The Always-With-You Camera
by Paul ButziBrowsing the posts on T.O.P. from the last two weeks, I’ve been fascinated by the posts abuut small digital cameras like the Canon IXUS and the Fuji F30. I’m particularly struck by Fazal Majid’s comments, which mirror my own views: I want a digital camera that does what my lovely little Contax T3 does.
Two years ago, I took a family vacation, and the only camera I took was the Contax T3; my daughter took her Canon A75. With a couple of CF cards, my daughter photographed like crazy and didn’t have much muss or fuss; I used the T3 with wild abandon and had to hassle with getting my film hand inspected or x-rayed, etc. After that, I decided that the next vacation I’d take a digital camera instead of the Contax. This time, I took my somewhat aged Canon A95. My entire photo kit (camera, a spare set of lithium AA’s, a case filled with CF cards) was delightfully small. I missed my T3, which is an old and trusted friend, but the A95 acquitted itself well.
To me, the current crop of small digicams falls down on several points, though.
First, there’s the viewfinder. The viewfinder on the T3 is awfully darn good; crisp and bright, with brightlines marking the edge of the frame. You can see beyond the edge of the frame, a la the Leica M6. By comparison, the viewfinders on all the compact digital cameras I’ve used are hopeless, small and squinty and dark, with no parallax correction and with no real indication of where the frame edge is (often, they show only 80% or so of the frame), and with appallingly small exit pupils and horrible eye relief.
Second, there’s the lens. My little Contax T3 has a fixed focal length, 35mm ƒ/2.8 Carl Zeiss Sonnar. When I first got the T3, I was stunned at the quality of the photographs I got with it; the lens is really good. We can argue about the merits of non-zoom lens, but frankly I don’t feel a pinch with the T3, and I’d happily settle for a fixed focal length lens in a digital compact camera, provided I got a lens of the same quality as on the T3. It’s fairly flare resistant, it’s low in distortion, it’s reasonably fast, and it provides a really pleasant rendering of most subjects.
Finally, we come to the crippling fact about digital cameras. In my T3, I can load whatever film I like. I’ve exposed countless rolls of Kodak TMY in that Contax, and been delighted with the tradeoff of grain, speed, and the tonality. I’ve loaded it with various versions of color film, too, switching from one color film to another as improvements came out and improved the grain/speed tradeoff. If by chance an amazing wonderfilm is released tomorrow, I can buy some and put it into the T3, and away I go. In contrast, when you buy a digital camera, you buy a lifetime supply of film (the sensor in the camera) and no amount of wishing will change it. As the sensors improve, this becomes less and less of an issue, but I note that after I viewed the photos made with the Fuji F30, I’m interested enough to go out and take a look at one. The noise characteristics look like quite an improvement over my A95.
Finally, there’s the jpg thing. I know that the majority of users will use the camera in jpg mode, but please—give me raw images, preferably in DNG format so that I can use a decent raw converter instead of the brain-dead software provided by the manufacturer.
Fix those problems in a package the size of my Contax T3 and throw in image stabilization, and I’m there with my credit card, ready to buy.
Posted by PAUL BUTZI