Minox DCC M3

Unusually the camera is equipped with a manual focus lens, from 0.5m to infinity, f3 aperture 8.7mm. This claims to be a Minoctar digital lens, but with no real evidence to suggest Minox had any input on the camera’s optics, it is probably just “whatever the OEM designed” – and it’s perfectly adequate for the sensor’s capability.

Hawick Town Hall
Hawick Town Hall

In absolutely ideal conditions – blue skies, well-lit medium tone subjects with no excessive highlights – the DCC M3 can deliver an acceptable image. Brought indoors it is essentially useless, delivering noisy, grainy results without the flash, or terrifyingly overexposed results with. There is no communication between the flash and camera besides triggering, and the software has not been designed with this flash in mind. Even using the optimistic “EV correction”, there really is no way of salvaging the images produced by the M3 with flash or in bright sunlight, and one can’t help wondering if Minox’s efforts would have been better spent embracing the manual nature of the camera’s aspirations and shoving some sort of mechanical aperture control in the lens.

Red Ford Puma in sunlight shows blown-out highlights
Camera\'s exposure - red Puma 0EV correction.

Attempting to correct the exposure
Camera\'s exposure - red Puma -1.8EV correction

I make no excuses for the harsh opinion I formed of the camera. I wanted one when I saw it, I was impressed with the concept, and really did not think that it was unfair to expect quality comparable to a “freely included” phone camera from a firm with Minox’s history. I was exceptionally disappointed, partly in the finish of the camera and software, but these were aspects I had seen before. That it produced such poor results, rather than making up for the crude menus and poor quality materials (for the price), merely added to the impression that rather than being an exquisite 1/3rd replica of a classic Leica camera, it was a cynical marketing gimmick rebranded from a Chinese production line – and there really is no reason for it to be as expensive as it is for the material and technology provided.

Hawick\'s newly redeveloped Backdamgate area.
Hawick\'s Heritage Hub

If it were a £100 camera, it would still be up against seriously stiff competition like the Nikon L18 “as a camera”, but would also be acceptable as a “trinket”. People pay £85 or more for pointless replicas of Lightsabres or model cars, so £100 for a replica of a camera that actually works is perfectly fair. Even another £50 or so for a wooden box and a plastic replica flashgun that again, really flashes, is quite reasonable. At £309 for the combination it is something of a disappointment that it cannot deliver images that I would consider fair for the cost – given that a Nikon D40x kit costs less…

Even so, I felt a little sad packing it away and returning it post review. It’s almost unique (certainly the line of products is unique and it’s the only one currently marketed in the UK) and it is passable as a miniature replica if you don’t look too hard. Nice touches like the thin leather neckstrap conspire to give the little camera character – just not quite enough to forgive the fact that I really couldn’t “impress” my friends with it by delivering a decent image.

SD card Slot

What it comes down to ultimately is what you expect for your money. If you want to have the model DCC M3 camera, then you can see for yourself what quality the replica is. If you want a small digital camera, then I have to say that there are much better options out there – even secondhand, given the low native resolution. 1/3 scale Leica model it may be, but it’s still only a fraction smaller – and a similar amount deeper – than the original Minolta dImage Xt, for example. My criticisms don’t stem from the low resolution, either – until last year, my primary DSLR produced an output file not that much larger.

Rollei’s MiniDigi – previously sold as a Minox in the earlier form – has just been revamped, and it shows promise with a still 3.0Mp sensor, but in a quirky square format (1536 x 1536; they’re claiming 5.0Mp again, interpolated) and a rather better scaling down and detail work. It also now features autofocus, definite progress that should yield useful improvements in image quality. Hopefully Minox and Newpro will bring this new Minidigi to Europe in the near future.
The Minox DCC M3 is sold in the UK by Newpro UK, and it’s worth noting that their pricing compares very favourably with the Japanese RRP of the camera – at current exchange rates, around £225 excluding taxes.

Minox’s R&D people could do a lot worse than to put a little effort into working with their OEM partner on a new design of DCC M3 or similar scale camera. Some repurposed technology from areas like mobile phone LCDs and sensors would allow the device to be a true scale model in all proportions which would go a long way to making up for the inadequate imaging – MicroSD would save space and sizing for media access – and it wouldn’t hurt just to have an exposed USB port on the baseplate (a display plinth could even be devised for charging/transfer). Then a £300 pricetag would feel justified, as if some real effort had gone into producing the replica.

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