November 24, 2020

State of the Art: A Camera That Honors Old Virtues

In the last few years, the definition of a camera has been pulled and twisted like taffy. Some are huge, heavy machines with lenses like telescopes. Others are candy-colored minis, as much fashion statements as recording devices. Some are specialized for use underwater or taking hundreds of shots a second. Some are phones.

And the new Fujifilm X100 is — different. Quirky, amazing, baffling, out-there different.

For starters, it’s been designed to look exactly like some Leica film camera from 30 years ago. The top portion and bottom plate have been “die-cast from magnesium alloy” (it’s silver metal, in other words); the grippy part is black and textured. The control dials are physical metal wheels, so you can check the settings even before you turn on the camera.

The retro look gets plenty of stares in public. The joke is that you know you are carrying the very latest, cutting-edge, $1,200 semiprofessional camera, but passers-by think you’re the last Luddite film buff in America.

That’s right, $1,200. Pro photographers have been drooling over the arrival of this thing for months; it’s no point-and-shoot, that’s for sure.

You’re expected to know something about photography if you use this camera; for example, there are no scene modes at all, like beach, twilight, portrait. Instead, there are dedicated shutter speed and exposure dials on top and a metal aperture control ring around the lens.

If you know how to use aperture and shutter speed controls, no camera on earth gives you quicker and more direct access. (Each of these controls also has an automatic setting.)

As a further reminder that this camera isn’t for the Wal-Mart masses, this camera also has — are you sitting down? — no zoom. That’s right; it has a fixed nonzooming lens.

A nonzooming lens has a bunch of advantages. It’s flat, so it makes this camera small enough to slip easily into a coat pocket or purse.

It never has to extend or retract, so the camera is ready to shoot instantly after you flip its clicky on/off switch. And it ensures that photos are razor-sharp across the entire frame, with little of the distortion that can result at the corners when you use zoom lenses.

But no zoom? Really? That seems awfully Cro-Magnon in an age when much cheaper pocket cams can zoom 18 times or 20 times.

Real photo devotees don’t see a fixed lens as a huge detriment. They see it as a limit that inspires compositional creativity, like the 140-character limit on Twitter. And on the X100, the lens is the equivalent of a 35-millimeter film lens, perfect for portraits and a nice balance for landscapes.

Other fixed-lens digital cameras, like the Sigma DP2, embrace the same design philosophy — eliminating zoom for the sake of compactness, speed and quality.

But one X100 feature in particular sets it far apart, and accounts for a big chunk of its price. It not only has an eyepiece viewfinder, but a switchable one. It can be either a pure glass viewfinder that you see right through, as on an S.L.R., or a tiny TV screen; you switch back and forth by flipping a lever by the lens.

When it’s in see-through mode, you get a bright, big, beautiful view of the world around you, complete with superimposed electronic information about your settings. When it’s in electronic mode, you see a preview of the actual photo you’re about to take, complete with exposure, depth-of-field and white-balance effects.

Each is useful in different situations, and it’s fantastic to be able to flip between them. A truly great feature, beautifully executed — a photographic first.

It’s also an f/2.0 lens, meaning that it lets in a lot of light; this camera does exceptionally well in low light, even without its built-in flash. It can also create absolutely gorgeous blurred background effects. The photos have a clarity, a depth, that you’d expect from a still more expensive S.L.R.

On a spring-break trip to a theme park, this camera produced some of the most memorable photos of my children I’ve ever taken.

It also ruined a lot more shots than any camera I’ve used.

E-mail: pogue@nytimes.com

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=799d62fcab7a92c717037d38c41d84f2

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