It's time for a new, high-quality compact camera

Discussion in 'Modern Film Cameras' started by Paul Lewis, Mar 16, 2017.

  1. I wouldn't have thought this with us losing film stocks at the rate we were a few years ago, but I think it's time (I hope it's time) for a manufacturer to produce a new high quality compact fixed-lens camera. My reasoning?

    Read this article first about the current state of the film industry. It's very comprehensive and informative:

    Right now, the only 35mm cameras that are available new are the Nikon F6 and FM10, Leica M7, Voigtlander Bessa, and then a bunch of sub-standard toy cameras.

    There are obviously a ton of used 35mm compacts on the market of varying quality. If one wants a 35mm compact, it could be found at a thrift store, flea market, etc. The vast majority of these cameras are of dubious quality, questionable funcitonality due to age of electronics, and are going to be mostly automatic.

    There has been a big demand over the past decade for compacts with manual functionality and high quality lenses and it has increased significantly over the past few years. Here are some examples and their correponding price ranges on eBay:

    Contax T, T2, T3 (Zeiss lenses) $400 - $1000
    Rollei 35s (Zeiss lens) $100 - $300
    Ricoh GR series (Zeiss lenses) $400 - $800
    Yashica T4 $300 - $500 (Zeiss lens)

    and then there are some recent cameras that sell above new price and are very desirable now:

    Fujifilm Natura S $500 - $1000
    Fujifilm Klasse W $500 - $1000

    These are just a few examples. It is clear that pros, serious amateurs, students, and young amateurs are seeking out these cameras based on the talk that I have seen in photography forums and blogs.

    The demand is so high for these cameras right now that even though the prominent electronic issues of the Ricoh GR series (which cannot be repaired easily or by the manufacturer) are overlooked for the chance (gamble) that a good one can be found that will last..... at $500+ a pop.

    I think it's obvious that there is a market right now for a high quality compact camera. What should be the functionality and form of this camera?

    Here are my thoughts:

    1. Fast, high-quality, fixed, wide-angle lens. The Zeiss T* Sonnar 38mm / f2.8 would be a great choice, and is an extremely popular choice on used cameras. Perhaps a 28mm would be even better based on the popularity of that focal length on M mount rangefinders. This is the critical component... this is the feature that has people clamoring for compact cameras.

    2. Manual ISO. This is an under-discussed issue that is becoming crucial based on the loss of fast films. We've lost multiple 400 speed films over the past decade. Most color films are 50 or 100ASA and it's important for a camera to have auto-iso to enable push processing.

    3. Manual Aperture. One frustration that people have with the older cameras mentioned above is the difficult or non-existent ability to manually adjust aperture. If you say it can't be done on a small camera, look at the Contax T, which is one of the smallest 35mm cameras every created (which has a manual aperture and manual iso on a Zeiss 38mm lens!).

    4. Aperture Priority. A feature used by many street photographers.

    5. TTL Flash

    6. Large viewfinder that displays shutter speed.

    7. Metering. While center weighted metering is a must, a matrix meter like that of the Nikon 35ti would be fantastic.

    8. Tough metal body.

    Regarding focus, which is better? The Leica crowd shoots manual focus on the street by default. Everyone expect auto-focus on a compact, but zone focusing or manual focusing ensures that you won't miss a shot based on hunting auto-focus or auto-focus that samples on the wrong area.

    Price point. This is clearly a $750 - $1200 camera. If the camera were reliable, produced by a well-known and trusted manufacturer and was created with high-quality components, I don't think there would be price resistance. I think everyone looking to buy one of these used compacts would give this strong consideration.

