That weird feeling of looking into the gear cabinet and realizing that you've accumulated four Canon Powershot G series cameras. Along with a smattering of batteries. Time to take one mobile.

Here's a sticker on the plaza at the theater. 
The county has raised the Covid alert level to it's highest. 
The theatre was forced to shutter the rest of the holiday performances 
they were doing outside to comply. I hope 2021 is a year of 
recovery and happiness. 

Point and shoot cameras. Endlessly maligned. Now almost almost extinct. But why? And when did every photograph have to be taken with a full frame, state of the art, Uber-camera? I do my fair share of hauling around big cameras and bigger lenses but there is always a time and place for a small, efficient and highly portable camera as well. 

I have to confess that I have a soft spot in my heart for many of the PowerShot cameras that Canon has made, dating all the way back to the 4 megapixel G2 introduced back in the early digital ages. I find them to be the spiritual continuation of the most wonderful camera I ever owned; the Canonet QL 17. A wonderful film camera with a great 40mm f1.7 lens. Outfitted with a 36 exposure roll of Tri-X I always felt that camera was an extension of my own vision and not a separate tool.

Today, after trying to like a new digital camera for the better part of the week, I took a break and went out for a Christmas Eve walk around Austin with a "vintage" G16. Marvelous. And easy and competent. I felt like a beginner with a cheat sheet...

It's been a really nice evening. Belinda made au gratin potatoes and I grilled ribeye steaks. We made a salad of broccoli, kale and cabbage with a sprinkling of mixed nuts and dried cherries. Belinda made a chocolate torte. A good friend dropped by a bottle of Stag's Leap Cab. It was all delicious. Then we capped off the evening watching our favorite holiday movie, "Love Actually." It gets better every year.

Even on the years that are otherwise crappy. 

I hope you are happy, well, safe, in love, rich and beautiful. Even if you can check just a few of the blanks you'll be doing fine. The only important one is to be in love. Actually.

Nostalgia for cameras past. There were some that were just so much fun to use. There are "better ones" (technical measures) that just suck the fun out of photography...

 I've wondered for years now just what it is that makes photographing with some cameras an absolute (and addictive) pleasure while other cameras feel like dead metal in my hands and offer up no joy in their use. I have some ideas and, of course, not everyone will agree with my choices and point of view since my prejudices and pleasures are grown from the time in which I came of age in photography. 

In life psychologists have found that smells strongly affect happiness and that one's attraction to specific smells is more or less set in childhood. For many pumpkin spice aromas trigger happy feelings, for many others it's the smell of baking cookies. Most of the smells that cause the brain to light up the happiness circuits depend on how happy a person was in those earliest years and how those feelings were matched with various smells that were confluent with that happiness in the moment. Taste and touch preferences tend to get wired in at the outset of everyone's process through early life as well.

I had my first Baby Ruth candy bar after I won an event in an early-in-life swim meet in Adana, Turkey. The taste of one of those candy bars, even today, is a quick flick of a mental switch back to a time unencumbered by neither sadness nor responsibility. Just as the smell of my first wonderful girlfriend, brought up in my memory even now, unleashes wonderful calmness and a sense of well being. Seeing yellow sunlight through a fence feels good. Seeing clear blue water can fix a bad mood for me. Just seeing it. Even better if I'm able to swim in it.

As a species it seems that some of us really feel like we need logical reasons to like or dislike the objects or tools we use in everyday life. For logic driven cameras jockeys it seems like a laundry list of technical superlatives is enough to make us work hard on trying to develop a bond with a camera, or camera and lens. Even when, deep down, the use of it provides little or no real joy because the feel is all wrong. 

I guess it's important to state that it's not necessary for a camera to bring us joy in its use if we can delay our gratification in the moment and embrace the final results of our photographic task but I know that I am not one of the gifted ones who can divorce the user experience from the totality of my pleasure in using a camera; whether the resulting images are stellar or just mundane. 

For me there are a number of design issues that make particular cameras, or lines of cameras, uncomfortable. I find that cameras that are too small from top to bottom are horrendous to use for long periods of time because my pinky finger has nowhere to rest. In the rush to make cameras smaller manufacturers have compromised and made size (or the lack of it) more important than comfort or even utility. I found the early Sony A7 series cameras to be uniformly horrible in actual use because of this. I am certain I was not the only one. 

Compounding the issue of making cameras too small from top to bottom was the propensity to design smaller camera bodies with fewer curves and more hard edges. This combination is very tiring to use as you go from trying to find a hand holding style with which to accommodate those dangling fingers to realizing that the new hold is pressing the 90 degree edges of the camera into your hands like knife-edges.

I liked working with Olympus EM cameras but only after fitting a battery grip to every one I ever owned. At the same time picking up an unadorned Panasonic GH4 or GH5 felt as natural and comfortable as any great tool I've ever used. The imaging potential should be much the same between the best from each brand but that lack of focus on grip and hold diminished the joy of using Olympus products for me. I found out a hard fact; cameras can be made too small. 

I've owned the X-100 V for less than a week but I've already found the camera too small for my (very average sized) right hand. The front grip bulge is far too small to give my fingers appropriate purchase while the back "bump" is so slight as to be vestigial. In addition, like so many other cameras in this day and age, it's just not tall enough from top to bottom. I'm sure the people who profess to love the Fuji X100 series have either equipped theirs with an aftermarket grip addition to the bottom of the camera or they have bound their fingers with duct tape in order to force them into accepting the short and shallow configuration. Finally, the lack of vertical free space on the right side of the camera (as you operate it) means that there is no "good spot" to place the strap lug. It always feels wrong. 

