I’ve talked about the Konica Hexar a couple of times on this blog, it’s even been reviewed here by master musician Rob Mackillop, but so far, despite owning one for a while, I’m yet to write a full and conclusive review of all its features – I’m not going to write one either. This isn’t because I don’t think it’s a good camera, I think it’s a brilliant camera (sort of), I’ve just really struggled to make it work for me. As such, I thought I’d play devils advocate to the usual rave reviews and pick a few holes in what seems to be commonly seen as a bit of an untouchable classic.
A disinclination to shoot what I don’t like
I’ve recently found myself less and less inclined to force myself to use cameras that don’t feel right for me, and using the Konica Hexar quite strongly gives me that feeling. This isn’t to say that the Konica Hexar isn’t a great camera – in essence, it really is! Its 35mm f/2 lens is very nice, it has very good active autofocus, a nice bright parallax correcting viewfinder, and being a slightly bigger camera it handles very nicely. The story doesn’t quite end there though.
To me, the Hexar feels a little like a complicated camera trapped in the body of a simple one. If you use it in a simple way – much I think like Rob does – I suspect it can be very rewarding; Rob certainly seems to enjoy his, and gets great shots too.
My issue is with when you want to use it as something more than a point & shoot. Along side the automatic functions common to the genre of cameras the Konica Hexar best fits into, it features aperture priority and even a full manual mode. On top of this, it also offers a few extra options often lauded as “hidden” features that unlock its potential.
Unfortunately for the Konica Hexar, I don’t see it like that. It’s actually this raft of features that largely speaking have put me off using it. As I mention in this post, I find a preference in cameras that have clarity of function. To my mind, this is something the Hexar lacks. It’s a really nice fully automatic point & shoot, but, it’s also a slightly clunky fully manual camera with a bunch of features that are a little confusing to navigate – and this doesn’t sit well with my needs or desires for a camera.
At this juncture, I just want to acknowledge a comment I received on my Instagram way back when I first got the Konica Hexar and posted a photo of it. The comment went something like this: “Please don’t just write another post about all the hidden features”. I said at the time that I had no intention of doing this, unfortunately, I’m going to have to go back on my response a little here.
That being said, I made the comment because I already had a fairly strong feeling about not wanting to talk about these features in the same way others have. I’d read a few reviews, and found myself a little irritated by all this “hidden” feature stuff. As someone with quite strong feelings toward good user interface design, the idea that a camera’s user interface would hide features from the user baffles me to the core.
The reality is of course, they aren’t really hidden, they’re simply unusually placed within the interface. What I can only assume has happened is that over the years since the Konica Hexar was released people have bought them second hand without the manuals. More specifically, I guess most people who see the features as hidden must have just not seen the quick reference guide that no doubt came in the box when the camera was new. If you haven’t seen it, here is a copy:
As you can see, to access a lot of it, you have to go into various modes then press a combination of buttons. To me, this isn’t representative of hidden features, it just feels like slightly shit user interface design. Now, admittedly, some of the features are set and forget – or at very least preferential things that won’t have to be accessed often, but some aren’t.
Looking back at my review of the Contax T3 and its custom menu – something that I spoke about favourably in the context of that camera – I do feel I am being a little unfair to the Konica Hexar here. I just think it again comes down to the lack of clarity of function. With the Contax, it’s customisations are very much set and forget – major features are all available through clearer functions when the camera is switched on. With the Hexar, we are talking about some pretty major features that you have to fumble through the user interface to find.
As the quick guide shows, to get to exposure compensation you press ‘select’ in either auto mode, then used the two unlabelled up and down buttons to set it. To set the ISO manually you have to switch it into aperture priority, the press and hold ‘select’ for a moment then again use the unlabelled up and down buttons. Yet, it has a dedicated button just for the self-timer. If button space is as limited as it feels the designers felt, surely a self-timer could have been put in a menu along with these other features…?
Crap manual focus modes
Next on my hit list of frustrations is the crap manual focus modes. As you can see looking back again at the quick guide there are a whole bunch of manual focus modes. One touch infinity has its uses and is easy enough to access, but as soon as you want to set focus to a distance, you are into the world of button pressing. This isn’t usual for compacts with manual focus, but for a camera of this size, it feels a little impractical. It’s certainly a step down from the manual focus control of the Contax T2, which is a much smaller camera.
It also has a focus hold function that could be useful on a camera like this for the separation of either autoexposure or autofocus from the half shutter press. The issue is, you have to press two buttons at the same time to activate it. Quite often cameras include a button on the back of the camera for thumb activation of modes like this – this isn’t the case with the Konica Hexar.
In the case of the Konica Hexar, the button is on the top quite close to the shutter button. I’m sure with practice this comes easier, but I found it a right fiddle to press. I also found can result in accidental exposures if you try to press the button with the same hand as you’re pressing the shutter button.
That said, since the distance reading is only accurately shown on top of the camera, the only way to use it with ease and accuracy is to look at the top of the camera rather than through the viewfinder when activating it. And since you have to look at the top of the camera to use it, as a feature, it’s not that much more useful than just using the manual focus mode – and that’s despite how fiddly the manual focus is to set.
