Some thoughts and questions i.r.o. modern digital cameras

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by Dave Reynell, Feb 16, 2014.

  1. Dave Reynell

    Dave Reynell Guest

    Many of us who contribute to (comment on) this forum have been using cameras for decades. My personal photographic "history" dates back to 1958 when I purchased my first 35mm camera, a Kodak Retinette. Later, in the mid-1960's when I had a bit of spare cash, I moved on to Pentax SLR's and stayed with them for over thirty years. I still have a couple and some beautiful legacy glass.

    Back then all 35mm cameras (to the best of my knowledge) had (a) a viewfinder and, (b) a prime lens, which with the Pentaxes was either a 50 or 55mm "kit". Zooms only became fashionable, and affordable a little later.

    So many camera users (and I refer specifically to 35mm users) "grew up" with this type of/or similar photographic equipment. Which brings me to my point, and a number of questions :

    Why is it that so many of the modern digital camera manufacturers regard this important addition to a camera as superflous ? Give me a viewfinder everytime, they frame up quickly and no holding the camera at arms-length, in (often) bright sunlight, trying to do one's best to capture an image.

    Is it a fixation about weight & dimensions ? If so why ? In the past those of us who toted SLR's about never complained. My Pentax K2, with a 50mm/f2.0 lens weighed in at 840 grams, yet I was perfectly happy, and accustomed to, carrying it about with me when I worked in the field (I am a retired forester).

    As much as I admire the technology that goes into and the performance we get from say the Panasonic GX-1 - What's wrong with a G5, or a G6 ? I am perfectly happy with my G1 (yes I've had it close on five years !) with the 20/f1.7 as my go to lens - it's light, has a superb viewfinder and does most things photographic that I want it to. Sure it doesn't fit in my trouser-pocket, but nor did my Pentaxes.

    Prime lenses:
    My Retinette came with a 50mm/f3.5 lens. My Pentaxes all had either a 50mm, or 55mm prime lens. This is what we used most of the time.

    I did find 55mm (and even the 50mm) a little too "tight" for many of my photographic applications. In cramped spaces these focal lengths were frustrating to use and for landscapes equally inadequate. In later years I treated myself to a Super Takumar 35mm/f3.5 which became my standard-lens. It was compact, albeit a little slow, but served me well. I eventually, in 1984, moved to a SMC Pentax-A 24mm/f2.8 which suited my type of photography perfectly.

    Now I am aware that we all have different photographic "niches" / areas of interest / or techniques so there is no perfect focal length that suits us all. Yet we are told that a 40mm prime (in 35mm format language) is about as good as it gets for a versatile prime (a bit wider, say 35mm - equivalent - I'd rate as nearer the mark). Why then do we see a rash of primes on the market that are very close, in focal length, to the early 50/55mm "standard" lenses we had on SLR's ? Let me name a few:

    Panasonic Leica D Summilux Asp. 25mm/f1.4
    Panasonic Leica Summilux DG 25mm/f1.4

    M Zuiko 25mm/1.8


    and the much talked about Voigtlander Nokton 25mm/f0.95

    In closing, and to really stir things up a bit, why the - modern-day - heavy accent on zooms ? Sure they are versatile, but (mostly) they are considerably larger than primes, are "fiddley" and are (mostly) slow. Those that are fast are even larger (fatter - heavier) seriously expensive and defeat the object of having a tiny, viewfinderless MFT camera body.

    I love shooting with my 20/1.7. Too tight - step back (at times, I have to admit, this might not be possible), too wide, step up a bit. No fiddling, just frame and shoot - it's quick !

    OK colleagues, now shoot me down.

    • Like Like x 1
  2. Fmrvette

    Fmrvette This Space For Rent

    May 26, 2012
    Detroit, Michigan
    Real Name:
    Ah, laddie, you're a tad ahead of me; in '58 I would have been shooting a Brownie Hawkeye - I couldn't afford my first SLR until 1969.

