Just when I thought I’d acquired every kind of camera I’d ever need, photography changed so fundamentally that my cameras became obsolete nearly overnight. Suddenly the dozens of film cameras I owned metamorphosed into expensive metal paperweights and had to be replaced with digital cameras. Although I was not an early adopter of the digital camera I bought one when it was becoming clear that film’s lifespan was becoming limited. I really didn’t have a choice if I were to continue working as a professional photographer, the industry was going digital.
My first digital camera was a little 3.3 megapixel Canon G1. It was a little silver box and clearly un-sexy; I’ve got another old box of a camera in my collection, a 1948 Argus C3. Back in the day the Argus C3 was nicknamed ‘the brick,’ my year 2000 Canon G1 is also a brick, a lightweight and even less sexy brick. Both cameras are ugly, utilitarian devices but the half-century old Argus is slightly sexier!
What exactly is a ‘sexy’ camera?
In my view, a ‘sexy’ machine is a device that’s well designed and engineered. A sexy machine has some heft, some weight, because it’s made to last. Sexy machines are complex with many gears and other mechanical parts that fit together and move smoothly. Some examples of ‘sexy’ machines are: steam locomotives, mechanical clocks and watches, Ducati motorcycles, old typewriters, hand-operated printing presses, telescopes, record-players, analog synthesizers, the enlargers (which I no longer use) in my darkroom, and pretty much all old mechanical cameras, especially those from Germany. Simply put, sexy machines are those with clever engineering and have a ‘solid’ feel to them.
Digital cameras are decidedly not sexy!
There’s very little going on mechanically inside a digital camera. Although cameras still look like what we expect cameras to look like, they’ve become little more than processors with lenses.
Converting light into a silver-halide latent image on film was a very different process than converting light to ones and zeros that can only be expressed after processing with firmware. All that camera-back space that used to be filled with film, motors and film transport gears is now taken up by batteries and processors, tiny computers that ‘do math.’ They’re little more than black boxes inside a larger black box shaped like what we expect a camera to look like. Digital cameras are certainly amazing devices, but ‘sexy’ they’re not!
Good industrial design is what makes cameras ‘sexy.’ There is something about the human interaction with a well-designed machine that’s natural, pleasant or even exciting which is wholly missing from interacting with strictly utilitarian devices.
Steampunk art is today’s ultimate expression of ‘sexy’ machinery.