« Weather Notes | Main | Cult Camera (Or: We're Just Talking) »

Monday, 31 January 2022


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I am not impressed as long as the basic camera and lens kit will be more than $1000. I would like to see something also students can afford.

Talk about simple cameras, mine's an Ansco box camera.

Ansco B-2 Cadet Camera with rotating shutter in front of
meniscus lens and eye level viewfinder

Original exposure setting is 1/25 at f16. By covering part of the circular shutter opening with black electrical tape,and placing a small washer over the aperture opening,the exposure setting became 1/125 at f22. This enabled
the use of Kodak T-MAX 400 film with the camera.

My first DSLR was a Nikon D40 I purchased in 2009. I still have it stashed away with the 35mm f/1.8 DX lens.

Anyway, a cool feature of the D40 is that it let you customize the menus so that only the items you choose to appear show up in the menus. It's the only camera I've owned that had that ability. Newer cameras let you set up a "My Menu" but that's not quite the same thing as choosing what appears in all the menus. Most likely this is because those menus have a LOT of items listed.

I now have an X-T4 but rarely dive into the menus, and have a short list of items in My Menu. The camera has enough button and dials to to not have to use the menus. I ignore video, I've never used video on any camera I've owned to date. I also disable the touch screens.

Simple cameras enable one to concentrate on the subject. A good simple camera merely needs three controls - shutter speed, aperture and focusing.

To get the right exposure, one can use the sunny 16 rule and guessimate from there. To be a bit more accurate, any reliable handheld exposure meter (under $100) is good 'nuff.

For most aspects of photography, it's not so much the gear but more the shooter that counts.

"Purposeful, Pared down, Able to be mastered, and Built to do one thing really well rather than all things just in case."

In the contemporary camera market, what you're describing is the Leica M10 models and, now, the M11. Leica made the decision to eliminate the video features from the M after the M240. It did, indeed, make the control menus slimmer, and it also enabled Leica to implement a new, shallower menu system similar to that used on the SL models.

Of course the complexities of sophisticated AF control is not required on the M. There does remain one vestige of contemporary digital photography in the new M's; communications (Bluetooth and WiFi) settings. But they can be unobtrusively ignored if not needed.

So the M10/M11 meet each of your objective points, don't they? These are cameras designed and built to be owned and used much, much longer than the typical digital camera from Sony or Fujifilm. But, of course, the price of purism is high in a manufacturing world where economies-of-scale determining profitability. But even if an M10 or M11 cost no more than, say, a Fuji X100V would you really buy one?

Herman's Ansco B2 with the shutter in front of the lens reminded me of something I learned recently. It turns out that _optically_ the simple meniscus behind the shutter/stop is superior to the more common simple meniscus in front. The reasons for not using it are aesthetic: the camera looks better with the lens showing, and mechanical: there's less chance of gumming up the mechanical parts with dust when the shutter is protected by the lens.

Every dSLR I’ve owned (all Canon, all a variation of their 5D), I’ve made _purposeful_ by simply doing the following: 1) set the format to RAW; 2) set the metering to spot; 3) set the focus to Auto, but using that little button on the back to engage the autofocus, and not the shutter button (sorry, I’m sure Canon has a proprietary name for that but I don’t know it - on purpose) 4) color space set to Adobe RBG (I think… Maybe it’s sRGB… I set it and forget it).

For overnight shooting, I do have a Custom setting setup: ISO 800, using two shutter button pushes to trip shutter (to allow the camera to settle down before the 30 second exposure), with mirror lock up.

That’s it. I don’t bother with any of the rest of it, so the manual (and menu) is superfluous, though I do keep it in my bag. This greatly simplifies my shooting workflow. Some might argue I’m paying for a lot of features I don’t use, but I get the quality I need, which is worth the price to me. I will say the price is far less than Leica and Hassleblad, both of which I’ve used, and both are marvelous machines. And like I said, it makes using the camera a breeze.

As a very wise man once said, YMMV.

As I re-read this, it strikes me that my iPhone is my most simple camera. It just works. And when I take a photo, it automatically appears on all my devices, images don't usually need much, if any editing. Simple and fun to use. Always in my pocket.