    I'd venture weight, bulk, cost as the three top reasons why viewfinders get short shrift these days. When trying to build an inexpensive point 'n shoot I should think that deleting the viewfinder in favor of a view screen would be the first step. It makes the camera much more pocket-able. (My one complaint - out of several - about the Canon G9 was the lamentable viewfinder. It covered, as I recall, only about 85% of the actual capture area :frown: ). Folks whose experience with "cameras" start with smartphones and end in inexpensive point 'n shoots don't know about viewfinders. When they upgrade to a "good" camera that feature may not be a selling point for them. And if it's not a selling point for the masses then the manufacturers are less likely to include it in the design.

    I've long held the position that using a viewfinder steadies the shot - as opposed to the "arms akimbo" method of framing with a view screen. However the newer cameras and lenses are equipped with some very good imaging stabilization features and my position may not be tenable for very much longer - especially for younger folks who have steadier hands than do I.

    In addition electronic viewfinders have, in the past, not had as great a refresh capability as one might have desired; having a moving subject "lag" in the view is disconcerting at best. Optical viewfinders have not always shown the exposure and camera settings that one gets when looking at a view screen.

    The one time that a viewfinder, no matter how poor in implementation, has it over view screens is in direct sunlight.

    Like you, viewfinders are a must for me - I will not consider a camera that does not come equipped with one, and as the art of digital camera design has improved I won't settle for a less-than-good one, either. But it (the lack of a viewfinder) really doesn't seem to matter to a lot of photographers; I like to think of it as a generational thing, but of course that's not the case at all.

    Well, there wasn't much choice "back in the day"; mass went with the territory of using SLRs. And if I didn't complain then, I'm sure complaining now :biggrin:. The only reason I went from a very effective Nikon kit to Olympus kit was to reduce the size and weight of the gear. A gripped Nikon D300 loaded with 8 AA batteries, a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and an SB900 flash (with another 4 AA cells) is no lightweight.

    I'll concede that a Pentax K1000 with a 50mm lens is not heavy by most standards and it included a viewfinder and built in light meter and a mirror mechanism.

    However these days the consumer is a different animal - I noted that when the E-M5 came out a lot of complaints were made by folks who were disparaging the looks of the body for including the "pentaprism" - even though that area is not empty but rather houses some of the electronic bits and pieces of the thing. Unlike tail fins on a '59 Cadillac the "hump" on the E-M5 serves a purpose, and still it drew negative comments.

    Not a thing if it gives you the photos that you're trying to make. I have an E-PL1 that is now three years old but I much prefer the E-M5 even though the newer camera is somewhat larger and heavier (the difference somewhat mitigated by the E-PL1 having a VF2 viewfinder mounted). The E-M5 has a better sensor, a better control set, can be controlled remotely...there's a long list of why I prefer the newer kit over the old, but primarily it's because my photographs come out better on the E-M5 than they do on the E-PL1. (The IBIS of the E-M5 being one reason; Panasonic shooters can upgrade lenses to get the latest and greatest image stabilization technology while Olympus shooters must change camera bodies...of course not all lenses have I.S. capability so the Olympus may come out ahead in those cases).

    Also many folks, I think, enjoy having new toys; I've had the E-M5 a bit over a year now and I cannot claim to have mastered it yet. I don't normally change cameras just for the sake of change but many other folks do.

    I figure anything that increases one's pleasure in the hobby is a good thing.

    As long as one doesn't tell the spouse. Divorces are expensive. :biggrin:

    But hasn't that always been the case? Canon and Nikon have each offered several versions of the "nifty fifty" - and within the same product line. Third party manufacturers leaped into the fray with similar offerings in several different mounts. Each lens was similar to the others with just enough differentiation to attract a different type of buyer. Zoom lenses are much more complicated, and therefore cost more to manufacture and (perhaps) lead to a somewhat smaller profit margin than suppliers see when selling a "nifty fifty" equivalent prime. As I'm sure you're aware one must always remember that Panasonic, Olympus, et. al. are not in the business of making cameras; they are in the business of making money. If one has an (inexpensive to produce) 50mm prime in one's product catalog one may make a sale; if one doesn't offer such a traditional lens one will certainly lose sales to other manufacturers who do).

