Tech Hunter – What Ever Happened to the 50mm Camera?

Hello all,

Today I’m going to start a new series of posts called Tech Hunter. This basically stems from me being the sort of person who spends a lot of time poring over camera equipment blogs to find the latest products. So to save you the trouble of developing your own OCD I thought I’d share some of my observations in a regular post about interesting camera kit.

Let’s start off with this, the 50mm camera. Historically the 50mm camera has been a mainstay of street and journalist photography, which makes me wonder why it seems so scarce among modern cameras and photographers? A picture taken with a 50mm lens most accurately reproduces the scene you see from the same spot with your own eyes, and it’s perfect for shooting groups of friends or a cool street cafe, the sort of thing which is hugely popular with instagrammers and urbanites everywhere. So I thought I’d see if I could find an awesome 50mm camera that would be perfect for today’s urban hipster, here’s what I found…

Let’s start out with the obvious, the most awesome, and the trendiest of the trendy. The Leica. This was the mainstay camera of 50mm stalwart Henri Cartier-Bresson, and remains about the most desirable camera on the planet today. Also, Leica shows a commitment to 50mm photography which leaves other manufacturers behind, making no less than five different 50mm lenses! Among these is the king of them all, the Noctilux! This lens has an aperture which opens to f0.95, which allows it to take pictures in very dark conditions ( hence the name, which means night-light ). In fact having an aperture which can open this wide makes this lens almost unique in the photography world, and a seriously luxury item. This brings us on to the bad news, a Leica M9 camera body will cost you somewhere around $9000, which is quite harsh. Worse still that Noctilux lens will set you back a further $11000! Yes you read that right, eleven grand, and it’s manual focus only. Apparently Brad Pitt has one of these, sadly those movie contracts just aren’t coming through for me so we’ll need to move on.

Leica Noctilux f0.95 50mm. Source: Leica
Leica M9. Source: Leica

How about this, the Fuji x-E2 with 35mm lens? Yes ok you spotted the 35mm part, but this camera uses a smaller sensor so when you put them together it actually works as a 50mm. It’s a nice camera to hold, and has that same retro feel as the Leica. But unlike it’s older sibling this one has an array of modern features like wi-fi, different film effects and fast auto-focus. In short a really nice piece of kit, and it comes in pretty good value too, you should be able to get this pairing for about $1600. They even make a Leica lens adapter so you don’t have to give up hope on a Noctilux as a future upgrade!

Fuji X-E2. Source: Fujifilm

So there we have two modern options for a nice 50mm camera to explore you own personal Bresson. But I do still wonder why there isn’t a cheaper fixed 50mm we could buy for less than $1000? I was giving up hope until I found this, a 50mm F1.7 full-frame camera from Vivitar. Sounds perfect right, especially when you find out that it costs $210 brand-new! Only thing is, you have to put film in it and remember how you took pictures before there were screens on the back, which does change things a bit. But there is an appeal here, especially when you see how minimal the controls are; there’s basically a button and two knobs. So maybe one for the enthusiast, but maybe if we want to embrace retro,we need to actually go retro, I think this is pretty cool…

Vivitar V3800N. Source: Vivitar

~ Geoff

(see Geoff’s work at The Brisbane Photo)