In modern digital cameras there are many settings which are applied automatically to the photos. And it does not always result in good ways. Recently I saw two photos of the same face one from a old analog camera and the other a digital one.

The photos were considerably different and the one from analog was much more close to the real face in every aspect.

So this is my question as I am not a pro in camera market:

Is there any model of digital cameras in the market in 2021 that takes photo like analog cameras without manipulation and artificial improvements?


9 Answers 9


Is there any model of digital cameras in the market in 2021 that takes photo like analog cameras without manipulation and artificial improvements?

This seems to be a fairly common belief held by those who have never shot film or are new to photography. I say that because, well, everything is a manipulation - always has been, always will be.

Take, for example, what lens choice and the different distances from which we shoot for those different focal lengths to frame the same subject, does to a human face: enter image description here

50mm is a "normal" lens and may be closest to what our eyes perceive this man to look like in the world, but note how subtly that changes at 35mm or 70mm and how extreme the changes get by 20mm or 200mm.

Let's take another example, this time with film choice. enter image description here

Fuji Velvia has long been known for its intensely saturated colors and here above is how it compares to Provia and Portra (note that Velvia and Provia are slide/transparency films while Portra is color negative).

You can see that Velvia is far more saturated, contrasty, and has captured a much redder skin tone verse the Portra. I find Portra to be more natural, but by no means are the other two less real. Does this count as a manipulation to you?

Even with black and white films, you can choose between orthochromatic or panchromatic films. And within those categories, there are many options with differing response curves (which wavelength of light they are sensitive to and how sensitive they are) and grain structures. And of course, black and white is manipulated all the time with varying development and printing techniques.

So, to capture a scene, you need to:

  • Capture the reflected light by way of a lens (manipulation 1)
  • Capture the light onto a light sensitive film (manipulation 2)
  • Develop the film (manipulation 3)
  • Print/Scan the film (manipulation 4)

There are tools and techniques to alter the resultant image at every step of the above. The same is true for digital, see What does an unprocessed RAW file look like?

What I'm getting at is: your question stands on the premise that there is a way to capture an image without manipulation or "improvement" and your premise is incorrect. In the pursuit of a photograph, many manipulations occur, some deemed improvements and some detriments - beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb
    Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 2:30

All photos undergo manipulation. A documentary type photo is one that closely matches what most people see, but it's not unprocessed.

In the analog/film world, different films will give different results. So too exposure, and development of the film. This is followed by additional processing/manipulation in order to present the image as a print or on a display.

While digital lends itself to even greater alteration if desired, it still undergoes equivalent, although different, processing to produce an image. Most digital camera have several builtin modes that are roughly like choosing a different film. You can have high saturation colors, or low contrast, or high dynamic range, or many others.

Most digital cameras can be set to a mode that reasonably matches what you see most of the time.

No camera, digital or film, will always produce what you want. That's where Art and Skill come into play.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with you on the point of "Art and Skill" when it comes to using a man-made tool, no matter what it is. My question exactly targets this point. You know your tool has some strengths and weaknesses. "Art and Skill" help you to minimise the weaknesses and maximise the strengths. So using a right tool also helps you to get a better result along with "Art and Skill". I think this is also an important point to consider. \$\endgroup\$
    – dxb
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 18:57

The mere act of making an image is a departure from reality, regardless of the recording medium.

My answer to Which raw settings should I stick to or avoid to keep my photo "natural"? is equally applicable here.

There is no such thing as a natural photo. Whether intentional or not, every photo is an interpretation of reality. Cameras don't see the same way our eyes/brains do. I don't think I've ever seen a photograph that was "plausible as a real life eye view." I'm always aware I am viewing a photograph rather than the actual scene.

What is included and what is excluded from the frame is an interpretive decision. So is the perspective that results from the selected shooting distance.

The aperture selected that determines depth of field creates a certain interpretation. The same exact scene shot with a 300mm lens at f/2.8 will look entirely different than that same scene shot at f/16, especially if there are large differences in distance from the camera between the nearest and most distant objects in the field of view. Which interpretation is natural and which is not natural?

How long the shutter is open can be very interpretive depending on how static or how much motion is in the scene. Which interpretation is natural and which is not natural?

How bright the overall exposure is as determined by the combination of shutter speed, aperture, and sensitivity (ISO) can greatly alter the mood of the scene. Which interpretation is natural and which is not natural?