    Well, since you were there along with me, you'll recall that most of the zooms in the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's were...unfit for human consumption (to put it politely :biggrin: ). However technology has come a long way and some of today's zooms rival what a prime can do at the same focal length. Of course lens speed is like automobile racing - "speed costs money, how fast do you want to go?".

    My Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR cost a ton, weighed a ton, and was awkward to carry about mounted on the camera. At a sporting event, however it had the over riding virtues of being (reasonably) fast at 2.8 at all focal lengths, was sharp as a tack, had internal focusing and zoom capabilities, and allowed me to frame fast moving targets without having to move my feet or attempt to change lenses (or carry multiple camera bodies with different lenses mounted). Frequently at a baseball game (or even more frequently at an indoor basketball game) one is limited in one's movements; encroaching on the field of play can have lamentable results and there may be little time for swapping cameras or lenses. One pays the weight and price penalties for the luxury of having most everything one needs in a single package.

    Zoom lenses are convenient. Folks don't have to fiddle with changing primes (and which prime does one switch to? One cannot frame the photo in the (non-existent) viewfinder until the lens is mounted and one may have guessed wrong). Experienced old fogies like me have an edge - I pretty much know the focal length I want for the framing before the lens is mounted; but newer hobbyists may not. A zoom, for them, answers their prayers. Ever increasing ISO capabilities avoid some of the issues of using "slow" zooms. Kodak ASA 1600 film was amazing at the time it was introduced, allowing one to gain two stops over the common ASA 400 but the modern electronic whiz bang didgerydoos have left film far behind - and only increase the difference every new generation of sensor.

    Modern zoom lenses, even the inexpensively made ones, are better than those routinely available in the 1970's; for one thing the coatings are considerably better and allow for less flare. And for many photographers the defining success of a lens is that it is "good enough"; there may be better lenses out there but if the one on one's camera is "good enough" then there's no real reason to upgrade.

    Also zoom lenses keep one from walking off the edge at the Grand Canyon when trying to properly photograph the other side :biggrin:.

    All of that being said, I have a couple of zoom lenses in my kit but, like you, I do prefer primes and my most used lens is the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7. Now retired I do not photograph fast moving sporting events (or if I do, I don't care if I miss a photograph due to having the "wrong" lens mounted). There is a certain pleasure to be had in taking the time to visualize a photograph, mount the "proper" lens on the camera, and then making the shot.

    It is interesting to see first hand the changes that have taken place over the last half century (or so) in photography. Things that are considered "must have" features by most hobbyists today (such as view screens, video capability, user programmable buttons, the list goes on) are of no - or little - interest to me at all. However I would not be willing to trade my E-M5 kit for my original Pen FT SLR kit if I was condemned to actually using the thing. My E-M5 is a much more capable rig and as poor a photographer as I am, I need all of the assistance I can get :biggrin:.

    Just my 2 cents, Dave, fully worth half of that.


  3. b_rubenstein

    b_rubenstein Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 20, 2012
    Melbourne, FL
  4. Fmrvette

    Fmrvette This Space For Rent

    May 26, 2012
    Detroit, Michigan
    Real Name:
    :biggrin: Unlike camera bodies I have traditionally changed cars just for the sake of change; in 40 years of marriage I titled a bit over 40 cars. Only since retiring has my "trade in / trade up" habit been extinguished - due primarily to lack of funds :biggrin:. And my wife is God awfully grateful that those days are over (as is my State Farm agent :biggrin:).

    Having grown up in Detroit and driven (mostly) Detroit iron (with the odd European roadster tossed into the mix here and there) the only reason that I don't have a garage full of 1960 vintage cars is because I don't have Jay Leno's income :dash2:.

    Although you're right - there's not a whole lot of 1958 models that I'd choose to own (except for the 1958 Thunderbird; I've owned two of those and enjoyed driving the heck out of them).


  5. unstable_rider

    unstable_rider Mu-43 Regular

    Feb 9, 2014
    Land of Lakes
    I certainly hear what the OP is saying.

    I worked with metal bodied SLR's since the late 70's and used them professionally until the digital era began. Even then, I carried a film camera as I did not yet "trust" these digital wonders.

    I had stepped away from film for several years here. Recently, I had the pleasure of working with some younger people and took in an accredited dark room/lab course + black and white film photography.

