For the last few months, I’ve been beta testing Pixii – a new smartphone-connected, 12 megapixel, APS-C format, screen-less digital rangefinder camera that will be hitting the market in the not too distant future… so thought it about time I published a few thoughts on the thing.
Around the time it lands, I intend to put out a more full review. In the meanwhile, I thought I’d post a bit of an introduction to this uncommonly-niche camera and talk a bit about what has been quite an exciting experience of being involved in the pre-launch testing of a new camera.
Back in 2018, the Pixii digital rangefinder was announced. There was what felt like a brief flurry of press around it, but with information being quite sparse, and a little bit of murmuring on social media that it looked like vapourware, before long it seemed to disappear.
I suspect some thought it would disappear for good – in fact, I’ve read from a few people who tend to be fairly well informed about this sort of thing that they thought it had. Concepts like this appear from time to time but often come to nothing. It seems to have been the consensus that this was one of those concepts – but actually that wasn’t the case at all. David and the Pixii team were just beavering away behind the scenes and – since bringing a new camera to market isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do – it’s just taken a bit of time.
When I first saw Pixii I was equally as excited as I was frustrated. I was very intrigued by the concept and had hoped it would come to life, but couldn’t find enough information to satisfy my intrigue. I also wanted desperately to get across to this start-up manufacturer that I would be extremely interested in reviewing the camera as soon as it was available. It was, on paper, an extremely interesting concept to me. It also looked like it would fit in with many of the design ideals I have waffled on about on this website so frequently over the years. It doesn’t have loads of buttons, the interface looks super-simple, and well, just look at it! It’s a really very attractive bit of industrial design. All stuff that ticks my boxes.
- 1 Something Different
- 2 Enter Pixii
- 3 Pixii in my life
- 4 What is Pixii (and what is it not)
- 4.1 Pixii is a digital rangefinder
- 4.2 Pixii is not an alternative to a Leica
- 4.3 It doesn’t have a preview screen
- 4.4 It’s a smartphone-connected camera
- 4.5 Pixii works with and without the app
- 4.6 It’s an entirely electronic camera
- 4.7 It has a relatively small internal memory
- 4.8 It’s an intentionally simplistic camera
- 4.9 It’s a ‘Software Camera’
- 5 So who’s Pixii for…
- 6 …and who’s Pixii not for
- 7 Final thoughts (for now)
Beyond all that though, the thing that really tickled my fancy was that it’s something different from the crowd. The homogenisation of camera equipment bores me to tears. It’s one of the reasons I write a lot more about film cameras than I do modern digital ones. With film cameras, there’s decades of variance to enjoy, many paths of innovation to follow (or not) and explore.
These days, most of the brands just fight for the same market as each other. Most brands primary goal seems to me to be to create the ideal camera for every possible user. The result is cameras that are bloated with unnecessary features and modes that bring very little advantage to the average individual but make sure the target audience is as broad as possible.
This is why I enjoy Leica cameras and respect Fuji for bringing cameras like the X-Pro3 with its weird niche-audience screen to the market. That said, even Fuji fall foul of bloating their cameras with stuff most people don’t need. In the digital camera marketplace – unless you start looking at brands like Hasselblad and Phase One – Leica and Sigma are really the only more mainstream brands who target a niche market with the majority of their digital cameras.
Which is exactly why I was so excited by the Pixii concept. Not only was it a niche product, but it looked to be a niche product that would appeal to me. Of course, like most people who contacted Pixii with review requests at the time of the initial announcement, I heard very little back. I had some confirmation on Twitter that the project was at least going ahead, but beyond that. Nothing. So how, you might ask, have I ended up with one in my possession for a couple of months?
Pixii in my life
Back in March, I had a call from a French-sounding man who introduced himself as David Barth from Pixii camera. He wanted to know if I would be interested in testing a late preproduction camera. My very quick response was a resounding “Yes!! – but why me?”
David had been reading this website, and in particular, had recently re-read my Leica M8 review. That review had rounded off his opinion that I would be a bit of a soft landing for the camera. Up until then, it had been tested by investors and friends of the project. David wanted to fresh eyes on the camera but wanted to put it in the hands of someone who would get Pixii as a concept. He was at the stage that he needed new opinions, but still needed opinions from someone who was at least what he saw as the target audience for it as a camera. He found me. I was obviously very happy to oblige. A very short amount of time later I had a Pixii in my hands.
