I picked up a camera a couple of days ago, for a friend of mine. It's an X100, the last one in the shop and it was Friday afternoon. The shop was packed with people, all of the looking with envy at the black box on the counter. The attention couldn't have been greater if I had been picking up the Koh-i-noor diamond.
It's a beautiful camera of course, with its retro styling, excellent lens and space age technology. And people are going bonkers over it. Just look at the prices on the auction site.
Rewind... 5 years back. Nikon was discontinuing the FM3A. In spite of its popularity, it was a very low volume product, and it was film, not the most modern storage medium according to what I've managed to find out on various internet pages that claim to know about photography. Only 36 photos per canister, terrible high ISO, fixed WB etc.
Some of us claimed that a digital version, a kind of FM4D, would be an interesting option. But wishful thinking isn't enough of course. Camera manufacturing is about money and gadgets, gadgets and money and containerloads of plastic fantastic cameras with so many features that you need to read the entire user manual just to scratch the surface.
But with the success of the X100 in mind, and on this Sunday morning, refusing to do anything that makes sense, I started to make a list of cons, trying to turn them into pros.
Who could do it?
I'm talking about a retro concept digital SLR camera. It would require a lens mount that is technically the same today as in the old manual focus days. That leaves Canon out. Pentax could, but it's a small company these days, changing owners again, and they would have to re-invent full frame. Sony could too, but they seem firmly focused on space age rather than retro. Leica already does this successfully in the rangefinder world, but have discontinued the lenses that would make it an interesting project. Nikon has all it takes; an ancient lens mount, a suitable full frame sensor and all the resources needed.
It won't be economically feasible. People would buy it just to use legacy lenses. Nikon makes more money on lenses than on bodies.
Let's see now... how many lenses will Fujifilm sell for the X100. I believe the number approaches zero. There are a few p&s cameras sold every year as well, so there must be some profit in bodies, no?
There won't be space for an AF motor, and photographers nowadays want AF, at least as an option.
Like with entry level Nikon cameras, it could be made to AF with AF-S lenses.
They can't get a full frame sensor with mirror box and prism into a small, retro styled body.
Most of the camera manufacturers could ten years ago, although that was film, so why not today?
The ergonomics of those old cameras were terrible.
For some reason, I didn't mind the "terrible" ergonomics during my 30 years with the OM system, and these days, photographers pay $7,000 for a Leica with an equally terrible design.
They can't fit the electronic into a small, retro style SLR body.
Fuji can with the X100, adding a hybrid viewfinder as well, and look at the camera phones, that go into a jeans pocket with ease, containing a camera, a computer and a telephone.
Full frame sensors are too expensive.
The Sony 24MP sensor sells for $2,000 including a rather decent SLR camera. This camera would probably do just as well with the 12MP sensor from the D700 or D3s.
It won't sell in sufficient numbers.
Apparently, the M9 and the X100 do. With zillions of manual focus F-mount lenses around, I can't see why it shouldn't, for a price comparable to the A850.
Just use a D700 in all manual mode, and you are there already.
The D700 is an excellent camera, but it's big, heavy and all the buttons and functions do get in the way when I want to go light and stealthy. It's also primarily an autofocus camera. I'm talking about something which is primarily a manual focus camera, split screen and all.
The Panasonic G3 is what you want. Small, light and with an excellent manual focus mode.
It's probably the closest thing, but it's not 35mm format, and there's the emotional side as well; the visual feeling of an optical viewfinder and the mostly mechanical interface of a traditional camera.
What's the chances that a camera like this will ever appear? I have no idea, but few probably anticipated the X100, so I guess it's too early to give up. Have the people at Nikon considered the idea and rejected it? Probably. Would it be an idea to approach them and ask them to reconsider, mentioning the success of the X100 and the M9? That's a thought.
Or am I the only one who would waste a completely usable Sunday morning hour on this