But there is another factor. Over on RFF, we have noticed a real influx of younger photographers and new photo enthusiasts who have moved over not only to film shooting, but in amazing numbers to mechanical or "simple" electronically controlled cameras. These are people who have at best a vague notion of film, and certainly have grown up with digital cameras as the only photo capture device they knew, or at the very least they desired a "good" digital camera because of the marketing and word-of-mouth hype.
So why are they turning to film cameras, and to rangefinders, of all things? I think one answer is in how current products are designed and implemented. The New York Times has a great article on "feature creep" and the "internal audience syndrome", which plagues marketing and engineering departments.
A still camera is a pretty simple device. It is intended to capture a moment and a composition to a sensitive material or subsystem so that the resulting image can be reproduced for any number of purposes. The physics dictate a lens opening, an exposure duration and some means of transferring the captured image to other media.
Figuring out the exposure duration and lens opening size (aperture) takes some knowledge, so a light meter is used to help. In truth, exposures can be calculated in one's head if the sensitivity of the capture medium is known. Interior and night lighting is more difficult, since our eyes are so adaptable to lower light levels and there is little or no reference point to the sun's intensity.
Most cameras with even moderately sophisticated internal metering systems do a very good job of evaluating the required exposure, and when a scene has "tricky" lighting, a minimally knowledgeable photographer can compensate for the meter which has been fooled.
But in an effort to relieve snap-shooters of having to know anything about exposure rules, manufacturers have tried to design logic via electronics and more sophisticated light measurement techniques to do the work of the human brain. Some efforts have been very successful, but funnily enough it's not simply the newest systems that are the best. The Yashica rangefinder models such as the GSN had metering systems that were, by all accounts, hardly ever fooled, yet those cameras were produced in the 1960s and 1970s.
So when my friend DOF posted about his plan to purchase an Olympus SW-710 because of its rugged, waterproof construction, the quality of the images and such, one commenter advised he reconsider because of a published "bad review". Ooops! If you know DOF, you know he does his homework. I'm sure he'll make that camera dance.
My needs are a bit different. If I am forced to go digital, or choose to do so, I want:
- A smallish yet rugged, metal-bodied camera
- Rangefinder focusing; if I must have a dSLR, then manual focusing must be straighforward, positive and precise.
- A viewfinder that is the equal of a Leica or the Olympus 35SP, or an Olympus OM-1
- Small, compact prime lenses with fast prime choices
- As little automation as possible
- An interface that presents a minimal number of controls that are analog in presentation and operation. Multiple, nested menus are NOT acceptable