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Monday, December 04, 2006

Fuji Klasse Digital!


I have good news and bad news.

The good news is that the brand-new Fuji Klasse Digital is a high-quality, well-made compact point-and-shoot available in black or chrome. It has a 28mm ƒ/2.8 Fujinon lens like the film version, but it's a full-featured digital camera with a DSLR-sized (23 x 15.5mm) 10-MP Fuji SuperCCD sensor. It has a 2.5" live viewing sceen that tilts upwards, and back controls similar to those on any entry-level digital SLR. The camera is silent, has an almost non-existant shutter lag, takes standard SD cards, and features built-in shake reduction. Unlike the film version it is not a limited edition. Retail price is said to be in the area of $500.

The bad news, unfortunately, is very bad. It's that after pining long and hard for just such a camera, I...made this up. The "Klasse Digital" doesn't exist—at least, not that I or anyone else outside of Fuji know about.

And not only that, but nobody else will build a camera like this, either.

And about that, I have several questions, to wit: why? And, why? Why, why, why? Finally, how hard can it be?


* Satire alert

Featured Comment by Eamon Hickey: We may have covered this ground before on one web forum or another, Mike, but I'll echo your frustration one more time. I had hoped that maybe—just maybe by now for god's sake—some camera company somewhere would get a clue and do it.

But that's the photographer/camera lover in me talking. The former Nikon sales rep in me (a shrivelled creature who I'm trying hard to finally kill forever) wonders whether the economics really work for this idea. There are definitely some few thousands of photographers who get the appeal of a very compact, serious camera, but how many are there really? One thing I'm certain of is that the desire for such a camera is over-represented on photo-enthusiast web forums.

I can't speak with authority on issues of digital camera cost accounting, but I suspect the effects of unit volume on price are a bigger barrier here than most of us realize. How much would Canon have to charge for a 400D/Rebel XTi if they could only sell 10,000 units a year instead of 1 million or more. A whole lot more than $800 or so, I'm guessing, and my enthusiasm for an imaginary compact, serious, fixed-lens digicam plunges quickly as the imaginary price climbs above $1,000. At $2,500, that's me in the corner hitting my head against the wall.

But I agree with Eolake that, with the digital camera market exiting its adolescence, we should see some more interesting and varied niches filled (e.g. the Sigma DP-1). Can't happen soon enough for me. The variety of digital camera designs is tragically impoverished compared to all the weird and wonderful film cameras we used to have.

Sorry for the ramble; this is a subject dear to my heart.


Blogger yossarian said...

I hope that Sigma DP1 can come close to what you mean. It is, however, limited to F4 and has no shake-reduction inside. I also suspect some usability glitches.

But this may be a beggining of such a development.

8:48 AM  
Blogger Viz said...

I'm confused...doesn't the Ricoh GR digital fit your description?

9:06 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"doesn't the Ricoh GR digital fit your description?"

With a 1/1.8" sensor? Not even close.


9:17 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

You forgot to mention whether the FKD supports DNG... :p

10:40 AM  
Blogger ShadZee said...

Pentax needs to get into this game. They have the pancake lenses (21mm one in this case). All they need is to make a small body with NO mirror and with K mount and they have a winner.

11:17 AM  
Blogger plabby said...

"With a 1/1.8" sensor? Not even close."

What is it a bigger sensor can do that a 1/1.8" can't? I am aware of the NR capabilities, pixel pitch, and subject isolation, but these are trivial points imho.

Also, this camera won't be made because it offers no significant advantages over newer digital offerings. The people who want HQ fixed focal length digital compacts are rangefinder enthusiasts who are confounded by the fact that Nikon, Canon and everyone else's cheapest offerings produce images better and easier than any expensive film rangefinder they ever purchased. These people were lied to, they were told their (very expensive) cameras would make the best images, and they did, until digital was born... now these same photographers have $1200 a month lab bills and $20000 in kit that is now worth about 10ç on eBay.

Not to rant, but I used the Leica M8 the other day and I couldn't beleive how many people were buying them... I saw 5 M8 purchases in about two hours during the local Leica demo day. Many of these people brought in thousands of dollars in glass to test with the new Leica. Additionaly, most knew nothing of digital cameras, or the current state of affairs with digital.

My theory: Boutique offerings like the one you describe from Fuji will be few and far between in the future because the market likes to play it safe, and the people who desire these specialized offerings will soon realize their leica system is worthless in the digital age.