(I still enjoy using my Fuji X-T4, but it's fun in different ways)

"Purposeful" etc. Right, you want a camera equivalent of a Miata or a Jeep Wrangler. Bravo, I say.

It doesn't get much simpler than a smartphone camera, which is why I am using mine more and more. There are certainly compromises with it, and it's no use at all for certain types of photography - birds in flight would be just one - but in terms of ease of use, it's got it nailed.

It's just a pity that the ergonomics are so horrible!

I've taught photography and advised beginners on what to buy. total agreement. Go for the basics. We always started with a pinhole camera the students made themselves. Koday used to circulate a design for a make it yourself small cardboard pinhole camera that could be fitted with rubber bands to a Koday instamatic cassette. This allowed some 20 shots to be taken on a pinhole camera and the cassette was sent off for commercial processing. It was perfect for grasping the basics of photography. Then we moved up to Pentax K1000s.
I want student's cameras to have dedicated controls for F stop, shutter speed, iso and focussing and we'd work our way through understanding those controls and how they related to each other and the image. Undertsanding and adjusting those controls until it was second nature was the aim of year one courses.
I give the same advice to beginning photographers. Go for a camera that has dedicated controls for those functions. Second hand is best. Save your money until you know how you are going to use your camera. At that point, you'll know which fancy features you really need and where you want those features to sit on the camera body.

Oops, I accidentally omitted the important trailing thought from my earlier comment: Would a simpler, more “purposeful” camera really help someone produce better imagery? To the extent that complexity can impede reflex shooting, perhaps. But we all have a simple, purposeful camera device at-hand 24/7, don’t we? And I would argue that it’s brought photography no just closer to the average human; it’s enabled it to become woven into daily discourse in ways unimaginable just a few decades ago. How much simplicity do you need?

You know what I hate about cameras? "Your pictures are so good - you must have a great camera!" Golly, thanks...

I like the 5D idea--a good, relatively unfussy camera with minimal digital infrastructure that's affordable. A couple of manageable issues like dust. Wonderful color. Some great lenses. The manual was a mere 180 pages long. Even the third party books were less than 300 pages. Ah, the good old days! I'm being only a little sarcastic.

I never liked the form factor though, and it's still more complex and fussy than I would want in a "manual" digital camera.

We're unlikely to persuade camera manufacturers to make cameras "Built to do one thing really well rather than all things just in case" is lost. Building cameras to do one thing would require 2 or more production lines and it's probably a lot more cost effective for them to have only one production line, and perhaps more cost beneficial to us as well. Lower demand for a Leica Monochrom makes it more expensive than the equivalent Leica M, the built to do more model costs the purchaser less than the built to do one thing model.

I think the cameras we have right now would seem far less complicated if the menu systems were organised differently. Let's take things like the focus items many. We get a huge list of every focus option available in what is often not a well structured order. Why not a branching tree sort of order with a menu that simply shows the single point focus options followed by a yes/no choice for continuous autofocus. Choose "yes" and you're presented with a new menu for continuous focus options including a yes/no choice for tracking options that opens a new menu for that feature if you select it.

That kind of menu would present the user wanting a simple camera for still photography with a very brief, easy to navigate and understand menu that simplifies the camera option for them but allows users needing more advanced or complex functions to easily navigate to the specific functions they need.

Complexity of function need not be an issue if the operational choices are well organised and structured in a logical and purpose related menu structure. Let choices about how the user wants to use the camera determine which menu options are presented to them and all of a sudden a complex multi-purpose camera should become far simpler for the user to understand and operate.

Add to that it should be cheaper for the manufacturer to redesign the menu structure than to design and build 2 or more single purpose cameras to cover the range of user needs and something that's cheaper for the manufacturer should also end up being cheaper for the user.

In response to Mr. Tanaka’s comment, I would gladly pay the going price for a XT-4 or D780 (or even more) to get the functional equivalent of a Leica M series but in SLR configuration. My “must have” features are based on the Pentax LX I picked up used for $150 a few years age prior to a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon:
1. A big, bright viewfinder optimized for manual focus with fast lenses. For this concept camera, I would prefer no attempt to incorporate AF.
2. Manual and aperture priority metering with no hassles or extra steps necessary with legacy lenses for metering or use of aperture rings.
3. Shutter speed and ISO dials on the body.
4.A full frame sensor, no need for more than 24 MP (I personally would be fine with 16 MP). Raw-only output (.dng) would simplify menu needs.

