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Wednesday, 01 September 2010


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Sorry, Mike - I have to disagree. The prettiest camera of that kind I ever saw was a picture of one of Jim Marshall's Leicas. I think there was more brass showing than black paint!
(And it was beyond pretty) ;)

Thank you for your candour, Mike. It is applied to the right topics in your articles... and one of many fine qualities that makes TOP top!

Link to a picture of Jim Marshall's Leica.


These are prettier:

Jim Marshall's M4:


Elliott Erwitt's Leica M3:

From: "If your Leica does not look like this, then you are not shooting enough!"


One of the first cameras that got me with it's "presence" was a friends black Pentax H3.
We were both in high school in the mid 1960's and that camera just spoke to me.
On my shelf right now are a dignified but not pristine Rollei 2.8f and a black Nikon F2 with a black standard non-metered prism and a pre-AI 50 1.4.
I think both are grand objects, not to mention terrific cameras.
I completely understand your black Leica problem. Earlier this year a 2005 Nikon SP reissue nearly had me gutting my 401K until cooler heads prevailed.

I totally agree. Although it shouldn't matter, brassed Leicas are simply too beautiful. My own M4-P is a mere chrome one and although it has seen more than 15 years of (ab)use from me and was already old when I bought it, it looks simply old and not... classy.

Here's some more brass porn:

One of Elliot Erwitt's Leicas: http://i121.photobucket.com/albums/o215/porcellis/erwittsleica.jpg

One of Jim Marshall's Leicas: http://static.photo.net/attachments/bboard/00A/00AHhY-20694284.jpg

More Ms:

Leica II:

Mike on the same subject a year ago... :)

Perverse of me, but I'd have to register a vote for the Contarex 'cyclops', though even its own mum probably wouldn't. Or perhaps the Corfield tilt and shift model that appeared in the 90s and then seemed to stride swiftly into oblivion.

Couldn't agree more Mike. There's something special about how a tool shows use that makes it more beautiful. Only that I think that perhaps all tools show that as well.

It may be somewhat off-topic, but there was a wonderful museum of ancient tools which my father in law took me to, in a city called Troyes (south east of Paris). I absolutely loved the idea that you could have a tool that was used to make a tool, a tool could be re-tooled, or that a tool could be almost indefinately fixed.

It was only the other day that I told my sister that I respected that she had rubbed off all the sprayed on rubber on her Canon 350D, and put the requisite scratches and oil marks that showed use, age, and love. It wasn't an M4, but in my eyes it looked better than say a brand new DSLR of that range (whatever Canon call them now).


Have none of you seen an Ebony 4x5?

I really don't like the extremely-worn black paint over brass look. While I know the examples linked were come by honestly, it looks abused to me, and I don't like that.

I've owned a Leica M3, and (at the same time, actually) a Pentax Spotmatic (mine was Asahi, I believe it was bought overseas and imported, several owners before it reached me). They look good enough. I like the look of the original Nikon F with a non-metered prism. I like the look of the Olympus XA. The Minox C is a lovely bit of industrial design as well.

It's hard to separate my feelings about a camera as a camera from my feelings about a camera as a work of art. And really I feel that its properties as a camera are far more important.

I like the Rolleiflex. Any model, but especially those produced after 1954, with EV markings on the shutter speed wheel. The newer 'cords (after IIc) are nice too.

While I love the concept of a Leica (I've used a couple rangefinders and like the manual simplicity) and find newer black & chrome models (like the M6) "pretty", these do nothing for me. Brass looks wonderful with wood. Old brass & wood is beautiful. Field cameras ... nautical instruments. But black & brass ? They immediately call to mind a black Nissan Maxima pimped out with gold wheels and a license plate holder with gold chains. And a skull.

Give me silver and black any day. Or brown and gold. (That Ebony 4x5 Ian mentioned works :)

It's true of musical instruments, too. Here's a link to a photo of Pittsburgh's internationally-renowned saxophonist Kenny Blake with his well-handled instrument.

"P.P.S. I seem to be becoming incapable of writing short posts. This one should have been about three sentences long. Hope you don't mind."

