An open letter to camera manufacturers

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.

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his bouncing baby boy!

29 comments on “An open letter to camera manufacturers
  1. Hear hear!!

    No matter where I am (even in restaurants), I just have to swallow my pride and whip out the DSLR for good photos because using the compact camera is a waste of time. I rather suffer the conspicuousness of a DSLR (and the embarassment in restaurants) than bad, grainy point-and-shoot photos.

    And I agree – the range of compacts the last few years are so monotonous to the point where I don’t even know what’s new and out anymore because frankly, they’re still going to perform the same as my old 7.2MP Canon. p-and-s.

    So very well said! Now let’s hope they listen! And I’d be happy to test and promote the dream compact camera myself!

  2. I too would like a compact camera with the functionality Chubby outlines, but I wonder if something like that is technically possible? If it is, then I doubt that the manufacturing costs would be low enough to make it viable for a niche market.

    The problem as I see it with compacts in terms of delivering the performance is the small CCD. This has two major failings.

    One: A small CCD means having good depth of field control is difficult because even at a wide aperture quite a lot will be in focus.

    Two: A small CCD means less space to fit all those megapixels. More megapixels per square centimetre means more noise.

    So would it be possible to put a large CCD in a compact camera? I guess it would but to use it the lens would have to be something special with some very clever optics. But then that would come at very high cost and despite this camera being for a niche, I wonder just how many would buy it to satisfy the turnover hungry manufacturers who can knock out compacts in China for a few dollars.

  3. i put my hands up for 50mm f1.8, and totally agreed with this point.
    i have hear about the Contax but couldnt get hold of it… i would be soooo happy if such camera will made.. hoho~~ wonder if any manufacture will take on the challenge?

  4. I agree with Peter’s comment but if a camera manufacturer put together the large CCD with the high speel F1.8 and medium focal length 75mm, this box could serve as the foundation for a whole line of special purpose cameras and with alternative lens configurations, as quality general purpose units.

  5. Hear, hear! I’d be the first to jump on a compact for food photography anytime! Perfect for vacations or short trips when one doesn’t fancy lugging around a DSLR.

  6. Hear hear! I am in search of a new camera right now and your post totally sums up my issues with the cameras.

  7. What about the LEICA D-LUX 4 ???
    Looks like the closest thing to what you want…
    What are your thoughts?

  8. Guys, thanks for all your comments. Especially those on the technical realities of my proposed camera. I really hope someone somewhere with authority in a camera company is paying attention.

    Axxezzor: The Leica is a dressed up version of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3. I Use the Lumix DMC-LX2 and as said above, it really doesn’t achieve what I am after.

  9. After reading your post, i realize that i should invest in a compact camera instead of lugging around my DSLR

    well, i guess Sigma has answered our prayers, look at DP2.

  10. I reckon if you wait a little longer, the improvements in teh G10 will come along 2 years from now to fit your description, with the flash attachments that will fit your work.

  11. You have put into words that which I am not technically savvy enough to put into words (or even fully understand), but I am a new food blogger who has been struggling with the photo part and would buy TEN of these cameras if they were available! You are my food photographer idol…I love your pics so I trust you can be our champion on the matter! PS. Any time you would like to teach a novice please do, and please do check out my blog. Jewels
    http://jewelsfromtherovingstove.blogspot.com

  12. Hear hear! Hope they’re listening. I am having some luck by going the opposite to most. I am photographing my food with the stills option on a Sony HDR-XR520V Handycam. I get great depth of field in very low light and true photographers may laugh but check out the results at the above url /archive/2009/may/Night at the (New Marigold) and march/snack du jour! Yes the camera was pricey but I get both great motion and stills.

  13. I have upgraded from the LX2 to its replacement the LX3 – its only up to 60mm equivalent but f2 – f2.8 and noise control at any ISO is so much better than the LX2. Its still not perfect though but its definitely worth looking at as an upgrade.

    I am laying hopes on the olympus Micro 4/3rds body and a pancake f2/f1.8 35mm (70mm equivalent) to be the best of both worlds for me.

    The sigma DP while lovely in good light isnt fast enough nor is it have low enough noise.

  14. From what I can see, the Pen E-P1 looks fab. Coupled with a 30mm 1.4 (and MMF-1 adapter) it would be perfect for food shots. I’ll need to save up for one though. I did (and I admit rather shamelessly) write to the Marketing Director (one Antonio Lei) and one of the PR staff from Olympus Singapore begging them to loan me an E-P1 one to try or even to sponsor one for me to use. To date, no one from Olympus has bothered to get back to me. Oh well.

  15. My sentiments exactly… I just lugged my Nikon D90 across Japan (from Osaka to Sapporo) and its no joking matter. As the days goes by, my beloved D90 seemed to have gain the extra kilos (just like my belly from all the eating).
    And I just saw the new PEN E-P1.. its a godsend! OMG!!! i really need to save up for it now…

  16. I will assume you have checked out the very new Panasonic GF1…. and the amount of lens you can buy… and the Bokeh….. hmmmmmm its not what you want but the pancake 20 1.7 will give a nice 40mm with iso at 400… most dark scences can be captured… and if you are desperate there is the 25mm Leica 1.4 with an adapter you can use….

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