The Best Camera is NOT the one You have with You!

I think it was good old Ansel Adams8100442-234x300 who said that ‘the best camera is the one you have with you’

Heaven forbid that I could doubt the wisdom of such a master photographer, but in this point, to my very humble opinion, I think he was wrong.

In many years of G.A.S. driven camera changes I have noticed one thing. It might only be true for myself but I think it’s pretty relevant.

If the best camera was the one that’s always with me I’d need no specific camera!

The one that’s always with me is my iPhone, currently the SE flavour. Unlike the rest of my cameras, Spotmatic (R.I.P.), XA2 or Leica IIIa, it practically lives I my front pants pocket. It’s always ready, no film to load, no low ISO film in dark settings… It should be the ideal camera!

Why is it not so?

For one thing it’s just a digital camera! Yes, digital cameras are great, they make definitely better quality photos (mostly, depending on the 12 inches behind the camera) and they are more versatile. These are facts. But nevertheless the iPhone is just a digital camera insofar as my old brain still has trouble to accept that anything but film is OK. Silly old me.

Certainly, the iPhone is an unobtrusive means to capture street scenes.

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iPhone SE

But there’s a but! As I already said many times, the iPhone does not feel like a camera in my hand. When walking the streets I don’t have the reflex to grab it to make a photo. I don’t think about it as a camera. It’s just a phone, internet device, navigation help and what else, but in my mind it’s not a proper camera. Disregarding the great quality of the photos it’s capable to make.

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iPhone SE

So you might ask me: ‘Hey wise guy, if you know all that, why don’t you tell us what IS the best camera?’

If I knew that answer I’d be much more serene these days. The Best-Camera-Question has been haunting me for some time now. Essentially since I started using film again in 2012 and finally got rid of the Canon DSLRs I used so rarely. Since then I made the round of a lot of possible choices. From compact to SLR by the way of rangefinders. In both film and digital flavours.

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Fuji X-E1 with the ‘cheap’ 16-50mm zoom lens

One thing I can safely say: I’m still searching!

But what are my criteria for a nice camera?

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Olympus XA2 with Lomo Lady Grey film

Well, apart from being affordable (lucky you if you can buy any camera you like and be happy with it), my perfect camera should be quite compact, at least smaller than those monstrous DSLR blobs.

What else is important? Of ourse, it has to feel right, and here we are leaving firm ground far behind! What does feel right? Depends on each one of us I guess. What makes a camera feel right for me is that it oozes at least some quality, has some heft to it (depending on the size) and just feels a bit unbreakable. Of course, the hefty feel and unbreakable bit are often misleading – looking at you, Spotmatic! But at 50 I can forgive it it’s failure.

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Fuji X-E1 with Takumar 50mm f:1.8

Speaking of failures, the ideal camera should be repairable or better still it should be under warranty. The warranty bit excludes all the nice film stuff. Except some brand new, much too expensive Leica stuff… too bad. A lot of cameras, notably those nice electronic compact film gems like the Ricoh GR1 and it’s siblings are not repairable any more. Most other mechanical SLR can still be fixed though. On the digital side, once the cameras slip off the manufacturer’s price sheet, they are often thought to be unrepairable. Thanks to planned obsolescence!

170901 - Olympus XA2 - Lomo Lady Grey (31)
Leica IIIa with Summitar 50mm

In this field there has to be a balance between factors. Those are the price of the camera, the repair costs and the cost of a replacement. Thin line to walk here!

Last point but not the least; The fun factor! A camera you use all the time must be fun to use. It must be easy on you, it must just disappear, not make photography a burden. It must give you the best results possible with the least hassle.

So let’s summarise the points:

affordable   –   compact(ish)   –   feeling right, solid, tough  –   repairable   –   fun

Where are my three cameras (I still count the Spotmatic in) on this grid?

The Leica IIIa is affordable (less than others but still on the winning side), it’s quite compact with a collapsible lens, it certainly feels right and it’s repairable though at a high cost. On the fun side… well it’s OK. Loading film and using the viewfinder is a hassle! So it ticks quite some of the points.

