For a long time, the only digital rangefinders on the market were Leicas. Now there’s Pixii. A screen-less, APS-C sensor, “connected” rangefinder that’s quite a lot less cash than anything from Leica and comes from a startup company with ideas of disrupting the marketplace with something a little different.
I’ve had my Pixii for a good while now. I was one of the first people to try one, and have been an advocate of it since. I love what this camera brings to the marketplace, and moreover what it brings to the table for me. It’s also changed a lot as a camera since launch with a series of significant upgrades, so I thought it about time that I finally followed up my “primer” article with some more in-depth personal thoughts and opinions.
At the time I wrote that article, I was sharing photos of my Pixii on instagram and getting a lot of comments from people who had never used one – in fact never even seen one – and were picking the camera apart, declaring they would “rather buy” x, y or z, and that Pixii as a brand would likely fail. I’ll save you the rants about how frustrating I find that sort of response – especially the latter bit – but I do want to point out that nearly a year on from publishing the article, not only are Pixii still going, but they have just updated the camera with a series of significant upgrades, some of which are based on the feedback that us early adopters fed to them. I’m not saying this to be smug (much), it’s still early days for these guys – especially when you compare them to the likes of the big boys in the industry – but it is really pleasing to see a startup in this industry making a success!
It’s also pleasing as an owner of a Pixii. Since I recently received mine back from having these upgrades, I now have a camera that’s better than the one I originally bought without the expense of completely replacing it. It’s had a new sensor, a new USB-C charging port, now shows a wider range of information in the viewfinder and has had a fairly significant firmware upgrade that seems to have made it a lot more stable. It’s still the same concept, and still provides a very similar user experience to before, but now it just feels that little bit more compete as a camera. I will get onto these upgrades and what they mean for Pixii in a moment. But before I do, I just wanted to write something to tackle something of what I see as a creeping misconception about this camera, and indeed how I shoot mine as a camera.
The Misconception about Pixii
The problem Pixii have is that the camera they make isn’t really like anything else on the market. Of course, some comparisons could be drawn between it and the the Leica M10-D. But the M10-D is now discontinued, was around twice the price, full frame, doesn’t have the OLED screen on the top and – if my M10-P is anything to go by in terms of well it works the corresponding app – the connectivity isn’t as good. But apart from that, Pixii stands alone in the marketplace.
The issue with this is that it seems to need more explaining as a concept to people. This is why I wrote that primer article last year. I wanted to add to the explanatory narrative from a 3rd party perspective. Actually, a year on, I think more people do get it more. I see a lot less confusion on social media, and a lot more people showing interest in the concept. But there is still some questions out there, and it seems to me that a big chunk of this is down to this idea of it being a “connected camera”.
Always – but not all ways – connected
The more I shoot my Pixii, the more I find it makes sense to me. That said, I find myself falling into a user process that I differs a little from how I suspect at least some others photographers use theirs. What I think is relevant about this is that I imagine many see this camera as something of a one trick pony. A camera that’s designed to be used in one specific, prescribed way. It is after all so simple and so reduced in its core functionality, surely there’s only one way to use it…?
I had this perspective reinforced recently after I posted about it on instagram and I was asked a question about what happens if the camera and or app stops being supported. I think this is possibly a concern for some people. Pixii are a startup digital camera manufacturer – one of the only companies in the world that can call themselves that. They are pitching the camera as something very different to what else is on the market too, so what if the marketplace doesn’t respond positively to this and they they fail? How long will it be before the camera bricks due to a lack of app support?
The answer to that question is simple. Never. The Pixii camera isn’t reliant on the app to work. The app just adds another level of functionality. Without the app, the camera can just be used as a screen-less digital camera that can be connected to a computer as if it’s a normal hard disk drive to extract the photos.
This potential misconception about what Pixii is and does has, I believe, come about through the marketing approach Pixii take. For right or wrong, Pixii is largely touted as a “connected camera” that works with a smartphone. To some, this seems to imply that it somehow relies on a connection to a smartphone to function. The headline user experience is presented as such that you connect the Pixii to your phone, shoot images that are then beamed to your phone, allowing you to then share them from the phone (perhaps via a smartphone photo editor) to social media.
This, to a greater or lesser degree, I think, is David Barth’s vision, and because of that vision, it does make a lot of sense for the camera to be touted this way. But, despite this vision, and despite the limited core functionality of the camera, there is a little bit of a halfway house between the “connected” and not-connected ways of shooting it that I think is important to understand.
My Pixii Shooting Style
This halfway house is also exactly how I use my Pixii. I’m personally not interested in using my phone to edit photos beamed from the camera. It’s true that Pixii will beam DNG files, and that those files can be edited on the phone or tablet. But that’s not my workflow.
