I took my brand-new Canon G9 to Phoenix with me instead of lugging the Leica MP and a load of film in an X-Ray resistant bag. Here’s my inital reaction to using the camera for a week:

If you had told me 20 years ago that a camera like the G9 would one day exist, I would have speculated that perhaps yes, but not in my lifetime, or certainly not at an affordable price. The Canon G9 is a marvel of functionality that can detect faces, movement, and bright spots that require compensation. You can meter in the center, on a grid, or ask it to evaluate the entire picture to come up with the best exposure compromise. It can shoot in several color modes, in black & white, or in “positive film”. With the sounds off, the shutter is far quieter than even the legendary Leica M’s – almost imperceptible even to the photographer. In a nutshell, this camera can do just about every conceivable thing one could imagine…and for only $499 (plus applicable taxes…today…next week it will be cheaper!). It even has a viewfinder for those old-timers (like me) who can’t stand using the monitor screen.

Ironically, amidst all this functionality lies the camera’s greatest weakness…the functionality itself. In fairness, you could simply set it at one mode and stay there forever….but, you won’t! The almost endless options tug at you constantly, forcing you to second-guess yourself. “Hmmmm….maybe I should shoot this in color?” or, “Wouldn’t it be better if I used RAW instead of jpeg compression?”. “Maybe I should switch the meter to ‘evaluative’ rather than ‘center-weighted’?” Clearly, this isn’t the camera’s fault, its the photographer’s (mine). But if “form follows function”, we can extrapolate that notion a bit and say, “functionality should follow function”. If the function of a camera is to provide a near endless array of options with which to interpret what one sees, then the Canon is spot-on. If the function of the camera is to impose the least possible impedance between internal vision/feeling and reality, then anything that intellectualizes the process of taking a picture creates a barrier to fulfilling that function. And the Canon G9, as well as other high-end digital cameras, are very “intellectual” machines, akin almost to Artificial Intelligence where the machine’s “mind” substitutes for the person’s.

Don’t get me wrong…I like the G9 and will continue to use it….but I already have a hankering to get back to my MP and its Neanderthal simplicity.