I would mind if the posts WERE 3 sentences long. Write, dude. Please.


The brassed Leica would be gorgeous if it were in the hands of the person who brassed it. On the cold slab of white, under 'ebay lighting,' it's just a worn object.

The most beautiful cameras?
Rolleiflex 2.8F TLR — Nikon F6 — Contax RX — Leica MP/M3, chrome, but with brown leather — Contax G2, black — Rollei 6008 — Rollei 35s black. All pristine.

...matter of fact, Pentax, Sony, or Olympus should hire the guy(s) who used to design Contax cameras....

I'd vote for the Spotmatic, too, for similar reasons, plus it's very unfussy (espec. the SP500 I owned, which did not even have a self-time or a hotshoe) Abstractly, I've always found the Contax S2 (a camera I've never used, but have held) a deeply satisfying, unfussy visual design: it always looks dumpier in pictures than it is in real life.

As to the black Leicas: well, the number available will have a deflationary effect on the value, probably, and then suddenly and inexplicably there will be a suspicious number of gently distressed models around.

There should be a post for the ugliest camera ever.

I vote for the Mamiya Press series. Even the Mamiya 7, as elegant as its design and function is, is pretty fugly compared to all these leicas.

Fender guitars have been building for the last 8 years the "Fender Relic:
"A newly created guitar, through an artistic aging process, that possesses the identical look and playability of Fender’s golden age of instrument production", this includes all the decay, rust and bangs a guitar takes over the years.
This is the king of all relic guitars Stevie Ray Vaughan's Number 1.
Made by Fender Custom Shop, replicated not only the exact electronic components by measuring the output of the pickups, but was also determined to replicate every scratch, nick and dent. Even the cigarette burns on the headstock would be replicated. Fender planned to make only 100 replicas.
It would be interesting if Leica got hold of Salgado´s, Jim Marshall's or Garry Winogrand´s cameras and issued exact replicas I´m sure there would be a market for them.
Here´s Gary Winogrand's M4:
I´m lucky I have sitting next to me, an original 1965 Fender Strat I bought from a guy for 700 dollars, he was desperate he needed to get out of the country very quickly. It was built on the 11 March 1965 seven years before I was born! It´s sounds amazing, feels amazing and looks like Jim Marshall´s Leica.... Used!

I don't think any digital camera will attain the beauty of mechanical cameras anytime soon primarily because of the wretched plastic view screen in back- many a modern car looks great in front, but seems the designers just gave up when viewed from the rear.

Not that all vintage cameras were beauts by any means, anyone remember those clunky Petri SLRs- one couldn't have made anything so ugly by accident.

Sorry,but what is it with you Leica fans? I think that old hunk looks pretty ugly...


The Nikon FM3 is a beautiful camera, with the Leica IIIg in a close second place followed by the Leica X1 ....

Mike, my recent favorite is a well worn, but still functioning, chrome Leica III (or"F") that spoke to me from the cardboard box in which I found it. Cute as anything and small enough with a collapsible lens to fit in a (larger) pocket it takes as good a picture today as it did in 1935 (actually probably better with our modern films).

I not only love the look of well-worn cameras, the appreciation extends to all kinds of worn hand tools, especially if the tools themselves show signs of having been hand crafted. That's beauty in my eyes.

So most of those hypothetical objections you listed hold no water with me, and the last one reads to me like encouragement to buy a beautiful worn camera!

On the other hand, a worn camera in "original condition" seems a bit oxymoronic.

I would love to own a nicely beat up black paint M, but, alas, my budget wasn't nearly enough and I had to "settle" for a clean chrome one with just a few dings and scratches.

The most impressive example of camera wear I've seen was a photo of one of Garry Winogrand's M's. In addition to major wear on the outside, all the film he'd put through it had left a clear image on the pressure plate. I think the photo was somewhere on cameraquest.com

Yes: http://www.cameraquest.com/LeicaM4G.htm

I like the images of the well-worn Leicas whose beauty is embodied in their battle scars.

