Your next digital camera

  Wilham 22:38 27 Mar 04

Whatever you buy, car, computer, camera..., it isn't long before a new model comes on the market.
I suggest we can anticipate one change to digital camera design the next year or two by looking at what happened to 35mm photography.

In 1952 I bought my first 35mm camera. It was a Contax 1, body 20 years old and the f3.5 Tessar lens dated from about 1938/9. I paid £25 for it which was nearly a month's take-home pay at the time.

Within days of its purchase I took a set of wedding pictures. A horizontal projector was used as an enlarger with a hastily made lens stop. The results were stunning. My immediate boss at the time was not surprised. He remembered he'd been to an exhibition in Birmingham in 1932 when Zeiss launched the Contax as a rival to the rising Leica. "The photos were 5 feet high" he said," and you could nose right up to them, they were so sharp" In retrospect I think Zeiss always had the edge with lenses but never acquired the silkiness of the Leica camera bodies.

So what came next? 35mm half frame cameras, 16mm micro spy cameras, twin lens reflexes such as the Contarex.

The big advance was the invention of the pentaprism and the through-the-lens 35mm camera commonly called the single lens reflex (SLR). Accompanying this the Japanese used f1.8 lenses, so the ttl image seen through the camera (and lens)was brilliant. So bright that a micro cross-prism area the middle of the screen gave you a critical focusing device. The new lenses suffered some spherical aberration to achieve the large aperture, but for users needing rectilinearity a new lens was on hand called a macro lens, commonly f4 aperture, and of course, of Tessar design.

So what does this imply for the next generation of digital cameras? I expect the sensor to increase to the 24x36mm frame size. The lenses get larger, cameras bulkier, but only then will the light through the the lens be enough to match that of a top class SLR 35mm camera.

What prompted all this is a digital SLR camera with 35mm-frame-sized sensor that I've seen in Jessops' catalogue. Called a Contax.

  james55 00:00 28 Mar 04

I was only 7 When you bought your 35mm Camera, however when I retired in 2002 .I bought a Minolta Dimage 7 Camera (Digital) and of course it will end up way behind the times. But at the moment I can get a 24x20" picture in perfect resolution, can I ask for any more.

Of course it will get better as we can't halt the course of time, but the eye can only see so much.


  Stuartli 09:30 28 Mar 04

One of my cameras is an Ashai Pentax Spotmatic (the first version) with an f1.8 Super Takumar lens.

Colour slides taken with the camera in 1966 from the top of the BT Tower in London (660ft high) and projected onto a 60in screen reveal that bus numbers can easily be read.

I'm a bit puzzled about your comparison with digital sensors and 35mm cameras' film track.

I would have thought that the light ratio between a digital camera lens and CCD sensor and that of a 35mm lens and equivalent film frame would be the same (or virtually similar); the digital equivalent is much nearer to the lens so there would be no reduction, ratio wise, of light levels.

  Wilham 11:14 28 Mar 04

James55: Greatest respect, but you illustrate one of my points (but perhaps didn't make it obvious).
Like many others a prime camera spec you think of is high resolving power.
We go through this barrier, and cost of multi- mega-pixel sensors drops dramatically.
My Contax 1 had all the resolution I needed, then and now.

Stuarti: Exactly. The ratios for digital sensor and film are similar for same light conditions.
What you, and nearly everyone else, overlooks is that the SLR lens is doing two separate jobs. One of these is providing a viewfinder, and and to do it well ample light-gathering power is needed.

Stuarti, here's a challenge. Find the physical size of the Canon 300D sensor in mmxmm. It's there in the specs, but notice the confusing way it's listed;- and how much it's smaller than the new Contax sensor.

Thanks to both of you.

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