As a scooterist/reader of this site, you’ll surely know the feeling of consumerist love at first sight. I’ve become obsessed with countless vehicles at countless rallies and motorcycle trade shows, and I’m sure you have too. Once in a while, you get to the point where you see an early prototype and know you will eventually own that bike, as long as the manufacturer doesn’t screw up between the concept and manufacturing stages (sadly they usually do!)
Well, this week Fuji Co. (The film/camera concern, totally unrelated to Fuji Heavy Industries of Fuji Rabbit scooter and Subaru fame) unveiled the camera of my dreams, and gave me a lot of insight about the scooter market and the difference between what consumers want, what they think they want, and what they get. On top of that, I know of at least two other scooterist designer/photographers that are counting the days and saving pennies until it’s released, so maybe it’s of interest to scooterists in general.
For great background on the camera, read this great post from Enticing the Light and or this Digital Camera Info preview. I’ll try not to get into too much camera nerd detail, but in short, this camera features amazing styling that flawlessly mixes retro design with modern features, without feeling one bit superficial or compromised (aside from one brave decision that we’ll discuss later). I’ve said (way too many times) “vintage good, modern good, retro bad.” Maybe I’ve been wrong. Aside from the Genuine Stella/LML star which is far more “vintage” than “retro,” any attempt to outfit an honest-to-goodness retro frame with modern conveniences always feels like a compromise. Either the design is superficially retro (fake-chome doodad overkill), or it’s artificially retro (the La Vita’s plastic “Vespa” shell). This camera features a solid metal body with metal dials, subtle, retro branding, and only the screen and array of buttons on the back give it away. Sure, the back doesnt’ really go so well with the front, but the back is what the modern photographer expects and it’s a good design. Unlike most cameras, it doesn’t brag about its megapixels or video mode on the front, anyone shelling out $1000 for this thing knows what they want and did their homework and isn’t standing in a Target “photo” department comparing cameras.
Just as British motorcycles informed Japanese motorcycle design in the early 60s, the design of the Leica informed 60s Japanese camera design. And in the same way, the Japanese actually bettered the Europeans, keeping the best elements of the design but cleaning up some loose ends and improving performance and reliability. Eventually, the Japanese developed their own aesthetic (hello, Honda Elite and Canon T-70!) but it was fun while it lasted. My dream camera always looked like a 60s Japanese tourist camera, and here it is. Please don’t wreck it, Fuji.
The X-100 features an APS-C sensor, not the full-frame found only in high-end DSLRs, but still a very large sensor found in the best consumer cameras. A large sensor provides more depth-of-field flexibility AND less noise in low-light situations, two problems with most point-and-shoot cameras with tiny lenses and sensors. At $1000, it’s not cheap, but it’s priced around the cost of the lowest-end DSL kits (with arguably a better-quality lens with an f2 maximum aperture) And it’s got movie mode and most other features you’d expect from a modern camera (and even a few innovations over low-end DSLRs).
But there is one one HEFTY compromise.
This camera has a fixed 23mm prime lens (35mm equivalent at APS-C’s 1.6x crop factor) with no optical zoom. That’s a wider-than average lens (great for landscapes and street shooting, horrible if your daughter is on a stage 50 feet away and you can’t get closer.) Fuji argues that to nail the optics, get the best image quality and keep the price reasonable, this was a necessary compromise. Considering even disposable cameras and some cell-phones feature optical zoom now, this will be a dealbreaker for just about anyone. But not for me! As camera forums prove, there are PLENTY of folks that couldn’t be more excited about this camera. As I said, it’s my dream camera. It’s a lot of people’s dream camera (Mostly Henri Cartier-Bresson fanboys, it betters a very similar digital Leica at half the price!). The fixed lens might be my favorite thing about it, they didn’t sacrifice everything that’s great about it to make a camera that would appeal to everyone. If the image quality is as great as promised, it’ll sell great and build up a legion of fans, and people will realize that telephoto zoom isn’t everything.
Every scooter can’t be the top seller. Every scooter can’t have helmet storage, a 5-gallon gas tank, dual discs front and back, look retro, handle modern, go 90mph, and appeal to everyone. But it is possible to make a scooter that’s lovingly and carefully designed from the ground up, stands out from the crowd, and gives a certain subset of the population at large exactly what they want. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a scooter that got me as excited as I am about this camera. SYM’s Symba and Wolf are nicely-designed and well-built retro bikes with some modern conveniences. The Symba already has a limited, but devoted following, and I think the Wolf could too, with a few (very) minor styling tweaks. The Genuine Cruiser is a promising bike meant to please a specific underserved demographic, and someday it hopefully will. I don’t get the Aprilia Mana, but I’m glad it exists and has its fans. But aside from those and a few other exceptions, scooters seem to be designed around engines instead of people, and it’s hard to tell most of them apart these days.
So, scooter designers, start listening to the ranty nerds on the internet, and find out what they’re willing to sacrifice to get what they want. Enthusiasts (in any realm) are more than happy to rant at great length about their wants/needs. Sometimes they have good ideas. But don’t look at that body of information as a whole and try to make compromises to please everyone, you’ll end up with a boring bike that no one’s excited about. Watch for patterns. After a while it becomes obvious that there are different groups who have different dreams and expectations. Pick one of those groups and NAIL their expectations, and you’ll have a winner.
Now get over to Scootmoto and buy some stuff, I need $1000 by springtime.