Photographic Prentensions

So this week I should take delivery of a new camera. Its a Ricoh GR-1v fixed focus (28mm) compact. How many megapixels you ask? None. Zero. Nada. Or, if you want to be precise, it depends on what speed of film I load in it.

Thats right, its a non-zoom film camera. Am I some kind of technophobic luddite I hear you cry? Hardly. But I am something of a perfectionist when it comes to the deterministic parts of photography.

Let me explain. The ‘image capture’ element of photography basically boils down to the following factors:

  • Lens quality
  • Autofocus accuracy
  • Meter accuracy
  • Ability of capture medium
  • Composition

Of the five, only the last one (which I am using to include depth of field, metering off the right thing, focussing on the right thing etc, as well as ‘composition’ in the artistic sense) is qualitative. All the others can be measured, and don’t depend on who is behind the camera. So my thought process in this matter is something like this:

Why a compact? I want a compact camera for all the times I’ve cursed because I didn’t have my SLR with me and missed photo opportunities as a result. I want my ability to be the limiting factor in my photos and not my equipment. Fixed lenses are easier to make well than zooms, and the Ricoh’s is rated as one of the best. In fact, all the criteria that depend on the camera (for a film camera, the first three) are highly regarded in the Ricoh. Which leaves the quality of the final results down to me, not the camera. I want a fairly high degree of control (which the Ricoh offers), and couldn’t give two hoots about automatic program modes (which it doesn’t).

Why film? Opinions differ on how many megapixels you need to match the grain size of a high quality slow (ISO 100) film. The numbers vary from 6 to 64 and higher. Obviously the more the better, but there seems to be a consensus that the current crop of 6 megapixel SLR’s are starting to approach film for reasonable sized prints (up to about 10×8, which is close to A4). The larger the desired print size, the more pixels needed. There are other factors to be considered as well, such as the dynamic range (the number of shades between black and white), colour accuracy etc. Digital generally does better here, as these factors can be tweaked after the fact, which can’t be done with film. But I digress. The upshot of all this ponderment was that I could only meet my goals with a film camera, and not a cheap one at that. If I was in the market for a new SLR, then I would be looking very hard at digital, for the reasons I’ve mentioned above, but I would want the option of a film body also, which basically limits me to Canon or Nikon (and Canon currently have a big lead thanks to the 300D).