I took a picture with an M8 and a leica 50 1.4 then compared it to a d70 with a nikkor 1.4 on the same tripod for the same scene, the differences were inconsequential, and I saved $7k. Yeah, the d70 is bigger, I can live with that.

11:25 AM  
Blogger Scott Jones said...

I hear that your Fuji Klasse Digital shoots RAW files in DNG format too. How come we can't have that also?

1:36 PM  
Blogger has.mac said...

Yep, the GR lens on a Fuji Super CCD would be my ideal camera.

1:42 PM  
Blogger PatrickPerez said...

Curse you Mike Johnston!!!!!

2:11 PM  
Blogger robert e said...

I think I would still want the nice mechanical/analog ergonomics of yore. I think I'd be satisfied with the imaging capability of, say, the Fuji F30, a reasonably fast fixed-focal lens and usable optical finder. This in my jacket pocket, for less than $500. That'd be sweet.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"What is it a bigger sensor can do that a 1/1.8" can't? I am aware of the NR capabilities, pixel pitch, and subject isolation, but these are trivial points imho."

That's a bit like saying, "What's the difference besides the fact that it's of lower quality?"

The far better pictures you can get with a full-sized (APS-C) sensor are hardly trivial to most photographers.


2:47 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

P.S. AMend that: I should have said "better picture and print quality," not "better pictures."


2:50 PM  
Blogger Robin P said...

So, Plabby, why is it that after upgrading through four different DSLR's I have recently bought a small, lightweight Voigtlander Bessa R and 35mm lens - the projected slides have a quality that digital will take some time to catch up with.....

Yes Mike, you had me going for a minute with that digital Klasse story. The Sigma offering misses out completely by having no optical viewfinder - doh!

Cheers, Robin

5:13 PM  
Blogger Bob Casner said...

I'd buy one of these in a heartbeat. Wouldn't it be nice if we could band together and COMMISION them to actually produce this?

7:02 PM  
Blogger Max said...

As somebody pointed out, it's a market segmentation thing. Mike, as I see it, all the strong qualities you point out are mainly high quality hardware issues, and those are expensive. And camera manufacturers know they can satisfy (swindle? daze?) the vast majority of the market offering innumerable "improvements" that rely mainly on software.
So really, why bother, unless you're going to stick a Leica badge on it and price it accordingly. And would you buy a Fuji point and shoot with a Leica price tag? Sure, you would, but not all consumers take the same pains to learn about the real worth of a product.

9:50 PM  
Blogger Salva said...

Perhaps after the M8 and the future R10 we'll see a Leica CM digital... but with their price at leica levels.

12:39 AM  
Blogger bpr said...

Hang in There Mike it I think there's enough demand that it will happen. It's got to be profitable hasn't it? OK there's a smaller number of users who are willing to pay for added value compacts, but the price can be raised too.

2:31 AM  
Blogger xtoph said...

chuck westfall at canon recently wrote that, more or less, there isn't enough market to produce something like this camera (link through rob galbraith). i just don't believe that. sure, i'd like the fkd camera you specify here--that would be ideal, and if it worked i'd buy two of them--but i would settle for less. as in, even the canon g7 (but the ergonomics/control of the ricoh would be better) with a quality wide angle fast fixed lens (f/2 would hit the spot--g6 proved they can do it) IF it had raw and if they would drop the resolution to 7mp with the latest light-gathering capability (my old a70 and a75 didn't blow highlights like the new a610 and s80 which i got to replace them, and i've made dozens of prints for prestigious international exhibitions up to 16x12 with the 3.2mp images--i figure they can duplicate that older quality with current tech if they don't push us over the edge). yes, i'd love a large sensor for depth of field control and low light, but the m8 is more or less filling that niche right now. give us something that doesn't exist: a simple, silent, quick, quality camera with decent image quality (canon seems to lead here on the digicams--the ricoh, much as i'd like it to work, just doesn't have the shot-to-shot speed or image quality).

this is what i don't get: how much harder could that be than what they are doing already (eg, the g7)? i am serious, i'll buy two, maybe more. heck, after you test the waters with a $800 28mm equivalent lensed model, plop a 35 on the same camera; then maybe a 24 or 21; then a nice 90... think about it: how many of you would buy every one of these cameras--for less than a quality slr lens--and take a pair or three everywhere you go? every working pj in the world, for starters, as backup and silent option; so don't tell me there's not enough market, that's just inane.

now write to chuck, tell him if they build it, we're there already.

4:30 AM  
Blogger Eolake Stobblehouse said...