What is Pixii (and what is it not)
I will get to first impressions and thoughts on the more subjective successes/failures/pros/cons of this Pixii in my next post. For now, I just want to outline exactly what this camera is and who it’s aimed at… because really – even including Leicas – there is nothing like it on the market. Not in my opinion anyway.
Pixii is a digital rangefinder
Ok, so first things first, this camera is a digital rangefinder camera. It has a 12 megapixel APS-C 1.5x crop format sensor, a Leica M-Mount (with the standard flange back distance) and is focused using a rangefinder.
It has frame lines for 28mm, 35mm, 40mm and 50mm lenses that show individually (with an indicator for which one is in use) inside the viewfinder alongside a basic 3 LED light meter readout and a rangefinder patch. Nothing else is visible in the viewfinder.
Pixii is not an alternative to a Leica
Pixii is not simply an alternative option for someone looking for a digital Leica. Some used digital Leicas can be had cheaper, they all have bigger sensors, and – but for the M8 – are all higher resolution and are higher performing in low light/higher ISOs
As such, in short, if you are just looking for a digital Leica, you should probably buy a digital Leica. If you’re looking for something a little more unusual with a slightly different use case, then read on… (I will come back to these thoughts at the end of this article)
It doesn’t have a preview screen
Unlike the massive majority of digital cameras on the market today, Pixii doesn’t have a screen on the back of the camera.
It’s a smartphone-connected camera
Rather than relying on a screen on the camera, if you so desire, you can still check your image previews via the smartphone app.
Once the app is open and the camera on and connected via Bluetooth, you can put the phone back in your pocket and even if it goes to sleep, the camera will continue to beam previews to the phone.
Even with the app, there is no live view functionality. The app’s main functions are changing the camera settings, previewing images, syncing high-quality images to the smartphone and updating the camera’s firmware.
Pixii works with and without the app
All of the functionality that’s required when shooting is accessible via the little screen on the top of the camera.
On the back of the camera there is a small dial and menu (/on/off button). Press the button to enter the menu, then scroll through the menu using the dial and activating or deactivating modes with the button.
Modes and options can also be changed via the app. The app can also be used to update the camera, and change connectivity settings, but it’s not needed whilst taking photos if the photographer wishes to shoot without previews.
It’s an entirely electronic camera
Apart from the rangefinder, Pixii has no mechanical parts. The shutter is a global electronic shutter. The dials and shutter button are electronic switches.
It has a relatively small internal memory
The Pixii I have has about 4GB of internal memory, but with the sensor being 12mp, it still holds ~200-250.
It’s an intentionally simplistic camera
Pixii has the least modes and options of any digital camera I can remember using. In terms of photographic options it allows the setting of:
The shutter is controlled by the dial on the top of the camera. It has a global electronic shutter with a range from. 2 sec – 1/32000th. This high shutter speed allows faster lenses to be used in brighter light without an ND filter.
Pixii has a very limited range of ISO speeds available: 320, 640, 1250, 2500. High ISOs are quite noisy, and certainly a fair way behind modern standards. In talking to David about this, he told me that ISO is quite a big topic, that the camera currently only relies on the hardware-based gain options, whereas cameras now use software to extend that and deal with noise aspects. He also suggested that they will be tackling more of this in future software updates. Regardless, for now, 320, 640, 1250, 2500 are the options, and the higher ISOs are quite noisy.
Low ISOs, on the other hand, are clean and crisp (especially with the Zeiss 35mm 2.8 ZM Biogon I have been using it with).
Pixii has a fairly standard, albeit basic set of white balance options.
Pixii has three metering modes: spot, centre and evaluative
Imaging profile options
Pixii comes with a set of colour profiles preinstalled. Within the menu, it’s possible to change from more vivid colours to more subdued ones depending on the subject matter and the photographers taste.
If shooting in DNG, these colour profiles are embedded into the file so are reflected in editing software. They can then be dropped into the appropriate folder on the computer and accessed via editing software to switch between them if desired later.
What’s fairly unique about Pixii is that it will allow these profiles to be edited by the user via Adobe’s DNG profile editor (for eg) and uploaded back to the camera.
Pixii takes photos in either JPG or DNG formats – though David’s focus has always been on providing the best DNGs rather than JPGs
Pixii can be shot in either colour or black & white.
If you set Pixii to B&W and DNG, that’s what you get, monochrome DNGs that can’t be switched back to colour later.
