… And no, it is not a Spice Girls reunion, what I would really like is a decent compact camera.
I know, there are loads on the market, but none of them ticks my boxes. Perhaps I should explain first that I am not an equipment freak. On the contrary, I dislike cameras as a rule, as they tend to get in the way of a perfectly good photograph, none more so than compacts.
Every other week there will be a review in one of the trade magazines of the latest offering touted as being something for the working pro to slip in his or her pocket, the most recent being the Panasonic GF1 reviewed in the British Journal of Photography. And when those reviews come out I read them with interest, simply because I hope something will come along that comes close to my ideal. But it never does, and sorry Panasonic, the GF1 didn’t do it for me either.
This has got me thinking. Maybe the problem is with me. Maybe my demands and expectations are unreasonable. Maybe I should just accept what I am offered and get on with it. But the more I pondered it, the more I have come to the conclusion that actually what I want is so simple that it is just being overlooked by the manufacturers’ R&D people.
So, I have hit on a solution: an open letter to all the R&D people explaining what I want. Now I am a realist. On its own this will be about as effective as trying to warm the Gulf Stream with an immersion heater. But if enough of my colleagues support the request, you never know… stranger things have happened. So here goes:
Dear Camera Manufacturer R&D Department,
I am looking for a digital compact camera, and none of the current offerings meets my requirements. Would it be possible to create something with the following specs (my rationale is given in brackets after each one)?
- A high quality fixed lens, equivalent to about 35mm focal length on a 35mm full frame camera, with a maximum aperture of f2 or greater. (I do not need a zoom as I have legs which have always served me well for getting closer to or further away from the subject. Besides, while the quality of zooms on SLRs is unquestionably very high, I have yet to be convinced that the same can be said of compact camera zooms, so I would rather that the effort be put into some decent glass on a fixed focal length. Also, having only one focal length tends to focus my mind more creatively and improve the quality of my imagery anyway.)
- A simple dial on the top plate to select one of four modes: M(anual), A(perture priority), S(hutter priority), P(rogram). (I am a photographer – not an equipment junky – so I do not need hundreds of incomprehensible modes with pictograms that make no sense to me. I actually understand that 1/125 at f8 at ISO 400 is exactly the same exposure as 1/30 at f11 at ISO 200 – which reminds me, put a collar on the mode dial to enable selection of the ISO equivalency, like the kind that used to exist on film cameras 30 years ago.)
- A shutter release button, which is firm and requires some pressure to trigger. (Nothing to say about that really, just don’t want a hair trigger! But it is worth mentioning that I also do not want any discernable shutter lag.)
- A reasonable grip for largish hands, with a thumb dial to control the shutter speed, and a finger dial to control the aperture. (I like to be in control, and frankly having to push various combinations of buttons to change the two fundamental controls of any camera is not – contrary to what the Facebook generation might have you believe – instinctive.)
- A view finder. (Let me repeat that for emphasis and in caps, and underlined, and emboldened and in a different colour and italicised: A VIEWFINDER. A camera is supposed to be an extension of my eye – or even my mind’s eye – it is not supposed to be an extension of my arms when used at full extension! How the hell can I be discreet and in tune with my subject if I am moving around looking like a high tech version of the night of the living dead?)
- Two file options: RAW and top quality jpeg. (If it was up to me, it would just be RAW, but I am prepared to concede that some people do like to use the JPEG format straight out of the camera. What I do not need is options to change the number of pixels used, or the compression, or any of those options that are supposed to mimic film types but never work. Like I said, I am a photographer and I can do all of that stuff myself on a computer very quickly and to a higher standard after I have downloaded the pictures, so why clutter up the camera with a whole load of options I am just never, ever going to use?).
- An 8 megapixel sensor of a sufficient size that the images can be used commercially if necessary. (I have been saying for years that it is not all about pixel counts, and now you manufacturers are starting to admit it. So 8 megapixels are more than enough. In fact, I will happily settle for fewer pixels if it means that you can deliver me something that offers really usable images at upto at least ISO1000).
- A simple reliable exposure meter to power the auto modes – something as reliable as the meter in my old Nikon F3 would be nice. (I don’t really want a load of meter modes, that’s not what this camera is supposed to be about, and as soon as you introduce more than one you need another button or dial to control them. Call me old fashioned, but manual and a light meter works well for me. Do it long enough and you don’t even need the light meter anyway, you just know).
- A small LCD display on the top plate that tells me the shutter speed and aperture selected, how many frames I have taken and have left, and a readout of the remaining battery power. (I don’t need to know anything else, because you haven’t cluttered the camera up with a whole load of gizmos aimed at, well, someone that is not a photographer. While we are on the subject of batteries, something with a bit of life to it would be nice).
- It actually needs to be compact but well built. (Given all the stuff I have requested that you leave out, that should not pose a huge problem – excuse the pun).
That’s it. I actually do not want or need anything else. I know that you will find it impossible to stop yourself putting other gizmos in, and there are some proper photographers around that might want a couple of other things, so I will offer you a list of optional extras that you can include if you absolutely must (along with my reasons for not wanting them):
- A screen for reviewing the images. (I know it is nice to check that you got your picture, but I made a living from using film for over ten years, and I knew then that I had the picture even though I didn’t see it until I processed the film. Not being able to see the picture instantly will remove the distraction and make me concentrate on my subject – you know, I actually think it might make me a better photographer. But there is another reason: it is more technology to pack in, more to pay for, more to go wrong, and I would rather you spent the money on the image processing engine, the lens, the sensor and the build quality. I also think that having to wait to get to a computer to see the pictures will bring back just a little of the magic that I miss from being bent double over a tray full of chemistry. Furthermore, call me a cynic, but you put a screen on and I guarantee you will try to introduce a whole bunch of menus and options that I don’t want (see above), not to mention a live view facility which will stop me buying it on principle).
- A flash. (Not really a fan of on-camera flash, especially not on compacts, but I know that they can sometimes be helpful. A hotshoe with a small bolt on flash might be a better option though).
That’s it. Now to see what other photographers think.