Retro Digital Cameras and the Fine Line Between Nostalgia and Utility

If you shot film cameras before the autofocus and plastic camera revolution of the 1980's, you probably have at least a hint of nostalgia for manual focus rings, film advance levers, and solid metal camera bodies. Let's face it - consumer digital SLR cameras and pocket cameras are constructed of plastic and plagued with endless menus and endless settings... all of which contribute to getting in the way of your picture.

Do not fear! Camera maker Fuji has led the charge for a more classic photography experience with its 2011-released Fuji X100 rangefinder-style camera and, more recently, the Fuji X-Pro1. The X100 became popular because it offered manual dials, a metal alloy body, and a form factor that mimics classic rangefinder cameras. Providing a digital spin on the rangefinder theme, Fuji implemented a hybrid viewfinder system in the X100, which permits the users to switch between an optical and electronic viewfinder. The X-Pro1 offers an even more well-rounded experience, as it allows for lens changing.

Olympus has followed Fuji's lead with the recent release of the OM-D E-M5. Olympus' classic film line of OM cameras carries much respect throughout the photography community because the cameras provided a small form factor and excellent durability. Olympus has a reputation for producing cameras and lenses that are small in size and big in performance, and the OM-D gives us every indication it will deliver.

Both the Fuji X-Pro1 and Olympus OM-D E-M5 do have down sides associated with their use. The Fuji camera is priced at $1700 and does not include a lens. The lenses should run around $500 each, but for this kind of money a photographer could assemble an impressive DSLR camera kit with lenses and flash (The X-Pro1 is not a DSLR but rather a “mirrorless” camera). Fuji only has 3 lenses for the X-Pro1 at this moment, but there are more to come throughout 2012 and 2013. The Olympus comes in at only $1000 and does have a broad and affordable lens selection; however, low-light and autofocus performance must be examined before it could be considered a contender to normal DSLR outfits.

Both of these retro digital cameras are likely to offer technical image quality that meets or exceeds the image quality from DSLR cameras in this price bracket. You do pay a price for the nostalgia in other ways though - whether it's Fuji's limited lens selection or Olympus' sensor format historically being unable to compare with DSLR sensor quality. The jury is still out - we need to see what these cameras can do.

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