square. Whether that's 4 cm x 4 cm (square or cropped) or 2 cm x 2 cm I don't see where you get a diagonal of 37mm.

Anyway, I know how you implement this on the cheap. Offer up up your wide, normal and tele lenses all on the "wider" side, then offer three sensor crops (aka "digital zoom") to get all 9 combinations.

"i would bet that a short-range zoom at f/2.8 (ideally, f/2, but that seems like it might be pushing it) would be about the same quality as any one of those 4 primes"

Oh, dear me. No.

Again, it's not a technical issue. The issue is purely visual. I want the camera to have a single f-l lens; it's just that I don't want one that is a little too long or too short. I want to be able to tailor it to the way the particular photographer sees. For any given photographer, only one lens offering would be needed. The only reason to offer four is that people are different, and have different ways they naturally see.

I did say this was a non-commercial idea. [g]


"then offer three sensor crops (aka "digital zoom")"

Oh double dear me, no. Oh...no. [g]


Sketch that up on a napkin and head over to China.

"My ideal camera...would have only three focal lengths—normal, wide, and telephoto"

"The normal lens range might have four variants: 35mm, 40mm, 45mm, and 50mm"

I assume the wide-angle lens range would have four variants as well: 20mm-e, 24mm-e, 28mm-e and 35mm-e*

And the telephoto range would probably have three: 85mm-e, 105mm-e and something longer (one othe following: 135mm-e, 180mm-e or 200mm-e)

For a camera that only had three focal lengths, that sure works out to a lot of, um, focal lengths.

And if we consider HS and LS versions, we are up to 22 lenses. I'm starting to sense why this camera is imaginary... ;-)

Best regards,

*Note that the numbers quote above are NOT mm-e numbers, so the 35mm listed in the quoted text is actually a 40mm-e according to Mike.

You should see if you can get an artist or a drafter to render images of your imaginary camera ideas! That would probably be more work than it's worth, but it would be fun to see. Personally, if I had the chance to design my ultimate camera(s), cost no object, I'd still never be satisfied and I'd drive myself insane trying.

One more thing (there's always one more) when we talk about your proposal for "lenses optimized for the sensor size": are you sure you want that? As far as we could see, only Olympus could pull that off, and only for the (non-micro) four-thirds. And most of their lenses are the same size as their 35mm equivalents!
On the other hand, look at the lesson learned recently from the second version of Nikon 70-200VR: basically no lens is really free from a marked drop in quality, as soon as you move away from the center. No Nikon, no PanaLeica (f/1.7 or super-zoomalicious 14-140), no Canon (be it L or not) and not even the most hyped lens of the last years, the overdesigned Nikon 14-24mm.
The only lenses "optimised for the [full] sensor size"? The tilt&shift ones, when used centered. There ya go...
To sum it up: while coatings add only to the cost, a lens truly "optimised for sensor size" would be so big that you'll lose every ...streetness :) left in that ideal camera. Unless (of course) you're ready to think that the next generation of 1/1.7" sensors would be as big a leap as the recent 10MP Canon (or Sony BSI).

P.S.: Mike, can you add multiple tags/categories for your posts? I see that the current one is assigned under "Photo equipment", and while that's certainly where it fits (being the 2nd part of a general proposal for a new system), this particular thing is about lenses; whaddaya know, you have a category named "Lenses", which incidently I was browsing right now.

You ought to be talking to RED about this.

As I get older and shakier, please dear god, include IS on all the high end lenses: wide, normal and telephoto. I will pay "anything" for this added feature....:)

Scott - This being Mike's idea of a great camera, I'm assuming it will have in-body IS, so ALL your lenses would be stabilized.

Next, all the lenses would be have matched imaging characteristics for a consistent "look."

Oh what's the fun in that?

Why would I want a consistent "look" over multiple lenses? I rather like lenses that look different from each other and in particular like lenses that have different looks depending on f/stop Nikkor 55mm 1.2 or even like the old Minolta 24mm VFC or the Nikkor DC lenses that have different looks that you can dial in.

I'm having a ball trying out all sorts of 1950-1980 lenses on my 5d mk2, preset 135mm 3.5 Takumars in particular are a revelation.

I'd really be interested in a camera made specifically for live view manual focus, a tiny digital view camera with a waist level finder and perhaps a moving back for fine tuning autofocus.

I don't think there is any technical barrier to such a camera, selling it to anyone but me might be a good trick though.

Scott Jones - IS on the sensor, natch.
Barbu - I don't think you've seen the stuff Zeiss and Leica put out. And you're talking zooms. HQ primes seem to do much better in those regards.

Don't want to redesign this, as it's Mike's camera. It's shaping up to something rather nice and I'd be interested in a real one.

What about those older, um, that is, more mature shooters like myself who NEED a diopter? Waist level finders are nice (I have used them before presbyopia set in) but having to switch between reading and distance glasses just doesn't work. Clipping a lens to my glasses is a bit too steam punk for me. A Hoodman type thing might work but waist level finders are not that nice when you have to press your eye down onto them and it probably wouldn't collapse. Viewfinders are disappearing in mirrorless cameras. Big problem for some of us.

I prefer IS on the sensor - that should reduce the size, weight and cost of the lenses a bit.
But this should include the thing Pentax put in their system which can rotate the sensor a little to correct slanty horizons. That would save SO MUCH TIME having to correct slanty horizons in my pictures!

Wow, I feel lucky...I've got an M6 with a 28mm F2...I don't need anything else, except money to buy film with!

Use lenses from an existing 35mm system. That would save cost and might make the camera commercially viable. Of course the sensor would need to be smaller than 40mm, but that would save cost as well. An M43 version could be quite affordable.

