Finding A Fusion Of Beauty, Function And Fun

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.

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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.

13 thoughts on “Finding A Fusion Of Beauty, Function And Fun”

  1. The perfect camera for me has to have all 3, which is why I love my FM 🙂 I spent years seeking out a camera that has the perfect balance of beauty, function and fun. I didn’t truly realise it until I got my FM, but I dislike the look of most DSLRs and DSLR-type film bodies, and I find all the extra options just complicate matters for me. I used to think I wanted all the options, but turns out I like to keep things simple. For example, to get a multiple exposure image with my FM, I just have to push a little button as I pull the advance lever, whereas with my F80 you had to select that mode and then remember to change it back after! I got a few unwanted double (and triple) exposures that way because I forgot to change it.

  2. Dan, in this post when you used the computer analogy I was into it. I love, love, love my MacBookAir. It does everything I want. I Have so much fun with it. I don’t shop around for things the way you do except I like to with my cars but usually settle on either a FOrd hatchback or Toyota Corolla hatchback. Nowadays has to be red. MAy consider a gold car next. As for cameras I just will keep using my trusty little digital camera until it stops working. Nothing you have said in all your posts have inspired me to look for anything better given that I do basic photography xoxo susanJOY PS as an aside Dan I have an accountability partner at the moment who is keeping me on track with my daily photo. I tell him what I have shot for the day and why. I am so enjoying the whole experience of shooting the photo(s) and sharing about it online

    1. It’s hard to saying without sounding like some kind of Apple snob, but if you’ve used a PC for any amount of time, then go to a Mac laptop or desktop computer, it’s a revelation.

      To be fair, Google are catching up, their Chromebooks and its IOS are really impressive now too.

      Glad your photography is working well for you!

  3. Great post, Dan! And great criteria too for evaluating cameras (and cars or bikes for that matter). I’d never consciously thought about this fun-function-beauty trifecta before, but I believe you’ve nailed it — because my “perfect” tools need all three. That said, I’m a pretty results-driven gal, so I’ll sacrifice beauty if I must … as I’ve done to an extent with my walkaround Panasonic GX85. It’s not sexy by any measure, but it’s fun and responsive, and that’s enough for me.

    1. Heide, thanks for your comments and glad to have you back.

      The edges between beauty and function can sometimes blur, as there are some objects/devices that work so well, and so invisibly, that their perceived beauty is increased. At least in my eyes.

      I would call my Ricoh GRD III a beautiful camera on this basis, but it’s not as attractive purely on an aesthetic basis as say a Pentax S1a.

      Beauty in this sense kind of includes our emotional response to the device too. Which is similar with people of course, we might meet someone that might not be seen as conventionally beautiful, but to us they’re highly attractive, and indeed it might be their “imperfections” that heighten this attraction further. This grows over time too, if I were to list the parts of my wife I found most alluring (physically and otherwise), they certainly wouldn’t be the same parts she would consider her best or most beautiful features.

      1. If you were to list the parts of your wife you found most alluring (physically and otherwise), this would be an entirely different blog, Dan! Ha ha. But yes, you’re absolutely right that “beauty” encompasses so much more than just the physical form of an object or person. In a sense beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, as the saying goes, because it depends in part on intangible emotional responses that really can’t be quantified or even explained sometimes.

        See? I told you your posts are thought-provoking!

  4. Hi Dan, Lots to think about as usual, and well said. I am still figuring out the camera thing by and large, but have been spending more time with my bicycles while the weather holds. I wonder if you have seen the “Lovely Bicycle” blog? She is responsible for getting me hooked on cycling as an adult. Her name and location are a closely guarded secret (Ireland I think) and she gave up the blog this year but it is still up. I think you would like it a lot. Lots of thoughtful posts, and great photographs. She was based very near me until her move overseas.

    1. Jon, thank you for the tip on Lovely Bicycle, I’ve only read the most recent post, but found it very thought provoking and intelligent writing. Can’t wait to read more.

      I love blogs that are on the surface about one particular hobby or passion (cycling, photography) but the writing goes much deeper and broader to encompass some of the fundamental thoughts and feelings and experiences that many of us deal with day to day. (What I attempt to do with 35hunter, rather than it being yet another dry photography blog about tech specs and pixel peeping.)

      Do you know why she stopped the blog or if she’s doing anything else online now?

      1. Hi Dan, I’m glad you like it. She is a very smart thoughtful person like you. She has become very enthusiastic about sewing and has a new blog, but I’m afraid I don’t know of it.

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