I've no idea what the most beautiful camera is. But I sure do enjoy looking at my "new" Rolleiflex 2.8 FX. It just looks like it couldn't be anything else but a camera. With such a stern look it's sure to scare away nearly anything in it path. This here's wunna them 2-handed cameras for real photographers. And it takes real good pictures, too. (Homage to a 2006 "What the Duck" cartoon.)

Black Nikon F standard prism.

It's fascinating to view a famous photographer's favorite or most-used camera outliving the photographer to become a historical curiosity or reference.
I guess this another aspect of photography that will be left in the dust by digital. What photographer who may become famous in the future will have used the same digital camera for more than a few years?

I'd nominate the Voigtländer Vito CLR.

Rangefinder beauty at a price absolutely anyone could afford. And the 50mm Skopar is a pretty decent lens.

My black FM2 looks about like that, but it's somehow not as pretty. When I get home, I'm going to find a gold or copper colored gel pen and try to decorate a D700 with it.

if we think of cameras as male jewelry, then winters and summers should "wear" silver chrome cameras, or black cameras that expose grey metal as they wear. those with spring or fall complexions would be advised to choose black painted cameras that brass, or cameras with warm toned finishes, such as titanium or champagne. =)

I just want a black Pentax MX and 50/1.4 because they're so pretty.

I keep looking at them.

My first camera was a chrome Asahi Pentax Spotmatic. They called them Asahi, not Honeywell, in Canada.

It's 40+ years later and I still occasionally try to turn the aperture and shutter speed rings. Damn muscle memory.

"There should be a post for the ugliest camera ever."

There was.


The prettiest camera is the one I hold in my hand....

The brassing from your 'prettiest camera ever' are definitely not the result of use. Brassing on the bottom probably stems from use. The top plate has been most likely sandpapered. In fact it looks as someone was eager to get that used look without much use (as is actually the case for most Ms).

First I agree with Dogman regarding the Spotmatic...still my favorite of all cameras I've owned, and it was the first SLR...I do like the look of the black Spots better, but I have never owned one.
Relating to the earlier post about shooting to a theme...one of my (re)current themes is sort of on topic...I enjoy shooting "tools as art"...ex) cameras, pitchforks, guns, etc...things that are not necessarily "art" by every standard, but are used to decorate as if they were...this project will never be finished.

The prettiest camera of all time? Zeiss super Ikonta 533/16. Or perhaps an early Rolleiflex.

Although, nearly all cameras tend to be such nice examples of engineering and style.

My old Pentax 67 had the same look, for me it was the most beautiful camera ever.
BTW, Photo Arsenal alias Jamchtchik has the worst prices on the web (=sucker).

Contax RTSII - I hate to say what lens I twinned it with (I was young, I was broke - I thought the body more important...), and the electrics never did work all that well, but it was a thing of rare beauty and, in the hand, what poise!

My Leica iiif RD/ST, and I'm not alone!


For me the system SLRs of the 80s were great lookers: the F3, F1n and LX. But the one that sticks in my mind most from the ads in the '80s was the OM-4 Ti (yep, black again) with a 50/1.2. No naff red stripes that made (make) Nikons look like 80s Mustangs.

But for elegant simplicity it has to be the Pentax MX in black with a 50/1.4. It's just so small, simple and highly effective.

Although, stick a silver FA Limited 43/1.9 on a silver MX and you come very close indeed. Maybe if they had added a little leatherette prism garnish like the FM2...

These comparisons of brassed Leicas remind me of Quint and Hooper comparing scars from their various shark encounters in "Jaws."

The red 'strap' doesn't look too sturdy though?

I understand, that we vote for the camera, that simply LOOKS best. So I would slightly disagree with J. R. Lennon. But only slightly. I completely understand that FT has light meter, but... original Pen F fas that beautifil letter F!

The prettiest camera I saw was a beaten up [silver] Pentax Spotmatic, followed closely by the [silver] Olympus OM-1, and [silver] Nikon F2. I like silver :)

this ties in with the "going home" (or not) post, as well as a quick exchange between Mike and me, so I hope he doesn't consider this piling on, but this is the most beautiful camera ever, shown here in my curiously monochromatic office:

The prettiest camera I own, as opposed to the prettiest camera ever, on which I have no opinion, is my Nikon F3HP. I used my FM2 more, because it was lighter and more reliable (not so battery-dependant) for wilderness canoe trips. But now the F3HP looks petite and stylish compared to my digital cameras.

