Many Camera Manufacturers Have Lost the Art of Craftsmanship

The craftsmanship, tactile feeling, and experience that certain cameras bring are becoming rarer.

Years ago, Nikon made an attempt to buy into the whole vintage appeal and aesthetic with the Nikon Df. Olympus did it with the Pen F. Fujifilm’s entire line of X series cameras does this. And pretty much every Leica that I’ve ever held did it too. But these cameras didn’t buy into a hype model; they demonstrated true craftsmanship. This can be found in pretty much every film camera that you hold which doesn’t have electronics in it. There are even cameras with electronics where you can truly feel the craftsmanship. But in recent years, I feel like camera manufacturers have lost their way. In favor of a newer type of photographer who understands and feels computers more than anything else, the art of a craftsman’s tool has been all but lost to us.

The saying goes that Sony makes incredible image capturing devices that don’t feel like cameras but somehow operate like them. Yes, the saying sounds like this. It’s somerthing I hear amongst not only the New York community of photographers but at meetups around the country. I’d go even further to say that Canon does the same thing but that they’re doing a better job than Sony. And that’s not to discount the innovations and the passionate flame Sony kindles amongst these newer creatives. But these creatives yearn for cameras that feel like craftsman’s tools. It’s no wonder why vintage cameras are still appealing and celebrities everywhere advocate for their usage.

Modern cameras fall into two categories. The first is made of those that are seriously developed for professionals and will rarely see use otherwise. I think this of many Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic, medium format and Pentax cameras. They’re for professionals: the folks who make their living with cameras. And that’s absolutely fine. In fact, it’s necessary for the continuation and progression of the arts.

Then there are those developed in such a way that they tug at the heart of someone who cares about craftsmanship, tactile feeling, ergonomics, etc. Let’s be honest; your phone can shoot a photo that can be posted on a billboard these days. Any camera in anyone’s hands can do a halfway decent job. But the cameras that Fujifilm, Leica, Hasselblad, and Olympus produce are ultimately craftsman’s tools. There is a big emphasis on ergonomics that just isn’t present with many other cameras. You can say that this is a subjective thing, but if you test cameras for a living and notice major deviations from otherwise industry-standard features, you begin to scratch your head. I’ve listed these before in previous reviews and have been met with comments where I made someone genuinely think twice. Indeed, that’s my job, and I intend to keep doing it.

But cameras in and of themselves are truly becoming luxury products and with enough time, they’re going to go the way of the watch. Like seriously, who needs a watch these days? No professional buys a watch because they need one, but because they want one. If they’re buying it out of need, it’s to show off, flex, peacock–whatever you call it. Professional photographers still exist and always will. But for the majority of people, the camera is an accessory they don’t need. It’s just a luxury product. To that end, the camera world should really start treating their products like that. With this in mind, designers and product managers should create craftsman’s tools.

A craftsman’s tool comes down to aesthetics. Here’s what I mean:

  • A Leica M is a tactile experience that puts you in the zone of making pictures
  • A vintage-inspired Olympus camera tugs at the hearts of those who spend lots of time researching and hunting for the perfect camera on eBay
  • A Fujifilm X series camera incorporates just the right amount of technology with the overall vintage experience that photographers have valued for years
  • The Nikon Df did the same thing as all of these in a larger, bigger hunk of a camera that still makes me lust after one
  • The Ricoh GR feels and acts enough like the old film Ricoh point and shoots that you want one
  • Panasonic’s collaborations with Leica feel timeless

And again, I’m not stating that these are opinions. There are commonalities between all these cameras. And they should be treated like a craftsman’s tool targeting a brand new market of a creator.