    I forgot what I had apparently forgotten. I had a ball. Something about black and white 8 x 10's you hand-dunked and did the lab work on. Had some informal class competitions for various segments of the semester, and you could have knocked me over with a feather when some of these young people I have come to call my friends, repeatedly would "vote" my works into first or second place.

    I had no idea that several generations could be bridged with something so simple, old, basic metal bodied cameras and so on.

    A priceless experience I wont soon forget.

    It caused me to move onto a new sub-hobby, now I scan my 35mm neg's I shot for class and bring them into this era digitally. What absolute simple fun.

    When scanned properly, there is virtually no pixilation with the the oldy-moldy black and whites. It's fun to combine both worlds, old school with digital, plus the post processing of "today".

    It's a great time waster.

    I am new to M/43, maybe the last six months. I am amazed at it's capabilities, plus it's no secret among us here that no one pays us much attention to us with these "toy cameras".

    Little do they know (how much fun we are having and the amazing images we go home with).

    Good original post!

    I myself, am going to switch from a Olympus Pen to a Panasonic G5 or 6 that comes with a viewfinder. The screen does nothing for me for composition. I can't see it unless I hold it out at arms reach, but there are some on-screen or touch screen features I would like to explore.
  6. WasOM3user

    WasOM3user Mu-43 Veteran

    Oct 20, 2012
    Lancashire, UK
    Real Name:
    I also spent most of my formative (photography) years with optical split screen viewfinders but my delayed change to digital was the size of the cameras nearly all the canikons were just too big rather than EVF's.

    The EM-5 was the first digital camera that met my build quality and size requirements and I found the EVF as OK. It was only when I tried a G3 I realised why some people use the LCD.

    Perhaps it"s only recently that EVF have got to standard where they can be considered as replacements for optical. As also mentioned people upgrading from a phone or P&S will be used to using the LCD.

    With regard to the "standard" lenses these are very much a personal selection and how you "see" things back when my wife and I both used OM1's we found my trinity was 28/50/90 BUT my wife's was 24/35/50 so my standard lens was my wife's telephoto.

    I have seen 35,40,50 and 55 all listed as standard lenses.
  7. fortwodriver

    fortwodriver Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Nov 15, 2013
    Toronto, Ontario, Canada
    Real Name:
    Poor viewfinders did not start happening with digital.
    It's interesting how some of the "Retinette" cameras were german made and made to high-standards. However there were many produced for Kodak that were not very good. Over the years Kodak steered production of their Retina and Retinette cameras to different bidders and the quality control suffered.

    Many point and shoot cameras, even some that were quite expensive had really poor viewfinders.
    Canon, Vivitar, Argus, Toshiba, and Pentax all had P&S cameras with manual overrides yet kept those tiny little viewfinders.

    Some of the Contax models had the same sort of tunnel-vision that digital point and shoots acquired at their genesis.
    By the time the first digital P&S units were being produced, the industry felt people could put up with those tiny finders. My Casio QV-10 didn't even have a viewfinder - you used the postage-stamp-sized LCD to watch a delayed, pixelated image as you framed your photo.

    My pocket Instamatics were not very good. Pentaxes (at least until around the MX series) didn't have particularly bright viewfinders.
    One of the reasons why cameras like the Yashica GSN and other rangefinders did so well for a time was the viewing experience. It was intuitive to line up the focus square and viewing through the rangefinder window was reasonably easy on the eye. As late as 1998'ish cameras like the N60/F60 had poor viewfinders. I believe the N50/F50 had a pentamirror.

    On the other hand the Nikon HP finder was an incredible improvement for viewfinders. I remember the Nikon F3HP kit being very clear and way beyond what Canon or any other company was offering in finders.
    Then Olympus managed to sink the finder into the body and gave us another camera with a really great finder.
  8. Dave Reynell

    Dave Reynell Guest

    Great response. Thankyou !
  9. dhazeghi

    dhazeghi Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 6, 2010
    San Jose, CA
    Real Name:
    Which is why most of them are used on larger mFT bodies which do have viewfinders.