It'll happen soon. The megapixel race is over. And once all cameras have in-body image stabilization, the feature race is over too. So camera makers will begin to compete more on quality and feel.

6:39 AM  
Blogger John Banister said...

In reply to "how hard can it be?" I would point your attention to the 75 gram weight difference between the Pentax K100D and K110D. Sensor shift image stabilization for that size of sensor may still be challenging in the small size of camera you want. Maybe if it was a Panasonic camera you could have shifting lens elements, but then you'd probably have to live with a Kodak sensor.

Regarding "why" I expect you haven't yet convinced a large enough share of the market to your way of thinking. I imagine the following conversation:

Man: "Honey, we have to convince all our friends to lobby for this nifty new camera Mike Johnston thought up, so the camera companies will make one."

Wife: "Mike Johnston, ... isn't he that guy you said doesn't like pretty pictures? What kind of camera would a guy like that want anyways?"

10:24 AM  
Blogger Robert Roaldi said...

I don't get the "it's not profitable" line either. The Oly Stylus Epic (35mm non-zoom lens) was in production several years. It must have been making money. Why not make an APS-size digital version of it? Why wouldn't there be a demand for a digital version if there was a demand for the film version?

I have been saying for years that if they released a 24mm, 35mm and 50mm versions (in 35 mm film equiv.) of the Stylus epic with aperture priority, many people could buy all three, never need another camera, and have tons of room left over in the camera bag for batteries and sandwiches.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

That's a pretty improbable husband-wife conversation, but okay.


10:45 AM  
Blogger plabby said...

"The far better pictures you can get with a full-sized (APS-C) sensor are hardly trivial to most photographers."

You are of course correct, but I remind you price is hardly trivial either.

You have to pay a lot more for those bigger sensors... given the choice between an image stabilized 3X optical 5MP panasonic ls-2 with leica glass at $129, or a body that costs 5X more, has no image stabilization and no lens, I would rather have the panasonic. I think the choice is less obvious if you include cost.

I have the panasonic and I can honestly say that it rivals the image quality of my d2h under most shooting conditions, a d2h that cost 33X as much as the panasonic, without a lens. 1/1.8" sensors aren't all bad, or maybe I am too cheap to notice the difference :)

I might add that the best macro's I have seen this year all came from 1/1.8" sensors, because they have such good DOF at close ranges, long lenses, and image stabilization.

12:41 PM  
Blogger Dr Hiding Pup said...

Plabby, I agree with you completely. Now, will you sell me your D2H off you for $169? :-)

By the way, the digital version of the new Fuji *is* coming in the first quarter of 2007. I was in my local camera store today, and the Fuji rep was quite specific --- nah, who am I trying to kid?

7:01 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

The Leica D-Lux 3 Panasonic collaboration is closer to the Johnston Camera than the M8, except for sensor size, but certainly on price and stabilization (the D40 and K100D, etc. show that large sensor can be done at the price, when done in quantity). Leica's market is the photo amateur niche, it can't have escaped them that photo amateurs will not accept small sensors -- they and Panasonic seem to be getting there slowly by increments.

The solution to getting this made is to sell marketing angles. Not only photo amateurs and photojournalists but also students would go for the JC1 at $500, so there is a significant market. What's more, because Canon and Nikon are so committed to selling lenses, smaller manufacturers may be relatively safe from the big boys.

Stabilization is not that big a deal, if you have 28mm at F2.8 and clean enough ISO 800. A subject has to stay motionless for your 1/8" exposure for it to be useful. It may be better to leave the weight and power consumption out of the camera. Though I've never seen it suggested anywhere, it may also be better to put the vulnerable mega LCDs we now have on cameras on a separate PDA-photo reviewer with a 4x6 screen (and perhaps put the weight and power into wireless connectivity).

10:15 PM  
Blogger has.mac said...

Film cameras in this niche:-
Leica Minilux, Minox 35, Contax T2, Konica Hexar, Minolta TC-1, Fuji DL Supermini, Nikon 28/35Ti.

Digital cameras in this niche:-
Ricoh GRD.....

If there was a market for the film versions, and a pretty competitive on at that, I can't believe there isn't a market for digital versions.

2:11 AM  
Blogger Amin said...

Wow. After making almost exactly the same post on my blog, I just discovered this post on yours. Well, I'll late to the the party, but the camera makers are even later!

1:03 PM  
Blogger Gnomeself Be True said...

Digtial Hexar AF please.
Thank you.

1:35 PM  
Blogger whiterabbit said...

how about Canon Powershot g9?

12:03 PM  

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