Readers of this blog and those who interact with me on social media often comment about what they see as a varied choice of cameras in my collection. The most common comments I get are around the idea that it seems odd that I would get so much enjoyment out of a bog-basic point & shoot when I also have access to and favour a camera like the Leica M3. I usually reply with little more depth than by commenting about how I enjoy different types of cameras. Though, whenever I say this, it only really feels like half of the story.
The other half of the story comes down where I find a specific commonality between the different types of camera that I favour. Without an explanation, it’s possibly surprising to read that I find more in common between a Leica M3 and an Olympus mju-ii than I do the same M3 and a Konica Hexar. This is despite the obvious fact that the Konica Hexar has a much more similar form factor to that of the M3.
Where I find commonality in a rangefinder like a Leica M3 and a basic point & shoot like the mju-ii in is in their simplicity of function, and not in specific functions the cameras have. To my mind, simplicity of function is not the same as function itself. In terms of function, the Olympus mju-ii and M3 are like chalk and cheese. The mju-ii is fully automatic with little in the way of manual override, the M3 is completely manual and doesn’t even have a light meter. They’re very different cameras in terms of function, but where they might not have similar functions, they do have a similar level of clarity of function. In other words, I find neither camera to be cumbersome in terms of what options it provides to me as the photographer.
If this clarity of function is the metric by which we measure cameras, when the Leica M3 and Olympus mju-ii are compared to something like the Konica Hexar, it’s obvious that it’s going to be Konica that stands as the odd one out. The Konica Hexar – whilst clearly a very good camera – is by comparison obscenely complex. You can just switch it on and shoot it in its very good program mode. But the fact that it’s possible to program this program mode to taste, says a lot about what other possibilities it offers. For a start, it can also be shot it in shutter priority, aperture priority and full manual. It’s arguably a native autofocus camera, but it can be manually focused via a menu driven focus distance selector. There are different menus hidden in different modes, and you can even set it so it’s focus and film advance are slightly slower and therefore ever so slightly quieter. One way or another, it’s fair to say it has an abundance of features.
By comparison, the mju-ii only has a couple of modes and is far from as complicated as the Konica. The most thinking I have to apply to using the Olympus is to whether or not I want the flash on auto, or if I want to have it fixed off. If I want it off – which involves about the most amount of thought I apply to using that camera – I only have open the front hatch to switch the camera on, and then press a little button on the back twice. This is not only simple to do, but it’s also a simple decision to make.
Then there’s the Leica M3, which is about as basic as it gets. I know exactly what I’m getting with that camera; I just have to set shutter and aperture to appropriate settings for the subject, the light and film contained within, and I get a predictable result. I could make use of things like a frame-line preview, or even a self-timer, but these aren’t functions that make me wonder whether I need or should be using them. I either need them, or I don’t. Mostly don’t.
With the Hexar, for some reason, I find it harder to ignore all the potential settings I could be using. I quite often shoot it with a mind toward whether or not I’m shooting it in the best mode, and in the end almost always default to the program mode. This is perhaps somewhat down to the fact that I haven’t spent enough time mastering it yet, but the mere fact that I feel like that about not having mastered it, speaks volumes to me. The Hexar provides options; options upon options – this is great if you want a single camera that can offer you a huge variety of methods of shooting, but for my tastes, I increasingly find this sort of approach to functionality slightly (read very) overbearing.
In very simple terms I’m fast coming to a conclusion that I like a camera to be as simple as possible to use. But moreover, I just don’t think I like to have choices when I am out shooting. With a camera that provides all sorts of varied options as to how to achieve the exact same outcome I find myself at best distracted, and at worst completely overwhelmed – this is not how I like to feel when I am out taking photos.
Leica M3 and Olympus mju-ii are pretty good examples of cameras that don’t really offer choice and therefore don’t make me feel this way. The way it’s possible to achieve an image with either of these cameras is by a single prescribed level of function. It’s this prescription of a single type of functionality that I find enjoyable to use in a camera, it’s also what I am increasingly finding to be the lure of the uncomplicated camera.
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