Holiday 2012: Retro Cameras


2012 has been a year for advances in many aspects of digital camera technology. Improvements in autofocus, mirrorless design, full-frame sensors and Wi-Fi connectivity have found their way into cameras from compacts to full-size DSLRs. However, one area of advancement has us flashing backward to a time when rangefinders and mechanical SLRs ruled the roost. A handful of manufacturers have created state-of-the-art digital cameras with decidedly retro looks. These are cameras that can perform as well as or better than your typical digital compact or mirrorless, but have engraved metal bodies, dials in addition to touch menus, optical viewfinders above LCDs, and compact, handsome designs that emphasize a certain nostalgia for the look and feel of the iconic cameras of an earlier era.

Fujifilm X-Pro1

Fujifilm has created a line of cameras that fits this mold, and calls it the X series. The flagship of the X series is the Fujifilm X-Pro1, which houses a 16.3MP APS-C X-Trans Sensor and the EXR Processor Pro. The X-Trans sensor utilizes a unique filter array that enhances details and sharpness while reducing moiré and false colors. The EXR image processor offers precise and high-speed performance. The X-Pro1 is a mirrorless, interchangeable-lens camera and is compatible with XF lenses, of which there are four prime lenses and one standard zoom.

The X-mount of the X-Pro1 and other X series cameras is really at the heart of the entire system. It provides resilient attachment for the lenses, precision signal contacts for processing and transmission of electronic data from lens to camera, and has been designed to match the short flange focal distance of the camera with the growing line of Fujinon XF lenses. The distance and angle between the camera’s sensor and the deep-set lens with its large last lens group provides uniform high resolution across the entire sensor.

Serving both its advanced technological options and its retro design, the X-Pro1 features a Hybrid (Electronic and Optical) Viewfinder as well as a high-resolution LCD. The Hybrid Viewfinder enables the user to switch back and forth from optical to electronic with just a one-finger lever; you never need to take your eye from the eyepiece or your finger from the shutter release. Depending on your shooting preference, the ambient conditions or your need for speed, choose the clear, bright frame of the OVF with customizable setting displays or the 100% coverage of the EVF with Live View Framing and instant playback. When you change lenses on the X-Pro1, the viewfinders automatically switch the magnification or bright frame size to match the angle of view of the lens. In addition, the X-Pro1 has a 3.0" LCD with 100% coverage and 1,230,000 pixels for crystal-clear playback and live-view composing. Full 1080 HD Video with HDMI output, RAW format capability and an ultrasonic vibration cleaning system to keep dust off the sensor are some of the modern features of the X-Pro1, while its knurled dials, dimpled grip, soft eyepiece and hot-shoe mount hark back to an earlier era.

Fujifilm X-E1

The Fujifilm X-E1 is the newest member of the X series team and offers the same 16.3MP X-Trans sensor as the X-Pro1. The sensor performs well in low light and has a dynamic range that's able to handle high-contrast scenes including shadow details, but without washout in the bright areas of the frame. And like all cameras in the X series, the X-E1 recalls the Fujifilm legacy by incorporating Film Simulation mode into its package of options. Film Simulation mode allows you to set your camera to capture images with the color and tonal qualities of the famous Fujifilm films, including Velvia and PROVIA.

A highlight of the X-E1 is its OLED Electronic Viewfinder. With approximately 2.36M dots of resolution and 100% coverage, the display provides incredible detail to frame and focus your shots. Adopting the aspherical, two-glass structure of optical viewfinders to its OLED panel, this Electronic viewfinder is distortion-free edge to edge, and offers a diopter-adjustment dial. Accurate colors and high contrast allow you to see your images and any adjustments in real time. The EVF brings the confidence of knowing that what you are seeing before you shoot is what you will have afterward.

The X-E1 comes in two styles, both reminiscent of older camera designs. The silver X-E1 seems the most refined and feels good to the touch, and the black is classic and minimal, innocuous for street photography and reportage. Both cameras emphasize their numbered dials for aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation. This links them to classic cameras of the film age but also provides speedy adjustments and the ability to check your settings with just a glance. The beauty of these cameras is that you also have an intuitive LCD menu system for extensive settings control and an Fn button for fast access to important settings not controlled by the dials. Full HD video with an external stereo microphone jack, High Speed Contrast autofocus, an ISO range up to 25600 and both a built-in flash and hot-shoe mount round out the features on the X-E1.

The Fujifilm X-E1 is available with a kit lens as well. Both the silver X-E1 with XF 18-55mm f/2.8 lens and the black X-E1 with XF 18-55mm f/2.8 lens include this standard zoom lens with 35mm format equivalency of 27-84mm and a maximum aperture of f/2.8. The lens features Optical Image Stabilization to reduce the effects of camera shake, three aspherical lens elements for sharp imaging and a linear motor for fast autofocusing.