Even the amount of noise or distortion introduced by the camera or lens can alter the interpretation of reality created by a photo. Which interpretation is natural and which is not natural?

All of those interpretive decisions have already been made at the time the shutter button is pressed all the way down! We could go on and on about each step in the editing process as well. And editing a photo, whether in the darkroom or at the computer, has always been an interpretive process.

Just study the differences in prints Ansel Adams made of Moonrise, Hernadez, New Mexico over the years. He took the image in 1941 and produced over 1,300 prints from the negative over the course of his life. It is probably his most well known image, and certainly the negative from which he produced the most prints. The prints he considered the definitive versions weren't made until the mid-1970s! He spent 35 years fiddling with it in the darkroom before getting the look he wanted from the scene he recorded in 1941! Yet Adams is often cited as one of the best examples of the straight photography movement!

---------- For further reading: The future of photography

So is my answer to Where lays the border between correcting photo and creating a new one using PC?

It is all image creation.

Please, let me explain. When you take a photo, regardless of the medium used to record it, what you are recording is a virtual image projected by a lens onto a focal plane. The nature, intensity, and direction of the light illuminating your subject, the design of the lens and the focus and aperture settings, the amount of time the shutter is left open: all of these affect the properties of the image you record. Two identical cameras pointed at the same subject can produce incredibly different results by altering one, several, or all of those variables.

The digital age just moved the manipulation of transforming the recorded image to a print from the darkroom to the desktop. It is true that it has also expanded the possibilities of the degree to which an image may be manipulated, but perhaps not as much as some might think. What it has really done is made that manipulation much less time consuming and allowed us to do it much more efficiently. In the film era we could have shot the same scene with dozens of different types of film. Now we can take a single RAW image and retroactively apply the characteristics of each of those films. What would have taken weeks or months to meticulously combine several varying exposures into a single image of a high dynamic range scene we can now do in a matter of minutes.

From the moment we select what to leave in the frame and what to leave out, we are creating something that is different from the reality it represents. Susan Sontag once said, "...to photograph is to frame, and to frame is to exclude."

A photograph is always an expression of the photographer's vision. Sometimes it may closely resemble what others see when they look at what has been photographed. Sometimes it can be totally transformational. On rare occasions it can be both. "Some photographers take reality... and impose the domination of their own thought and spirit. Others come before reality more tenderly and a photograph to them is an instrument of love and revelation." - Ansel Adams

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    \$\begingroup\$ "... what you are recording is a virtual image projected by a lens onto a focal plane." Technically that's called a real image but I get your point. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 17:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ The image is real, but the preservation/recording of it is virtual. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 2:45

I will call out an assumption behind the question which other answerers have not touched upon: that what you see is the "real" image. It seems that you want pictures which replicate what you see when you look at the subject, and believe that to be achievable with less manipulation.

The opposite is true. Your vision applies tons of manipulation to everything you look at. It is incredibly sophisticated, with changes being done on every level - e.g. parts of your brain which are not responsible for vision in the strict sense can send suppression signals to retinal cells so that information is filtered out before it is being sent up the optical nerve up to the visual cortex. So any information in your brain - memories, emotions, ideas about how the world works - can potentially change your vision even at what we tend to think of as the pristine, "objective" input layer of the neural network, the rods and cones.

The problem with cameras is not that they give us too much manipulation, it is the opposite - they are nowhere near complex enough to do enough manipulation to match what human perception is doing. Photographers encounter this regularly in many areas, and part of the art of photography is being able to compensate for it - common examples include high dynamic range, motion blur, or reflections on glass panes between the viewer and subject. Modern cameras are starting to try to compensate for it, but are nowhere near close enough to human vision.

Since there is no such thing as a "real" image (but only a highly-manipulated construction created by our brain) there is also not a way for a camera to capture it. But this doesn't invalidate your observation that some printed photos strike us as "more natural" than others, and that it indeed depends on all stages of manipulation which happened from the moment the lens captured the light to the printing. It also depends on the scene itself, so there is no way to simply make one "natural" preset in the camera and sell it that way so all pictures you take look like it on the push of a button (actually, manufacturers try to do that, but it is a compromise whose results are not always close enough to our expectations).

So the conclusion is - the world is much more complex than you assumed it to be, so the simple solution you propose does not work. But the whole industry has been solving the problem since it exists, so you actually can get pretty good results - just ask your photographer for them and he will be able to deliver them.

