7

Sony RX1R II and Leica Q are two good examples for the current state of technology. Both are packed with a lot of neat features, both have high ISO, impressive stabilization, both are rather compact and both are rather expensive (over three thousand USD at this moment).

What I don't get is why anyone would buy such a camera which has good but permanently mounted prime lens. I've read a lot about how prime lens have superior quality (compared to zoom lens) and how using a single lens for prolonged period of time makes one a better photographer but why limit yourself to just one lens for the whole life of the camera (which is perhaps 5+ years for cameras I listed)?

What's the point in such camera which cannot zoom and cannot have its lens changed at all and are rather expensive?

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    Depends on what you use the camera for, some people would only need one focal length. – Janardan S Feb 20 '17 at 15:20
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    This is asking for opinion and speculation, should be closed. – Robin Feb 20 '17 at 15:21
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    @Robin This isn't asking for opinion and speculation any more than a number of already existing questions including this one photo.stackexchange.com/questions/15573/… – sharptooth Feb 21 '17 at 7:27
10

What's the point in high quality rather expensive cameras with permanently mounted prime lens?

To take pictures.

By creating a camera intended for only one focal length a lot of things cans be optimized for that particular lens. The camera can also be simpler with no need to adapt to a variety of different lenses and focal lengths. A through-the-lens viewfinder is not necessary since the field of view is constant. Each location on the sensor can be optimized for light from an exact angle. The various connections between the main body and the lens can be stronger and more permanent than on an interchangeable lens camera.

There's also a bit of marketing going on with such cameras. By using traditional high quality external materials and by making them seem exclusive and "not for everyone" they attempt to give them the same cachet that similar film cameras once had. In the case of Leica, it's even the same company that has made many such niche cameras for seven decades. Leica has been making cameras for a century. Following increased competitions from Soviet and Japanese cameras following WWII, they established themselves as the leader in the high-end rangefinder market space.

  • "a lot of things cans be optimized for that particular lens." - the most important of them being the size and weight. – Euri Pinhollow Feb 25 '17 at 11:03
  • Size/weight are often personal preference. Not everyone necessarily wants the smallest/lightest camera possible for every shooting situation. Certainly not everyone places it at the top of the list of camera characteristics. It may be the most important to you, but not necessarily to everyone. – Michael C Feb 25 '17 at 14:14
9

About a decade ago, prominent photography blogger Michael Johnston wrote an essay describing his ideal digital camera, which he called the Decisive Moment Digital, after Cartier-Bresson's phrase. The theoretical "DMD" was a compact camera with a large sensor and fixed prime, just as you describe here.

Michael is a popular and persuasive writer, and this essay became somewhat famous. The phrase "DMD" became fairly common on Internet photography forums. No one actually sold such a camera, though — mainstream consensus was that it'd never sell. Out of the blue, however, Sigma released the DP1, a compact device with, yep, large sensor, fixed prime. It was slow, quirky, frustrating, and in the right hands produced beautiful results. To everyone's surprise — I bet even Sigma's! — it was a market success.

Once the category was proven to be a viable niche, other manufacturers followed.

  • He specified additional wide angle and tele converters, though. – ths Feb 20 '17 at 18:04
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    @ths And many such cameras do have such accessories. – mattdm Feb 20 '17 at 19:53
  • @mattdm Isn't a teleconverter mounted between the camera body and the lens? If so it cannot be used on cameras where lens are permanently mounted. – sharptooth Feb 21 '17 at 7:54
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    @vclaw I don't know how many people directly bought a camera because of that blog, but... he is popular enough to make blogging his full-time job, and if you search for "DMD decisive moment digital" you'll find many references, including from Wired ("And you know what? I want one") — and big photography vendor Adorama. And we don't know if that's what really made Sigma bring the first example to market, but I feel comfortable with the basic claim. – mattdm Feb 23 '17 at 16:49
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    Even if buyers have never heard of Johnson or read the blog directly they've almost certainly seen something by someone else who drew upon the ideas Johnson presented in his DMD article. – Michael C Feb 23 '17 at 22:34
3

What's the point in such camera which cannot zoom and cannot have its lens changed at all and are rather expensive?