Fujifilm FinePix X100

The Fujifilm FinePix X100 Digital Camera may be the most retro-looking in this line of cameras, with its fixed 35mm f/2.0 lens. A classic design in a magnesium-alloy body, the X100 is loaded with dials on the top plate, has a manual aperture ring on the lens and a viewfinder control lever that looks like the old-time remote timer. Unlike the two cameras described above, the X100 houses a 12.3MP APS-C-sized CMOS sensor and it shoots 720p HD Video. It does, however, have the switchable Optical/Electronic Viewfinder like the X-Pro1. What makes the X100 unique is its 23mm f/2.0 fixed focal length lens. Rare among the world of digital cameras, this non-interchangeable, non-collapsible lens is equivalent to a 35mm lens in 35mm full-frame format, and because its rear lens elements are housed in the camera body, the design of the X100 is particularly slim and portable. A nine-blade aperture creates lovely bokeh and permits macro shooting as close as 4” (10 cm), and also makes this camera an ideal solution for those purists willing and eager to shoot with just one focal length.

Fujifilm X100 Fujifilm X100 BLACK Limited Edition

The X100 also comes in a special version called the Fujifilm X100 BLACK Limited Edition Digital Camera. Fujifilm has created only 10,000 of these cameras, and each of these handsome black-bodied X100s comes with a numbered registration card, a leather carrying case, metal adapter ring and lens hood.

Fujifilm X10

The Fujifilm X10 Digital Camera has a 12MP 2/3" CMOS sensor and a non-interchangeable 4x manual zoom lens with a focal-length range of 28-112mm in 35mm-equivalent format. Available in black with a dimpled body, this camera will shoot in auto or full manual and can capture Full HD 1080p Video. Like the X100, it has a pop-up flash and a hot shoe for a flash or accessories. It’s the lens quality with manual zoom and significantly lower price on this camera that makes it stand out amongst the Fujifilm X series.

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Fujifilm XF1

The Fujifilm XF1 Digital Camera is about as stylish as a camera can be. Retro, yet elegant, it comes in three distinctive colors: black, red and tan. The XF1 is a compact point and shoot, about an inch wide, with an aluminum body and a colored wrap that gives it a look like a fine black-tie accessory from an earlier era. The lens retracts fully into the body of the camera and the camera turns on and off with a slight turn of the lens. While it has fast, fully automatic focusing, the lens can also turn to focus manually. The sensor is a 12MP 2/3” EXR CMOS sensor, which features Fujifilm’s own EXR color array and a large pixel size that produces high-quality images with enhanced sensitivity and minimal noise. The lens is a 4x optical zoom that has a 35mm equivalent focal range of 25-100mm and a fast maximum aperture of f/1.8. Optical image stabilization and an ISO range up to 12800 allow for sharp low-light photography. Movie recording is Full 1080i with stereo sound. A 3.0” LCD offers clear composition, focusing and playback. In addition, RAW capture, manual shooting modes and 10 frames per second of continuous shooting offer real image control. A pop-up flash, electronic horizon level and a customizable E-Fn button for quick access to the settings you use most round out the features on this sleek beauty.

Leica M9

The Leica M9 Digital Rangefinder may be better classified as "classic," as opposed to "retro," in that the Leica rangefinder design has remained consistent throughout decades of its manufacture. But the M9, which comes in an all-black body and a steel grey/black body, shares with the Fujifilm cameras a preference for solid metal bodies, optical viewfinders, dials, simple menus and high performance in a minimalist form. The M9 has a full-frame 24 x 36mm CCD sensor with 18MP resolution that was specifically designed by Leica for use with the M-series lenses. The full-frame sensor matches the angle of view for which the lenses were designed, and therefore, receives uniform distribution of light across the entire sensor. Even when using wide-angle lenses, the image resolution and clarity is stunning from edge to edge. The camera’s viewfinder is large and bright and allows for rapid and accurate focusing. With a 2.5” LCD and intuitive menus, controlling the M-9’s functions is a simple operation, designed to keep you shooting, not fumbling for the next adjustment. Shutter speed is controlled by a dial on the top plate and aperture is set on the lens. The shutter operation is quiet and smooth and suggests the quality and precision that makes the M-9 such a great camera. A high strength magnesium-alloy chassis and brass top and bottom plates give strength to this compact, surprisingly light full-frame camera that, in possibly its most retro characteristic, is built to last a lifetime.

Leica M9 Leica M9-P (Sapphire Crystal LCD)

Leica M9-P

The Leica M9-P, which comes in black or silver, is technically identical to the M-9; however, it features a Sapphire Crystal Cover over its 2.5” LCD. Sapphire Crystal is a scratch resistant, almost unbreakable material, and the LCD cover has an anti-reflective coating on both sides for improved bright light playback. The M9-P also has a vulcanite leather grip that improves handling and, for more discreet use, Leica has replaced its iconic red dot logo with a Leica script logo on the camera’s top plate.

