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Retro Cameras are ... retro cameras or not?


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 There is always a fascination about retro cameras and it isn't a "new" thing. For example the folding camera models (analog photography) have been for a time the "taste of the day" for photo gear collectors, and, overtime other different design categories have been praised by many enthusiasms. What's interesting now in this digital photography times, is that manufacturers are proposing their newer photographic technologies into an old fashion envelop mimicking what ancient photo device looks during the 35mm film-analog golden era. And it seems obvious that a certain market segment is positively responding to these special retro offers.  

But as usual there is a trick here or if you prefer a compromise in getting these retro camera models. Although all these new models have beautiful aesthetics for some 35 mm film nostalgic users, some aspects of them are less interesting.  

One obvious example is the less interesting handling of these retro camera models. Most of them have a far less secure grip which can became annoying especially for the active photographer. Camera hand prehension have evolute a lot since the last century and, in doing so, have procured a greater confort for the more enthusiasm and professional ones which are by definition heavier users of the photo devices. Some may argue that the compactness factor has been neglected for those ergonomic designs but you must admit that these camera models are really fitted for the "on hand" photographers. 

 

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Now there's the "interface" question meaning by that, the direct (and by dials) access to the traditional basic photographic parameters like the sensitivity (ISO), the shutter speed and the lens aperture. Although almost all really oriented digital photography camera models have in fact dials or push buttons to get access to these parameters (and much more!), still some will ask for engraved stepped pre-adjusted and rotating ones in the name of better creative control of the camera. The truth in that debate is that modern sophisticated digital camera models give you an outstanding extensive creative control if you ask for it such as the color reddition, the contrast, a highlight and shadow curve bias, the stacked focus, a pre burst mode and many many more, just name it! Modern interfaces are using not only limited control dials (because they aren't as precise compare to step-less adjustments), but pushbuttons, joysticks and touch-screens, the choice is yours.  

Modern digital cameras have to be highly versatile and this is why even the so-called retro camera models are also integrating a lot of automated functionalities. The manufacturers don't want to loose their beloved customers if they suddenly want to get the advantages of the latest technologies available. And this is the real secret about this retro trick, yes for the traditional camera body presentation but no for the limitation of the internal technical camera capacity. At the end, retro camera models are essentially a fashion trend as for many similar consumer products but this is true that they are beautiful to look at! 


Photos-illustrations Daniel M 
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A trace of light that survive a little further than the actual moment of flash.

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Daniel M on Flickr

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One of my favourite things about the Fuji-X cameras I've had (or still have - X-100, X-Pro-1, X-T1, X-T2 & X-T5) are those dials, for no other reason (and certainly not "nostalgia") than I can see exactly what the camera exposure settings are (shutter speed, lens aperture, ISO) at in one glance as I pick it up - no need to even turn it on first. Call me old school, but I find that this is usually all the information I need to start shooting immediately, having physically made any adjustments to those dials if needed.

 

All the rest is pure pfaff to me unless I intend to do a multi-row panorama, HDR or focus-shift stack, whereupon the camera menu is consulted. Otherwise I rarely press that "Menu" button at all. I'll confess that I probably don't even know what 80% of the menu contents are for.

 

I think I seem to do alright even so. 😄

 

 

Edited by Alan7140
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With you on that front, Alan. When I had the X-T5 on loan that was the one thing I really did enjoy about using it. With my Lumix G9 cameras I still second guess myself as to what the settings are on any shoots that fall outside of my usual property or product shoots. I've had to try and comprehend what the auto focus settings are for certain video functions and I think that it might be easier to fly the space shuttle in some regards. Ever heard of a thing called AFF? Auto focus flexible. What the hell? 

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I’m in the retro camp, but not for the reasons of nostalgia.  I don’t think many aspects of modern ergonomics are actually good - they are chosen for economic or engineering reasons, not necessarily user convenience.  Grips aren’t just to make it more comfortable to hold, they are a place to stuff the batteries needed for the ever increasing electronics that have gone into cameras since  auto focus became mainstream in the 80’s.  Programable buttons and touch screens are all about reducing parts counts - I don’t actually think they are more convenient (and don’t get me started on touch screens and touch sensitive buttons in cars!)

