1.20.2017

Some quick thoughts on two cameras I'm pretty sure I won't be reviewing.

Will with the original Fuji 100.

This week both Fuji and Leica introduced cameras that sound sexy and cool and interesting. But the target they were aiming at when they went into development three or four years ago has evaporated; moved on. Would I like to have one or both of these cameras, along with a group of appropriate lenses? Sure, who wouldn't? But would I pay the asking price for either of them because they represent something so new and different that I feel like I have to have them? Not a chance. 

Let's start with Leica's offering: The M10 is a continuation of the rangefinder camera style that debuted in 1954 with the M3. For about $6500 you get a basic rangefinder camera with a 24 megapixel sensor, the option to add an EVF after the fact, and battery life for 210 photographs. Your basic 50mm lens will cost you another $2200. For $8700 you can go out and shoot kinda like Henri Cartier Bresson. While the lenses are probably the best one can get you are paying an awful premium to achieve that last 1.052% of potential image quality. (I say "potential" because you'll need to make sure your rangefinder is correctly calibrated and that your basic handling skills are enough to put the camera and lens in a position to excel). It's basically a camera designed to be handheld with lenses, the real value, can only be realized with the system locked down on a tripod. 

I shot with the Leica film rangefinders for decades but they were affordable and amply available used. Leica's new idea of pricing is aimed squarely at a lux market that most working photographers are not part of. If I bought an M10 and a trio of useful lenses I would still have a hard time using this system for the work I do most of the time. The longer and faster the lens you need the less optimal the system becomes. It's a camera for people who are either without the operating constraints of clients or for photographers who do a kind of art that is specific. My hat is off to the second species for finding a paying market for doing exactly what they love. 

It's funny. I write this blog as a peek into my life as a working photographer. I don't write from the presumption that my readers are doctors, lawyers and captains of industry (although I know that some are). With this being the case it seems a bit hypocritical of me to join the parade and promote cameras like this, knowing that the vast majority of my readers, and certainly the majority or working professionals, would have no interest in buying one of these cameras. It's almost like buying into mercantile conspiracy to push a market that has no logic of its own.

I have a fantasy that, when I stop paying for college tuition and expenses, sell my Austin home at an extreme profit and finally retire, that I will buy a camera like this along with one perfect lens and spend the rest of my life traveling the world taking glorious images that no one else could match. But doesn't that play right into the worm of feeling inadequate in my own skills/vision and hoping the "magic" equipment (or locations, etc.) will make me a better artist? That way lies madness......and lots of cameras bought and sold. 

At any rate, much as I like the design of the M3, as represented for the nth time in the M10. I'll take a pass on buying or reviewing this product because I could never justify the expense or the return. What was supremely useful in the film days has lost most of its relevance in the present.

Now the Fuji GFX is a slightly more alluring enticement of a camera. Behind all the advertising and marketing is the implicit message that this camera is, de facto, medium format and brings along with it all that conveys. The idea that you'll immediately see big differences in making depth of field razor thin. The suggested promise that the "massive" sensor will provide a much richer level of color and detail and so much more. But again, how true is any of this? 

While the price of the Fuji GFX is about as good as we've seen (in terms of affordablity) for a "medium format" camera I would suggest that it's just another rangefinder style, digital camera with a slightly bigger sensor (in geometric terms) but with only scant bit more resolution and perhaps color and tonality that's already being delivered by 35mm styled cameras like the Nikon D810, the Canon 5DSR and the (amazing) Sony A7Rii. 

I think Fuji will find a fair market amongst those who don't do math well or who really believe there is something magical about a Sony sensor that's just a little bigger than other Sony sensors from the same technology generation. The dimensions of the sensor are barely larger than the 24 x 36mm size of full frame sensors and the range of current lenses is....interesing in its banality.

Perhaps Fuji is reconstituting their introduction philosophy along the lines they pursued with the X-Pro_1. Create a visually covet-worthy camera with great specs and then spend the ensuing years iterating lower and lower priced versions that get better and better (performance wise) with time. So, maybe in a year and a half we'll see the GFX-10 and it will have the same sensor, minus a few features and sell for $4995. Then we'll see the GFX-20 and it will also be a nice, step down model but with an even more attractive price.

The reality is that both of these cameras will likely be good performers and there will be a (smallish) market for them. But equally, if the only difference for the Fuji is the incremental increase in sensor size, and the only difference from Leica is the promise of simple elegance and potential good imaging, I think most people will quickly understand the skewed value propositions presented and continue buying from their current brands of choice. And I think that would be a smart move. We're moving out of an era when we were happily obsessed with our hobby and into a more complex environment for arts producers. And environment that requires constant learning and re-figuring. Getting locked into the specification paradigm of a past nostalgia can be counter-productive. Both for the mind and the wallet. 

You get a lot less wear out of an expensive tuxedo that you do from a basic business suit. 