My workflow, be it film or digital, involves shooting the camera, putting the photos onto the computer, editing them in Lightroom, sharing them on Flickr for archival purposes and then eventually sharing them on my website etc. Of course, the bit in between pressing the shutter button and opening the photos in Lightroom is different depending on whether I’m shooting film or digital. But my choices within this part of my shooting experience are where I get a lot of the joy I do from taking photos.
When I shoot film, I like the fact that I don’t see the images there and then on the back of the camera. I also like the simplicity of the cameras. When I am shooting digital, I enjoy the immediacy of it, as well as getting something positive from the fact that I can see that I have actually got the shot that I wanted. I actually have no preference for one experience over the other, it completely depends on my mood. And this is where and why the Pixii works for me.
With Pixii I get pleasure out of the simplicity of the camera and the lack of screen on the back. The controls are very limited and, because it’s a rangefinder, it’s manual focus and either aperture priority or fully manual with a built in meter. When shooting it – but for the fact that it doesn’t really give any mechanical feedback like some of my favourite film cameras do – it feels like I’m shooting film. But, alongside this analogue-like experience, I still have the option to quickly preview my images to check for composition and exposure.
As soon as I switch a Pixii on it seamlessly connects to the app and every time I take a photo it beams a low resolution version to the phone. The result of this is that should I get that moment where I doubt or worry about exposure or composition, I can open the app and find the images waiting for me to inspect. This is the key part of the experience I find enjoyable. It really makes this camera feel like it takes a bit of what I enjoy about both mediums and puts them into one camera.
Of course, were I to feel inclined, I could later sync the DNG to my phone, edit and share it. Or I could ignore the photos on it completely and just come back to them next time I’m near my computer. But I don’t do either of those things, ever. I use it as I have described every time, as that is exactly what suits me, and is exactly the appeal of the camera to me.
Pixii offers me a halfway house between the “connected” headline function and features and a not-connected way of shooting. It also offers me a user experience that feels like a halfway house between digital and film. It doesn’t work for every shooting experience, but when it does work, it really feels like an enjoyable way to take photos.
So what about the upgrades? This article was spurred on by the fact that I received the upgraded camera back from Pixii and I wanted to help get the word out that it is now better than ever. And it is, definitely, a better camera than it was when I first got it. Just for reference, the camera is still just called Pixii, the upgraded version is just the “New Pixii” – or if you are going to be super geeky, this is the ‘A1571’ with the original being the ‘A1112’.
A New Sensor
The new sensor is possibly the biggest upgrade in terms of headline specs. It’s now 26mp – more than twice the 12mp sensor it came with originally. It’s also a bang up to date sensor from Sony that’s found in some other contemporary cameras. The result of that, is – unlike with the original camera – many users now won’t bump up against a lot of noise when shooting it in lower light as was the case before. Though, I should point out that it isn’t as clean of noise as some modern cameras, it does a plenty good enough job for me.
It should be said, it’s still an APS-C sized sensor which seems to rub a few people up the wrong way. But, personally, I’m not too fussed. Perhaps this is because I also have access to a full frame rangefinder, or perhaps it’s because I used to shoot an Epson R-D1 quite happily. Either way, I like the crop sensor. My little Zeiss 35mm C-Biogon is a great match to the camera in terms of the size. Cropped it gives me around a 50mm equivalent lens with a little more depth of field. Ideal for 50mm field of view snaps. I’ve also been using it with my Omnar 26mm f/6 which translates to a ~40mm with even more depth of field.
Of course, your mileage might vary, and honestly were it not for the fact that I also have a couple of other full frame cameras I might feel differently too. But having the Pixii as an option really works for me. Sometimes having more depth of field and smaller lenses with longer effective focal lengths just works, and Pixii feels like a camera it just works well with too!
A New Viewfinder
Next up is the new viewfinder. I’m actually not sure what they’ve done to it, technically speaking, but the frame lines are now brighter, there seems to be less internal reflections and the information displayed in the viewfinder is more useful. It now shows pretty much any info you want it to, shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation, camera mode, how many frame you have left, and you can even operate and view the entire menu within the viewfinder should you wish. Shutter speed and ISO have been my choice for what info I like to have visible.
USB-C Charging and Connectivity
The final hardware upgrade is an upgrade from the previous USB mini port to a USB-C port. Actually, as I’ll get to in a second, this hasn’t been plain sailing for them, but I still much prefer it over the old style USB mini port which made the camera feel a bit dated to me.