Another frustration I have is with the information the camera feeds back to you at the moment you half press the button. To start with, the most useful information is displayed on the top of the camera via the LCD. This is pretty pointless since you can’t see it with the camera to your eye, and even if you could see it, the information it relays is a little baffling. In program mode, it tells you either (not both) the set shutter speed or the aperture. There is a system that determines which it shows but can’t get my head around it in any way that it sticks in my brain. But as I say, it’s basically moot, since you can’t see the when you’re taking a photo anyway.
Inside the viewfinder, you do get a basic distance indicator, parallax correction and a few little lights that tell you useful information. But none of the information is nearly as useful as having a shutter speed and or set aperture readout display.
My final complaint is with the silent mode. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the silent mode – at least depending on the version you have – is that it might actually be the only truly hidden mode on the camera. The internet tells me (here) that it was only the earlier Konica Hexar’s that had a silent mode – after that they lost some sort of patent battle and had to take it off. The internet also tells me (here) that the later models did still have the silent mode, it just needs unlocking via a crazy combination of buttons akin to activating some sort of horrendous “finish him” move on Mortal Kombat…
Assuming you have either an early model, or you’ve entered the magic code you can active silent mode by turning the camera off, then turn it back on whilst holding the “MF” button (obviously!?). Of course, if you have set a manual focus distance, you will have to reset it again after you turn it on, but never mind that…
Silent Slow mode
This silent mode is actually just a slow mode. This camera is very fast, and in normal use, pretty quiet. It’s not silent though. Switching “silent mode” on doesn’t make it silent either. It’s hard to argue with the fact that silent mode does indeed make it slightly quieter, but all it really does is slow the autofocus and film advance down so the pitch of their actions is lower and therefore less obvious in a quiet room.
There are of course many other cameras that are just as quiet, though it’s fair to say that the Konica Hexar is at very least one of, if not the quietest autofocus auto-advancing camera I’ve come across.
Perfect program auto
That feels like a lot of complaining – it’s certainly more complaining than I anticipated writing. Despite all the complaints though, I do now want to draw your attention back to two things I said at the beginning of this review. The first is that I believe the Konica Hexar is in essence very good, if not excellent. The second is that I think it’s most good in program auto.
Program auto and “Critical speed setting”
The program auto on the Konica Hexar is much as you might find on most cameras. It sets an intelligent average of shutter and aperture to get the best average results in any given lighting. Where it has one significant advantage is in one of the “hidden” features: the “Critical speed setting”
This feature effectively stops the camera from choosing a shutter speed lower than the one you set the “critical speed” to. This only works in program mode of course, but it makes the program mode pretty much the best program mode I can think of in any camera that’s even remotely similar to this one.
In simple terms, if you set the cameras critical speed to 1/30 – even if the light meter in the camera determines that there isn’t enough light – it won’t use a slower shutter speed. Of course, it does mean you risk under exposure in more extreme lighting, but if you’ve ever used a compact camera that favours slower shutter speeds over wider apertures, you might appreciate just how useful this feature is.
This feature can also allow a shooting experience that’s akin to how I enjoy shooting cameras like the Olympus AF-10 Super (which doesn’t have the lower shutter speeds at all).
Skip to the end
As I guess I’ve made it quite clear that me and this camera didn’t entirely gel. I always try and give cameras I don’t gel with the benefit of the doubt, and quite often try to write reviews that talk through modes through the eyes of the sort of person that might find them useful. Unfortunately for the Konica Hexar, there are so many design decisions that I find confusing to use that in many ways I just can’t see how anyone could perfectly get on with every facet of this camera’s function. I also don’t buy the idea the hidden modes unlock the camera’s potential – the camera’s potential would be much better unlocked if it was simply less confusing to use. Modes being accessed through combinations of unlabelled buttons combined with important shot feedback that can only be seen on the top of the camera just doesn’t work for me.
That being said, I feel I have a growing awareness of my own pickiness. I’ve always appreciated clarity of function, but writing the post about the lure of the uncomplicated camera made me realise just how much of a preference I have toward simple design – so perhaps this is all just my issue, and there’s nothing wrong with the camera at all?
It’s certainly fair to say that I’m put off the Konica Hexar almost entirely because of the user interface. But perhaps more importantly, it’s also very fair to say that on paper what this camera offers the user is pretty much unique. If – unlike me – you can ignore the confusing stuff, and just get on with taking photos with it as a point & shoot, I suspect you’ll get on very well with it. The program auto mode with its critical speed function, the very good 35mm f/2 lens and impressive autofocus make for a combination simply not found on any other point & shoot. Setting aside my cynical attitude, even the silent mode is pretty damned impressive and brings another layer of unique function to this type of camera.
Ultimately, my point here was not to pull apart this camera entirely. I know I am becoming pickier, but in this instance, I just felt my pickiness might shed some light on a few caveats that seem to me to be often overlooked by those who favour it. The Konica Hexar is a great camera, but to my mind it’s not quite as untouchable as it is sometimes touted as being.
Cheers for reading,