If you are interested to learn more about how vision actually works, I cannot resist to plug one of my favorite books ever, Colin Ware's "Visual thinking for design". It is written for visual professionals and not for biologists, so the complex neuroscience is explained on a really understandable level, and also the rest of it gives you an amazing understanding of how to best convey information with visual artefacts you create.

  • \$\begingroup\$ "Your vision applies tons of manipulation to everything you look at." . If our brains are the only option we have to process the information our eyes gather then is it not the only reality we can use as a base line to compare any photographs to? \$\endgroup\$
    – Alaska Man
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 18:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AlaskaMan keep in mind people can suffer brain damage that completely changes how they see. The reason computer facial recognition was so hard is because faces are mostly alike in "reality", it's just that there are parts of the brain completely dedicated to magnifying extremely small differences. Without that part, your ability to tell faces apart, even of family members would be extremely difficult and you would end up relying on other cues. \$\endgroup\$
    – eps
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 18:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Re: "cameras [...] are nowhere near complex enough to do enough manipulation to match what human perception is doing": But the end-photograph is also viewed via human perception; so a theoretical camera that gave perfectly-real photographs wouldn't have to replicate our brains, either. \$\endgroup\$
    – ruakh
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 21:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ruakh Such a photograph would need to be a very different physical object from what we currently understand by that term: it would need to reproduce the complete 3-dimensional pattern of light rays that reach our eyes. Even if your head is clamped in position staring at a completely unmoving scene, your eyes will constantly move and refocus, and your vision will integrate the stream of input into one perceived image. If it didn't, we'd be constantly aware of the large blind spot where the nerves run in front of the retina. \$\endgroup\$
    – IMSoP
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 12:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ruakh It's not just a problem of recording, but also of replication...trying to represent something three dimensional in two dimensions. Tons of really basic stuff, like no parallax effect, the focus distance is the same for the whole image (and things that are out of focus in a static image are permanently out of focus, instead of your eyes being able to refocus on them), etc. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 12:53

You've gotten a number of answers pointing out that what you're asking for isn't really much of a meaningful goal. Despite that, I'm going to point out what I think is more of a direct answer to the question you actually asked.

Most cameras with interchangeable lenses (and some that don't have interchangeable lenses) can shoot in what's called "raw" format. Raw format is largely a fairly direct "dump" of the data that's sensed by the individual photo-sites on the digital sensor. It also normally (always, in my experience, but I suppose there might be a few rare exceptions) contains some meta-data about the picture, such the shutter speed and aperture you used, often the level of light the camera's light meter measured at the time, and in many cases even GPS coordinates where the picture was taken.

But, (and this is the important part) the data from the photo-sensors in the raw file you get has normally been subjected to only a bare minimum of processing. In fact, it normally hasn't even been converted from data about individual sensor sites into red/green/blue pixels yet.

There are quite a few raw processors that can take that data and apply various manipulation to the data to get what you want. But it's pretty much up to you to decide what sort of manipulation you want to apply, and how "heavily" to apply each. A fair number include settings to imitate specific films, if you want that. But the big point here is that you can do about as much or as little as you feel like. You can do the bare minimum to convert from raw to whatever image format you want, all the way up to all sorts effects--it's entirely up to you to decide how much, and in what ways, to manipulate the original data to get the result you want.

  • \$\begingroup\$ A raw conversion that didn't at least attempt to do white balance would be a complete failure as judged by most people. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 16, 2021 at 5:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkRansom: Probably true (would look horribly green, at least with most sensors). But it remains up to the user to decide what to do, and (particularly) what contributes to a realistic looking picture vs. one you consider excessively manipulated, over-processed, etc. But yes, you just about have to do a few things like demosaicing and white balance before you get something that really even looks like a picture. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 16, 2021 at 7:21

All cameras, lenses, and recording surfaces like film or a sensor will produce different image qualities. In digital, if a camera can shoot RAW files, these can have more flexibility for you to edit them to return them to 'as seen' conditions.

Cameras with manual shooting mode M feel a lot like old manual cameras. Just make sure to avoid using any new age 'presets' or 'creative filters'.

