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Why Canon and Nikon Need to Make a Full Frame Camera With a Fixed Lens

With sensor prices dropping and given that mirrorless finally has some competition at the top end, it’s time for Nikon and Canon to treat its customers to something classic: a pocket-sized camera featuring a full frame sensor and a fast, fixed prime lens.

My case isn’t a strong one. Cameras with fixed prime lenses are few and far between. Leica makes a couple, with the Q2 its most recent offering and commanding the rather tasty price tag of $4,995, assuming you can get your hands on one. German engineering, precision manufacturing, incredible lens sharpness and its magnesium-alloy body ensures that Leica remains a choice for hardened fans and the mid-life crisis, as well as being the millionaire's point-and-shoot. 47.3 megapixels means that its 28mm lens can be optically cropped to 35mm and 50mm with the push of a button or two, while still achieving reasonable image quality. Hardcore enthusiasts wait with bated breath to find out if Leica will release an identical camera without the red logo on the front at the cost of an extra $500. Stealth mode comes at a premium these days.

Of a similar ilk is the RX1R II, bringing in-lens leaf shutter technology to Sony’s selection of full-frame cameras. Again, this is not a cheap offering but for discrete wedding work and moments where you need to be less intrusive, it offers a solid choice for anyone with a spare $3,298. If that sounds a little ridiculous, no, I can’t imagine that they’ve sold by the bucket-load either. However, as Fstoppers' own Ryan Mense mentioned back in 2015, this is an unfeasibly small camera given its innards, and Nikon and Canon have had almost four years to try and catch up.

The margins and sales numbers for this type of camera are both tiny which goes a long way to explaining why other manufacturers aren’t falling over themselves to produce something similar. The fixed prime body is where you send the dev guys with the biggest beards and the reddest eyes to dream, play, and come up with absurd ideas that somehow make it to market. For example, build a leaf shutter, remove the removable storage, and install Lightroom: Zeiss is still cagey about when the ZX1 will reach the shelves and the price is truly anyone’s guess, though we can be certain that it won't be cheap. This type of camera is never going to be a money spinner but does make for some funky technology and refreshing experimentation.

The Zeiss ZX1. Loveable lunacy loaded with Lightroom.

When it comes to Canon and Nikon, I’m quietly (perhaps stupidly) optimistic. If Nikon can plough resources into developing the rather insane 58mm f/0.95 S Noct, I hereby selfishly demand that they also waste some R&D on a camera that I’d like to see but will almost certainly never buy. Canon has its own array of problems to deal with right now, but that’s not an excuse either; if you go back far enough, there’s plenty of inspiration to be discovered, and one in particular proved very popular.

A Canonet GIII QL-17 from the early 1980s. A public domain photograph by John Kahrs

The Canon Canonet arrived in 1961 and made the perfect pocket camera, its rangefinder technology blending ease of use with practicality alongside a couple of other progressive features. Obviously, with the proliferation of smartphones, there’s no demand for such a camera today but the styling and history offers Canon plenty of ideas for a means of elevating its staid and conservative branding. This will never be a camera that sells; by contrast, this is about creating an audacious product that makes the company as a whole feel as though it offers something special.

So fundamentally, this isn’t simply about me wanting an expensive toy. It’s about me wanting camera manufacturers to step outside of their comfort zones and breathe some innovation into their brands. Company affiliation is built not simply on lens choices and the number of autofocus points, but also on how people perceive a company’s soul. Leica and Zeiss might not be good comparisons, but if Sony can muster a photographic folly that makes us feel happy despite the fact that we may never consider buying it, perhaps Canon and Nikon should give it a go too.

At a time when the battle for the mirrorless market is ever-more intense, I’m probably being unrealistic. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Lead image by John Kahrs.

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Benton Lam's picture

I'd love to have a digital Olympus XA. IBIS, 35mm, either a MF rangefinder or a good autofocus. A digital QL17 would be welcomed too.

I have a XF10, which is the right size, and the 28mm equiv lens actually drilled the point about perspective home for me. But the damned autofocus, and the focus ring is not a good replacement.

