In seeking cameras, I’m all for looking for the one that performs better than most others for the required purpose. In other words, the best tool for the job.
But stray too far into this territory and it can become all about function, with no room for beauty or fun.
Something like my (now sold) Sony NEX 3N is a shining example.
Technically excellent, and incredibly adaptable to a whole range of vintage lenses, I’ve made more photographs with it (and with more different lenses) than any other camera I’ve ever owned.
But it was never that fun to use, especially once you realise that most 50mm lenses are much the same, and the novelty of shooting vintage lenses on a modern digital starts to wane.
And I couldn’t ever call it beautiful from any angle. Unlike say the Pentax SV/S1a.
Other cameras may look and feel beautiful, but just be a little awkward on the function side, or require too much nurturing to be endless fun.
Something like the gorgeous Voigtlander Vito B comes to mind.
I’ve started to realise that the cameras I’ve settled on as my core kings have the best balance of beauty, function and fun of any others.
The Ricoh GX100 and GRD III are both functionally fantastic, with such intelligent design and user friendly interface.
They’re beautiful to hold and use, which transcends the fact that visually they’re fairly simple looking, just small black cameras, albeit with a lovely curvy front grip to hold.
They’re fun in abundance because they just work so well they make you very happy to use them.
The Pentax Q is similar, and arguably it’s aesthetically a very handsome little camera, not least of all when you realise how small it is, yet how robust and well made.
It functions very well, does all you need and more, and with its digital filters and in camera customisation options can probably claim to be even more fun than the Ricohs too.
To digress from cameras momentarily, the same criteria can be applied to cars, depending on your needs.
I don’t really look for fun or beauty in a car these days (not since I owned one of these Japanese marvels), so our family’s combination of a Seat Altea and VW Touran – both very functional, reliable, economical and dark grey – tick all the essential boxes we need them to.
You could argue there’s a certain beauty in their no frills German design and engineering, where unfaltering reliability is put ahead of anything more superficial too. But neither are going to compare to something like their curvy cousin the Audi TT for example.
And neither are much fun.
But that’s ok, function is paramount in our needs for reliable family cars.
Whilst I seem to have settled and found the end game on the camera front, I’m in a more curious phase with bikes.
My recently bought ebike is super high on the function front. It gets me to work in a breeze, is robust, well made and does exactly what I need it to. It’s almost Volkswagenesque. Indeed, it’s much like my Sony NEX was as a camera.
But whilst no ugly duckling, it’s not really beautiful, being a fairly basic mountain bike with a motor in the rear hub and a huge battery on the down tube.
Neither is it fun. It’s just too heavy for that (a monumental 22.5Kg/50lb compared with my other bike’s 14.5kg/32lb!), not incredibly comfortable and more like a steady plodding elephant that you could trust to get you across the Alps, rather than an agile prancing antelope, skipping through savannahs.
My other mountain bike, a perhaps ten year old Muddy Fox, is light, fast, nimble, and fits me almost perfectly. Which makes it great fun to ride, and high in function – doing all I could ask of it. And considering the use I’ve got from it, it was pretty cheap at £85 three years ago, and you know I’m a bit of a cheapskate.
But again it lacks beauty, especially with its horns-like handlebars, skinny hybrid tyres and lary over the top graphics. Well, I suppose that’s what you get with a bike called a Hobo Hooligan.
Take a classic 90s mountain bike though, like a GT, Specialized or Cannondale, and you start to see beauty too. In the design, the look, the build quality…
Much like my favourite little digital cameras.
So on the bike front, there is potentially a gap in the market for me, something that fits and rides as well as my humble Muddy Fox, but with an aesthetic and design beauty too.
Perhaps the greatest fusion of beauty, function and fun I have known in a single object is my trusty 2008 model MacBook Pro I’m currently typing this on.
It still looks fantastic – open or closed – does exactly what you need it to without fuss, and I’m so experienced with its shape and size and shortcuts I can use it pretty much with my eyes shut.
I’ve used to it to read, write, edit photos, research and discover untold treasures on the internet, connect with new friends across the world, make music, listen to music, buy book, music and camera collections at least three times over, create communities, organise dance events, fall in love, fall out of love, make money whilst I sleep, and an almost unlimited number of other things.
And still just using the keyboard, the trackpad and the screen brings a tactile pleasure and a broad smile that no other machine every has.
PCs are just machines, and often frustrating to the point you want to hurl them through a window. My Mac is a loved and trusted comrade.
Anyway, back to photography…
Which of these three – function, beauty and fun – do you look for most in a camera? Can one of these features alone make a camera a keeper for you?
Please let us know in the comments below (and remember to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
Thanks for looking. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what my photography life looks like right now.