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.
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.
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.