Yesterday, on the MF Forum at DPR, a poster made the argument that cameras are so good that the way you ought to choose among them was by how they feel in your hands. He said that when he had worked in a camera store that was his advice to customers, and it was still good advice.
He was serious, and got a bit pushed out of shape when I had the temerity to debate the point.
In thinking about it, I guess whether he’s right or not comes down to what you want a camera for. If you’re looking for a toy or amusement, or if you know nothing about photography and don’t want to learn, it’s probably as good a way as any. Flipping a coin would do, too.
But if you’re serious about making images and have a vision about the kind of images you want to make, I think that is terrible advice. I have used all manner of cameras that felt terrible in my hands, cameras that had lousy ergonomics, cameras with confounding user interfaces, and cameras with flaws that defied explanation. I’ve made acceptable photographs with all of them. With one exception, I’ve never found a camera that got in the way of my making the images I wanted to make with it. The exception was a Sinar F.
Just considering medium format cameras, I’ve used a Brownie Hawkeye, a Rolleiflex, a Rolleicord, a Minolta Autocord, a Mamiya C330, a Hasselblad 501c and 503c with film and digital backs, Mamiya and Bronica MF SLRs, a Plaubel Makina, 6×7, 6×8 (!), and 6×9 backs on an Arca Swiss 6×9 folding monorail camera, 6×12 backs on a Linhof Master Technika, a Hasselblad H1, H2D, and H2D-39, and now several GFX cameras. Most of those I’ve owned; a few were handed to me to use for an assignment. The Makina and the GFX’s were the only ones with what I would call a decent human interface, and both of those had flaws. Yet I made images that met my needs with all of them. In the 1980s and 90s, I used Hasselblads a lot. They had excellent lenses, were reasonably compact, fairly rugged, and made great images. But you had to adjust yourself to the camera rather than the other way around. I finally got comfortable with the way you had to hold it, but my guess is that there’s no one for whom that hand grip, focusing and winding the film with your right and triggering the shutter with your left hand felt natural at first.
I have to make decisions about what camera to use every time I start a series. I have a7x, a9x, Z7, and GFX cameras, and I pick the camera that I’m going to use depending on the subject matter, the image I’m trying to make, size, weight, and speed, camera features (like focus bracketing), lens selection, and many other things. How the camera fits in my hand is not a criterion for me. I have switched cameras in the middle of a series if the one I started with wasn’t doing the job I needed doing. Camera feel was never something that was lacking.