Has digital camera technology reached a plateau of excellence?
My experiences over the past year or so with the old Leica X1 and, more recently, with the X2, have shown me that we don’t have to have the latest gear to produce good images. Sensor density increases, AF systems get cleverer and faster, and dynamic range plumbs ever greater depths. Yet old cameras such as the X1 and the M9 or even the M8 still satisfy and bring home the goods. It’s all an attitude of mind.
An M10 purchased now will still be producing excellent photographs in ten or, even, twenty years’ time (subject to no irreparable digital parts). It is unlikely to last 50 or 60 years as has the M3, but, in the digital world, the M10 is definitely a keeper. After all, many photographers are still making the M8 sing for its supper and still believe it produces a unique image profile.
Plateau of excellence
It’s tempting, then, to assume that we have reached a plateau in digital photography where future advances, attractive as they might be, are not strictly necessary. Especially since much of the advances these days bring added complexity, both in menus and esoteric options.
MyX2, a seven-year-old design, with its top-mounted shutter speed and aperture dials, is all I need to make pictures. It is a very simple camera and all the better for it. Unfortunately, the uncomplicated, focused approach adopted by Leica in designing the X1/2 has been lost, even at Wetzlar (except, of course, with the perennially simple M rangefinders).
I could make a very strong case for a revived X1, perhaps based on the CL body, with crystal-clear physical controls and an f/2.8 or f/2 fixed 35mm-equivalent lens. I am sure it would sell.
Please don’t misunderstand. I love new technology, I am generally an early adopter. I have my Macs, my iPhones and iPads, my Watch. I monitor most aspects of my health, including sleeping patterns, and I delight in exploring new boundaries. I have joined both the paperless and cashless societies. I am always on the look out for the next big thing.
But when it comes to photography, I am a simple soul at heart. For some reason, I do not delight in technological advances in camera design to the extent that I do in the wider world of gadgets. I’m generally satisfied with an uncomplicated approach. It’s why I like the X1/2 and the M digitals.
My hair shirt was scratchy enough to have encouraged me to trade in my M10 for the new M10-D. They don’t come much more basic than that.
The M10-D is a good example of a digital camera that should still be producing excellent shots well into the future, provided Leica keeps a good stock of spare circuit boards and sensors. There’s no screen to break or need replacing, and that’s a blessing.
It is a simple camera made for simple souls.
But perhaps we have reached some sort of plateau in digital camera design — a point where cameras are totally fit for purpose and really do not need polishing further.
Ming Thein has pondered the question of where we stand and whether we have now reached a plateau in development. His article makes some good reading, as usual.