    I'm looking forward to your feedback!
  2. Funny but I bought that very camera last fall: a Fuji X100T.
    Norman 202 likes this.
  3. I have one too, but I can't seem to get it to accept a 35mm cassette, no matter how hard I hammer it into the battery compartment. I wonder how difficult it would be to resurrect one of the classic 'modern film' compacts? Does the tooling still exist? Are the electronic components still available? Some companies have re-started production of turntables for vinyl records, so it doesn't seem out of the question that we might one day see new high quality film cameras launched, or older models re-launched (whether purely mechanical or 'modern film'). It's not a huge leap from what is already happening at the low end with instant film cameras or the absurdly overpriced Lomography-branded gear.
  4. I doubt that the tooling for any of those high quality compacts (Contax/Kyocera, Ricoh, etc.) exists today. The major problem that I have with those cameras in today's landscape is the lack of manual ISO, which is an absolute must these days.

    Kodak engineered an amazing new super8 camera to be released in the near future. There is certainly more demand for a high quality 35mm compact camera than a super8 camera, and I'm surprised that a manufacturer hasn't filled that need. Any rumors out there?
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2017
  5. Magical thinking...Why did Cosina axe the popular Voigtlander Bessa line in late 2015? Just asking. Demand for those rare premium compacts, apart from being photo geek/nerd fetish objects, has long been depressed by their dim repair prospects. They were delicate uber p&s cameras, nothing more, especially compared to then-contemporary mid-range SLRs which outlived them. Consequently, with a big reservoir of film cameras available and with film output not really measurable any longer(fill this in if you know better, please), it seems you've got your answer.
  6. A comparison with the Voigtlander Bessa isn't valid. Two completely different camera types. First of all, it's the Zeiss lens in most cases, that people are seeking, in addition to the compact form factor.

    Regarding the film market, I'll let Kodak's reintroduction of Ektachrome (an E6 film of all things!) speak for itself. For more information about the health of the film market, read this article:

    The problem with the reintroduction of a high quality film camera is this... who is left to make it?

    Let's look at the possibilities:

    Leica: unlikely due to their focus on M mount
    Canon: unlikely since they don't currently produce any film cameras
    Sony: very unlikely even though they already partner with Zeiss
    Nikon: possible, but if they did, the camera would have a Nikkor lens. I'm not sure that is sexy enough for camera geeks if price is high.
    Fuji: possible, but if they did, the camera would have a Fujinon lens. I'm not sure that is sexy enough for camera geeks if price is high.
    Kyocera/Contax: unknown, but Contax cameras were and are very popular
    Ricoh: unknown, but Ricoh cameras with Zeiss lenses continue to be popular on the used market
    Voigtlander/Cosina: unknown, but they have not produced a Contax camera since 2005
    Kodak: they are introducing a super8 camera with a fantastic design, so anything is possible. For this to be successful, they would have to get Zeiss or Leica to produce a lens.

    Any others?
  7. Correction:

    Kyocera/Contax: unknown, but they have not produced a Contax camera since 2005
    Voigtlander/Cosina: unknown, they make the Nikon FM10 and possibly manufacture lenses for Zeiss currently?
  8. No need to share the bong, Paul. It's all yours. The zorkiphoto piece is a rehash of old news/press releases with little solid industry data. That no manufacturers(who surely know better)have bothered with new film gear seems the most convincing index of the size of the market for film. Cosina stopped making Bessas because they didn't sell. Ektachrome is a long way off and, as such, seems to suggest Kodak could delay or defer if second thoughts prevail. Zeiss packs lenses into smartphones.
  9. What does a Bessa have to do with a compact film camera? There are tons of used Leicas available that CAN be serviced, unlike any of the previously mentioned premium compacts. That is what killed off the Bessa.

    As you stated:
    "Demand for those rare premium compacts, apart from being photo geek/nerd fetish objects, has long been depressed by their dim repair prospects."