Still I had a lot of fun with it, and probably would switch to a GR III.

But in the analog world, I'm a Olympus fan, and really could use some kind of modern take of the XA.

Sean Scarmack's picture


Deleted Account's picture

'It’s about me wanting camera manufacturers to step outside of their comfort zones and breathe some innovation into their brands. '

You know they also have to make money, right? It's nothing to do with 'comfort zone'
Buy a Fujifilm X100(whatever the current letter is) and you'll be fine.

I'd rather they not waste their resources on fashion items and concentrate on their core business (the camera divisions that is)

That said, I still use the Coolpix A. Lovely little camera. Surpassed at every level nowadays, but who cares? It's a fun little pocket camera that I've set up with a rough and ready contrasty BW JPG setting.

Deleted Account's picture

The X100f (current one I think) is a GREAT camera and very pocketable.

Rob Davis's picture

The X100 series is not a fashion item. It’s a seriously great camera. The only downside is the focus-by-wire, but that seems to be hitting a lot of cameras these days.

Jesse Merz's picture

The Coolpix A is/was such an underrated camera. MSRP was way overpriced but refurbed for ~$350 I doubt to this day there's anything that takes a better looking photo for the money and size.

A M's picture

For traveling I don't want to use my 5Ds or take additional lenses, so I love the size of the Fuji X100 but man, I wish the menus were more clear, like the Canon's menu system. I would love a smaller fixed FF Canon as well. I can see a market for this kind of camera, the Fujis seem to be doing pretty well.

EL PIC's picture

We buy multiple interchangeable Lens cameras so we don’t have to switch Lenses in the field and suitable camera backup.
Would we buy multiple fixed lens cameras of differ focal lengths ???
I would not !!

Ryan Davis's picture

I don't think that's the point of a fixed lens camera. back when I shot with a Praktica and multiple M42 lenses, sometimes I just liked to walk around with an Electro35. It was fun.

Michael Carey's picture

Totally agree!!!

Tom Helmut Rathke's picture

I have a Canonet 28 and lost a Canonet QL17 in a divorce. They were awesome. I have a Canon M with the 22mm f/2 that makes for a nice, small street camera but is APS-C. I think if Canon came out with a 40mm pancake in the RF mount, it would pair nicely with the Canon RP for a full-frame street camera for 2/3 the price of the Leica Q2. And they wouldn't have to waste resources on a boutique camera. Probably be close to the same size too.

Benton Lam's picture

Damn. Losing a QL17 in a divorce... I hope your ex still uses it.

Nate Reese's picture

Or she just took it to piss him off :)

Benton Lam's picture

if someone took mine, which has a dead light meter, I'd still be pissed.

Mike Ditz's picture

Sigh...now I am having flashbacks to my Nikon 28Ti. While a nice idea I think the market for a fixed focal length lens is very limited, unless it has a red dot on it and rounds out a collection...

Robert Altman's picture

Fixed lens on an expensive camera- kinda like buying a high end sports car that won't shift out of 1st... Why??? It seems whatever small extra weight is involved in creating an interchangeable lens mechanism is more than made up for in flexibility. And if you only shoot with a 35mm lens- then buy the body and that lens- and don't change it - voila- your fixed lens camera (superglue around the edges to make sure I guess!!)

Benton Lam's picture

Because it's bulky? It doesn't go into a shirt / jacket pocket?

My X-E3 with the 27mm pancake is still too big for day to day carry. the X100 series is not bad with the 35mm, and I like the idea of the hybrid VF, but the rest of the body is still big.

The Olympus XA series stuff slips into any pocket, with a cover over the lens, and takes great picture. If only the electronics on mine didn't give up the ghost.

Rob Davis's picture

A lens that’s perfectly designed for the sensor you’re shooting on. Great optics in a smaller and lighter package than could be achieved on an interchangeable system.

calaveras grande's picture

Henri Cartier Bresson did pretty well with just a Leica and a 50mm. Sure it will put a damper on your lens collecting. But that is also the cool part. You are constrained to zooming with your feet. If you want a wider AOV, back up.

