The camera you have with you, then and now

The camera you have with you, then and now

"The best camera is the one you have with you" has become some kind of mantra, constantly repeated in photographic cycles. Sorry, but I've to disagree.

Just because the "camera" I happen to have with me is the one in my smartphone doesn't make it "the best". It just makes it "the crappy little camera I happen to have on me". So let me rephrase: "the best camera is the best camera you have, that's suited for the job at hand". Whether you have with you, is your problem.

XM1_Minolta

For the most part, the initial quote is valid; nobody carries a big, badass monster of a camera with them all the time, just because "it can do everything" (which it can't but that's beside the point). It's a matter of convenience and the "good enough" mentality.

On the photo you can see, on the right, my "best camera" for more than a decade. It's a Minolta AF-S V, also known as "Talker" in some parts of the world. It's an automatic compact film camera, with the unique feature of communicating with its owner via a couple of vocal warnings. No, seriously, this camera talked to you. It said "use flash" when too dark and "no film" when it had nothing to record your pictures on. Of course, being a Japanese camera, it had a Japanese accent too, meaning it sounded more like "use fRash" or "no fiRm". But it was all right.

Apart from being a goofy little conversation piece, the Minolta was also a serious and quite accomplished 35mm film camera. Its lens was a 35mm f/2.8, quite good in fact. Its metering was adequate and its autofocus worked fine. And it didn't fight you: you just had to insert the film, it loaded it automatically; rewind was also automatic when you were done. You didn't even have to set ISO (which you could, easily) if the film had DX codes. Speaking of film, back then, you could choose your "sensor" with each film selection. It was always "full frame", of course, but you could have, for example, either the psychedelic look of Velvia or the more composed colors of Astia. It was not truly "pocketable", but was small enough to have in a small purse or handbag, or even a regular coat pocket. I shot hundreds of films with this camera over the years, much preferring to have it with me than my usual film SLR and lenses. And, you know what? Picture quality had little, or nothing, to complaint about, in fact it was easier to make a good photo than an SLR, because you had only to be worried about your frame and little esle.

Enter the new kid on the block: the Fuji X-M1. This, for me, is today's analog of the Minolta. A small(-ish) camera I can have with me, giving nothing on image quality even to much more expensive cameras. Speaking of size, it's interesting how close it is to the Minolta: not too small, just the right size to hold easily and still be able to carry around with ease. They are even close on focal lengths: the Fuji has a Fujinon 27mm f/2.8 pancake lens, which translates (with 1.5 crop factor) to about 40mm on 135 format.

The X-M1 has been called "the gateway drug to the X-Trans world" and that's not a bad statement at all. If you experience the look of the X-Trans files by yourself, it's damn sure you'd be coming back for more. There is something "filmic" in the rendition of the files which is even more reminiscent of the old Minolta and its films. Of which films, the X-M1 does a pretty good job at emulating a bunch of Fuji ones. JPEG quality straight from the camera is superb; in fact I think Fuji has the absolutely best JPEGs, bar none, with competition maybe only from Olympus. It also can shoot at high ISO with total abandon; the sensor can hold its own where other APS-C sensors are starting to feel highly uncomfortable.

Finally, it's also a very simple camera to setup and use. It follows the "digital compact" mentality, in that, it can hide almost all technical complexity, should the user desires. It goes deeper if you wish, but not overwhelmingly so.

So, the little Fuji has become my everyday camera. Either with the 27mm or the -cheap but honest- 16-50mm kit zoom, it's what a "have with you always" camera should be. Not the smallest, not the smartest, but very close to "the best", for me.

Any complaints? Sure, during the last few weeks it's in my hands, I certainly found things I'd like to be better or different, but, all in all, one can't complaint much. I'll be coming back with my continuous evaluation of the camera (and lenses, as well as the X-System in general), so please stay tuned.  

Update: Check the second part on the Fuji X-M1 here

Time or Money?

Time or Money?

Good artists copy, great artists steal (or, why you are welcome to copy my frames)

Good artists copy, great artists steal (or, why you are welcome to copy my frames)

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