I've recently started shooting with the Canon AE-1 Program and am loving it. I do enjoy the film look (it's rather expensive in the long term though) but it's the way I use the camera that really appeals to me. Also I do miss the convenience of digital. Therefore I've been looking around for a digital equivalent that fulfills the following criteria:

  • compact size
  • has interchangeable lenses
  • large and bright viewfinder
  • ease in manual focusing (ideally, something built for manual focusing)

Basically, just a AE-1 with a digital sensor in place of film. So far I've looked at the Leica M9 and Fujifilm Finepix X100. While the M9 is what I would want, it's just way out of my budget (which is just around $1500, note that this refers to my budget and not how much the M9 costs), and suppose that of most people, whereas the X100 misses on the manual focusing, large viewfinder, and interchangeable lens part. (It still looks fun to use though; just don't wanna plunk down that much money for it.) However, if anyone who's used a X100 can address my concerns for it or workarounds, I'm all ears. :)

So are there any other cameras out there that I should have considered but missed?

I intend to use it solely for street photography.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Like you I long for a retro-chic camera of high quality. I am prepared to accept the smaller optical view finder if it gives me manual rangefinder focusing. Nothing (that I know of) comes close to this ideal so I may well settle for the Fuji X100. \$\endgroup\$
    – labnut
    Commented Apr 18, 2011 at 10:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ I hate to see a question with no tags other than the big-bucket "equipment recommendation", but I'm at a loss as to what to call this category. I think "DMD" fits pretty well, though. :) luminous-landscape.com/columns/DMD.shtml \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Apr 18, 2011 at 12:52
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Also, I'm afraid that "here's two products; are there other products like this?", by the nature of the question, will never really have great answers. It's very specific to this moment in time, and you've already ruled out in-depth responses on two of the most interesting possibilities. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Apr 18, 2011 at 12:55
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Did you just write $1500 for the M9? I wish! \$\endgroup\$
    – eflorico
    Commented Apr 18, 2011 at 13:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @labnut Well I wouldn't mind a smaller viewfinder if not for the fact that I'm hesitant about its ability to let me focus quickly. Unfortunately none of the photo shops here (Perth, Australia) have the X100 for rent (nor do I expect them to), so I can't really tell whether it'll be a hindrance. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 18, 2011 at 14:45

2 Answers 2


Considering you were happy using a film camera at least 27 years old, perhaps you could try hunting for a used Leica M8 or Epson R-D1 (here's a review by Steve Huff).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually the Canon AE-1 Program is 30 years old. :) The M8 is still out of budget, but the Epson does look interesting. It even has the shutter cocking thing, the problem lies with actually finding a decent one. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 18, 2011 at 15:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ The RD-1 is an interesting offering. In essence it is a Voigtländer (coughCosinacough) R2 with a Nikon D70-ish sensor instead of film. It's getting long in the tooth but in semi-decent light and it should deliver the goods. \$\endgroup\$
    – Staale S
    Commented Apr 18, 2011 at 18:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for Epson R-D1. Current offer of compact digital cameras doesn't offer the ease of manual focusing that you experienced with rangefinder film cameras, except for Leicas M8 and M9 and - the R-D1. It's a pity that it was discontinued but now and then you can find it in "the Bay". In comparison with Leicas you can consider it a "budget" camera :-) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 11, 2012 at 20:15

You're not the only one who is interested in this type of camera. There's a recent spate of retro-designed compact, small-sensor cameras (without interchangeable lenses) which have "retro" styling and relatively high image quality and controls. (See dpreview's Christmas 2011 roundup of enthusiast compacts for a representative sample.) However, your requirements go beyond this.

The requirement for a large (presumably optical) viewfinder (described as being better than the X100's) but well under the cost of the Leica M9 means you're going to have to accept some compromise. Probably that compromise means using an electronic viewfinder. These are not up to the quality of good optical finders, but a nice one beats the tunnel-vision finders used on compact cameras, at least.

If you give up that requirement, suddenly things open up, because pretty much any of the new mirrorless cameras will do — any Panasonic or Olympus Micro-4/3rds, Sony NEX, Samsung NX, or even smaller-sensored Nikon 1 or Pentax Q will do (more compact in exchange for some image quality — compromise is everywhere in photography!). Manual focus may be the next-most-difficult, as all of these systems are designed for auto-focus, but most at least have features to try to make manual focus a reasonable option (including zoom on the LCD).

So, if you can live with those compromises, pick the mirrorless camera that fits in your budget, which has the lenses you want available, and which meets your style requirements (both in appearance and in the more-important feel). They're all really pretty good and all fall within the same real-world limitations.


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