True what you say about the alternative colours being more expensive. I wanted an all-black Pentax ME Super (standard was chrome with black leather) and had to wait months for one to fly under the radar on eBay so I could get it at a reasonable price.

Why did I want it all black? Because I don't like chrome! Simple as that.

As far as pretty cameras go, from a geometric and proportion point of view, the Olympus OM-1 is my favourite, despite it being chrome (although I've seen some all-black versions).

I've never checked, but I wonder if ol' Maitani San introduced some golden ratios in its measurements... The OM-1 also sparked the small camera revolution back in the 70's, which Olumpus has reignited recently with its micro-4/3 format.

Dave said: "Sorry,but what is it with you Leica fans? I think that old hunk looks pretty ugly..."

Well Dave, it's kind of like the couple that has been together for 30 or 40 years of a good marriage. Ask the husband who he thinks is the most beautiful woman and he is quite likely to choose his wife--the one that he had and raised three kids with and experienced all of the trials and tribulations of life, but remained loving and true through the highs and lows. She might not have the body of a young model, but the shared experiences make her the most beautiful in his eyes....

I would have thought Leica would expect worn black paint to be replaced, in order to keep the camera's functionality as intended. Just like repairing any other part of a tool that wears to the point of no longer meeting its intended function.

Worn black paint may have its beauty, but worn *through* black paint diminishes functionality, and such a tool is a diminished tool and less beautiful to those who reject the concept of a tool's beauty as a matter of taste, and see the beauty in the degree to which its design is driven by function.

Ya know it's only a matter of time before Leica starts offer their equivalent to the Fender Time Machine guitars. They'll charge you EXTRA money to go out back and beat the hell out of a camera for you.


Beautiful! I have that body in storage till I get another scanner. That yellowed 50/1.4 Super Tak is on my Kx!

… sigh my beloved Canon F-1 looked a lot like that (it was an early '70 edition that i got for $400 back in high school in Montreal)

Any object that wears gracefully is appealing to me, and that includes black-painted brass bodies that have been well used. But for me, it is the leather, chrome, and aluminum of the 1958 Exacta Varex IIa. After becoming enthralled with the pentaprism SLR view of the world through my high school camera club's Exa, I worked a summer for mine that was identical to this one. http://www.wrotniak.net/photo/exakta/_img/x/ex-513e(12)-928823-x.jpg

Beautiful to look at, and fun to use, with all those nifty knobs, rube-goldberg stop-down solution, and especially that curvy film advance lever.

While I know the examples linked were come by honestly, it looks abused to me, and I don't like that.

The top plate has been most likely sandpapered.

Nah, they really wear like that, just from being used. You can take the original paint off with a fingernail. The problem (or the secret) is that while the Leica M's of the 50's and 60's were mechanical masterpieces, the black ones were painted with truly cheesy paint, and/or cheap surface prep. Note that Nikon F's of the same period haven't lost nearly as much paint.

The way you can tell if a Leica has been repainted (aside from reference to "The List"), is that the repainted one doesn't have "orange peel" or thin spots where the brass showed through when it left the factory.

All the same, I love them. When you hold one of these battered campaigners in your hand, you have to wonder where it's been, what it has seen.

Not to stretch the point (or maybe it does. So what.) it's a little like holding an 18th century musket, or a flint hand-ax, and knowing that it served someone well, for a long time.

The Nikon F3's lines, IIRC, sprung from the ItalDesign studios of Georgio Guiliarno (sp?), along with many influential auto designs including the VW Golf and several Alfas. Nikon advertised that at the time. I'd rank it at the top, along with the OM-1 and several Contax SLRs.

Can't tell you how many times I've been on Ebay or Tokyo Camera Style when my wife comes up from behind making heavy breathing sounds...

Konica Hexar RF and AF must be mentioned in this thread! Not only beautiful but great tools too.

Don't buy that Leica, Mike. I'm no expert, but something about the brassing just looks wrong. You may want to run it by Steve Gandy.