What about a choice of 4 lens boards with pinholes of varying diameters? You'd need a 2 hour slowest speed setting on the strassenkamera, of course.

One word: bifocals!


"...it will have in-body IS, so ALL your lenses would be stabilized."

As implied by the term IS, it's the image that's stabilized, not the lens or sensor or body.

Please don't get mad, but your camera would not sell in large enough numbers, for 2 reasons. (It's your design, so you don't care; but I do!)
1. As you can see, your thread is twisting toward the LENSES! We like our old lenses; cost, a certain quality we can't explain. And yet the camera manufactures only allow the lenses they think we need. Mike, you're just like them! If sigma had made their dslr to fit other lenses than a new sigma mount, imagine how many people would have bought that camera, just to see what it could do, with their existing lenses. Now Ricoh GXR system, new lens mount. Samsung NX, new lens mount (not4/3). We can't afford it, period! I predict hard times ahead for Ricoh and Samsung. Arrogant as you Mike. That is the one saving grace of 4/3 cameras, using any 4/3 lens made by anyone. Mike you started out designing a camera with interchangable everything, BUT the lens!
2. I want to order this ideal camera, with the options that I, I, I WANT. Mine would have to have the best AF system available. You know, the one only sold on $5000 dslr's, physically as big as a toaster. The ideal camera should have the options to order the quality of AF the customer desires, maybe MF only if desired.
Only then would this change from being Mike's camera, or Canon's camera, or Sony's camera, to being ED's CAMERA. I would be proud of that camera, and cherish it for a long, long, time.
Mr. ED


I like many of these ideas. Once Micro 4/3 became a thing, I quickly realized a waistlevel-type body with LCD in the collapsable hood was possible, and I started shooting my mouth off about it. Likewise, the Micro 4/3 spec merely stipulates the diagonal of the sensor, not its aspect ratio, so a square-sensored body is possible there too. Not to dissuade your camera design, just to point out that something relatively close *could* happen if Panasonic, Olympus, or someone else really wanted it to.

As for the lenses, I know what you mean. "Wide," "normal," and "portrait" mean so many different things to so many different people. You need options... Four for each category looks to me to be something like an 18, 21, 24, and 28 as wides, a 35, 40, 45, and 50 as normals, and a 70, 85, 105, and 135 for portrait, right? 12 lenses ranging from 18-135... are we really reinventing the wheel here? Why act like you've got only three lenses here. Even in your example, a 35 and a 50 are different enough that I carry both every time I throw the camera bag on my shoulder.

Your low-spec and high-spec idea deserves some sort of prize though. Genius.

Nice post....keep on posting such useful things...

I have a hunch that (depending on flange-back distance) existing lenses might be really popular on this camera - since a lot of current MF-digital lenses are designed to cover* 36×48mm covering 40mm x40mm would be a piece of cake. And some would want to see exactly how much vignetting they would get from a 24x36mm lens. (None on tilt-shift lenses, I've read.)

That said, I love the idea of picking a normal length you really like, and of the availability of 'cheap' lenses. (My life has been greatly enriched, no pun intended by Nikon's E-series lenses, particularly the 50mm 1.8)

*I think? I don't follow MFDB stuff closely. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.

A couple of commenters have talked about the desirability of a square format digital camera. Just so you know, the E-PL1 has the ability to shoot square. It's in the press release as Multi-Aspect Shooting, e.g.:"and other popular aspect ratios, such as 3:2 and 6:6."

"Just so you know, the E-PL1 has the ability to shoot square."

And the Panasonic GF1 does as well. It's Menu > REC > Aspect Ratio > 1:1.


@ Luke J. Slater: "You should see if you can get an artist or a drafter to render images of your imaginary camera ideas!"

Better yet after is to get the Lego bricks out and make it in 3D. You will find that some features do not work, while others work far better than you expect. Nothing beats holding the shape in your hands, and changes can be quickly made.

I don't think that anyone has mentioned what I consider to be a great benefit of the waist-level finder. With an eye-level finder there is a tendency to feel that you are looking through the camera. Your eye and mind play the usual tricks that they do all day: omitting extraneous detail, assuming sharpness, correcting perspective, etc. With a waist-level finder I think that there is more of a tendency to look at the finder and see what the camera is actually going to capture. It was quite liberating when I learned to look at the finder, not to try to look through it.

As to camera height, it is perfectly easy to take an eye-level picture with a waist-level finder - just hold it sideways level with your eyes. And much easier to turn it upside down over your head for a high shot.

One word: bifocals!

Actually my eyes are so bad that my reading glasses are bifocals so that I can read or use the computer with them. My optometrist accidentally made me a pair of glasses that were blended from 18" to infinity. Only a thin horizontal line of anything was in focus. I couldn't even walk in them. Plus I like my distance glasses to be sharp all over. So some of us really need those diopters. Since I like to compose before looking through the finder I need to have my distance glasses on to shoot. So even an ideal camera can't fit everyone. But a lot of what you are saying would be very welcome in my next camera.

I like the idea of 2 quality levels. In my experience lenses come in 3 grades: there are the cheapies in the <$200 range that I have always avoided; the $5-600 ones and the ~$1-2000 ones which I can never afford. So all my lenses (with the exception of my original MF 55mm f1.7 Rokkor and 135mm f2.8 Vivitar) have been in that middle range. Only problem is some lenses in that class are quite good; some, not so much. But I could happily live without the bottom class.

It may be just that my imaginary camera isn't the one you'd consider ideal. That seems perfectly okay to me...I'm assuming my interests are "minority opinions." (After all, if my ideas appealed to the majority, they'd probably already be viable products on the market--does that stand to reason?)


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