Retro Camera Design

Old school or just more sensible?

For several years now we’ve been getting used to camera designs that have have shifted to a more compact retro look. And it’s not just because they don’t have mirrors and prisms. It seems to me SLR camera design was hampered in the first instance by the 80s and 90s preference for LCD screens and menus.

Perhaps manufacturers are learning it makes practical sense to have physical dials and knobs on a camera body. For one thing cameras can be operated very conveniently often without taking your eye from the viewfinder. ISO, exposure compensation, manual control, drive modes and so on, can be adjusted by finger and thumb. That said, having used both styles, the practical differences aren’t significant enough to be a deal-breaker for me.

Arguably, the downside of this retro revolution has been overenthusiastic manufacturers’ determination to keep body sizes too small. Emphasising lightweight bodies became an advertising obsession. So things became a bit fiddly to say the least. This was my main disappointment and only frustration when I first used the Fujifilm X-E1 (focussing performance isn’t an issue for me).

Hopefully cameras like the X-T2 and -T3 are an indication that typical mirrorless designs are now being rethought. Or maybe bodies have to grow simply because there’s so much technology crammed inside. It’s astonishing when you see a modern camera without its shell.

The top picture was taken with the 2005 EOS 5D (see below), a camera that is almost as far removed as you can get from today’s more popular mirrorless designs. Pronounced size differences will suggest to some photographers the balance is somewhere between the two.

Personally I’d favour slightly larger mirrorless designs, even if there’s no actual need for them to be manufactured that way. The weight would stay roughly the same while cameras would remain more user-friendly than those that are partly designed around screens and menus.

The brick-like Canon EOS 5D, still a pleasure to use.

Top plate comparison between the Fujifilm X-T2 and the Canon EOS 6D Mark II. It’s worth pointing out that including battery and card the 2017 6D is 258g heavier than the X-T2. Using an overall lighter kit can offer significant advantages for some photographers. See HERE for some thoughts on this.

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