Is the Konost FF for real?

An American startup named Konost is developing a rangefinder-style camera with a Leica lens mount and a proper 35mm digital sensor.

I have so many questions!

Can I have it now?

top-down view of the Konost FF prototype camera

At first glance: Gimme gimme gimme! This is almost exactly the digital camera I want!

It takes Leica “M”-mount lenses (I own a few)! It has a full-size sensor! Some of their videos show the prototype camera with a Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 Biogon, a lens that I would rank as one the finest lenses available. That’s a small thing, but my irrational tribal brain is saying, “these are my people.”

And it looks so—so!—simple!

Wait, how can it be so simple?

It’s not atypical to complain about how over-complicated digital cameras are. I’ve done it. I’m not alone.

Should you want to design a simpler camera, using the Leica “M” lens mount (which is in the public domain) is a good start. The lenses are manual focus only, so you don’t need a few buttons and a couple dozen configuration settings for autofocus.

You also always set the aperture on the lens, so that eliminates another dial on the camera. Because the aperture is entirely manual, you can’t do automatic, program, and shutter-priority shooting modes. The only automatic exposure you can support is aperture-priority. The Zeiss Ikon does this in a particularly elegant way with a single dial that sets manual shutter speed, automatic shutter speed, exposure compensation, and ISO in a single dial:

Flight deck of the Zeiss Ikon

Now, I don’t see any buttons on the prototype Konost to control other important settings like ISO or exposure compensation. Perhaps those are in menus? Or maybe that rear screen is a touch screen? They’re claiming to support JPEGs, so you’ll also have to set image size, white balance and color settings, right?

Wait, is there a power switch?

These things get more complicated fast, is what I’m saying. I’m interested to see how they tackle this.

“All-digital” rangefinder?

Leica already makes rangefinders with digital sensors, but Konost claims to be “all-digital” by using “a secondary image sensor and image processing algorithms” instead of prisms and mirrors to generate the focusing patch. (If you haven’t used a rangefinder camera before, the Konost page has a little video. Basically you get two overlapping images and one slides left and right while you turn the focus ring; the parts that line up are where you are focusing.)

I’m dying to know how well this works. Does my fat finger block that rangefinder sensor by the lens mount? Are they doing anything innovative like combining the rangefinder image with the live view off the primary sensor? Can it be more accurate than an analog rangefinder?

How about that main image sensor?

I’m not too worried about this. 20 megapixels is low by current standards, but 20 megapixels is beyond sufficient; I just finished up playing with a Canon 6D that has “only” 20 megapixels and I have zero complaints. Sensor tech moves fast, though. I hope the one Konost chose is decent.

How programmable is it?

They have a hardware and software development kit! Best case scenario: you can write your own software for the camera.

It’s geeky, but this is an enormously empowering capability. As far as I know, no major camera company has opened up their software. There’s a pretty decent community dedicated to hacking existing cameras that have done astonishing work enabling new features for the low, low cost of possibly bricking your multi-thousand-dollar tool and leaving you without any warranty.

My hope is that even if (when?) Konost doesn’t get their software exactly right at first, some very particular, camera-loving software nerds can create something wonderful and have some real support from Konost to do it.

How cheap are we talking?

New Leicas with the same lens mount cost $8,000. Not cheap.

Konost wants to come in under that. Undoubtedly there’s some wiggle room there, but how much?

I doubt they can take advantage of many economies of scale. The market for rangefinders is a mere sliver of the overall camera market; the sub-market for non-Leica rangefinders from non-established camera manufacturers must be an even smaller slice of that.

Is this for real?

So I have some concerns. But seriously: can I have it now?

Am I doing it wrong?

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