    I don't really understand your question. Zooms have predominated, even among professionals and serious amateurs, since at least the mid 90s, before digital was anything other than a curiosity. The reasons why are well known - they're a vastly more flexible and efficient way to shoot under most circumstances, and the quality, while traditionally less than primes, was sufficiently good for most things.

    The advantages of primes generally amount to 3 things - size, image quality, and fast apertures. The last two have become increasingly unimportant - image quality is good enough with most zooms, and improvements in stabilization and high ISO make wide apertures an artistic choice, not a technical necessity. Size is a definite advantage, but beyond a certain point, it too is not especially interesting. Most primes are not pancakes, so the cameras are not pocketable. In that case, so long as the zooms are not gigantic, it's a question of what one feels comfortable carrying. The notion that fast zooms are expensive is true only if one isn't interested in the full range. A 12-40/2.8 zoom for example costs considerably less than getting the 12, 20 and 45 primes.

    As you say, zooms are more versatile. In the end, absent strong counter-arguments, versatility wins. And the counter-argument for primes is becoming weaker, not stronger, with time.
  10. Itchybiscuit

    Itchybiscuit Photon Mangler

    Dec 10, 2013
    Glasgow, Scotland
    Real Name:
    I seriously enjoy using my GF1 and for a different image outcome (on a bright and sunny day), my DP1. Why? They look like the rangefinder cameras I couldn't come close to buying in my yoof. More so the GF1. Now it's the native equivalent of the nifty fifties which I can't afford so I stick a legacy 28mm on my GF1, pre-set the focus then squint down my Russian KMZ turret viewfinder and hope for the best!

    Yep I'm a bodger. Still, needs must, eh?
  11. bikerhiker

    bikerhiker Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 24, 2013
    Real Name:

    Zoom lenses do provide flexibility, minimize lens change and minimize body counts. When prime lenses were prominent with the lack of good zooms, most street photographers would carry more than 1 body because at the fleet of the moment, the picture is lost while you're changing lenses. Prime lenses also teach the shooter the relationship between focal length and the subject matter. Zoom lenses do not unless you make a concertive effort of taping to just 1 focal length. Zoom lenses teach you how to crop, so the relationship is lost. In my experience, inexperienced photographers tend to improve their skills quickly as soon as you put them on a lens diet. 1 focal length forces you to think, to move forward and back and to teach your eyes to frame the scene BEFORE you put in on the sensor.

    Viewfinders. Most newbies don't really shoot with viewfinders, because they are so used to shooting through the LCD. We used to do this remember in the good old days with our TLR (Twin Lens Reflex -- aka Rolliflex). Vivian Maier used a Rollie extensively on her street shooting. It is only when the introduction of the SLR (single lens reflex) camera that a viewfinder is necessary. Is it necessary today. I think it's debatable. Most people live inside the viewfinder, their view of the world, then crop their images to fit and take the shot. For the whole entire process, their eyes never analyze the finer details which you can see with your 2 eyes rather with just a mono vision through the viewfinder. In a way, shooting through a LCD is like shooting through a Fresnel lens of a Rollieflex. If Vivan Maier can do this with a Rollei and her prints fetch in thousands of dollars, then perhaps it's not actually necessary for anyone to make great photos if you don't have a viewfinder.

  12. pdk42

    pdk42 One of the "Eh?" team

    Jan 11, 2013
    Leamington Spa, UK
    The photographic zeitgeist moves inexorably on - like all zeitgeists (or is that zeitgeisten?). For me, it's like this:

    - Modern digital cameras and the software we use to post process images from them deliver results far in excess of what film could deliver. We're living the dream right now.

    - Pivoting rear-sceen viewfinders have their place - shooting high, shooting low, shooting incognito, tripod shooting, macro work... I hated the idea of living without a proper viewfinder, but I reckon half of what I take on my E-P5 is without the EVF.

    - Prime vs zoom is both a personal and a practical choice. I tend to prefer primes these days, but you can't beat the flexibility of a zoom for some assignments. Modern zoom designs are superb optically, but as Dara says, you need a bigger body to wear them well.

    - Us older togs can be slow to change. I scoffed at AF, digital, mirrorless, face-detect, EVFs etc - but I've learned to love them all!