Marketing of any innovative technologies always encounters one big problem, they are being compared with an older generation of technology and although usually do better in many fronts such as performance and features, there are always those who wonder if the analog quality is better than digital.
The argument for analog music versus digital has been going on for more than 20 years and now we’re finally coming to a point where people accepted that digital is equal to if not better from a naturalness and purity of sound perspectives.
The same thing for cameras has been going on for a long time. There are diehard fans that rightfully believe that digital quality still has a way to go. The claim that digital capture vastly surpasses the performance of silver halide material has a strong psychological basis that is not based on facts. The same case for those who love vinyl records. I was only convinced recently that digital audio has reached a point where they don’t sound digital anymore.
For photography, I think we are seeing that happening now. I’ve seen a lot of tests that with high end digital cameras such as a Leica M9 can now favorably be compared with the best ISO 100 emulsions and can hold this quality even up to the ISO400. (The photo above was part of a gallery exhibition of photos, taken at St. Germain, Paris 1988 with my M4-2.)
I have yet to test my Leica X1 which I picked up just last Thursday and see how far it compares to my old M4s. The unboxing experience was a big delight, even better than the iPad or iMac unboxing. The X1 is a pretty camera with a good size and the best part is the manual function which works and feels like a film camera. Both aperture and shutter speed can be manually selected in a simple way on the deck and no need to go into navigating through different screens. The X1 has a 12.2-megapixel full size CMOS image sensor and an Elmarit f/2.8 lenses. The 24mm lens equate to 35mm which is great for photojournalism. And unlike the Leica M9 which can only manual focus, the X1 provides auto focus (contrast detect based) and can be live-view through a 2.7-inch LCD screen. The design is elegant. Makes you think why other cameras are so poorly designed with a few exceptions.
One exception is the Holga. The other end of the spectrum…the cheapest end. Remember the plastic cheap cameras in the 70s. It is really a camera more than a toy. Someone is resigning it and the digital version retains the qualities and simplicity of the original Holga camera and brings back the joy and delayed gratification associated with good old analog photography.
For those people who have no idea what a Holga is, it is an inexpensive, medium format 120mm film toy camera (yes toy), known for its surrealistic effect as a result of poor quality optics and design. It has a low-cost construction and simple meniscus plastic and that creates vignetting, blur, light leaks, and other 'qualities' that are unacceptable in a traditional sense. But the quality problems have attracted a cult as a creative style. The best part is there is no feature. Yes no feature. I hope there are products in other category that offer no feature. No feature is one big innovation opportunity that everyone misses. Just remember you first hear about that here.
On another note, I missed the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition in MOMA, I was in NYC almost every week but couldn’t even find an hour to see that. Henri Cartier-Bresson is one of the most original, influential, and beloved master of photography (yes, he used Leicas ony). His work of the early 1930s helped define the creative potential of modern photography, and his uncanny ability to capture life on the run made his work synonymous with “the decisive moment”. The beauty about photography … it is like business, you’re always waiting for that “decisive moment”, the rest of the time is just wait and wait. And when it comes, you have only one shot. So you gotta be prepared for that moment.
Have your Leica ready! And happy July 4th!