Circling back to the Leica for a second... I just flashed on why I loved the film ones so much and never warmed up to the digital Ms. It's because the mechanical bodies promised the ability to shoot anywhere at any time without ever having to worry about being sidelined by a dead battery. It's the switch from mechanical to electronic that sucked the magic out of Leica Ms for me. Never really got that before. Funny what you think about when the world changes... It was all about the self reliance of the camera. 

210 exposures? Anxiety in the middle of an event....


20 comments:

Boris said...

Leica has set a target for reviewers who can say, "Look, the Nikon/Canon/Olympus model XYZ with xmm lens takes sharper pictures with better contrast, etc., etc., than the Leica Mxxx." Thing is, it's true. The Leica film M's (I had three of them in the Sixties and Seventies) were a marvel in their time, but everyone has caught up with Leica where it counts for photographers: image quality and handling. No Leica and lens can exceed the Canon 135mm f2 for portraits (or anything else). Why do people still buy Leicas? Why do they collect stamps? I saw a Fuji GFX 50s photo somewhere of Death Valley that was amazing, with incredible fine detail. But the file was, what, 400mb? Uh, no thanks.

Boris said...

p.s. Check what Ken Rockwell says about the "medium format" cameras from Pentax, Fuji, Hasselblad. Interesting: an equivalent sized sensor to a Pentax 645 costs about $50,000 today. As Kirk noted, the sensor in the current MF models is barely larger than a Canon 5DSR.

Boris said...

p.p.s. Link to the Ken Rockwell article (under 20 January 2017): http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/00-new-today.htm

Jimmy Reina said...

Yeah, the battery thing.
Nikkormat light meters were notoriously flippant, so for 35 years, I never even put a battery in mine. We learned exposure from the pictograms inside the film box, and we went out an took photos.
So I wouldn't get caught unprepared when out on the Street, the camera store salesman selling my first digicam, suggested extra batteries. For me, this was the single biggest change in the transition from film to digital.
Oh well, it is no worse than carrying extra rolls of film.

David said...

I think your partly wrong about the GFX. It will sell boat loads. The cost has been creeping up for camera lenses and cameras. Getting a better than 135 sensor in a body the size of a D500, has a lot of people. The lenses are pricey, but not as much as the top line cannon and Nikon glass. Also the Fugi seems to do everything. So I think it has riped the wallets out of a lot of people. Its also the best companion to a four thirds system user.
Iso, shutter dials, 43rds sensor, ability to use Nikon lenses, which no doubt many will just cover this slightly larger sensor. Enticed me to get it, but I think I will wait for v2 or v3.

Craig Yuill said...

Kirk, I remember when I first held and dry fired a Leica M4 in 1983. I clearly recall two things about the camera -the fit and finish and solidness of the camera were exquisite, and the focal plane shutter was much quieter than that of any other camera at the time. That quietness was a real selling point. I recall reading around that time that Leica M rangefinders were the only cameras allowed in courtrooms in many jurisdictions in the US. Of course nowadays we have cameras with electronic shutters, and can take photos silently. One of the Leica M series' major raisons d'ĂȘtre is no longer valid.

Luke Miller said...

Regarding the M10 - I agree with your assessment that it makes no sense in your business. And I don't use my digital Ms in my paid work. But when shooting for the pure enjoyment of photography they are a pleasure to use.

Joe Reed said...

No thanks. I'll just stick with my Fuji X T-2 that cost me $1600 for the body, which works beautifully with four wonderful lenses that I have had for 3 or 4 years. Even if I had the money to buy a Leica kit, I could never justify the cost for what I think is a lesser camera. With regards to the big Fuji, not the least bit interested in medium format. Thanks for writing your blog. I look forward to it every day.

TMJ said...

Your question is very interesting, but although it appears to be about cameras, it really is about who we are and how we want to communicate with the world. And that, of course, is far more interesting.

Like you, I am a long time M user: many of my favourite photographs are with a film M camera, so I am probably, like you, a target buyer for a digital M. Except that, although in the words of Tom Lehrer “We will all go together when we go”, the world is safer, the risk of isolated terrorism is much greater. I go to a lot of places where semi-automatic weapons., are pointed at me, which is no problem, as long as the safety is on. I like to be discreet and go under the radar, which is why I drive a muddy Toyota 4WD.

So, my Ricoh GR, in my pocket makes a lot more sense, and is very discrete. (PS, always have a plan B when travelling – plus a Silva compass and map).

Love to you all.

Joe Kashi said...


Rather than judging the newer compact mirrorless medium format cameras solely upon the initial models, it seems most sensible to consider them as the opening shots of entirely new, more modern systems. It will take time for such systems to mature, just as Sony's A7 series emerged only after several lackluster predecessors.

I would agree that the M series is largely a carriage-trade dead end that nonetheless will sell well to those who buy mechanical Rolex watches rather than more accurate digital Seikos, as that group seems to more highly value conspicuous consumption and form rather than objectively superior function, a trait that seems to be culturally in the ascendant at the moment, so Leica probably has a reliable market segment.

