Can an expensive 11Mpx rangefinder camera with no rear screen be the best news in a long time for the photography industry? I wouldn’t rule it out completely …
During my 2 weeks tenure, the camera delivered some of the most pleasant shooting experiences ever, all cameras in my past and present included. For sybarites frustrated with the techno-centric direction cameras of the past decade have taken, this is no mean argument.
And if you value image quality more than image quantity, a rare breed in fomo-fueled purchase times, you can only fall in love with this little gem. The Pixii, that is the camera’s name, produces photographs of stunning quality, proving once more that great pixels are far more important than numerous pixels.
Think of resolution this way: good 11Mp is enough for A2 prints. Hands up whoever regularly prints larger than that? 5% of our readership, which is already a tiny slice of photo world, maybe?
So, would you rather a camera that produces great A2 print after great A2 print or one that can occasionally print 40 inches wide and routinely messes up colour science and proper exposure?
Finally, the Pixii is beautifully built. The company is set up in Besançon, a small French city host to high accuracy machining heritage. So, while the camera’s specs instantly evoke the Leica M, in the hand, it feels more like Zeiss’ finest lenses. Modern design with very high tolerance machining.
To recap :
That could be a nice end to a short review. But none of those facts explain why this could become a landmark camera like few others. Those are merely welcome side effects of a camera manufacturer getting priorities right 🙂
Now, for the serious business, imagine a smartphone, with all its image-handling feature set. Only, the camera part has a wonderful Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZM, a Noctilux, a pre-Asph 35 Summilux, a Jupiter, …, feeding a sensor that feels like a neutral M9.
Does this make any sense?
In his recent article, Philippe describes the principle, so I’ll keep my explanation short : the Pixii takes photographs stored in an internal memory and transmits smaller versions to your phone via Bluetooth. From the app, you can share, delete, preset, tether … the usual. And via Wifi or USB, you can import the DNG files to Lightroom (or any software you prefer).
You’ve heard me rant all too often about digitisation companies (all the photo incumbents) completely missing the digitalisation train. David Barth, founder of Pixii (the company) took pity of you and decided to correct the universe.
You’ve heard me rant all too often about the subpar rear screens and beyond ridiculous ergonomics of some modern cameras, when we all have supercomputers with large clear screens in our pockets. David took pity of you and decided to shut me up on that count as well.
But I’m not being completely truthful. Because, what I’ve described so far isn’t really the Pixii.
The above really describes … a Pixii. The current iteration.
Because the camera is upgradeable. And the one in my hand is only one version of the various combinations that can be assembled from the parts bin. David merely started with this recipe for a number of technical and philosophical reasons that we don’t have time for here.
USB-C better than Micro-USB for you? Internal memory not large enough? This will be available as retrofits very soon (a few weeks).
To me, the concept of rangefinders is completely outmoded. Compared to an EVF, a rangefinder is like fitting a car with a map holder when you can have Waze via carplay instead. Plus my eyesight ain’t getting sharper. But many others, including David himself, think differently. And he has catered for their needs first. But I’m quite hopeful our (Philippe and I) plea for an EVF gets a nod of approval from David ere long …
At this very early stage of development, the complete roadmap isn’t firmly established yet, but the concept of retrofitting and of providing options with various bodies is deeply ingrained within the young company’s core DNA. Call it programmed future-proofness, in salutary contrast to industry standard practises.
Yes, 11Mp is plenty for many uses. And you can always stitch for more, as below. Panos take seconds rather than minutes, at that res. Isn’t the one below just drop-dead gorgeous? Stitching and global contrast/exposure aside, this is straight out of camera! Still, should you find this resolution (or other limiting aspects of this specific sensor) inadequate … you guessed it … I’m hoping you can soon just specify another. Yup! This one was chosen for its global shutter. But a new electronic shutter could be a few months away with a resolution more in line with common expectations.
Are you beginning to understand my excitement?
And this evolution path extends to other areas of the camera that I am not at liberty to discuss. Or fully understand, to be honest. But what consequences I did manage to wrap my mind around made me pick my jaw up from the floor … We will be keeping track of the (r)evolutions and reporting here!!
All of this, though, lies in the future. And however near, the future depicts an uncertain outcome, while the current situation is not without some problems that must be addressed, here and now.
At this stage, the Pixii feels remarkably mature (not a single crash or glitch in the matrix) yet quite unfinished. While the promise and shooting are delightful, the current iteration is far from niggle free. Here are the most notable:
However, let’s address some of those points.
Wake up time is down to software optimisation. A quick look at David’s resume show that he was director of software at LaCie, and Engineering manager at Canonical (Ubuntu). So optimisation is his middle name.
My experience with Pixii has been similar to watching volcanic islands form in the sea. Non-existent features are discussed and materialise days later. Let’s just say that wake up time doesn’t worry me (besides, it’s already about 5 times faster than my Hasselblad 😉 )
Camera ergonomics are excellent. The superfluous LEDs (indicating sync with phone and other technicalities) are just a very minor gripe.
