There was a time when photographers didn’t carry nine different lenses with their camera, a time when one wide-angle lens was enough to get an adroit photographer through the day because he realized that sometimes the best way to zoom in was to damn well walk closer to his subject. While most of us like having a versatile zoom lens, there’s something to be said for having only one focal length.
The formula for a fixed-lens camera is simple: combine a single, fixed prime lens at a “walk-around” focal length (e.g. 35mm), a large, light-gobbling sensor, and a body design that often takes its cues from heritage products like rangefinders. The result is a distraction-free camera that requires a more intentional kind of photography: suddenly, composition and exposure are not judged on the fly; rather they are meditated upon until the perfect shot becomes clear through the viewfinder. When you shoot with a fixed focal length camera, you don’t take pictures, you take photographs. We’ve rounded up the top six “fixies” to get you started on your path towards being an artisan.
For years Sigma has sat in the middle of a niche market, surrounded by either die-hard loyalists or the utterly indifferent, but with the DP line, the brand has hit its stride and found its place. The DP1, DP2, and DP3 offer 28mm, 45mm, and 75mm focal lengths respectively. All three DP fixed-lens cameras (each offering a different focal length) unleash the fury of Sigma’s 46MP Foveon X3 sensor, which allows each pixel to capture red, green, and blue color information, resulting in images that carry a certain 3D charm. Aesthetically, the DP cameras are the simplest in this roundup, with clean lines and minimal button clutter. Yes, the bodies are made primarily of plastic, but we’re not concerned as they feel solid enough in the hand. We prefer the DP2 with the 45mm 2.8 lens because it’s by far the most versatile of the group: it’s wide enough for street shooting, and has a far enough reach for flattering portraits. But really, you can’t go wrong with any of the DPs, and at $999 apiece, you may as well pick up more than one.
Sony held nothing back with the RX1r. This is the only fixie in the lineup sporting a full-frame sensor (meaning the digital sensor is literally the size of a 35mm negative). With 24MP you need not worry about any loss of resolution. The metal lens on the RX1r is a true Carl Zeiss (one of the world’s best lens makers) 35mm f2 with dedicated functioning rings for aperture and focus — and a sharpness that rates off the charts. The RX1r is built solidly, and while the grip is rather small, the whole rig can easily be slipped into your coat picket. Sony also offers an external electronic viewfinder for those of us who despise using a screen to compose our shots. While at $2,800 the RX1r is the most expensive body in the lineup, after printing your first photograph you’ll know exactly what you’ve paid for: this powerhouse delivers images rivaling the best full-frame DSLRs, and with the Carl Zeiss lens (did we mention he’s a big deal?), you’ll never wonder if you bought the top of the line.
If you’re the kind of man who wears bow ties and enjoys shining your shoes, then you’ll revel in holding the Fujifilm X100s, which pairs retro styling with cutting-edge image technology. The X100 was a great camera crippled by several major flaws. In a move no one expected, Fujifilm actually listened to their customers and made all of the necessary adjustments to the X100s. The focus is lightning fast; the 16MP sensor is phenomenal; and the hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder (which you can toggle manually) is as innovative as it gets. All of this alone would be enough to make a great camera, but the X100s is also no doubt the most attractive fixed-lens camera on the market. With its upgraded features and Fujinon 35mm f2 lens, it’s ready to produce dreamy images and seal its place as a venerated fixie.
INTRODUCING: THE GEAR PATROL X DSPTCH CAMERA STRAP
Since 2010, San Francisco-based DSPTCH has designed rugged, functional camera straps that pair military-spec webbing and Paracord with high-quality hardware. They’re available in a variety of excellent, reserved hues, but we couldn’t help but wonder what a combination of blaze orange and matte black hardware might look like. Neither could DSPTCH — and so we’re pleased to introduce GP x DSPTCH straps in our signature color. Click on any strap to learn more and purchase.
With its small all-black body, the GR is as discreet as they come. This is without a doubt the street shooter’s camera. Ricoh has loaded the GR with a 16MP APS-C sensor that’s the same size found in most DSLRs. Of course a digital sensor is only as good as the lens delivering the images to it, and the GR’s 28mm f2.8 lens delivers in spades: with two aspheric glass elements and a built-in neutral density filter, this lens is sharp and can let in plenty of light without distorting image quality.
For the run-and-gunner who wants speed and control, the GR’s Time and Aperture priority mode selects the appropriate ISO after the photographer’s selected shutter speed and aperture. And for those who like to capture the occasional movie, the GR can shoot HD at 24, 25, or 30 frames per second. Ricoh has even borrowed Sony’s WhiteMagic technology to make the GR LCD screen completely visible in the sun. This compact rig, which can fit in your front jeans pocket, prices at a reasonable $800.
Of course no camera roundup would be complete without a Leica, and in the world of fixed-lens cameras, the X2 finds itself in an interesting spot. Leica first introduced the X1 in 2009, and most of the photographers who bought one found themselves in the middle of a photographic relationship fraught with consternation: while image quality was breathtaking, the camera was simply too slow to be taken seriously. With the X2, Leica has amped up autofocus speed and beefed up the physical body of the camera, resulting in a minimalist’s photographic tool with just a touch of chrome.
Indeed, the crown jewel of the X2 is its 24mm Elmarit f2.8 lens, which, make no mistake, is a Leica lens. Obviously this glass is sharp, but there’s more to a lens than sharpness: Leica lenses have a certain film-like quality that other camera companies have yet to successfully mimic. At $2,000, the X2 still isn’t as lightning fast as we’d like it to be, but the images are rapturous and the design is nothing short of postmodern art.
Bonus: Nikon Coolpix A
Like a SAAB Turbo X, the Nikon Coolpix A is a total sleeper. The most fascinating facet of this camera is undeniably its size. What appears to be a compact point-and-shoot that can fit in your pocket along with your chapstick is in fact a fixed-lens ass kicker with a 16MP APS-C “DX” format image sensor. That’s Nikon talk for a huge DSLR sensor in a miniscule body. Nikon has paired this sensor with a fixed 28mm f2.8 lens that one reviewer has deemed “insanely sharp” — which makes sense considering Nikon has promised pro results.
The Coolpix A has all of the usual bells and whistles like HD video and a virtual horizon to make sure you’re photos are level, but where this camera shines is its image quality. The guy beside you at the park holding the DSLR will never believe that this little tank packs the same sensor punch as his ten-pound rig and is capable of such smooth files. At nearly $1,100, the Coolpix A isn’t cheap, but after all, Nikon is calling it the flagship of their Coolpix line, and frankly, that’s a moniker with which we can’t argue. No doubt, this camera is for the shooter who likes to pack light but pack well.