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I am a sucker for design. Style is subjective. Design is art and, therefore, subjective. Does form follow function, or does function dictate form? In the world of photography, just like in many product lines, the camera has run the gamut, from utilitarian tool to work of art. Some of those utilitarian cameras were unintentionally beautiful and some cameras had attractive designs that got in the way of function. Regardless of success or failure, almost every major camera manufacturer has pushed products with radical designs.
Sometimes, a change of color takes a camera from everyday to something eye-catching. To me, the new skin has to fit over a design already worthy of my eye. Design beauty is more than skin deep to me. Black is the new black, and if the camera looks great in black, it probably looks good in other colors, too. Conversely, slapping a pastel skin on an ugly camera probably makes it worse, in my opinion.
Is what you are about to read a comprehensive list of “chic cameras?” Absolutely not. In fact, I encourage you to add your own thoughts to the Comments section, below. But, before you share your ideas, let’s kick off the conversation with this list of 16.
Brand new and gorgeous, the first medium format mirrorless camera is the Hasselblad X1D-50c, and it is a stunning design. Its body is ultra clean, yet obviously functional. Here is a camera that you cannot globally compare to any other camera. It is ushering in a new genre of digital medium format photography and it is doing so with a unique look. With “Hasselblad” engraved on the front and “HANDMADE IN SWEDEN” etched into the top plate, you can be assured that the knowledgeable passerby will recognize that the photographer cradling this camera in his or her hands is making art with a work of art.
The basic shape of the Leica 35mm rangefinder camera is one of those designs that will never go out of style, even without the film advance/shutter cocking lever. It has been mimicked and copied, but never rendered obsolete. It is either a Leica rangefinder, or it’s an attempt to be one. The M-D (Typ 262) is digital, but the only thing that gives that away is the absence of a film door or cocking lever. To clean up the design and throw back to the days of film, there is no LCD on the rear of the camera to view your images. In place of the LCD screen we have a tasteful ISO selection dial engraved with the gorgeous Leica numerical font. With Leica, be sure to keep an eye out for even more stylish limited edition versions of film and digital rangefinders.
Simplicity has an elegance all its own and the front view of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX80 has a beautiful sparseness. The rear of the camera is decidedly busier, but the large size of the LCD screen dominates that view; echoing the clean lines of the front. Holding the camera, the grip is simply classy and has an aesthetically pleasing texture. I also really enjoy the way that the circular lenses live beneath the rectangular front opening. In the product photos, this catches my eye.
There are many point-and-shoot cameras on the market, and many of them try to push design boundaries, while others seem to come from the same cookie-cutter molds that other point-and-shoot cameras embrace. Occasionally, some cross the line from standard to eye-catching. The Canon PowerShot G9 X digital camera looks stunning in silver with its brown, textured grips. Compared to the black model, the silver version is most likely the camera with which you’ll want to accessorize.
Retro does not always translate to “stylish,” but sometimes it definitely works. When the Fujifilm X-Pro1 was released, its design gave a definite nod to the rangefinders of the past with a touch of modern curves. The X-Pro2 is the evolutionary successor to the X-Pro1. The point-and-shoot X100T echoes this design goal and does so with a stellar reputation as a photographic tool. Accompanying you on your photographic expeditions is a camera that might make those “in the know” take a second admiring glance over their shoulder at your stylish picture-making tool.
Subtly breaking with the aforementioned point-and-shoot, cookie-cutter mold, I really enjoy the circle-on-a-squared-off-rectangle symmetry of the Canon PowerShot N2 digital camera. An ultra-clean design enables you to slip it into your tuxedo pocket for a black tie or white tie affair and blend in, stylishly, with the crowd.
A relatively new area of photography has been created with the “action cam.” The field is now crowded and, from a design aspect, there has been no lack of interesting design solutions surrounding the action-cam market. Recently announced, the GoPro HERO5 Black and its partner, the HERO5 Session are design masterpieces; taking the already elegant GoPro into an even more visually pleasing direction. You almost don’t want to put these cameras in their protective housings and take them skydiving, surfing, or skiing in the fear that they will lose their good looks once they get abused.
Sometimes, in the world of design, small equals stylish. Minox has been making tiny “spy” cameras for years, and its Minox DCC 14.0 digital camera is the latest edition of the company’s digital camera with a 14MP sensor, packed into a tiny classic-looking rangefinder. Available in black or silver, this diminutive camera will definitely not weigh down your bag.
The design team at Sigma appears to be working overtime with its new sleek Art lenses and the Quattro family of cameras. The Art lenses and the dp Quattro camera line emphasize a clean design aesthetic, but the new sd Quattro mirrorless digital camera takes Sigma design in a different direction. Can clunky be graceful? With the sd Quattro, I think, “Yes.” The camera’s design is unique and it stands out on that merit alone. You can tell that a lot of thought went into the design, from its deep handgrip with the scalloped finger rest area to the oh-so-slight downward angle of the front command dial.
Color can play a big part in style. The design of the Nikon 1 J5 mirrorless digital camera is striking, but I find the silver edition to be more attention-grabbing than the black version. The white version is a close second, with a subtle contrast between the metal and white portions, but it is the contrast between the brushed metal and dark black that looks sharpest here.
Another take on the iconic rangefinder, there is no denying that the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 digital camera gives a nod to the form. But its lack of viewports and other front-facing windows show it to be a totally different animal. The silver version is particularly attractive, with its contrasting handgrip.
Built for the same Micro Four Thirds mount, the silver Olympus PEN-F features a very stylish Creative Control dial on the front for selecting creative image-simulation modes. A very beautiful engraving job that tells the shooter what they are holding in their hands every time they look at the camera’s top plate. The PEN-F is available in black, as well, but the silver version looks super sharp. The PEN-F’s smaller stablemate, the new PEN E-PL8 is also a head turner, with its simulated leather front, available in either coppery brown or black.
Introduced with game-changing light field technology, the Lytro brought something radically different to the world of photography—the ability to change focus after the image was captured. With a form that disguises its capabilities, the original Lytro looks like the kind of camera you would see mounted in the corner of a convenience store; pointed at the cash register. The new Lytro Illum is barely more traditional in the photographic sense (there is a designated place to hold the camera), yet appears as a stunning design.
One thing that I like about the complete lineup of Pentax DSLR cameras is their consistent use of sharp lines. The cameras have a purposeful look to them. The new full-frame Pentax K-1 has a beautiful pointed prism housing and the Pentax 645Z medium format DSLR announces its presence with the bold metal Pentax name plate on the front. But, when it comes to everyday style and personality, the multiple color options of the K-S2 DSLR camera make the camera a customized companion. It even comes with racing stripes.
Another definite nod to “retro,” the Nikon Df looks like the Nikon F series of years past, with all the digital bells and whistles of the modern digital camera integrated into control dials and buttons. In black or silver, the classic design of the Df, including the older, non-italicized “Nikon” logo, brings classic looks to full-frame digital. Passersby might think you are out on a retro walk with your Nikon FM2 or another classic Nikon film SLR.
Leica’s entire line probably appears on different lists of stylish cameras, from its Leica SL (Typ 601) to the chiseled-from-an-aluminum-block Leica T and TL mirrorless cameras to the titanium-topped Leica Q (Typ 116), but when it comes to a modern Leica that I simply enjoy looking at, the Leica X (Typ 113) looks absolutely fantastic in silver. If you want more even more style points, you can grab the Leica X-E (Typ 102) version that features a very attractive two-tone design.
Now it is your turn to share your ideas and examples of what makes a stylish camera, in the Comments section, below. Thanks for reading!