On the other hand, relatively affordable medium format cameras make a certain amount of sense as the logical step-up for APS-C and M43 users, rather than full-frame, especially if Fujifilm prices its MF lenses as reasonably as the excellent Pentax 645 series and if Pentax comes out with a more compact 645 mirrorless model.

Fujifilm traditionally has made excellent optics, with their large format view camera and 6x9 lenses of the 1980s and 1990s as well as the current mirrorless system. It's reasonably like that Fujifilm's new large format digital optics will likewise be well-suited for their next generation 70mp or 100MP sensors, which will still have roughly 4um pixel next generation sensors suitable for low light operation.


On the other hand, is MF even a viable future market? With top-end optics, even the newer M43 cameras make excellent prints up to 24x36 and very few people print larger than that, if they print at all.

HR said...

Since I shoot with my left eye I tend to like RF-style digital cameras with the VF in the left corner. That means it is not so cramped on the right side where my hand is holding the camera and almost all the controls are located. I find my Olympus PEN-F to be quite nice with the RF-styling, but it has a modern EVF, good AF, lots of useful controls, and many good lens choices. The Panasonic GX8/GX85, Sony A6500/A6300, and Fuji X-Pro2 also fit that bill. I find digital Leica RF cameras to be very uninteresting and very expensive. To each his own though.

tnargs said...

Based on your opening sentence I thought you were going to discuss the new X100.

Kirk Tuck said...

tnargs, the cost of the new X100 is low enough to make the purchase or not purchase decision less severe...

astro2704 said...

Hi Kirk,

Interesting polemic. Just one thing: why do you say the Fuji MF is a "rangefinder style"? Looks very SLR like to me - like its Hassy/Fuji SLR predecessors.

Also - trying to get my head round the sensor math here - isn't the Sony MF sensor in the Fuji 1.6x the size of a 135 format one?

I think the big hurdle will be file size relative to utility for most users, as you say.

The next leg up in 135 will have to be dynamic range for smaller file sizes surely?

TMJ said...

When I am less stressful climes, a Fuji Pro 2 with the 35/50 F2.0 equivalents, would be a lot more fun than an M10. Perhaps I should do that and find out.

Anonymous said...

Somehow the thing I find the most interesting with Fujifilm is their marketing. Their cameras get mentioned a lot in articles that do not look like advertisements, but actually are just that. Sneaky, but this seems to be quite effective.

Chris said...

I agree with your analysis Kirk. I don't really understand the appeal of the Fuji: the same quality is essentially available with current 35mm FF options and they are cheaper, the same size or smaller, and they have smaller, faster, less expensive lenses and many more available new and secondhand. What exactly is the value proposition? I think is Fuji's attempt to compete with full frame 35mm, by not competing directly and making their own "different" system. If indeed it can fit other 35mm lenses via adapters then any format advantage it has will be nullified, but I suppose it would be some kind of stop gap for those who switch.

As to the M10, I think Leica have finally got it looking right, but the prices really are just way beyond anything rational in my opinion. Certainly if that is all the battery life you get (I missed that), this does make it pretty unattractive for the price, particularly as you have to remove the Auf/zu bottom cover to replace it.

Chris said...

Fuji has a 1.3X diagonal crop factor larger than 35mm but is 1.7X in area. 35mm has a 1.5X crop factor over APS but is 2.3X larger in area.

Brad Nichol said...

It's an odd thing this camera worship, and I suspect (just quitely and it really shouldn't mentioned) that much of the frenetic expensive camera buying caper is fed by the desire of many camera owners to impress others first.
Anyhow, honestly how much better/different will your images be by using the Fuji over FF or the Leica over a competing camera. In the case of the latter it could be worse due to the not inconsiderable technical and creative limitations of the tools.
On the weekend I had a job teaching a student how to use a Toyo view camera, that was a blast from the distant past.
Long story short, if you want a significantly different look you need to go big, like Toyo view camera big.
And if you really want to attract the attention of the great unwashed nothing succeeds like excess, everyone wanted to know what we were doing, how it worked, what was it!
Oh and much much cheaper than your sissy Fuji or Leica.....like he paid $150.00 for the camera, $150 for the Symmar 135mm lens and $180 for the tripod.
Not practical for regular shooting but it reminded me quite quickly of what we have lost and how little different todays offerings are from one another.

Peter Dove said...

Joe and Chris pretty much said it: Fuji's GFX looks like a way to avoid competing directly with other makers' 35mm and their own APS cameras. Their target market is probably people whose brand of choice is already Fuji, so I suspect they aren't too worried about converting new customers from the others. Funny thing is that Pentax is the only one making all three: APS, 35mm and not-really-medium-ish format. But then, remember when Nikon said they'd never make a 35mm digital because APS is so much more sensible? Nah, I don't want one, but I think Fuji'll do OK in their little niche.