I think it was good old Ansel Adams 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.
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.
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.
One thing I can safely say: I’m still searching!
But what are my criteria for a nice camera?
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.
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!
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…
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.
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!