 

There is often an argument that ‘retro’ designs ignore the years of development that led to the peak design of SLR/DSLR at the beginning of the 21st century, but the so called ‘retro’ look represents the peak of over 50 years of camera development too.

 

so what’s good about the ‘retro’ design?  As Alan mentioned, you can see the settings even before you turn the camera on (in fact you can adjust your settings before you turn the camera on).   A recent comment by Thom Hogan on the new Nikon Zf was that ‘retro’ dials aren’t as fast, but as a hobby photographer, I like the fact that it slows me down, allowing me to better contemplate the image I’m making.  I really like the compact size without the massive grip, with the right lens I can have a compact set up that slips into my pocket.  I just like the tactile feel of it all.  I don’t think it is nostalgia for me, I did learn photography with an old all dials film camera, but I’ve spent much more of my life with the SLR style camera.

 

I just hope camera makers don’t neglect this market and Fuji in particular, given they lead the way, but in recent times have swerved away with four of their last five releases being DSLR styled cameras and with the exception of the X-T5, most of their ‘retro’ models being very limited in availability, if at all.

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Chris, the morning cursing in my car is always a result of some bloody Apple Carplay thing not working as expected - usually Google Maps not finding the most recently searched location I am heading to. And then when you rtry to search for it by typing into the touch screen, the search results are non-tappable.. Incredulous design. 

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Although I understand truly all the argues  Alan, Dallas and Chris have kindly and faithfully pointed out, we must admit that new technologies are here to stay and ... further progress again! Sure I love to remember my "pro" days working excellent photo devices such as the Nikon F2A and F3 HP alongside with their optic mates Nikon AIs but I can deny that the introduction of the F4 and F5 have facilitated greatly our day today tasks and the same can be said about the marvelous matrix exposure metering system. Even the actuel autofocus systems (that still not have my personal preference in that case) are rightly big advancement for action photography. 
Ergonomic is not only or strictly a convenience think, it is also a cultural expression of their designers of all time periods. So, the tastes and the habits of everyone are equally not only acceptable but also very desirable because diversity is often required in human (technical) evolution. And good ideas should be able to survive and flourish (Thanks Chris!). The possibility to get a direct readout of the essential photographic parameters is another one (Thanks Alan!). In some pro digital camera models, it have been replaced by a small top LCF screen. And finally comprehensive user-friendly interactive menu is a must for every "real" photographer (Thanks Dallas!). 
Don't get me wrong here because time to time I love to try and to photograph with camera models that mimic the old designed ones but I understand that even these hommage products often included the latest technical developments. 
Good day to all, Daniel M

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A trace of light that survive a little further than the actual moment of flash.

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I have no problems with "new technologies", my only problem with that is the implication that these new technologies are by definition better than those which went before, or which they were developed from. Not everything whiz-bang and new is an improvement, sometimes to many they actually are a retrograde step. I say this with some qualification, too, as March 2024 will mark the 52nd year of the start of my first full-time photography job (assistant photographer in an advertising photography studio), followed by continuous employment in nothing but photography either with a studio, or from 1982 in self-employment.
 

In that time I had favourite cameras, of course, but three in particular stand out above the rest. In the true name of nostalgia I have assembled the basic outfit of my two favourite cameras over that time, starting with the Minolta SRT 101 I cut my teeth on in the first year of my RMIT University Illustrative Photography course (1971-3), followed by the Olympus OM-1 I used for 35mm work after starting my own photography business in 1982. Of course I used many more film cameras over that time, Pentax Spotmatic, Hasselblad 500C/M & EL/M, NikonF4 & FE2, Mamiya M645, RB & RZ67, Mamiya Press, Nagaoka 5"x4" Field, ToyoView 45A Field 5"x4", Cambo 8"x10", plus many others I've forgotten about (some deliberately).
 