    If that is the case, demand would be even higher if they could be repaired? Contax T2s sell for $600+ now.... I'd love to know what they'd sell for if they could be repaired by the manufacturer.
  10. Silent Street

    Silent Street Silent Street Photography AUS

    What? Come again??
    "auto-iso to enable push processing".
    And pull processing too...?
  11. Manual-ISO

    Push or pull. I only mentioned push because of the loss of higher ISO color films.
  12. Silent Street

    Silent Street Silent Street Photography AUS

    That's better! ;)

    I really think it's wishful thinking — long shot odds, but it could happen some time in the future.
    Bellamy makes a point about this in the zorkiphoto article. We just have to sit by and see what eventuates.

    Still plenty of analogue Voigtlander Bessa compacts (film) in use here by photographers active in MF/LF; "happy snaps" to accompany the "big shots"!
    My personal choice is an Olympus XA, and I've owned 3 since 1980. I have owned a GR1 (came to grief in the surf) and a Contax T2.
    There are Contax Ts available at over $800 in Japan, however, price gouging is rampant and one needs to shop around (use Bellamy!). That's something I got the hang of when I was in Tokyo last year! The other is how often a Panadol is needed to cope with the madding crowds! o_O
  13. Yes, wishful thinking. I don't think it's going to happen, even though I think there is a market here.

    I purchased a Contax T (rangefinder, aperture priority, manual ISO, manual focus) late last year and am looking forward to using it this year. I would like an auto focus compact with a Zeiss lens with manual ISO, but I'm not sure a camera with these features ever existed. The Contax T2 would be a great option if it wasn't auto-ISO due to the fact that I do a lot of low-light photography with either 400 ASA films, or when that runs out, pushed 100 ASA films.

    I would like to purchase an XA this year. Always liked the design of that camera. Considered a Ricoh GR1v, but the horror stories of faulty electronics scared me away. I'll pass on that.

    If a high quality compact was introduced to market with manual ISO, fast auto-focus, 28mm or 35mm lens and aperture priority, I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

    The Japanese camera shops are amazing... I wish I had the need for another camera when I was there last time! I was leaning towards medium format as a possibility at the time (Mamiya 7), but now really see the need for something smaller that I can always carry around.
  14. Mind blown.

    Anyway, Paul, I like the idea, at least in theory. I think that a RF is preferable to AF. I want to know what I'm focusing on. I wouldn't buy a camera like that just for snapshots. The Minox 35 series are too small to fit a useful RF, so the camera has to be a bit bigger. The VF is also in the wrong place. I'd like to see something like a Contax T, with interchangeable lenses with leaf shutters.

    I had the idea for a very compact, automated, half-frame SLR system. The orientation is vertical - something that might look like a Contax G. That camera's design is superb. Very different to the M.
  15. Premium compacts were like couture, usually limited edition design exercises never expected to fatten the corporate balance sheet, especially in the days when Japanese companies could blow piles of yen on "halo" brand-enhancing products just before the 'bubble' burst in the early '90s. The Minolta Prod 20 seems like a poster child for the era.

    This thread rightfully belongs in the Alternate Reality/Facts Forum. I volunteer Karim for Mod.
    Spearhead likes this.
  16. I like the idea, but I have a few comments.

    I would add the Oly XA-series and the Canon QL-17 GIII to Paul's list of example cameras.

    Paul mentions manual aperture, and then mentions aperture priority AE, but he makes no mention of whether shutter speeds will have manual control. If there is no control of shutter speeds, then by definition, a manual aperture camera is an aperture priority one. So those two points can be conflated into one if there is no shutter speed control.

    If no shutter speed control, then EV adjustment is a must.

    I would argue most strongly for a full manual mode -- which means control of shutter speeds.

    Regarding film ISO, I would prefer DX coding with manual override. That way a forgetful person won't have ruined his film, while a thoughtful one can push or pull process his film.

    Suggested center-weighted metering: I would suggest that it be rather strongly center-weighted, or else slide shooters may be disappointed by the number of underexposed slides they're getting because of extraneous light sources affecting the meter. Something akin to the Nikon F3's 80/20 center-weighting would be sufficient.

