Rangefinder

Views on the photographic universe by Erwin Puts

mechatronics

Camera tests in the past were based on the view that cameras were precision-engineered mechanical products that could be dissected in several neatly separated parts and every part could be valued and measured according to some standard. Shutter speeds were measured, optical performance analyzed and film emulsions were compared in several developers. In many situations the necessary equipment was not available and reviewers tended to sketch personal opinions and practical experiences as a substitute.
Modern digital cameras however can no longer be reviewed in these technical-scientist and opiniated-experience traditions.
A modern camera (we can safely forget about the additional word ‘digital’ as every camera is a digital one) is no longer primarily a precision-engineered mechanical product, but an opto-mechatronic product. I wrote long ago about the transition from opto-mechanics to mechatronics. This does not imply that the precision is now less than in the past. On the contrary: mechatronics often demand a much higher level of precision than classical tools do, but mainly it is the difference that counts.
Take as example the recent Leica Q. This is a complex and integrated opto-mechatronic product that can hardly be reviewed in the classical traditions.The Q has a very slim body and a relatively large lens unit. This lens unit incorporates a leaf shutter with certain dimensions and the optical construction must be such that all the light collected at the front will pass through to the sensor. There is also an optical stabilizer that requires an additional lens group. The AF has to be fast and this requires a lens group with hardly a moving mass and also a stepper motor that must be located somewhere in the lens unit. Looking at the lens with only the specifics of aperture and focal length (as we do when looking at Leica M lenses) is the wrong way. The lens is now an opto-mechatronic unit and should be evaluated as such. This does not mean that classical parameters as performance should be neglected. Again on the contrary. The fact that the Q offers a digital zoom with the classical Tri-Elmar steps (28-35-50) implies that to hold the image quality over this range the performance of the lens must have a reserve or excess-performance that may not be visible when looking at the 28-setting, but in comparison with the 50-setting becomes important.
Modern and progressive automotive (car) journalists (not the types of Top Gear!) have made the transition to the view that a car must be viewed as a total and integrated concept that should fit in with current mobile lifestyles. The time that one could characterize a car by summing up a list of parameters (top speed, weight, fuel consumption and so on) is definitely gone as is the time that a review should be filled with personal statements (‘I like….’, ‘in my view….’ and so on).
The Q and even the T and X should be approached as a total package that supports or fits in or even enlarges the creative scope and concepts of the image maker/user, not as one of many tools for the almost obsolete concepts of street photography or landscape photography.