So joining those two favourite 35mm cameras currently is the Fujifilm X-T5 - finally a digital camera at a reasonable price point that can match the results I used to get on the MP4 copy stand during the 40-odd years I concentrated on copy & restoration of photographs as my main line of business. Even though I'm officially retired now (still do the odd job now and then), the pixel-shift tech and 160MP files it produces on the copy stand are easily a match for the best 5"x4" copy negs I'd get using Kodak specialty sheet films like Pro Copy and other films designed for that use, and which ended in 2004 when Kodak ceased making those films before going broke. Having thus been forced out of film I struggled mightily with a succession of digital cameras in the interim (Nikon D70s D2x, D3, D3s, D600, Fuji X-T1, X-T2) working up from 6MP to 24MP and using multiple shots and stitching to achieve something approaching the film resolution I was after, along came the X-T5 just after I retired and solved all my problems. So I bought it just out of spite to prove to myself that I was indeed correct in identifying the reason for my inability to get to where I wanted to be with digital vs where I was with analogue back in the early 2000's.

 

So with regard to traditional camera layout not being a "nostalgic" thing, I can't help but include the X-T5 as being both familiar to use from my past experiences, as well as being entirely the most practical camera for me to use now, as well as finally quelling my search for a true replacement for film in what was my main photographic business. Sure there have been other cameras recently that easily match or better the X-T5, but they cost more than anyone in my line of photography could justify - the X-T5 with its new and brilliant 30mm f/2.8 macro lens in comparison was eminently affordable and justifiable, and so easy to use because Fuji didn't try to re-invent the wheel and kept the camera itself so easy, quick and familiar to use.

 

Looking at those two significant 35mm film cameras from my past in company with the X-T5 (logo blacked-out for copy stand use), it's easy to see why I took to the Fujifilm's format so well - if anything its dials are better placed and more legible than the old Minolta and Olympus, and so can be said to be an improvement on the past without having to descend into electronic menus and toggle between seemingly endless list of options and settings (although the X-T5 still supplies those as part of the package for those who are into digital masochism).😁 Size-wise it is also right there with those two old favourites and avoids the bloated lumps of so-called "pro" cameras that the likes of Nikon heaved onto us as some sort of good thing. In fact I stuck with my F4 (which was already obese) and avoided the F5 altogether, but little did I know then that the F5 was just a forerunner of what was to come in their digital "pro" camera bodies.


Therefore I don't consider the Fuji X-T5 to be "nostalgic", maybe "practical" is a better word.

 

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Great conversation going on here, gentlemen! 

 

Daniel, yes, there have been some advances in technology that I find indispensible, particularly IBIS. I also lean into the metering advances heavily these days too. But I hear what Alan and Chris are saying about how technology has made some modern cameras overly complex, to the point where using them becomes more of a frustration than a pleasure.

 

My G9 Panasonic bodies are a good example. It has taken me a long time to come to grips with them and I still find mysef scratching my head at some of the ways they have implemented technology in those cameras. In the first minutes of ownership I accidentally tapped on the Japanese or Chinese menu and it literally took me hours to try and reset the camera back to the point where I could choose English as the main language. 

 

If that wasn't bad enough, a friend of my sons was handling the camera and somehow managed to put it into "night mode" where everything on the rear screen turns red. Good grief, did that one cause me massive angst! Fortunately I eventually figured out that he had flipped a switch on the front of the camera that had been set to enable this mode (I had no recollection of doing this when setting the custom buttons and dials).

 

Anyway, great topic, guys! 

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11 hours ago, Dallas said:

My G9 Panasonic bodies are a good example. It has taken me a long time to come to grips with them and I still find mysef scratching my head at some of the ways they have implemented technology in those cameras. In the first minutes of ownership I accidentally tapped on the Japanese or Chinese menu and it literally took me hours to try and reset the camera back to the point where I could choose English as the main language. 

 

If that wasn't bad enough, a friend of my sons was handling the camera and somehow managed to put it into "night mode" where everything on the rear screen turns red. Good grief, did that one cause me massive angst! Fortunately I eventually figured out that he had flipped a switch on the front of the camera that had been set to enable this mode (I had no recollection of doing this when setting the custom buttons and dials).

 

 

Ah! the infamous "function (front) lever" of the G9! The "night mode" is good for astronomers and excellent for submarine night spying activity! 🤣 Fast conclusion, don't leave your G9 alone especially to tech curious hands...
Thanks for your kind appreciation, Dallas. I love to get constructive debates that help all of us to have further documented points of view.  

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A trace of light that survive a little further than the actual moment of flash.

photodanielm.blogspot.com

Daniel M on Flickr

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