Robert Altman's picture

I shoot with primes a lot- and I know that a fixed focal length can be artistically stimulating...BUT...if I'm going to make a major camera investment I want the option of flexibility. A 35/50/85mm lens should be employed because it gives the right optical look for a given subject - not because that's what you camera is 'stuck' with...

Deleted Account's picture

Why does Canon and/or Nikon have to make one when Sony and Leica already have them? I get not wanting to spend for the Leica but Sony's isn't as expensive. If it doesn't have an impact on your current lens collection get whatever brand has the best bang for your buck.

If being pocketable is a big deal go with a smaller sensor. the X100F is great. So is the Ricoh GRIII.

Gabriel Regalbuto's picture

I loved my QL17. Rarely ever had as much fun with a camera.

Deleted Account's picture

I don't know why you've been downvoted. The QL17 is a great camera.

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

In a camera like this, full frame delivers what benefit exactly?

Any APS-C camera of today delivers way better image quality than the cameras of old that you're describing. So why is full frame relevant?

A Fuji X-T2 or X-T3 with the 18mm (27mm equivalent) f/2 lens not only looks a lot like the camera shown here, it has all the classic "feel." If you haven't shot with one, give it a try. Aside from sensor size and lens interchangeability, the camera you're describing already exists and is much more practical as it is.

Kirk Darling's picture

Lenzy Ruffin--Yes, the first question is: Why would a camera for such purpose need to be 24x36mm?

Blake Aghili's picture

I got the newer Leica Q2 and it is pretty good for what is built to do. And it is full frame and 47 mega pixels. plus the lines for range finder style shooting ..kind of !

Rob Davis's picture

I like the Sigma DP Quattro approach (not necessarily their design though). Two of those around my neck weighs a lot less than most bodies and one lens. The cost is often cheaper too.

Spy Black's picture

Cameras like the Canonet existed because that was before the age of consumer SLRs, and people didn't shoot thinking in terms of using interchangeable lenses, or zooms.

Today it's different. You have options. As far as I'm concerned, all the modern-day incarnations of these cameras suck, because of that fixed lens. I know some people can roll with that, but I certainly won't. Even if the lens is fixed, I need a zoom, even a basic 2x one. This isn't 1960.

Chris Horner's picture

I'd JUMP to buy one if they made it with a 50mm or longer lense (75mm or 85mm would be awesome). The only problem with other similar cameras is that you're forced to shoot wide-angle and I don't care for wide angle.

Thanh Nguyen's picture

Very intelligent idea. Take yesteryear's success in photography and apply it to future tools, please!

Lawrence Huber's picture

The cell phone has killed the pocket camera concept.
They Canonet was a different era . No cell phones.

Spy Black's picture

True. The pocket camera is dead. Only photo enthusiasts like myself invest in them.

Randy Kepple's picture

I was just going to say that! It's great for nostalgia, but it would be hard to compete with my iPhone XR and camera manufacturers are already facing tough challenges with dropping market shares. Let's start talking about dynamic range over megapixels, and professional mirrorless options. Innovate and raise the bar!

Josh Wright's picture

Fuji already made the compact mirrorless years ago

Clay Wegrzynowicz's picture

Totally agree. Often do I wish for a digital back just for the QL17

calaveras grande's picture

Strange to write such an article and completely ignore the Fuji Elephant in the room.
The X100f has been out for a while. Winning many enthusiastic converts coming from MILC and DSLRs.
Checks all of your boxes, having excellent optics, compact form factor and a Sony sourced BSI sensor, albeit with Fuji's non-bayer CFA.

Benton Lam's picture

X100 series is a bit big to be pocketable for day to day. XF10 is the right size, but the AF...

Ricoh GR II is supposed to be the same size of XF10, and the III has IBIS. I'd like to see mine come in.

I might even consider trading AF for a mechanical MF... don't like the focus by wire on XF10 either.

Deleted Account's picture

Plus, the GRiii is more compact than the GRii.