The Olympus XA2 is the most fun to use, by far. But it’s also the one that feels the least reliable and is virtually unrepairable if it breaks, and it will some day. A replacement though will not cost much… but will not be any more reliable. As for being compact…

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Any questions?

A lot of boxes ticked again, but as before, not all.

Now to the Pentax Spotmatic! Price-wise by far the most bang for the buck! 20€ for an average body, not too much more for a decent lens if you stay reasonable. And plenty of glass available. Not very compact, being an SLR though. Feeling extremely tough but due to it’s age it’s not the most reliable. Repairability is OK. The repair or CLA costs factor is less good though than with the Leica. For a Leica, the CLA to price ratio is about 1:1 when it’s about 3:1 for the Spotmatic.

On the fun side, well it’s an SLR with stop down metering (or sunny 16). Usable but less transparent in operation.

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Spotmatic with 50mm f:1.8 Takumar… and a major light leak!

What have we learned: No camera (at least the ones I own) is perfect in all aspects!

Then again I’m far from having tried all the possibilities. And there’s the digital side still luring me sometimes…

Anyways, I have learned not one but two things those last years:

The best camera is the one that gives you the most fun, that makes you want to grab it automatically and make nice photographs. Obviously not the iPhone for me.

And the perfect camera does not exist! There, you have it! Some come close to perfection, your own notion of perfection at least, some stray far away. But the perfect one does not exist. Or it’s very well hidden. Or too expensive for me. 😉

In the end, the camera being fed with film or pixels is not the most important point! A photo is a photo, the proof is in the pudding… ahem, the in the print!

Like to share your thoughts?

Thanks for being here!

33 thoughts on “The Best Camera is NOT the one You have with You!

  1. I know where you’ve coming from, something broken and you’re thinking if only you could find just that “one” camera… But you’ve already got one of the “best” 35mm cameras there was that most photographers in the past used to dream of – HCB, Capa and plenty of others seemed to have used one quite successfully. As it’s really a question of perceptions how about reframing that GAS you got and reminding yourself of that. And as for the iPhone, it’s the perfect pocket camera. I’ve actually seen cases you can get that look like a Leica III, put a neck strap on it, you turn it around and operate the shutter button at the “top” as usual by means of the volume control. So why not use those and make yourself a project and take pictures with what you’ve already got?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So true Frank. No perfect camera. I am trying to settle on a few cameras also with great difficulty. I have the same phone and must say that it has really grown on me. For film, I am still trying to sort out how to do the scanning and whatnot. For me the best camera has to be “the one I can see to focus”. My sight is very bad and will get worse, so that rules out a lot of cameras I enjoyed when I was younger. I suspect it will be down to rangefinders only soon, just because they are easy for me to focus, SLR’s much harder.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rangefinder focusing is easy on older eyes, that’s true, I know what you’re talking about. Autofocus still more so but I don’t want to go into that now…

      The iPhone SE for all it’s shortcomings has a great camera. And it’s not one of those dwarf tablets that don’t fit into a jeans pocket!

      Like

      • Rangefinders of the kind you are referring easily go out of alignment and require adjustment, are pokey little things of feint colour overlays. For ageing eyes the SLR focusing system is bigger, better and brighter, are built into the lens rather than the body and and you can easily change focusing screens to suit in the better bodies at least. SLR lenses are also cheaper and in any case, as you know, you can zone focus although the Nikon lens markings are perhaps less amenable.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Statement “the best camera is the one you have with you” can be interpreted in many ways. One is yours. But notice, you had to adjust it to claim that the iPhone could be the best camera. I am pretty sure that Mr. Adams did not carry his 8×10 inch large format camera with him all the time. Even when he made his best pictures with it. I am pretty sure that was not what he meant.

    Now how else can you interpret this statement? Of course it can mean that if you only have iPhone with you, that is the best camera you have at the given moment. If you did not take your 8×10 along, be happy to have the iPhone. I think this is more probably interpretation. But this would either imply that we should be always on hunt of photographs or we went out unprepared.

    Third interpretation can be that the best camera is the one you can afford and take with you and not some imaginable dream camera. I favour this interpretation the most. It means that you can go to and take good pictures with less demanding and less expensive gear. Any you can afford will do. It also means that if you already have a camera then go use it instead of dreaming about a better camera.

