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Film Inspired Mirrorless Cameras

Continuing on the theme of How to Get the Experience of Shooting Film with Your Digital Camera some manufacturers have actually built the filmic experience into the design of their mirrorless cameras. Brands like Fuji, Leica and even Nikon have current mirrorless cameras in their line up that feature the same controls and look of film cameras from the 70s. This often includes dials for ISO, Shutter Speed, and exposure compensation. These dials differ from the mode dial and set of customizable nondescript dials you might find atop your favorite Sony camera.

It might be easy to look at the physical layout of filmesque digital cameras and write it off as a design gimmick. But this would be a disservice to the designers and their reasons behind intentionally laying out the cameras in the way that they have. The physical dials keep your eyes and mind out of menus and give you a more tactile experience. Some of this is done in part in the spirit of heritage, but some of this is to keep the photographer from spending too much time with the LCD screen on the back of the camera. Plus by offering essential settings on dedicated dials on top of the camera, you can set your settings before even turning on your camera. This can be helpful in cases where you are not trying to draw a lot of attention to the fact that you’re making an image.

Shot on the Leica M11

In addition to the dials, some cameras like the Fujifilm X100V, the Fujifilm X-Pro 3 and the Leica M11 still make use of an optical viewfinder. While many camera manufacturers opted to put electronic viewfinder on their mirrorless cameras, these three cameras have stayed with the traditional optical viewfinder. All three of these cameras are rangefinder style cameras, so the optical viewfinder isn’t necessarily showing you the scene through your lens, but it is showing you the actual scene in front of you via glass lenses designed to accurately represent what your lens is seeing.

Shot on the Leica M11

The optical viewfinders on these three cameras have helpful digital overlays that can include areas of focus and camera settings but not to the same level as electronic viewfinders. Because these optical viewfinders are showing you the actual scene and are limited in the data they show, it keeps the photographer in the scene. An additional benefit of using an optical viewfinder that keeps the photographer in the scene is the lack of black out after pressing the shutter release button. Many electronic viewfinders need some time to refresh the digital replay after the shutter is released, but optical viewfinders don’t.

Two mirrorless cameras have taken their dedication to the filmic experience even further by removing the inclusion of an LCD screen on the back. One of Leica’s more recent mirrorless cameras, the Leica M10-D, lacks a rear LCD display completely (a design choice that started with the Leica M-D, Typ 262). The philosophy behind using a digital camera with no rear display is based around the idea of the photographer fully focusing on their subjects and the moment while using a camera completely free from distractions of menu settings and playback modes. Without these distractions, the photographer can be focused on their next shot and just enjoy their photos after they’re done shooting.

The Fujifilm X-Pro 3 took a page from the Leica book and the natural state of its LCD screen is tucked away. While this camera does have one, the LCD natural faces in to the back of the camera and only shows a small square LCD that can show settings either in a black and white data set or styled as one of Fujifilm’s old film packages. Again, the aim by Fuji was to build a camera that removed the temptation to double check if you got the shot or fiddle with your settings.

Shot on the Leica Q2

Other cameras like the Leica Q3 or the Ricoh GR III and GR IIIx also have certain elements such as a dedicated shutter speed dial or a clean layout on the back of the camera that will give photographers a more filmic experience.

We’re undoubtedly in an exciting new era for photography. Each new digital camera body, model update, and firmware release brings with it more tools to provide ever-increasing convenience and control over camera features and settings. But if you want your focus to be concentrated on your subject and composition, and not what settings you are photographing it at, maybe a film inspired mirrorless camera is for you.

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