Despite the hundreds of billboards Apple has placed across the United States showcasing the iPhone 6’s camera, cell phones will never replace the need for a decent camera. And while I’m no Ken Rockwell, or even an amateur camera reviewer, I believe some cameras force you to become a better photographer and heighten the picture-taking experience.
First and foremost: digital cameras have surpassed any and all needs of the ‘prosumer’ (professional + consumer) market, and anytime a company undergoes a major innovation or change it’s seen as a step backwards.
Case in point, the Fuji X100T, with a 16mp APS-C sized CMOS sensor, hybrid – digital/optical viewfinder, manual exposure settings, and fixed lens. You read that right. A $1200 camera without a 100x zoom lens built in. But that’s exactly why I love this camera.
The Fuji X100T, is a throwback to cameras of yesteryear: fixed lens, optical rangefinder, manual exposure settings (automatic options available). It uses a 35mm-equivalent, f/2 lens, producing some sweet bokeh and working well in low light situations. The lens is sharp, and I mean SHARP. Sure, there are other cameras with 150x zoom out there, but do you really need that? When you shoot with a zoom lens, you think less about what’s in the composition. With a fixed lens, you interact with your subject more. You don’t zoom, you walk back and forth until the picture is perfect. Fixed lenses don’t allow you to be lazy, but they can reward you with better photography in the long run.
Another feature I love about this camera is the “Classic Chrome Feature”, which replicates the funky colors of Kodachrome (R.I.P!). Have you ever flipped through a William Eggleston book and marveled at the off-beat colors? The Fuji X100T can replicate this ancient slide film, without the overbearing color shift that Instagram and VSCO produces.
My major complaint about this camera stems from the manufacturer, not the actual camera, but it’s worth noting. Fuji’s customer service is deplorable. I’ve read through hundreds of stories about Fuji refusing to repair a camera, or failing to respond to customer inquiries.
Canon G1x Mark II
Canon’s flagship point and shoot ‘prosumer’ camera, the G1X Mark II, has a few things I love, and a few things I hate.
While Canon hasn’t really produced a decent micro four-thirds camera, the G1X Mark II knocks the image quality out of the ballpark, thanks for a sensor slightly larger than other mirrorless cameras. This is something consistent with the G1X line, as it’s predecessor was well known for it’s image quality.
The camera also features built in wifi, and a ring around the barrel to assist with the zoom function. Wifi is a feature that is slowly creeping it’s way into the high end camera market, albeit slowly. Canon does not offer any sort of smartphone or tablet interface, which would allow you to access your photos, making the support for this feature rather bleak.
The camera also has a 24-120mm equivalent lens, which is great for people seeking alot of zoom for their travel photography. Canon seemed to do away with the built-in viewfinder originally on the G1X, which is unfortunate, because no photographer should use the LCD for shooting. Canon has released an external viewfinder that attaches to the G1X Mark II’s flash hot shoe, but it’s an additional expense we’re not a fan of.
It’s also important to note that Canon has extremely good support, several service centers around the United States, and manufactures this product entirely in Japan.
Full disclosure: I’m a big Leica fan. I own a couple 35mm M cameras, with a small lens collection to go along with it but for the life of me, I’ve never been a fan at their digital cameras. Digital Leica’s have always seemed a step behind other manufacturers in the technology department. Beautiful optics and aesthetic, yes, but piss-poor electronics and horrendous menus.
The Leica Q is a little different though. This isn’t a camera designed for the mass market, which is why I love this camera. Although it looks as if the lens is detachable, it comes with one non-interchangeable, 28mm fixed lens. This lens is sharp though, Summicron level quality, and boasts an ultra-fast f/1.7 aperture. No camera in it’s class offers a lens this fast, and unlike other cameras, you can shoot at 1.7 and get images just as sharp as if they were shot at f/22. This cameras lens is out of this world good.
Unlike other cameras in it’s class, the Leica Q uses a full-frame sensor. This is the first Leica camera I’ve used that I feel fully confident in it’s low light capabilities. The full-frame sensor also handles dynamic range better than most digital cameras, something I’ve always struggled with when shooting digital.
The menu feels like Leica actually hired a UI designer, which is a huge improvement from their earlier digital models. Although this camera doesn’t use a zoom, it has a 35mm & 50mm cropped mode. This might sound disconcerting at first, but the 24mp full-frame resolution is already so insanely huge, you’ll hardly ever see a difference.
The Leica Q also has a built-in electronic viewfinder, which is extremely helpful for street photography, or any other situation where you’d want to photograph quickly. Speaking of, the lens has a very accurate auto focus mode, something I’ve never seen in a Leica lens before. The camera does not boast a million different auto focus points, something other cameras try to compete with, but I found the AF mode to be adequate and acceptable.
Now that I’ve undoubtedly sold you on this camera, I should note that it carries a $4,200 price tag, and is backordered through many Leica dealers. Leica is also an expensive rabbit hole to go down. After you’ve bought the camera, you’ll be paying a premium for brand-name accessories…
Olympus Epic 35mm
Film?! Who uses film anymore?!
Before I get into the specifics on this camera, allow me to defend the art of shooting film. Yes, people still make film. In fact, Ilford and Kodak have both seen a experienced a bit of a comeback with the film stock, and theres never been a better time to shoot film than now. Several small independent labs have sprouted up all across the country (Indie Film Labs, Photo Impact, North Coast Photo, Old School Photo Lab), and I’m a firm believer that film makes you a better photographer. Film requires less photoshop work and renders Instagram filters obsolete.
The Olympus Epic 35mm point and shoot was released as film was slowly on it’s way out, which is a shame because this is one of the best point and shoots to hit the market. It uses a tack-sharp 35mm f/3.5 lens, completely auto exposure, and offers little else in the way of features. Also, this camera is cheap. Like $40 cheap. For all the money you save on an expensive digital camera, take an extra trip.
So why would I suggest such a basic bare-bones camera? For it’s simplicity. Using a simple camera like this lets you focus on the composure of your shot. Rather than fuss with your white balance settings, the camera is fast and doesn’t miss a moment. I personally carry this camera with me wherever, concerts, hikes, road trips, and everywhere inbetween.
And for the record, yes, airports will hand inspect your film. I’ve flown through dozens of airports: LA, New York, Detroit, Chicago, Portland, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Reykjavik, Panama, Bogota, Quito, and Tijuana; never once denied a hand inspection on my film.
Ah… the good ol’ Nikon FM2. A stalwart of photography 101 courses everywhere, this camera is considered one of the most well-rounded film SLRs of all time. Built to survive a nuclear blast, the FM2 is durable as hell, and offers manual exposure options with a simple automatic override feature. Paired with a 50mm lens, this camera represents generations of professional photography excellence.
There are a couple huge advantages to this camera. First, it lets you take full advantage of Nikon’s lens system, which at it’s time was one of the best in the world. Nikon hasn’t changed it’s lens system since 1952, meaning you can purchase lenses for an FM2 and use them on a current digital SLR. This camera doesn’t have auto focus (duh!) but any Nikon lens with a an aperture ring will fit, no problem!
I also love this camera because it’s discreet. If you travel in an area known for pick pockets, most thieves aren’t going to bother with an old film camera. This camera accompanied me throughout Bogota, Quito & Panama City and didn’t once turn any heads. If you’re looking for a camera that won’t scream ‘TOURIST!’, then look no further than this Nikon.