    Now problems arise when you can afford more cameras or there are simply too many choices. Then this statement becomes useless because it does not help to solve the situation.

    So we are back to your post but this time without hurting Mr. Adams.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Now to the point. Your categories are interesting – affordable – compact(ish) – feeling right, solid, tough – repairable – fun.

    I think that the most important is the fun part. Fun of course is individual. I had recently a lot of fun by sitting behind my large format monorail and tuning all the knobs it has to get the desired result on the ground glass. Now with its over 4 kilogram weight its is far from being compact. Even for a large format camera.

    But it really is solid and feels so right to use. Most of the parts are easily replaceable and I got it for a really good price. Well not for 20 euro but that is ridiculous price for a fine piece of equipment anyway.

    So I think it is almost the best camera I have. I can even haul it 20 meters from my car without much trouble (could even more if I find a suitable bag for it), so almost perfect. Well, not for all the pictures in all the situations.

    I could go on and on with the other cameras, so is there the best camera at all? Not for me, not by my definition of fun. But there are many that come very close that I appreciate truly.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Best is a very subjective word and open to interpretation in many ways as this post and comments suggest. I feel what is most important is that we make images by whatever means we have and enjoy the process. I enjoy using film cameras more than digital, generally, but recently started to use a Panasonic TZ60 and I have been impressed with both the results and the feel of using the device. Which is best? Only we ourselves can really determine that issue. When you think about it try to define “best”! keep up the good work Frank. I am still loving the blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Frank interesting post and I agree with some of what you say despite you bending the original meaning of the statement 🙂 most of the comments so far are agreeable too.
    I think it is probably too much to expect one camera to fulfill every situation and be the best of all worlds. Sometimes this camera is best here and that camera is best there. If you try to hold out for a camera that fits all your needs all the time there is a danger that it will do all of those things but not to the highest level and so you’ll find a slight lacking and never great experience; kind of Jack of all trades, master of none kind of thing.
    I don’t think your stated requirements are unreasonable, though there is definitely a subjective element to them which is probably a good thing and allows you to decide how fixed you are (or not).
    If you wanted a suggestion (not a recommendation) of one that might fit your criteria, have you tried the original Olympus Pen F? It’s compact, it is an SLR though is nothing like one in terms of bulk but has a solid feel, probably fun but I can’t comment on serviceability. It is half frame so pictures would be less quality to some extent but then again you get double the exposures.

    Liked by 1 person

      • It would put pressure on you to take more pictures so that you can develop the film. Yes you could make up short rolls that would match your shooting cycle.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Except that developing short rolls will cost more in chemicals as you still need 300ml to cover the reel in the tank. That “pressure” mentioned only comes from the “chimping” experience of shooting digital, what-you-see-is-what-you-get-and-I-want-it-now. Frank, for what you do I still say go for large format.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Frank, I wonder if you never consider your iPhone as the best camera you have with you, because you more often than not have another (film) camera with you too?

    If the iPhone literally was the only camera you had with you for, say a month, how might you better embrace it as a camera, get to know its strengths and limitations, develop new ways of making it as fun and rewarding to use as possible?

    It’s a bit like music. If you keep adding new stuff to your playlist/iPod/whatever, then the older stuff that’s been on there for years rarely gets listened to. But if you only had one artist or one album on your iPod, and didn’t add anything else for a month, you’d certainly get to know that music a lot better, and no doubt start to appreciate it more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That an iPhone only for a month challenge? Might play!

      As for your playlist analogy, you’re right! I have that Apple Music family deal, mostly for the kids but there’s always so much new stuff that I really forget about my good old stuff… hmmm🤔🤔

      Like

    • PS/ I wrote this listening to Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues. 95% of the time I listen to ambient stuff like Stars Of The Lid, Bing & Ruth, and Eluvium. Listening to Fleet Foxes I’m reminded this album is quite wonderful in places. Not a masterpiece, it has its flaws, and it’s not ambient. But sometimes it’s worth some revised immersed listening to enjoy it for what it is. Like using different cameras.

      Liked by 1 person

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