And that’s pretty much your lot, apart from one other thing that will make this camera interesting to the geeks amongst us
It’s a ‘Software Camera’
When you plug Pixii into your computer, you can see the files on the camera’s memory – it has a developer interface that gives access to the whole computer system. I asked David about this, and he gave me a fairly long answer that I intend to pull apart as part of an interview article with him in the future. In short, he explained that before Pixii we just had a lot of fixed-function cameras, whereas Pixii can instead be seen as a platform for development.
So who’s Pixii for…
I think the thing that came as the biggest surprise to me was the sensor. It can be used at the higher ISOs, and to be fair – especially shooting B&W DNGs (just like the Leica M8) – it can be used quite creatively to good effect. But, like the M8, where it shines in terms of image quality is definitely at lowest ISO settings where the files are clean, nicely rendered and sharp.
In some ways, Pixii reminds me of the Sigma Foveon sensor cameras. Not in terms of the files or user experience directly, but more how Pixii defines itself for such a limited target audience.
With the Sigma cameras, the sacrifice is in the speed of use and high ISO performance, but in return, the reward is superb low ISO performance. They’re clunky to use, have a weird design, but provided they are used in a very specific way the right type of photographer will get a lot of using one.
Pixii is similar inasmuch as it defines itself for a very specific target audience, but different in who that audience is and what they want from a camera.
The Pixii use case
Yes, the files are great at low ISOs – at least provided you don’t mind only having 12 megapixels to play with. But the target audience here is less of one that is overly worried about ultimate image quality, and more of one that’s motivated by the very specific user experience Pixii Provides.
In fact, just as there are those of us who enjoy camera like the M8 for the limitation its potential image quality imposes, there will be some who find pleasure in using the Pixii for the same reasons. And the sort to get a kick out of it as a camera for that reason, will likely also be motivated by the enjoyment that can be had out of using a camera that doesn’t have billions of largely unnecessary bells and whistles.
Fundamentally, Pixii is aimed at photographers who shoot rangefinder cameras, maybe have a few M-Mount lenses, like the idea of shooting without a screen but are maybe are techy enough to also use a smartphone or iPad to edit, store and distribute their photos.
Pixii is for photographers who will appreciate the unusual combination of a modern techy, connected user experience, but with similar limitations to that which a film camera imposes.
It’s also aimed at techies – like David, its creator – who want to do things like tinker with colour profiles, or get involved with a camera platform that’s going to be built upon or have an interest in the fact that it has a developer interface that gives access to the whole computer system.
For me, it’s definitely the user experience. I have found immense satisfaction in the fact that Pixii crushes my options as a photographer to the bare minimum. But in doing so, it still provides the option for instant gratification and the ability to quickly share images online.
…and who’s Pixii not for
I am certain that the above few paragraphs will sound like crazy talk to a large percentage of people reading this? Why would anyone want to be so limited by their camera? Well, simply put, if you don’t know the answer to that question, this camera isn’t for you!
This camera isn’t for the mass market – it’s for a very small niche group of photographers, and if you aren’t one of those photographers then it’s quite likely it will seem like anything from a bit unusual, to absolute lunacy.
But for me, that’s what makes it interesting. That’s why I was so interested in the Fuji X-Pro3 when it was announced. It’s not for me, but it’s not for everyone and isn’t trying to be. Leica cameras, in general, are the same, Sigma cameras too. And now Pixii, but Pixii really wins the prize for smallness-of-niche. But that’s ok, in my books at least!
But of course, most of the digital photography community will recoil in horror. The majority of digital photographers have been drawn into the never-ending aspiration for more megapixels, better low light performance, better autofocus etc. etc. And for that reason, Pixii will no doubt be absolutely hammered in the comments section here, and especially on other websites when it starts to trickle out to the more mainstream photography press and review websites.
In fact, it’s quite a lot of cash too – not really a surprise for a first camera from a start-up company… But still, every time I post a picture of it on Instagram someone comments “For that money, I would buy a second hand Leica”, or “I might be interested if it had a full-frame sensor”. None of these people have tried or know anything about the camera, and frankly, even if they did, they would still probably buy a Leica or be more interested if it was full frame. Why? Because they are not the target audience! It won’t stop them winging though… because that’s just the way the photography world is when it comes to cameras…
Final thoughts (for now)
…But I like it. And I’m extremely excited by the prospect of something so unique and so niche as Pixii coming to market. I’m also extremely happy to have been a part of the latter stages of its production, and very much look forward to playing more with my Pixii, interviewing David about some of the deeper ideals behind this camera, and indeed sharing some of my thoughts in a future review.
As such, I’d like to thank David for inviting me to be a part of his journey. And David, one last thing: good luck with that Carapace of yours…
Pixii’s website can be found here