Opinion: I Dream of a Camera with a CCD Sensor Again

Though CMOS sensors do so well, I yearn for the CCD sensor found in the Leica M9.

Digital photography in my opinion has become too simple; and that’s fine if you’re a beginner but I also think that it breeds a number of bad habits based solely on human laziness. You may call it evolution, but in the world of communications and journalism there is the idea that as we create technology, we become the technology. So we end up just relying on it to do all the things for us. And indeed that is true–I still laugh at my old teachers who told me that I’d never bring a calculator while grocery shopping. These days, I simply order my groceries via Fresh Direct unless I need something specific that I can get a few blocks away.

The point that I’m getting at here is with CCD sensors vs CMOS sensors. CMOS is able to deliver images that look very, very digital. They’re perfect, they’re manicured and they’re almost sterile. But with older CCD sensors you get images that have life to them. The look is different and sometimes flawed; but that can be fixed to a certain point with how you shoot or edit. It makes things simple again.

I mentioned the Leica M9 earlier, and over the past couple of years I’ve been specifically looking at that camera as a pinnacle of CCD sensors in cameras. Was it perfect? No; but we can find perfection in imperfection–that’s the whole reason how and why Instagram was started. That sensor had output that looks like Slide film and that modern digital sensors don’t do. Granted, they’re all mostly made by Sony and if anything I’d argue that modern Canon sensors act like and deliver output like the slide film rendering. But even so, I’d argue that they’re still not enough.

Pro Tip: Manual focus lenses make you require the way that your brain tells you to shoot. Instead of just putting a viewfinder to your eye, focusing, and shooting, sometimes you pre-focus, put the viewfinder to your eye and either shoot immediately or touch up just a bit. You can do this using the depth of field scale.

One of the great things about the Leica M9’s sensor that we didn’t like was the fact that you were paying so much for a camera with a sensor that didn’t perform like those from Canon or Nikon. Indeed, in those days of digital we had every right to complain about that. But these days, camera sensors are just too good. Those sensors can live well enough on their own with no real trouble. But for photographers that don’t want to do a whole lot of editing and that really want to get it right in-camera with little to no post-production, a sensor like that of the M9’s delivers a challenge that would satisfy an experienced shooter yet would frustrate a photographer who doesn’t know or understand any better.

I like to equate it to the idea that any plumber with lots of experience can figure out how to fix a leaky shower head. Someone using YouTube and Google could do the same but probably not as well despite having all the best tools available to them. Instead, a plumber with the best tools and the best experience/knowledge will do a better job. In that way, I’d like to argue that technology isn’t really democratizing everything lest we all be jacks of all trades and masters of none.