An open letter to camera manufacturers
Posted on May 21, 2009 by Aun
Dear Camera Gods,
I’m an avid and passionate photographer. Started shooting for fun when I was just 10 years old and my grandfather, a camera collector, had given me a manual Konica SLR as a gift. Over the last 26 years, I’ve owned 18 cameras, ranging from simple point and shoots to complex medium formats. I’d have to say that I’m not bad with a camera. Good enough at least to have landed a few professional gigs from magazines and book publishers during my earlier career as a journalist.
When on assignment, I have no problem lugging around a DSLR (or back in the day, an SLR) and an assortment of lenses; heck, I’ve even toted more than one camera body around when it’s been necessary. But when running around town, or when I’m travelling for my current work, or when I’m taking a much needed vacation with my darling wife, I’ve found that I am less inclined to toting around heavy and bulky equipment. These days, I’d much rather reach for a well-made but light and compact camera.
My two favourite travel companions in recent years have been my Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2 and my Contax i4R. The latter in particular is a gorgeously designed, ultra-discreet camera that takes amazing pictures despite its diminutive profile (I mourned the day that Contax closed down). I love small cameras. Sorry, let me rephrase that. I have always loved exceptionally well-made, compact, fixed lens cameras that offer a good degree of manual control. The best examples back (way back) in the film days are the Contax T2, the Minolta TC1 and the Ricoh GR1s. Both my Panasonic and my Contax perform beautifully. But they both have serious and similar limitations.
I should qualify that statement properly. The things I love to shoot most, in order, are food; design details, products and objects; and portraits. I’ve found that the best universal set-up that consistently gives me great results for these subjects is a DSLR with a 50mm lens that can stop open to F1.4 or F1.8. With a Nikon DSLR, that means I’m technically shooting at a true 75mm focal length.
Now, most compact digitals have 28mm or 35mm lenses. The vast majority also only stop open to maybe F2.8. A few very rare models might stop down to F2. Further, while some models might offer optical zoom, the majority use digital zoom — which, to me at least, is pretty much useless.
My Panasonic and Contax, while far better than the average digital compacts, still suffer from the above limitations. Short focal lengths and apertures that don’t open wide enough. Which means while they’re great for travel shots, especially panoramic pictures, I really can’t take a great food shot, product shot, or portrait with them. (Of course, this might stem from my own limitations as a photographer.)
So here’s my dilemma, which I’m hoping you can help me with. There are, in the market today, a ridiculous number of compact digital cameras that offer essentially the same options. And as I watch, year after year, as new models are unveiled, I grow continuously disappointed. Instead of creating new models for niche markets, you guys are spitting out the same old thing, with minor changes (like housing colors or a few more pixels) or with added programs/options that I’ll never use.
I know I’m not alone in looking for that perfect point and shoot with which to compose delicious food pictures, shoot gorgeous products that I see when travelling, and take sensational portraits. The ever-increasing number of food and design blogs on the Web should be just one small indication of the possible demand for a camera tailored to these needs.
So here’s my request (or challenge, if you will). Make a small, fantastically well-built, gorgeously designed fixed lens digital point and shoot with a true focal length of 75mm that can stop down to F1.4, offers full manual aperture control, has programmable white balance, and can shoot at a high ISO with minimal noise.
My ideal version would have classic lines, with a refined and very clean design aesthetic (a great example of this, to me, remains the Minolta TC1). Like the Contax T series or the Minolta, don’t hold back on using great materials. One of the reasons those cameras were so collectible was their build quality, especially their signature titanium housings.
Aperture control is vital. In order to play with depth of field — something really important for both food and portrait photographers — we need full manual control. Something we don’t need is a flash. Drop it. Not because I don’t appreciate the need for artificial lighting but because most small flashes on small cameras don’t function well. Instead of softly illuminating a scene, they often direct too much light on one specific area.
Instead of plonking in an insubstantial flash, give us great “film speed” options, especially at high ISOs. I’d love to use a small digital camera that doesn’t produce unusable, overly grainy images when shooting at ISO800. Being able to capture sharp images at this speed would allow us the ability to shoot great pictures in low lit restaurants, something most of can’t do unless we whip out a big DSLR — which is just plain unseemly in a formal restaurant.
I totally understand that you might feel that 75mm might be a tad too extreme (and commercially unviable). And while I fervently believe that a camera with my suggested specs would find a great audience, I’d settle for even a 55mm focal length.
That said, if you have the courage to produce my dream camera, not only would I buy several (for myself, of course, but also for friends), I promise to do everything I can to help you promote the product. Not that you’ll need the help. As said, I’m pretty confident that there’s a large and ready market that would embrace this camera with unbridled passion.
Quite simply, there’s nothing on the market that addresses the photographic needs I’ve outlined above. On the flip side, there are way too many cameras being manufactured that appeal to general audiences, the teeming mass of snap-happy people that shoot for, well, fun and memories. But far too few are made for real, passionate camera enthusiasts that care about composing great images or professionals looking for great, light back-up options. One of the reasons that the Contax T series was the travel camera of choice for many of the world’s greatest professional shutterbugs was because it delivered amazing optics, great build quality, and manual controls in a gorgeous, small form.
So, what do you say? Wouldn’t you like to be the first to manufacture the ultimate compact camera for all of us food, portrait, and product photographers? Wouldn’t you like to be embraced by pros and passionate amateurs alike as finally recognizing the needs of your truest constituents?
I certainly hope so. And if you want to, I’d be more than happy to gather round other fellow food photographers to help you test and conceive of this great and ground-breaking camera. Please contact me if interested. As said, I’m more than happy to do anything I can to push this project along.
Many thanks and best wishes.