The firmware of the camera has also been updated. Though, actually, they’re always updating it. I couldn’t count the updates I’ve done since I’ve had a Pixii in my possession. Perhaps not a surprise for a new camera from a new manufacturer…? The result of this is largely that the camera and app seems more stable in use. Sometimes before it would do odd things like shut down for no reason or the app would just refuse to communicate with the camera. These things just don’t seem to happen now. There are a few niggles, but I’ll get to those in a second.
More Consistent Exposure
One big factor in the firmware update – that’s perhaps also a product of the new sensor – is more consistent exposure. Previously, Pixii had a habit of throwing an exposure curveball at you maybe 1 in 10 frames. For no reason at all it would heavily overexpose. This doesn’t seem to happen any more either.
The Upgrades and Me
All of these upgrades have made a big impact on this camera. The USB-C means it just feels more compatible with my life, the viewfinder makes Pixii more usable, the sensor makes it more useful, and of course more consistent exposure is very valuable when you don’t have a screen on the back of the camera. All this adds up to a camera that feels more complete than the prototype and subsequent early versions that I shot before.
That said, actually, I didn’t really mind not being able to use it much in lower light before, but now I can, I must concede that I like the camera slightly more. I tend not to fuss about low-light capability with digital cameras much. I don’t shoot much in low light these days, and if I want to, I have other cameras (my Sony A7iii) that do a job so well that I’d just pick them over the Pixii anyway for the most part. But, it’s been nice not to have to think about the limitation as much. Especially as I’ve received the upgraded camera in the winter.
Still a few minor issues
For all this positivity, there are still a couple of issues I have with Pixii – though I should add, none of them feel like dealbreakers to me, especially given how I use the camera. Software/firmware first.
This is probably the biggest one. It’s also probably the one that frustrates me the most since I practically nagged David when it came to the USB-C port. Connecting to my Mac, for reasons that David has explained, but that I don’t really understand, about 30% of the time, it just deosn’t work. The other 70% it connects fine, but sometimes it can also take a moment to connect so that annoying issue where you pull out the connection just as connects happens. Then your back into the 70/30 will it won’t it connect issue. This is apparently just a Mac issue, and something Pixii are working on, so fingers crossed it won’t stick around.
Wifi Connectivity Issues
The bluetooth connection for beaming low resolution files from the camera to the phone works pretty flawlessly. Unfortunately, the wifi connectivity when on the go is a little fiddly. It will still connect to the phone via the phone’s hotspot, but it won’t connect as seamlessly as the bluetooth does. Obviously, this isn’t an issue for me, but for anyone wanting to shoot, edit, and share on the go, it might be a little more fiddly.
Colour & White Balance
Colour science is a big deal in the world of digital photography. A lot of people won’t ever have need to think about it. Shoot a Fuji, Canon or Nikon camera and you’re perhaps more likely to just get on with the colours. On the other hand, Sony… well, depending on the person, you might still find the colours out of their cameras to be a bit green. Pixii are also quite new to this colour science game, and sometimes it seems to show. They do have a few different colour profiles, that I must admit I haven’t tried properly yet, but on the standard profile I’ve been using I’ve found the colours can be a little oversaturated.
As an extension of this, I also find that the auto white balance can go a bit bonkers sometimes, and the sliders in Lightroom also don’t match up to expected values per the weather/lighting in the image For example, a lot of the sunshine shots here were set to ~10,000k and +80 on the tint scale out of the camera. The more odd thing is, they look quite nice for it…
I should say though, none of these colour “issues” have really presented me with a problem. Because I shoot DNG, I have found I can tweak the colours to get a result I am happy with. I’d expect the same to be the case for others too. Experimenting with colour profiles is also an option, but again, I haven’t explored that yet.
Edit: The day before publishing this, I mentioned to David that I was having some issues with colour. In response to this, he sent me a sneak preview of a “new standard” colour profile that at first glance seems to go a long way to fix what I have written in the above paragraphs. Rather than edit everything I’d written – not least because it was all true when I actually shot and wrote about my experiences – I have decided I will write a follow up piece sometime early next year about my findings with the new colour profiles when they are properly released. Here’s a version of the above image with the new profile this came with much more expected white balance numbers too!
I also have a couple of minor lingering concerns from my first interaction with the camera. The first is the RF patch. It’s actually pretty good, it’s just not as good as the RF patch in my Leica’s. It has a short effective base length and the secondary patch isn’t as bright as a Leica one. But, it’s better than every 1970s/80s fixed lens rangefinder I have tried, if that gives you a scale of quality…?