To have a specific type of tool to take certain kinds of pictures with.

For many people who buy these types of cameras, this is not their only camera. I have a Fuji X100T. I also have Canon full frame and APS-C gear, as well as a full micro four-thirds outfit. If I need to change lenses and zoom, I can. But many times I don't need to do either.

For me, the X100T is a perfect walkaround camera, for social, street, and casual shooting. The 35mm-equivalency f/2 pancake lens is wide enough for landscapes, fast enough for portraits, small enough and wide enough for street shooting/travel photography, and the lens is short enough to do near-macros. It's not perfect for all occasions, but it is my grab'n'go/travel light camera and can handle a surprising range of situations for me. YMMV.

It also pairs exceedingly well with my GX-7 micro four-thirds camera. I used to shoot on that camera with a 20/1.7 pancake lens (40mm equivalency) as a default, but now I often do two-body shooting, with the X100T taking the place of the 20/1.7+GX-7 combo, while I'll attach an ultrawide zoom, short telephoto prime (90-equivalency) or telephoto zoom to the GX-7.

2

It is like playing electric keyboard vs. classical guitar. With the keyboard you can generate pretty much any sound you want. But some people still enjoy playing ordinary guitar with limited sound palette and limited possibilities.

When you start using a camera with limited number of lenses or with a fixed lens, you start focusing on different values. For example, you can better learn to pre-visualize the image before looking to the viewfinder.

You can think that giving up a zoom means giving up some sort of freedom - but you are usually getting another kind of freedom in exchange. Fixed lenses are usually faster and smaller, therefore less conspicuous and giving new options when playing with depth of field.

-1

It's really a simple answer: to fulfill market needs.

It's a luxury point and shoot, nothing more or less really. Would I personally love some of them? Yes. I'd also love a Ferrari. But there's other options that are more versatile and useful than both.

Then there's wealthy people that can afford expensive toys and created a demand for it. Companies see that, produce a reasonable amount, and enjoy high profit margins. It's like Leica these days --- is it a great camera? Absolutely! Is it magnitudes better than the competition? Nope. But its a collector's item, a statement piece, and a fashion accessory.

The problem you're having is comparing it to cameras that the lens can be changed on. It's real market is the point and shoot market. It's for people that aren't necessarily interested in dealing with lenses but want to FEEL like photographers. Its an emotional connection that manufacturers know people are looking for and are willing to pay for. Like a vintage feel, a simpler time, all of that stuff. Almost all of them are branded and marketed that way.

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    Hi Ryan, when you call out a certain market of camera buyers as [not] "really photographers", I think that your answer comes off as quite rude. Could you reconsider that statement so as to not appear to be so brash? I think that your opinion that a real photographer would not use a certain camera is quite inappropriate here. – dpollitt Feb 23 '17 at 4:04
  • @dpollitt I edited it for you to try to clarify better. It has nothing to do with real or not real photographers. It has everything to do with brand positioning and how these devices are marketed. – RyanFromGDSE Feb 23 '17 at 4:08
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    I agree that there's an inescapable marketing connection to retro styling — especially for Leica. Sigma's DP Merrill marketing certainly trades on "A longing for a simpler time". It's not the only thing though; Fujifilm's X100 series has the old-fashioned look, but marketing emphasizes performance. And Sony RX1R is marketed as image quality but palm-sized, not ease of use, and it doesn't have retro styling. – mattdm Feb 23 '17 at 16:59
  • Yes, it is about marketing. They don't sell many of the top of the range models, but it gets publicity and promotes the brand. Then that leads to more sales of the cheaper models. – vclaw Feb 24 '17 at 2:52

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