Why Canon and Nikon Need to Make a Full Frame Camera With a Fixed Lens

Why Canon and Nikon Need to Make a Full Frame Camera With a Fixed Lens

With sensor prices dropping and given that mirrorless finally has some competition at the top end, it’s time for Nikon and Canon to treat its customers to something classic: a pocket-sized camera featuring a full frame sensor and a fast, fixed prime lens.

My case isn’t a strong one. Cameras with fixed prime lenses are few and far between. Leica makes a couple, with the Q2 its most recent offering and commanding the rather tasty price tag of $4,995, assuming you can get your hands on one. German engineering, precision manufacturing, incredible lens sharpness and its magnesium-alloy body ensures that Leica remains a choice for hardened fans and the mid-life crisis, as well as being the millionaire's point-and-shoot. 47.3 megapixels means that its 28mm lens can be optically cropped to 35mm and 50mm with the push of a button or two, while still achieving reasonable image quality. Hardcore enthusiasts wait with bated breath to find out if Leica will release an identical camera without the red logo on the front at the cost of an extra $500. Stealth mode comes at a premium these days.

Of a similar ilk is the RX1R II, bringing in-lens leaf shutter technology to Sony’s selection of full-frame cameras. Again, this is not a cheap offering but for discrete wedding work and moments where you need to be less intrusive, it offers a solid choice for anyone with a spare $3,298. If that sounds a little ridiculous, no, I can’t imagine that they’ve sold by the bucket-load either. However, as Fstoppers' own Ryan Mense mentioned back in 2015, this is an unfeasibly small camera given its innards, and Nikon and Canon have had almost four years to try and catch up.

The margins and sales numbers for this type of camera are both tiny which goes a long way to explaining why other manufacturers aren’t falling over themselves to produce something similar. The fixed prime body is where you send the dev guys with the biggest beards and the reddest eyes to dream, play, and come up with absurd ideas that somehow make it to market. For example, build a leaf shutter, remove the removable storage, and install Lightroom: Zeiss is still cagey about when the ZX1 will reach the shelves and the price is truly anyone’s guess, though we can be certain that it won't be cheap. This type of camera is never going to be a money spinner but does make for some funky technology and refreshing experimentation.

The Zeiss ZX1. Loveable lunacy loaded with Lightroom.

The Zeiss ZX1. Loveable lunacy loaded with Lightroom.

When it comes to Canon and Nikon, I’m quietly (perhaps stupidly) optimistic. If Nikon can plough resources into developing the rather insane 58mm f/0.95 S Noct, I hereby selfishly demand that they also waste some R&D on a camera that I’d like to see but will almost certainly never buy. Canon has its own array of problems to deal with right now, but that’s not an excuse either; if you go back far enough, there’s plenty of inspiration to be discovered, and one in particular proved very popular.

Canonet GIII QL-17

A Canonet GIII QL-17 from the early 1980s. A public domain photograph by John Kahrs

The Canon Canonet arrived in 1961 and made the perfect pocket camera, its rangefinder technology blending ease of use with practicality alongside a couple of other progressive features. Obviously, with the proliferation of smartphones, there’s no demand for such a camera today but the styling and history offers Canon plenty of ideas for a means of elevating its staid and conservative branding. This will never be a camera that sells; by contrast, this is about creating an audacious product that makes the company as a whole feel as though it offers something special.

So fundamentally, this isn’t simply about me wanting an expensive toy. It’s about me wanting camera manufacturers to step outside of their comfort zones and breathe some innovation into their brands. Company affiliation is built not simply on lens choices and the number of autofocus points, but also on how people perceive a company’s soul. Leica and Zeiss might not be good comparisons, but if Sony can muster a photographic folly that makes us feel happy despite the fact that we may never consider buying it, perhaps Canon and Nikon should give it a go too.

At a time when the battle for the mirrorless market is ever-more intense, I’m probably being unrealistic. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Lead image by John Kahrs.

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60 Comments

Benton Lam's picture

I'd love to have a digital Olympus XA. IBIS, 35mm, either a MF rangefinder or a good autofocus. A digital QL17 would be welcomed too.

I have a XF10, which is the right size, and the 28mm equiv lens actually drilled the point about perspective home for me. But the damned autofocus, and the focus ring is not a good replacement.

Still I had a lot of fun with it, and probably would switch to a GR III.

But in the analog world, I'm a Olympus fan, and really could use some kind of modern take of the XA.

Yeah....no

Rob Mitchell's picture

'It’s about me wanting camera manufacturers to step outside of their comfort zones and breathe some innovation into their brands. '

You know they also have to make money, right? It's nothing to do with 'comfort zone'
Buy a Fujifilm X100(whatever the current letter is) and you'll be fine.

I'd rather they not waste their resources on fashion items and concentrate on their core business (the camera divisions that is)

That said, I still use the Coolpix A. Lovely little camera. Surpassed at every level nowadays, but who cares? It's a fun little pocket camera that I've set up with a rough and ready contrasty BW JPG setting.

Michael Holst's picture

The X100f (current one I think) is a GREAT camera and very pocketable.

Rob Davis's picture

The X100 series is not a fashion item. It’s a seriously great camera. The only downside is the focus-by-wire, but that seems to be hitting a lot of cameras these days.

Jesse Merz's picture

The Coolpix A is/was such an underrated camera. MSRP was way overpriced but refurbed for ~$350 I doubt to this day there's anything that takes a better looking photo for the money and size.