For me, I haven’t found this to be too much of an issue. I’m only shooting it with slower lenses, and mostly in daylight. Actually, ironically, I have found I can see the RF patch better in lower light, though that is likely just a product of subject contrast. One way or another, perhaps something to have in mind if you are expecting a Leica-quality rangefinder patch.
The Shutter Experience
My final beef is actually something that doesn’t bother me, but I can image that it would bother other people. The shutter button. This camera has no mechanical shutter, just electric. This does mean the shutter can fire up to 1/32,000th of a second, but it also means there is no feedback from the camera when you press the button. They have included a very subtle shutter noise, but it’s only really audible in quiet environments.
The button itself doesn’t give much feedback either – again, it’s just electric. It’s a bit like the shutter button on some compact cameras. There’s definitely a half and full press, but the feel of the difference between them is quite subtle. I am totally used to it now.
More Features I Really Like
Before I share my closing thoughts, it seems only fair that I should take the opportunity to warble on about some of the other stuff I really like about Pixii. This is the stuff that I have liked since I first tried it.
To begin with. Just look at it – it is a beautiful bit of industrial design in my opinion! It fits my design ethos – it’s not overly designed, but has enough about it to look really good. It feels good in the hand too. I have read some people commenting about the position of the shutter button being too close to the edge of the camera. In theory, I can see their point, but in practice, I never notice the issue at all.
And then there’s the fact that it does black and white DNGs. Of course this isn’t as pure as a Leica monochrom that can’t do colour, but it is a true RAW monochrome DNG that plays nicely in Lightroom. And regardless of the fact that the camera can do colour, there is still something a lot of fun about setting it to shoot knowing that the files you get can’t be reverted to colour. I find this especially fun in combination with that fact that the camera has no screen.
Simple Menu and Controls
And then there’s the menu system. One button, and one dial on the back, and it still manages to seem easy to use. Everything in the menu makes sense, and even the app interface is pretty good. I couldn’t begin to count the amount of times I have mentioned issues I have with cameras having too many buttons or being too complicated on this website. I love my simple cameras, Pixii is definitely a simple camera!
Ongoing support and updates
The final thing that I really love about Pixii is the updates. I’ve touched on this a few times, but even whilst I have been writing this, I’ve had a few characteristically enthusiastic text messages from David about stuff he’s working on.
And that’s not the end of it either, both short term and long term, firmware and hardware, David has plans. The Pixii platform, as they have proven, is upgradable, and there’s a lot to be said for that in a world where we are otherwise so used to just completely replacing our digital cameras every year or so.
Some Closing Thoughts
I usually title this section of my articles ‘Final thoughts’. Today I’m going with “closing thoughts” as I can’t see this being the last thing I write about this camera. This feels like an update article, and since I expect more updates will come, I expect I will be back with more to say. I know David has a lot of plans to still roll out.
This is a big part of what has been fun about shooting and owning this camera over the last nearly-two-years. It’s been a journey from beta testing, through owning a first version, through lots of firmware upgrades, to eventually now shooting an upgraded version of the camera.
Would I have recommended this path to everyone who has ever shown interest in Pixii? No of course not. David wouldn’t have had enough prototypes to go round for a start. There have also been a few ups and downs since the first version of the camera came out – nothing that Pixii haven’t fixed, but certainly some that might have frustrated one or two users. The random exposure issues specifically come to mind. It’s been a lot of fun for a camera geek like me though!
We seem to be through all that though now too. Yes, it’s still not perfect, but it’s possible to pick holes in most production cameras. On this website I have moaned about the fact that Sonys have too many buttons, the Fuji connectivity software doesn’t work at all, and for years their images didn’t really play nice with Lightroom. Then there’s the fact that Sigma make you use proprietary software, and don’t get me started on Ricoh’s build quality. The point is, no camera is perfect. Pixii, like all cameras has design choices that will put people off.
What makes it all the more interesting though is that unlike most cameras from most other brands, it makes no apology for what it is as a camera. Pixii doesn’t have a preview screen, it’s m-mount but has an APS-C sensor, and it offers this arguably completely unique middle ground between geeky and high tech, and yet somehow gives an almost-analogue feel when you’re using it. It’s a “connected” camera with its OLED screen and electronic controls, and at the same time, its manual focus and relies on a design of focusing aid that dates back maybe even as much as a century. In short, it is a bit crackpot, and it’s certainly very niche, but somehow it works. Somehow Pixii manages to bring a completely unique user experience to the table. And that’s where the appeal is for me. I enjoy the user experience for myself, a great deal in fact, but I also have a lot of respect for a camera manufacturer that is trying to break the mould!
More here – pixii.fr
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