Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Ten Coolest Cameras of All Time

I thought I'd have a bit of fun today and create my list of “the ten coolest cameras ever made”. This is strictly my own list of what qualifies as “cool” - not necessarily “good”. It's a bit strange that only three digital cameras made the list, and there are no DSLR's!

Honestly, I cannot think of a single DSLR that is “cool”. I own one of the best, and it has a lot of “cool” features, but this does not make a cool camera. Hopefully this will spark some comments – does anybody out there actually think that DSLR's are cool? Can anybody even think of one that might be cool?

Maybe it would help if I explained why I think that DSLRs are so “un-cool”. I think I look like a total geek going around with the EOS7D around my neck. I feel like people think I'm either showing off or that I must be a total fanatic, both of which are un-cool. Although the 7D, or most any other DSLR will certainly do all things well, it is not the right type of camera for cool photography. It's made for serious, professional photography. It's meant to be a pro tool, and everyone knows that a tool is not cool!

So to my list. This isn't in any particular order from one to ten, except that I've listed my digital choices last. Just to show where I'm coming from, it seems to me that there were so many film cameras that had that cool factor, it was really hard to choose only seven, but here it is:

The Rollei 35

In my opinion, the Rollei 35 was one of the coolest looking cameras ever made. It is a marvellous piece of industrial design, which placed the controls in such a way as to be the smallest design possible that could accomodate full frame 35mm film.

The Canonet

I love Rangefinders, and I've owned a few, but never had a Canonet. But among fixed lens rangefinders, it seems the Canonet got things right while remaining just a little unusual and innovative. I favour lens focal lengths between 40 and 50mm, so if there has to be just one lens, the Canonet is just on the wide side, with a very fast f1.7 40mm lens. It's also a little unusual in that its automatic mode was Shutter Priority instead of Aperture Priority. The Canonets were rugged and very simple rangefinders, and therefore very cool.

The Minox Miniature

A true cult camera if there ever was one. It could be concealed anywhere on your person (stop imagining things – if I had one, I'd keep it down my sock or a shoe!) These cameras are James Bond cool, not to mention M*A*S*H's Colonel Flagg.

The Olympus Trip 35

I can speak from experience with this one – absolutely the coolest, maybe even the best camera I've ever owned. I've never known a camera so easy to use, that at the same time gave me such consistently good results on film. It seemed to work well in every situation, in spite of not even needing a battery to work, and yet was strictly Aperture Priority automatic. Also, the 45mm focal length is exactly where I like to be most of the time.

The Contax IIa

The Contax IIa was the rangefinder camera used by my favourite photographer Charles Cushman, and therefore real cool. I sure wish there could be a Contax digital rangefinder – even if some company like Samsung would make it. Oh wait – Epson tried once, didn't they?
Contax IIa conrf3a1.jpg

The Pentax Spotmatic

I still have my old Pentax Spotmatic – the camera I used in the late 1970's to take pictures for reference material for my paintings. Instead of field sketching, I used the Spotmatic as my sketchbook, while at the same time, learning the basics of operating a fully manual SLR. It has the M42 Pentax Thread-Mount lens system, which I still favour today for my Canon DSLR.

The Zorki-4

Have you ever wanted to experience a Leica Rangefinder? Well, you actually can, for less than a hundredth of the cost. The Zorki-4 is a very close clone of the Leica-III screw-mount lens system. In fact, Zorki cameras came about after Russia's victory over Nazi Germany, when Russia dismantled the Leica factory in Germany and rebuilt it in the Ukraine. It was here that they continued production of these older Leica cameras after Leica recovred and went on with the new M-Mount, and you can still buy really good ones from Russian Ebay sellers for under $100 that work perfectly. From what I can figure, Soviet Russia was very good at manufacturing two things – cameras / lenses and wrist watches. I still use a Russian wind-up watch every day, and three of my favourite M42 lenses which I use on my DSLR are Russian. The hallmark of the Zorki-4 was the uncanny way it made photos that felt like you could walk right into.

OK, here we go, onto the Digital Cameras. I actually found it difficult to think of ANY digital cameras that are actually cool. I think digital photography is super-cool, putting picture-making back into the realm of true art where the photographer has complete control over the image from beginning to end, never having to surrender your photo processing to someone else. I can state this real simple – like; I love digital photography, but hate digital cameras, and I hate film photography but love film cameras. I had to really dig deep to try to find some digital cameras I could actually fall in love with, and I only came up with three to put on my top ten cameras of all time list:

The Pentax Q

Did you happen to notice how all the film cameras on my list are all small? The biggest one is the Spotmatic, a film SLR that is still smaller than most DSLR's. I believe the coolest cameras are the smallest cameras, and if anything should take advantage of modern computer miniaturization, the Digital Camera should! So why don't they? It's getting better for sure, but the general rule still remains – to get the best image quality, you have to have a big honkin' DSLR while miniaturized / compact cameras give second-rate image quality. I think that Pentax has broken through here with the Q System. It has a miniature sensor, and it's own unique system of miniature interchangeable lenses, and from all accounts, gives very good image quality – certainly not DSLR good, but better than compact-good. It's most endearing quality is that it looks incredibly cool, does some incredibly cool image processing right in the camera, and yes, I think you could conceal it in one of your shoes!

The Panasonic DMC-LX5 or LX7

I really think this will be the one I'll buy. This camera kind of created a new niche of “serious compacts that a real photographer wouldn't mind using”. It was an immediate predecessor of the new “mirrorless” design, although it has neither a large sensor or interchangeable lenses, but what it does have is an extremely good small sensor, and a wickedly great fixed moderate-zoom lens. There are a lot of similar cameras on the market now, from Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji and Samsung, but none of them look quite as cool as this one.

The Smartphone Camera

I'll leave this generic, because, even though Apple's iPhone was the first to put a decent camera into a smartphone, the Android competition is every bit as good. These things are amazing really – the ultimate in camera miniaturization, and living proof that extremely small lenses and sensors can be put together to provide exceptionally good image quality. The smartphone camera is the new “walk-around” camera, in fact revolutionizing camera mobility – you usually have your phone with you – isn't that what cellphones are for, after all?
Samsung Galaxy S2 11x0428gsii.jpg

There are a lot of cameras that nearly made my list – like why not the new Olympus Pen series, or the Panasonic GX1 or Canon G1X for heaven sake! Or, as I love the old rangefinders so much, why not the Fuji X10, that at least looks exactly like an old Leica, even though it isn't really a Rangefinder? Well, this was not easy – some of these could be on my list, but here's the question – for truly small digital cameras, why would you necessarily need interchangeable lenses? Interchangeable lenses in my opinion are “tool”, not “cool”. Ah, so why then did I pick the Pentax Q system? Well, it takes a different approach to interchangeable lenses that actually is “cool” - instead of each lens being of ultimate quality, they only offer a couple of lenses of exceptionally good quality, and the others are for “cool” effects like “Lomo” and fish-eye, which are intended to work well with the camera body's built-in creativity. The Pentax Q system is an artist's camera – that's why I chose it.

I'm really looking forward to comments from this one!

1 comment:

  1. Pentax makes some pretty small dslrs as well.


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