Lee Stirling's picture

If Canon especially invests resources to essentially re-invent the Canonet QL17, it will be an interesting heritage nod to one of its most popular and still sought-after cameras. But what that will mean is that folks waiting for Canon to finally release a Pro-level mirrorless DSLR that slots in above the EOS-R will go out of their minds. Canon has been putting out a really nice lineup of pro-level mirrorless lenses but their bodies have, by and large, not been of the same caliber. Will this mirrorless Canonet QL-17 be a fixed lens EOS-RP and sell for $1200 or will it be a $4000 super capable unit meant to offer a slightly less expensive option for those eyeing Leica Q2?

Joe Van Wyk's picture

I have owned the RX1RII and the Leica Q. Just sold my Q after 2+ years of heavy use. I'm hoping there is a compelling replacement soon. The Q2 is fantastic, but it sure would be nice to own something that is radically forward-thinking, like this new Zeiss. The incision of editing ability and social media connectivity is brilliant. Sadly so. Why is the Zeiss (albeit a unicorn at this point) the only company embracing a connected camera? How fun would this be? Sick quality, shallow DOF, stellar low light, and the ability to tinker with and upload images right from your camera? Yes! Meanwhile, cell phones are nipping at the heals of higher and higher-end cameras. Heck, I just re-read a blog post I did 1.5 years ago comparing my iPhoneX and my Q for street shooting. https://www.joevanwyk.com/blog/iphone-x-vs-leica-q-for-street-photography It still tweaks my brain to see how compelling the iPhone's images are. I am a sucker for the full frame look. The IQ of my a7R III with fast glass makes me happy. But now, fake bokeh tech is pretty freaking advanced for stills. And now, fake shallow DOF affects are entering the video realm. You know what? I think Sony is great and good for them for ushering in lots of new tech. BUT, they could go soooo much farther. But they, like all of the Japanese camera brands, stay conservative. Meanwhile, phones are fundamentally changing the photography world.

Randy Kepple's picture

Joe, thank you for posting a link to your blog post! Very well written, and a great point of view and voice in your writing. Reminds me of another Austin photographer, Kirk Tuck. I'm right there with ya brother! (you should be writing for Fstoppers!)

Joe Van Wyk's picture

So kind of you buddy. Thx so much. I’ll check out Kirk’s work.

Jay Jay's picture

Full frame cameras with fixed lenses are what we've all been waiting for. CIPA prognosis is surely going to prove wrong because of the rise of this type of camera for the year to come. It will save Canon.

Ryan Davis's picture

I think this is a great idea, but I'm still secretly carrying a torch for a high end DTLR, so I might not be the one to ask.

michaeljin's picture

Given how small a full frame MILC can already be, I do not really see the advantage of creating a fixed lens camera at this point. It would make far more sense for these companies to release a smaller line of range-finder style bodies akin to Fuji's X-Pro series that use their normal MILC mount and release a small handful of slower, more compact lenses than it would to create a dedicated fixed lens camera.

I would imagine that a rangefinder style Nikon Z-mount body with something like a 28mm f/2.8 could be quite good.

Adam Palmer's picture

I don't think the sony one sold many units because it's really not that much smaller than an a series with a tiny lens.

Adam Palmer's picture

Also-- cell phones are getting so good that everyone already has a decent pocket camera on them at all times. Just ordered myself a p30 pro after downloading some raw 40 mpx sample files.

Jesse Merz's picture

I absolutely love the idea of a truly pocketable FF camera. I've used the discontinued Nikon Coolpix A for several years and it's been a pleasure to use and has produced some of my favorite photos. I've been dreaming of replacing it with the Ricoh GR-III as this form factor is very useful for my extended travels by bicycle. I've always been interested in small cameras with little to no sacrifice to image quality and a large sensor fixed prime lens compact is always going to be appealing to me.

Oh and here's my Canonet!

Konrad Sarnowski's picture

Full frame-shmuckframe - I'm waiting for Fuji's medium format version of X100 line B)

PS. Ql17 is awesome.

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