I cannot fully explain the joy I had shooting on that trip: 16 days with a couple beat up cameras, some old MF lenses, Velvia in the cooler and a thimble full of LR44 batteries (not needed) in my pocket. No fights with AF points, white balance settings, or time spent chimping.
Thom Hogan would say that with more time invested in learning and becoming one with the AF and AE systems of my modern cameras, I would overcome the personal issues I have with them. My only argument is that I shoot occasionally for fun, not in a serious or professional way. My best analogy is that I absolutely agree that paddle shifters optimize performance of a F1 car, but should I ever acquire my dream sports car, it will have a “real” clutch. I won’t care about shaving 1/10ths off lap times but I absolutely want to control the rpms going to the rear wheels as I accelerate out of a curve going to the grocery store. The newest lenses and cameras are phenomenal, however they are often solving problems that I don’t have a problem with.
Nikon had me for a moment when the Df was introduced but that model is a fence-straddler trying to appeal to my points through nostalgia, not substance. It appears that my only way out is to embrace the rangefinder experience. I need to get back to work if that is to happen!

The Fuji X-T20 was a fairly simple camera. I paired it with the 35mm f2, set it at Aperture priority and that was it. Never much messed with the menu after that. Used the Q menu to change film simulations and WB. One can really do this with any camera. I regret having sold that kit.

I've got it down now to where half the dials and buttons on my X100F are disabled. It's a lifestyle choice. I think we need to distinguish between complexity in set-up and complexity in actual use. And how one can allow the other.

Even so, I think fondly of of one lens/one film/one ASA (nifty fifty and Tri-X, of course!), pre-focusing with the lens distance scale, and exposing by sunny 16, experience, or metering off the palm of your hand. Hmm, maybe it wasn't that simple after all. It certainly made you feel more in the moment.

I also like simplicity but one person's simplicity is another's complexity. There are a few "simple" things I wish manufacturers would actually add to today's cameras. One would be the ability to set more aspect ratios in the finder. My incredibly complex Sony A7RIV can do 3:2 and square, but not 4x5 or 5x7. I'm not sure what 4:3 (I believe there were 6x8 plate cameras in the day) is good for but assume 16:9 has something to do with video. The other thing I'd like to see is arguably more controversial. I'd like to be able to view the image in the finder upside down, as in a view camera. It would allow one to see the graphic elements in an image. I do that on my computer screen, when I think of it and with prints and one can learn a lot about composition. Neither of these should be difficult for a skilled programmer.

The use of dedicated "my menu" and programmable buttons makes a huge difference in day to day operation. I cannot recall the last time I needed to dive into the menus on my camera. Essentially all the adjustments I need or want are available quite easily so except for the above changes, I'm generally pretty happy.

Simple? How's this for simple.
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic.
Kodak Baby Brownie Special. It used 127 roll film. When I was in the US Army, during the 1960s, I always had this small camera in my dufflebag for snapshots.

As a pro I used Canon SLRs and DSLRs. Now that I'm retired I've returned to simple and use a Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G.

Old Argoflex camera converted to a
pinhole camera, with a bicycle used as a rolling tripod-
Results can be seen at: https://members.efn.org/~hkrieger/pinhole.htm

My problem is falling in love with the possibilities of a camera, or system. I love the concept of a 4k/6k photo future - yet I've owned Lumix cameras and taken exactly one photo-stack image and no superburst+select 4k photos. I also love the Oly/OMD Live Composite and can see several uses for it.. some day. And Pentax' Pixel Shift faux-veon capture (but not the 8-shot superresolution of µ43?). The list could go on for quite a while. Shots I've never taken that would be child's play with one brand, ergo 'must have'. Argh.

"Of course it should be a hint that both Leica and Hasselblad lead the way in purposeful, pared-down devices"—you really think so, Mike? I rather think those are two of the companies that most appeal specifically to old-school experienced photographers, and not to normal people at all.

Sometimes I think the most direct route to simpler and more intentional photography is to buy fewer cameras and lenses. Because the world doesn't lack "Goldilocks" products, just longer attention spans.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007