Sync with the app. Again, software. No sync a week ago. Shaky sync today. Probably great sync by the time this gets published. To my knowledge, iOS apps are fine. Android is a very recent addition that is not yet completely finished, or released, and which I am beta testing.
Low dynamic range is difficult to accept for most users today, because we have been spoilt, in the technical arms race that has shaken up the market in recent years. As with every blessing or curse, there is a flip side to consider. Below is the down side. It is fairly easy in tough light to get to the limit of the sensor in the highlights.
The upside is simple: vibrant, alive files that just pop in most situations. This, below, would end up looking very dull with some cameras that will remain nameless 😉 Here, the file just just gorgeous. The solid exposure measure of the Pixii helps a lot here. For a golden hour photographer, this is lovely. But, if you like to capture everything in the scene to deal with it later in PP, this sensor isn’t the one for you.
And let me here repeat my mantra: cameras are tools for creativity. For most people, blown highlights will be a pain. For others, it will be part of their look. Good luck creating this sort of photograph (below) of a dull scene with a 15 stop DR camera …
Autonomy, as I understand it is down to component choices as well as optimisation. The current sensor, chosen for its global shutter, and processor are to blame for the greediness (I got about 130 frames out of the battery). Other internals and, possibly, the newer, larger batteries, could double that or more. But that’s just me speculating, here. It’s not something we have discussed. Whether autonomy will ever be great or not, I cannot say. But, if carrying 3 batteries is the only downside of such a wonderful tool, who cares, really? This is a camera for the talented flâneur, not the intensive pro.
Price is largely linked to production volumes. When you buy 100 sensors, they cost a lot more than when you buy 10,000. Prices will drop.
More important to financial good sense, the upgradeability of this camera makes it future proof. Put differently, this could be the last body you buy. Every few years, you might want to change the sensor and processor, for example. I’ve been pestering poor David for a CCD ever since this evolution path has been on the table 😉 Apparently, though, there are no more CCD sensors available reliably today. But there are plenty of other interesting propositions and it’s fair to say the current sensor brings much of the CCD goodness of yore with it.
Anyway, the Pixii proposition is simple and justifies the cost of entry thusly :
Here again, the Pixii bridges the gap with phones. That sense of ease you get with a handheld phone is present with the Pixii, but with all the added control over your process. Control, and image quality. Show me a phone that can pick up on atmosphere like this …
If I sound smitten, it’s because I am. Someone has finally broken the mould. Cleared the mold.
This is one of the few photography-first cameras on the market. It’s as if the design team has lived in a cave for years, oblivious to the current quantitative frenzy, and created a camera that’s actually made to craft lovely images in a most relaxing and rewarding way (it does have a 1/32 000 s max aperture speed, it’s not like the team deliberately shied away from tech, they just didn’t let it dominate the user experience).
At the same time, it’s as if the mainstream manufacturers were the ones in the cave, busily ignoring the rise of the mobile world, and Pixii one of the very few to acknowledge and embrace it fully. This is no longer an either … or proposition but an acknowledgement of complementary processes.
What Pixii offers, then, is a future-proof detox Polaroid for 2020 and beyond. That makes it not a single trick pony, not a twofer, but a solid threefer! In my book, this is cause for celebration 🙂 🙂
All the photos in this article were made using my Zeiss C-Sonnar 1.5/50 ZM on the current 11Mp global shutter Pixii. Some were stitched to create square or panoramic frames. Apart from this assembling and some slight global contrast/exposure settings, no post-processing was applied. Simply brilliant.
Note : A green-magenta cast is apparent on some, probably due to misalignment from my old lens. None of Philippe’s photographs (made with other lenses) showed that, so the camera is not in cause. Cornerfix would probably fix that, if I needed to print the photographs.
Let me leave you with quick snaps of the camera and packaging, and a closing remark.
David is eager for feedback. At this stage of production, he is busy making final adjustments and selling off 100 cameras of a first bacth (with an upgrade warranty, should you prefer one of the next gen specs) to finance the next step in the company’s development.
So, please tell him what you think of the concept.
Purchasing today is like acquiring the first Tesla Roadsters, becoming the owner of something truly new and fantastic while helping secure the still uncertain future of a young company that could play an important role in the rejuvenation of our hobby. With the difference that Roadsters couldn’t be upgraded to new tech, whereas this can and will.
But, without even thinking about purchasing, what are your feelings about this endeavour? What do you love about it? What would deter you? What suggestions would you make? How often has a camera manufacturer involved you in its design process? Don’t hold back, don’t be shy, be part of a story of change by sending feeback 🙂
Here’s to a bright future.
Here is a set of photographs made under much more difficult light than the above dawn, and processed in a larger variety of looks. I hope those show you what to expect in various conditions and various uses.
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