Wow. That's a lot to dislike in the first week. Although I do have to agree that the images are very good. I do like the color out of the camera and find the lens to be nicely sharp. It's a nice looking camera it's just that it's a long term nightmare to hold in one's hands and carry through a day of heavy shooting. You'll definitely want to equip one with a shoulder strap so you can give your hands a rest and let the camera dangle (frequently).

I own much smaller cameras, like the Canon G16, but their rounded corners and flat strap attachment points mean it's actually easier to find a useful grip on that camera. Too bad Canon couldn't have wedged a bigger sensor into that one...

I loved the color and operation of the Fuji XT and XH cameras I owned, and used extensively, but when using the XT without a battery grip I ran into the same issues I have recently had with the X100V. The camera is too short from top to bottom, the gripping bump on the right hand side is too minimal and the strap lug is deviously ill-placed. 

The other part of overall feel of a camera, in addition to having it be sized right for a human hand, is its mass or density, or the lack thereof. In this regard the X100V feels much better than previous X-100 models which felt less dense. I know many photographers prefer very light weight cameras but they are wrong on many levels. At least "wrong" for people who grew up in my generation. 

We experienced photographers have been brain-washed into thinking that premium materials, with a certain density and hardness to them, are to be desired. A denser camera resists micro movements better and is easier to hand hold in a steady manner. The overall mass/inertia dampens quick movements. I'm sure this is less a consideration in the age of ubiquitous image stabilization but good technique is always useful and a well made and well proportioned machine is always more useable, mostly because of the tactile confidence it inspires. And our underlying prejudice for premium construction.

It's interesting to me, now that I've handled a Leica SL, how beholden photographers can be to "how something looks" or "how it is visually designed." I wanted to like that cameras so much. But holding it for twenty minutes with a lens such as the Panasonic Lumix 50mm f1.4 S-Pro on the front quickly convinces any user with nerve endings that  the cylinder-like roundness of the grip is a painfully bad design choice for human hands. The SL looks so good in the ads, and when dangling from a camera strap, but now I know why I see them so often dangling from straps instead of being held firmly in a hand. The added ingredient in this bad design is = operational pain. I can't imagine having to use that grip for a full day of shooting with a heavy lens. It would be crippling. But it looked so good on that website...... ah well. Thanks goodness for bricks and mortar camera stores. Or generous return policies...

So, what do I think photographers should be looking for in their professional cameras? Their daily user cameras? Their long term cameras? (All three of which should be the same...). 

I think the answer is that haptics/feel/ergonomics/touch are so much more critical to one's ability to "warm up" to a camera than whether or not it has a mirror or a rangefinder. And added size is a benefit not a detraction.

A well designed camera should sink into one's hands like it was moulded to be there. No hard edges. No non-existent grips, and always a body tall enough to give a full grip to all four fingers on the front and an anchoring thumb on the back. 

One of my recent camera purchases that I think I most regret getting rid of, from a handling point of view, was the Pentax K1. It was the most confidence inspiring body design I think I've handled since the days of the Nikon D700. While techno barbarians/minimalist camera lovers snickered at its "jelly bean" body design I think most would have been gob-smacked at the design integrity and pleasurable hand feel the camera has had they only picked one up and shot with it. And weight? If a camera is well designed then the weight seems to magically disappear from the equation. 

Funny that the world's best selling cameras are the resolutely "jelly bean-esque" Canon Rebels and T line. For all their faults and missing features few would argue that most of the models are easy to hold and use. And this extends to other much loved (by actual users) more advanced cameras like the 6D plus the full range of the 5Ds and most of the traditional DSLRs that have graced their product catalog for the last two decades. 

Equally funny that the cameras that "turn over" most frequently are, statistically, the Sony products. It's almost as though brand-addicted users are just praying that the next generation will be the one that solves all the issues with haptics that their poor industrial design seemed to bake into their DNA over so many attempts to make a camera nice enough to keep for the long term. Curiously, the RX10 series is a wonderful departure from the hand torture school of camera design and is also the one line from the Sony catalog that I actually enjoy using. And I also give a nod of appreciation to the a99 camera. It was a pleasure to hold.

I like what the Sigma fp generates. But I'm already over the brick design. Maybe that's because, at heart, I'll always be a photographer, not a video camera operator. On the other hand, the Panasonic S1 and S1R are two of my favorite camera bodies to handle. They are heavy and large but that is an important component of their actual charm. To make them smaller and lighter would rob them of their perfect hand fit and the feel of solidity that adds to my enjoyment. Not to mention having sufficient "real estate" to accommodate buttons without crowding them.

In the end you might fall back on saying, "To each their own." Or suggest that "everyone has a different opinion. " but I think you would be in the camp that's willing to ignore an uncomfortable design in the trade off to seeing small improvements in overall specifications. Specifications or features that might sound good when you are reading reviews but which are largely forgotten as you trudge along through the day trying to figure out how to keep your right hand from cramping up and curtailing your latest photographic adventure. And let's not even start about the design of the menus... 

Just a thought. Love the images out of the X100V but the handling certainly could be vastly improved just by reshaping the body. I think I'll take one of the Canon G16s out for a walk instead. 

Something to consider when next you grasp the credit card and rush to buy a camera without first holding it.