Ah, now I remember, it looks just like a fake Russian brassed black paint Leica I saw some years ago for same. Something about the shutter speed dial on the one hand, and the brassing, on the other.

I may be wrong, but buyer beware.

Other than that, I'll second Bill Mitchell, but with a post war Contax IIa + 3.5 Chrome Tessar.

The only cameras I've ever bought for thier looks are my Purma Special and Canon T90.

You just can't beat curvy, aerodynamic black plastic...

No seriously, this is insane. While I totally agree that the Leica M body design is one of the most beautiful and timeless designs in photographic history, I absolutely don't get it why anyone would pay a premium for a camera showing wear. This IS insane.

P.S.: I personally prefer the chrome versions, anyways.

@StevieRose, you're onto something.

I fail to see the difference between the Leica in this article and my old Olympus Trip 35mm, other than in the lens' image-quality. The fact a given toy is old and bashed-around is of no intrinsic appeal if you don't know why those particular marks.

The most beautiful camera I have is the one I love using, that's been with me through some fun experiences in nice landscapes, and I don't expect anyone else to see it through the same eyes.

(It is, of course, my Shen Hao: nothing vintage apart from it being a view-camera; nothing particularly old about this model; but damn, it feels like an extension of my fingers to play with the movements from under a dark-cloth.
Shen Hao in the heather

If anybody is into rare black paint Leicas for way to much money... I stumbled over this M9 prototype in black paint, disguised as an M8. I wonder if Leica will change the top part for a proper M9 one when you send this in for servicing... :-).

[NB. I have no connections with the seller]

I look at one of my Graflex Series C's and it's like being 16 again and staring at Mary Ellen's giant boobs during homeroom. Sometimes bigger is better. And Mary Ellen had a pretty severe overbite.

I'd like to throw in a vote for the Contax G1, much prettier than the G2. Perfectly matched with the 45mm/f2.0

BUT I truly, truly, adored my beat up Olympus E-1 with scratches all over and glue stains from when I had re-attached the rubber that came off after many years of use. For me, who was a teenager when the digital era started, this was my worn down Leica. It followed me everywhere and anywhere and never felt lika a piece of "gear", it was a tool, and as such it never failed me. Sadly, the same quality made me sell it because I wanted something technically "better", gear lust at its worst. Needless to say I have missed it ever since and I probably end up buying one when I'm middle aged and nostalgic.

But it will never be the same...

Most beautiful camera? Toss up between a Leica IIIf and IIIg. They're like classic old Rolls-Royce Silver Clouds--pieces of mechanical perfection.

Mine is as old as me....and frankly, it's held up better.....

Nice camera to start on. I really liked the E-1. Strange Olympus didn't stick with the form-factor; I thought it was a winner.


Chrome Nikon F standard prism.

Zeiss Contarex Bulls Eye!

Fantastic machine age chrome cyclops.


I know it isn't brassed, I know it doesn't take film. I know it's got buttons and digital controls.

I broke down and bought this a couple of months ago. It wasn't until I set it down while I was offloading files from the memory card that I realized that it wouldn't have looked out of place a few decades ago.

Pentax ME Super with a really good lens, the FA 31mm F1.8 Ltd:
Pentax ME Super and FA 31mm F1.8 lens

I'm with C. Cunningham, above; the E-P1 is a spectacularly lovely camera, and I actually think the digital elements enhance rather than detract from the aesthetics.

We keep mentioning Leica and the M-system but as a new camera without wear and tear I feel Leica´s S2 is a work of art, unrivalled in the world DSLRs.

To paraphrase a guy named Mike Johnston, many years ago: "Did you ever see a prettier camera?"

He was speaking about the Contax G2.

To me, the most beautiful camera ever.

Bauru- BR

1) Tachihara 4x5 view camera (Cherry wood with brass fittings).
2) The Leica MP "anthracite" edition.
3) Nikon 35ti (with that glorious analogue "swiss chronometer" display on top).
4) Virtually any TLR

Kodak Bantam Special. Art deco goodness, absolutely perfect.


Look it up.

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