New Digital Camera Idea

I’m a 35mm photographer from way back. I got my first camera in ninth grade, my first SLR system in tenth, and my first new 35mm SLR less than a year later. I’ve owned and used Miranda, Minolta, and Olympus cameras, before settling on an autofocus Nikon last year.

What I’d really like is an inexpensive digital camera that can use my lenses, especially my 19-35mm Vivitar Series I zoom. I use this lens for architectural shots, especially situations where I need the widest setting because I can only back up so far.

There are inexpensive digital cameras. The cheapest have a single focal length fixed-focus lens, an optical viewfinder, and limited resolution. Kodak has one for under $200. Great for a newsletter, maybe even the web.

There are very expensive digital cameras, such as the Kodak and Nikon SLRs. They take a pro camera, graft on a high speed, high resolution back, and charge many thousands of dollars. And they find a ready market, despite the fact that the frame is sometimes so small that a 28mm lens is ‘normal.’ (Which makes my 19-35mm zoom equivalent to a 35-65mm — not exactly super-wide any longer.)

In between we have digital cameras with zoom lenses, with SLR viewing, with LCD viewing, with autofocus, etc. Prices are generally reasonable, and quality appears to be good, but there is one significant drawback: none will accept my lenses.


First, the camera must have a full-frame 24x36mm format. Otherwise it defeats the purpose of wide-angle lenses.

Second, it need not be an SLR, it only has to accept SLR lenses.

Third, it need not be autofocus, but it should offer autoexposure. Program mode is good, aperture preferred would be nice, and manual would be cool.

Fourth, it should have decent resolution: at least 720 x 480 (0.35 MP), maybe as high as 1440 x 960 (1.4 MP). It must keep the 3:2 ratio of 35mm format.

Fifth, it should have a nice color LCD for viewing and focus.

Sixth, include a hot shoe for the same dedicated flash the SLR takes. A built-in flash would be nice but is not essential.

Seventh, exposure compensation is a must. No real guesswork, since we can see the image on the LCD.


Leaf makes a very high-end camera that does some of this, but the cost is prohibitive, the quality overkill for most users, and the feature set limited.

The technology exists to make such a camera for under $1,000. The market is anyone currently using a 35mm SLR with interchangeable lenses. If Kodak or Fuji made the camera, they could offer it in several versions with mounts for Nikon, Canon, Minolta, etc.

The camera could be made with different backs, each with a different resolution. If you outgrow the lower resolution back, replace it with a higher resolution one.

Several data storage options should be offered, including Flash RAM, floppy disks, and Zip disks. Perhaps the storage module would fit between the main camera and the LCD screen.

The Market

A lot of people are shooting 35mm and then scanning their photos in with inexpensive color scanners. Serious amateurs who already have SLR systems and computers would be very interested in eliminating the cost of film and the vagaries of processing. Direct digital should also be competitive with PhotoCD in cost, if not in quality.

For my purposes, historical research, the big advantage is cost. My current research involves roughly 200 area churches. I’d like to have a photo of each for my web site. I’ve taken some pictures and have used PhotoCD. The quality is good, but the cost is prohibitive. Several dollars for a roll of film and then $25-50 to develop and put the images on PhotoCD. (Let’s not even talk about how long it takes to get PhotoCD back from Kodak.)

I’ve taken others and scanned. But since I don’t own a scanner, this is a “do it when you can” proposition. And the quality of the original prints isn’t always what I want.

I don’t need incredible resolution – most of these images will be under 200 pixels high when I’ve reduced them for use on my site. I could justify $500 for such a camera, maybe even think about it at $1,000. Five hundred dollars would be less expensive than taking several photos of each church and converting at least 250 to PhotoCD.

Nikon, Kodak, Fuji – are you listening?

Keywords: #digigraphica

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