Cameras I Wanted To Love but Couldn't

This may seem a little off topic but let's categorize it under the "rants" section (note to self - need "rants" category). I have been messing about with cameras and photo kit for a long time, as in 30+ years. Along the way I have run into and even bought cameras and equipment that I really tried hard to love and just couldn't. I am not talking about reading a bunch of hype and building my expectations up soooooo much that I was bound to be disappointed. That has happened too but I classify that as a "my own damn fault" kind of issue not a product issue.

What I am talking about here is a product that the underlying philosophy is both sound and tuned into a way of thinking that suits me. A product that actually has some attributes that are admirable, some features that no body else does, maybe even a piece of engineering or technology, or something that could be considered brilliant but… As taken as a whole is so fundamentally flawed in ways that make it unbearable, possibly even maddening. Flaws that you try your best to overlook, work around, get comfortable with, find excuses for, get used to, but are sooooo nagging that they eventually cannot be excused.

One of the first products that fall into this category I had experience with was the Contax G series. Let me review the score card for you in case you are not intimately familiar with this "coulda been a contender" camera and lens system. My list of things may seem trivial and trite and not too technical but trust me on this and give my assessment here the benefit of the doubt. First the "pros"

  • Absolutely gorgeous - great design - really nice materials - felt as good as it looked - Niiiiiiicee piece of gear  by any measure. Actually art in and of itself. Titanium. ohhhhh ahhhhh,
  • Classic brilliantly executed super quality lenses - some of them actually quite innovated while maintaining a nostalgic link to the traditions of photography. Take the Hologon for instance. Performance was fantastic too.
  • Philosophy was exactly what I was looking for - the best old ideas -rangefinder form factor and lens design flexibility , with modern design, technology and features blended together in a super posh compact, make no excuses package.
  • Tiny

Now for the "cons"

  • Extremely slow auto focus - mostly because or at least due to the sloooooow grinding, plastic-y sounding, annoying lens drive motor. Absolutely awful. Not only was it slow but to add insult to injury it was grating to actually listen to while it was doing it's business. Honestly it sounded so bad and strained that you fully expected it to break every time it focused.
  • No issue I will just use the manual focus all will be well. Hey there is a really cool looking and nice feeling focus dial on it. WRONG! after you focused manually the horrible sounding sloooooow motor would drive the lens to the focus position when you pressed the shutter half way before firing the camera. Urrrrrrr. It did this every shot - not just once. UrrrrrrrrrrrrrGrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrGrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnddddd click.

I gave this thing like 10 rolls trying every which way to love it. I had EVERY lens made for it including the Hologon. Ended up sitting doing nothing for like 4 years. Sold it at a loss. The reason I bring this up is how I am reminded of the G series with the last product that I just couldn't love. You remember my brief excursion with the Sigma DP1s don't you?

The Sigma DP1 and DP2 are cameras that I really want to love but couldn't. I have the DP1 a week of seriously trying to find a way to work with it but just could not do it. It was too annoying. Call me weak but the short comings, even though not critical to my intended use, were so unbelievable that asking myself "why? why? why?" was  huge distraction. How could this simple camera philosphy that I am ready made to eat up go so horribly wrong.

Plan - really good lens with really good and unique sensor design at a bit of a price premium. Hmmmmm sounds like my cup of tea. Here are my list of WTF's.

  • Sigma has upped the ante in the contest for "the slowest, most horrible sounding, longest lasting, most plastic-y, gear grinding atrocity, ever conceived" prize. This will be hard to beat if I actually tried to engineer something as bad on purpose that worked more than once.
  • It also places very high on the "really bad looking and feeling materials used but probably better than they seem" category. It's sort of hard to explain unless you see and feel they way this thing is made. All the "rights" done sorta right makes a horrendous wrong kind of thing.
  • Sigma = "Ah wee design berrry berrry best honorble lens for photographer in dis wondaful camrah." Me - Hmmmm, hmmmmm, hmmmmm. Yea it's a, kinda, like sharp, but.... HOW FORKING HARD IS IT TO PUT SOMETHING GOOD AT BETTER THAN F FREAKING 4? F 4 you are joking aren't you? You're not?
  • 4 megapixels at a blistering frame rate of 1 shot every 3.6 hours. Want maybe a second shot of the sunset? Too bad it went away. If I want something this slow I will shoot sheet film, that Foveon thing is nice and all but it's not that good.

Seriously, it pains me to see a product that targets ME and what I want and care about in a camera to be so horribly flawed. Here is what could be done to make this thing FANTASTIC.

  • Make it as fast as the panasonic GF1 or at least close. That cannot be sooooo out of reach. It can't be. The GF1 is what I would call - okay. In other words it doesn't make itself noticed one way or the other. It's not blisteringly fast in any category but is not so so slow that it's annoying to use.
  • Keep the 4 megapixel sensor and keep multiplying all things by 3 if you want. Who cares, the market you are going for is sophisticated enough to know what is what no matter what math you guys use. Want a grand slam? Put that new sensor in it you know the one in the up coming SD-1. I do mean a grand slam. You guys will be getting Leica market if you do.
  • Oh yea you can keep the built in lens if you want. Just make the lenses actually lust worthy. Not just in terms of sharpness/distortion but in terms of Aperture. How about F 2.0? That is in the "worth looking at" category. Want a super duper super galactic out of the solar system grand slam - do an F1.4. Want a out of the out of the universe grand slam? Make it Micro 4:3 lens compatible somehow. Your sensor is really close in size is it not? You figure it out you are the engineering company.
  • Hire a design and materials guy - seriously. Up the price of the camera a bit. Use all the cash for the design guy and his materials budget. Make it somewhere in the semi lust-worthy kit category. Make it gorgeous and you win. Get it somewhere near the GF-1/X-1/EP-1 and you are at least in the game.
  • Give it that really cool fuji X100 hybrid finder next year - WOW.  Do something the same only "better" than the Fuji hybrid finder - Triple WOW.

The only reason I am writing this is that people that the DP1/DP2 are targeted at (like me) will start repeating the same thing over and over and over agin until somebody gets it. Honestly - Sigma and Foveon X3 would be the perfect sensor for what I am talking about. It really does have it's strong points. Great color. Nice DR, Unique "sharpness" and detail rendering. Now if only those guys could make a camera that is useable in a form factor that nobody has gotten perfect yet. Well the M9 is close but also has it's issues - price being one of them. Honestly if Sigma Nailed this camera recipe with their Foveon  sensor in a couple of variations for somewhere under $2000 they would clean up. Look at everyone, including me lining up for the Fuji X100 sight unseen.

Now imagine that with the unique qualities of the Foveon X3 that will be in the SD1 sensor. That is like 15 megapixels WITHOUT the retarded Foveon math. Perfect.

Here is a crop out of the edge of an image from a Foveon at 100% with NO sharpening or color adjustment - all RAW settings flat/flat/flat/flat.


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