Canon and Nikon DSLRS as well as Sony and Panasonic mirrorless cameras are really great, flexible cameras. They all offer cameras at varying price points that offer RAW and manual shooting modes, along with interchangeable lenses. Mirrorless cameras can even use manual lenses of yesteryear like old Canon FD lenses. You can even find some point and shoot cameras like some in the Sony RX100 series that have manual shooting and RAW abilities.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I've used a pretty old lens on my Nikon DSLR once, also. AFAIK the only real caveat is that old lenses aren't likely to have auto-focus or stabilization (mine doesn't do in-body stabilization AFAIK, but my kit lenses have in-lens stabilization). Other than that, I'm not aware of any reason an old lens would work on a mirrorless but not a DSLR? As far as finding a cheap camera that can shoot in RAW, try you phone 🙂. Anything new enough to use the Camera2 API can shoot RAW and in manual mode. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthew
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 16:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Matthew I guess the main issue with the lenses is the adaptation. The digital cameras (mirrorless or DSLR) usually also have new lens mounts, then that needs adaptation. The mirrorless have a shorter flange distance (bc no need to accomodate the mirror), so the excess flange distance that you need to fill so that the lens can focus properly, can be used by the adaptor. When the flange distance for DLSR and vintage lens are similar .. it's harder to build an adaptor of zero length \$\endgroup\$
    – Apfelsaft
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 19:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Some mirrorless cameras have manual lens adapters that can have an autofocus flange. There is one available for Sony, but it makes quite a bit of noise. Some mirrorless cameras can also use IBIS with a manual lens by selecting the proper focal length. Sony and Panasonic have this, others may as well. It won't be as good as optical stabilization (+IBIS) but it can give a couple stops of stabilization. \$\endgroup\$
    – emmit
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 21:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @CarlBerger, I wonder what cameras have that issue. My Nikon D300 uses the same mount that Nikon's have used for AFAIK decades; no adapters needed. (I don't know if they've changed their mount since I bought that...) \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthew
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 13:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Matthew, Admittedly, that was more of an educated guess. Knowing that Nikon introduced the Z-mount for their mirrorless, i assumed that they may have changed the mount type in earlier days as well when they switched from purely mechanical to powered autofocus lensens - at least then they needed space to accomodate electrical contacts. I'm pretty sure that's what happened with Canon as well - at least there are FL, FD, EF, EF-S, EF-M, RF .. AFAIK they aren't all compatible - not even mechanically. \$\endgroup\$
    – Apfelsaft
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 21:52

On top of all that has been said, I'll add one example to explain why the concept of "real image" is false. Take a blank piece of paper. Go out in the day light. It's white.

Now look at it in the night at a bulb light.

You'll think it's white. After all, it's the same white paper you saw in the afternoon. However in reality, the piece of paper is frankly yellow. It's just your brain interpreting it.

This is a basic example; how you need to take into account white balance for every picture.

You can go more subtle.

Aim a flash light at your eyes. You will see it white. However not the same white as your piece of paper. Though, white is white. Now you think your paper white was a subtle shade of grey.

In reality, what is happening is that your eyes receives color information and power information. And all this has to be reduced to simple color information on a printed image (and more or less also on the screen). This is done by applying a contrast curve to the light received by the camera to mimic brain interpretation of light power. Another example why there is no "real image".

In real life, there is also more (quite) complex transformations to turn the light received in 3-points (Red Green Blue) mix that mimics how the (normal) human eye interprets colors (remember daltonism). None of which are exempt from human arbitrage to make them look "true to reality". But they also are only cheats.

Bottom line : there is no "real" image, and every picture you'll ever see is the result of compromises and tricks to make it look like reality.


I shoot in RAW and I develop my images in Darktable which is free software. I then create a final look that is pleasing to me. All digital images must be manipulated, but you want to manipulate the image to match your memory and expectations so shot in Raw and use programs like Darktable, Lightroom etc to develop your version. The camera's JPG is the manufacturer's interpretation. As stated by others film was not natural or real either.


Magic lantern (a canon camera firmware modification) can do that. I looks really bad though (here is an example that had a tiny bit of in camera processing (e.g. color interpolation) https://twitter.com/autoexec_bin/status/1246316107570524160).

You probably don't actually want camera without processing, because it would not look like how you perceive reality

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you might have misunderstood the question. OP is using the term "without manipulation" to mean an image that is a 1:1 copy of the real scene, not to refer to the raw sensor data. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 8:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ I guess I focussed on the "like an analog camera part". And there is simply no consumer camera that does this :) \$\endgroup\$
    – marcani
    Commented Jan 16, 2021 at 3:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Human vision is a processing. Speaking of rendering an image without processing makes no sense. \$\endgroup\$
    – Hugues
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 21:50

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