    Meter display in the viewfinder: Needle(s) or LEDs? While I'm a big fan of match needle metering, this would only make sense if there is control of the shutter speeds. LEDs are nice in dim light. A needle is nice in very bright conditions. A tough call, but I'd probably go with LEDs. They've worked well enough on the Nikon FM/FM2 and Pentax MX -- and myriads of others.

    Focusing? Perhaps AF with a good rangefinder manual override would be best. But if I had to choose between the two, I'd go with manual focusing with a hyperfocal distance scale marked on the lens. Not range focusing either, but rangefinder focusing. It works great on the XA, it should be doable on a modern equivalent.

    Price point: a $700 to $1200 price point is entirely too high for a fixed lens rangefinder-style camera. Even $300-500 would be on the high side of what most people would be willing to pay, I believe. How many used fixed lens cameras are selling in the $300-500 price range? Right. Damn few. If the Oly XA were still available as a new camera, how much do you think it would sell for?

    If marketed smartly, a camera with the above features and additions might sell well in the $300-500 range. Preferably less than that. One market segment that might could be counted on if the camera has a full manual mode is photography students.
  17. That boom period had vastly larger film and film camera sales, but there were also a huge amount of manufacturers vying for that a slice of the camera revenue pie.

    The market is much smaller now, but if a manufacturer now produced a reliable, high-quality camera, that manufacturer would own that market, unlike a small slice of a bigger pie in the 90s.
  18. Yep, but today's market is likely smaller than that "small slice of a bigger pie in the 90s." So if any mfgr is willing to try it, they gotta be smart about it.

  19. I strongly disagree with the inclusion of DX functionality and have always loathed that function in any camera. It complicates the design of the camera since not only DX reading is necessary, but also requires an override, as you mentioned. I think manual ISO with a wide range of settings is preferable.

    I agree that full manual control (of aperture and shutter speed) is desirable.

    Meter display via LCD is sufficient.

    I think center-weight metering (80/20 for instance) is preferable to center spot metering.

    I think we should keep in mind that the cameras that are highly sought after today are the ones with a Zeiss lens. Those cameras (Contax T2 and T3 for example) routinely sell for $500-1000 on the used market, so I don't think there is resistance.

    To answer your question, if an Olympus XA (first model) camera were available today, I expect that it would sell for $400+. For guidance, a much simpler camera, Lomo LC-A, sells for $229 retail. The Lomo does not have a metal body, has plastic knobs, no auto focus, zone-focusing, a cheap lens and questionable reliability. A Nikon FM10 (without a lens) retails for $500. Do you expect that this hypothetical camera, with a high quality lens could or should retail for less than that?
  20. While I'm sure any new decent quality film camera would cost hundreds of dollars, Lomography prices don't have much to do with production costs. Getting someone to pay $100 for a Diana toy camera, or $350 (more than a user Rolleiflex) for a Lubitel is a triumph of marketing. Not much chance of a Zeiss compact film camera - Kyocera, who made the Contax compacts and the Yashica T4, are no longer Zeiss partners and haven't made any sort of camera for over a decade. I'm sure their current partner, Sony, wouldn't be interested. Cosina, of course, have made rangefinder bodies and lenses for Zeiss, but both the Zeiss Ikon bodies and the closely related Voigtlander bodies are now discontinued and unlikely to be revived. I'd be less surprised to see the Cosina chassis these bodies are based on turn up in some other form - I think versions of it were originally used in budget SLRs dating back to the 80s, and possibly in the current Nikon FM10. There might be room in the market for a new, relatively cheap SLR as a student/hipster camera, and basing it on the Cosina chassis (or the Minolta-licensed chassis that was used for various brand-X SLRs) would mean the development costs would be minimal - I doubt anyone wants to do this from scratch. Perhaps someone should talk to one of the factories in China that make these things and launch a 'new' camera on Kickstarter, or something. The Hipsterflex?

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