A M's picture

For traveling I don't want to use my 5Ds or take additional lenses, so I love the size of the Fuji X100 but man, I wish the menus were more clear, like the Canon's menu system. I would love a smaller fixed FF Canon as well. I can see a market for this kind of camera, the Fujis seem to be doing pretty well.

EL PIC's picture

We buy multiple interchangeable Lens cameras so we don’t have to switch Lenses in the field and suitable camera backup.
Would we buy multiple fixed lens cameras of differ focal lengths ???
I would not !!

Ryan Davis's picture

I don't think that's the point of a fixed lens camera. back when I shot with a Praktica and multiple M42 lenses, sometimes I just liked to walk around with an Electro35. It was fun.

Michael Carey's picture

Totally agree!!!

Tom Helmut Rathke's picture

I have a Canonet 28 and lost a Canonet QL17 in a divorce. They were awesome. I have a Canon M with the 22mm f/2 that makes for a nice, small street camera but is APS-C. I think if Canon came out with a 40mm pancake in the RF mount, it would pair nicely with the Canon RP for a full-frame street camera for 2/3 the price of the Leica Q2. And they wouldn't have to waste resources on a boutique camera. Probably be close to the same size too.

Benton Lam's picture

Damn. Losing a QL17 in a divorce... I hope your ex still uses it.

Or she just took it to piss him off :)

Benton Lam's picture

if someone took mine, which has a dead light meter, I'd still be pissed.

Sigh...now I am having flashbacks to my Nikon 28Ti. While a nice idea I think the market for a fixed focal length lens is very limited, unless it has a red dot on it and rounds out a collection...

Fixed lens on an expensive camera- kinda like buying a high end sports car that won't shift out of 1st... Why??? It seems whatever small extra weight is involved in creating an interchangeable lens mechanism is more than made up for in flexibility. And if you only shoot with a 35mm lens- then buy the body and that lens- and don't change it - voila- your fixed lens camera (superglue around the edges to make sure I guess!!)

Benton Lam's picture

Because it's bulky? It doesn't go into a shirt / jacket pocket?

My X-E3 with the 27mm pancake is still too big for day to day carry. the X100 series is not bad with the 35mm, and I like the idea of the hybrid VF, but the rest of the body is still big.

The Olympus XA series stuff slips into any pocket, with a cover over the lens, and takes great picture. If only the electronics on mine didn't give up the ghost.

Rob Davis's picture

A lens that’s perfectly designed for the sensor you’re shooting on. Great optics in a smaller and lighter package than could be achieved on an interchangeable system.

calaveras grande's picture

Henri Cartier Bresson did pretty well with just a Leica and a 50mm. Sure it will put a damper on your lens collecting. But that is also the cool part. You are constrained to zooming with your feet. If you want a wider AOV, back up.

I shoot with primes a lot- and I know that a fixed focal length can be artistically stimulating...BUT...if I'm going to make a major camera investment I want the option of flexibility. A 35/50/85mm lens should be employed because it gives the right optical look for a given subject - not because that's what you camera is 'stuck' with...

Michael Holst's picture

Why does Canon and/or Nikon have to make one when Sony and Leica already have them? I get not wanting to spend for the Leica but Sony's isn't as expensive. If it doesn't have an impact on your current lens collection get whatever brand has the best bang for your buck.

If being pocketable is a big deal go with a smaller sensor. the X100F is great. So is the Ricoh GRIII.

Gabriel Regalbuto's picture

I loved my QL17. Rarely ever had as much fun with a camera.

Michael Holst's picture

I don't know why you've been downvoted. The QL17 is a great camera.

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

In a camera like this, full frame delivers what benefit exactly?

Any APS-C camera of today delivers way better image quality than the cameras of old that you're describing. So why is full frame relevant?

A Fuji X-T2 or X-T3 with the 18mm (27mm equivalent) f/2 lens not only looks a lot like the camera shown here, it has all the classic "feel." If you haven't shot with one, give it a try. Aside from sensor size and lens interchangeability, the camera you're describing already exists and is much more practical as it is.

Kirk Darling's picture

Lenzy Ruffin--Yes, the first question is: Why would a camera for such purpose need to be 24x36mm?

Blake Aghili's picture

I got the newer Leica Q2 and it is pretty good for what is built to do. And it is full frame and 47 mega pixels. plus the lines for range finder style shooting ..kind of !

Rob Davis's picture

I like the Sigma DP Quattro approach (not necessarily their design though). Two of those around my neck weighs a lot less than most bodies and one lens. The cost is often cheaper too.

Spy Black's picture

Cameras like the Canonet existed because that was before the age of consumer SLRs, and people didn't shoot thinking in terms of using interchangeable lenses, or zooms.

Today it's different. You have options. As far as I'm concerned, all the modern-day incarnations of these cameras suck, because of that fixed lens. I know some people can roll with that, but I certainly won't. Even if the lens is fixed, I need a zoom, even a basic 2x one. This isn't 1960.

I'd JUMP to buy one if they made it with a 50mm or longer lense (75mm or 85mm would be awesome). The only problem with other similar cameras is that you're forced to shoot wide-angle and I don't care for wide angle.

Thanh Nguyen's picture

Very intelligent idea. Take yesteryear's success in photography and apply it to future tools, please!

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