Leica M Monochrom

The Leica M Monochrom Digital Camera is certainly retro in its most defining characteristic: it shoots only black-and-white images. A full-frame 18MP CCD sensor is dedicated to capturing luminance only, not color, and therefore produces incredibly sharp, true black-and-white images with outstanding dynamic range. For those who know what they want to shoot and want the best possible quality, the M Monochrom provides you with unmatched design and durability as well as smooth and precise action. Fast focusing through the rangefinder with playback on the 2.5” LCD equal to that on the M9, the M Monochrom additionally offers RAW data directly on the LCD, which allows for precise exposure control. An ISO range up to 10000 improves performance in low light, and in-camera toning (sepia, selenium, cold toning) eliminates time spent in post processing. Also included with the M-Monochrom is Silver Efex black-and-white image processing software and a print service from WhiteWall that offers the traditional wet-chemical silver halide process to complete the circle of traditional-meets-digital for the best qualities of both. Like the M9 and M9-P, the M Monochrom utilizes the Leica M-series lenses for incomparable image quality.

Leica M-E

The Leica M-E Digital Rangefinder also chooses to define itself by the old maxim that less is more. By not including Live View and Video functions, the M-E concentrates on essential photographic functions and in doing so, produces sharp, high-resolution photos in a fast and quiet manner. By eliminating the low-pass filter from its full-frame 18MP CCD sensor, it creates photos with extra fine detail and clarity. The sensor is designed to accept the Leica M series of lenses to distribute uniform exposure across the entire sensor. Fast and accurate manual focus is achieved through the optical viewfinder/rangefinder and compatibility with the full line of M lenses provides flexibility and, of course, the sharp imagery for which Leica is famous. Exposure is controlled manually or with auto shutter speed priority, and the closed type focal plane shutter operates almost silently. Like the M9 and M Monochrom, the M-E has a 2.5” TFT LCD screen for clear playback and easy menu operation. As handsome as any of the retro cameras mentioned, the M-E has an all-metal die-cast magnesium body with an anthracite gray finish and a real leather wrap that provides good looks and a good grip.

Leica M

Recently announced by Leica is their M Digital Rangefinder Camera, a 24MP Full Frame camera with 1080p Video. Classic, refined and extremely simple in its design, it comes in an all-black model and a silver-plated model. Its newly designed Leica Max CMOS sensor and Leica Maestro Image Processor make this the fastest, most powerful M-series camera to date. It is also the first M series camera to feature Live View and Live View Focusing. A heightened ISO sensitivity of 6400 in both still and video capture allows for greater flexibility in low light without sacrificing detail or adding noise.

A large 3.0” LCD with 920,000 pixels aids in its precision focusing and offers clear playback for photos and video. Scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla glass protects the LCD monitor and specially designed rubber seals protect the camera against dust and water. Its top and base plates are machined from solid brass, and its full-metal body is manufactured in one piece from high strength magnesium alloy. Simple and ergonomic controls make for easy adjustments and an improved battery. Combined with the energy-efficient electronics of the image processor, it offers extremely long battery life.

By installing an optional electronic viewfinder and the R-Adapter M, the Leica M’s full-frame sensor pairs well with the Leica R series of lenses to offer DSLR-like zooming and video capabilities beyond that of any Leica M digital camera.

Olympus OM-D E-M5

Olympus's offering is the Silver OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera. This mirrorless camera has a 16.1MP Live MOS sensor and the TruePic VI Image Processor. A high resolution, eye level electronic viewfinder with 100% field of view makes for clear and accurate composition and a 3.0” Tilting LCD monitor is available for playback and odd-angle framing. An ISO range of up to 25600 offers sensitivity in low-light situations and 5-Axis Image Stabilization reduces the effects of camera movement in low light and for longer exposures. The Olympus F.A.S.T. autofocus system enables exceptionally fast focusing, and the E-M5 can shoot up to 9 frames per second, continuously. Full HD 1080p video is available as well. The body on the E-M5 is not only reminiscent of the great Olympus SLRs, but its rugged magnesium body is splashproof and dustproof and designed to be durable but portable, thanks to the mirrorless Micro Four Thirds system. Included with the camera is the FL-LM2 Electronic Flash.

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 body also comes in black and is available in various kit forms. The all-black kit is available with a 14-42mm f/3.5 lens. And both the silver and black OM-D E-M5 bodies are available with a 12-50mm f/3.5 lens.

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Very well written, far exceeding the typical fluff piece because it explains the benefit of the feature. The Fuji X-Pro1 has many important design features which this writer explained. Thank you. What a shame that 99% of buyers lack the ability to appreciate the fine details of performance, and instead turn to the lazy and shortsighted tactic of comparing specs. I encourage BH to continue your intelligent/skillful editorial style and I also would hope Fuji continues to have the stones to market equipment for the thinking man instead of teenage girls like Nikon is doing. p.s. Nikon marketing is in a nosedive, following in the footsteps of other once-great brands like RCA, IBM, and McIntosh. Good job BH.

The Fuji X10 camera is incorrectly listed as having the same sensor as the X100. The X100 sensor is the APS-C size while the X10 has a smaller 2/3" sized sensor. That said, the X10 still offers high quality results in a package that feels more like a modern rangefinder than a point and shoot digital. The price is very reasonable too.