onsdag 29 april 2015

What camera?

I have been looking at cameras lately, since my Leica M9 spontaneously cracked its sensor and has had to go back to the factory. Hopefully they will not charge as it is a common problem and Leica are aware of it.

However, the M9 has not been without its problems, mostly due to dust and other muck on the sensor, which was impossible to get off. In the end I took it to the Leica service centre and it took the technician nearly half an hour to clean it, free of charge, I should add.

The only way to avoid dust and muck is to avoid changing lenses as much as possible. That defeats the aim of an interchangeable lens camera. The ideal would be to have a fresh sensor for every shot, which is what you get with film.

The best camera I have ever had was a Leica M2, a 1957 design. It was easy to use and has a hair-trigger sensitive release. The snag is that it has no built-in meter so you have to carry a meter, or guess. There is a clip-on meter, but that makes it clumsy to use. I have a Leica MP, which has built-in metering but the release is less smooth than the older Leica.

Other good cameras I have owned include the Olympus Trip and the Olympus XA series from the 1960s and 1970s respectively. Both are compact and light, and for what they do, they cannot be faulted.

I would much prefer to use film but the infrastructure is not what it was, running costs are high and everything ends up being digitised anyway. My first digital camera was a Canon Ixus. It stopped working after a month after the guarantee ran out as it did not survive a walk on Brighton sea front with salt-spray flying around. It was an annoying camera anyway, difficult to hold, slow to fire and with a viewfinder that was impossible to see in bright light. I was not sorry to throw it in the bin.

One camera that I have had and used for almost ten years is a Ricoh G600. It has a rubber covering and is supposed to be waterproof. I have not tried in the water but it survives rough treatment and rain and I tend to keep it with me. It is a horrible camera to use, though. The shutter release is squidgy and the LCD viewfinder at the back is hard - if not impossible - to see in bright light. It has an appalling dynamic range - if the darker areas are not black, then the light areas are saturated and you get the "white saturation" message. The thing was apparently developed for the Japanese emergency services, but it satisfies the requirement that the best camera is the one you have with you.

I have looked at some of the latest mirrorless SLR cameras. They all seem to have awkwardnesses of one sort or another. I was astonished to see that the sensor is fully exposed when the lens is removed. This is asking for trouble. I would have thought it was obvious that there should have been something to cover it when the lens was off. Given the trouble I have had with the Leica, where the sensor is covered with a mechanical shutter, this is enough to rule them out.

One option I am looking at is the Fuji X100. This seems to be controversial and gets criticised for being retro - comments such as the retro-styling is just a marketing gimmick are frequently made, along with the statement that there is better for less. It has a fixed lens, equivalent to 35 mm, and Fuji's odd sensor array which produces raw images which will defeat a lot of RAW converter software. On the other hand, it has a decent viewfinder and the fixed lens means that it does not have the problem of the exposed sensor. Being now in its third revision of the design, it is emerging as the front runner, and will be a useful camera if I am not taking the relatively heavy M9 around with me, when that eventually returns from the factory.

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