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Tuesday, 14 July 2015


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That video was pretty amazing. I know they were (quite transparently) trying to send the message that they are Leica-like in their hand-made nature and quality control, but I am still amazed that so many of the steps are manual. Who would have guessed that the ink for the lettering is manually applied? I find that nothing short of astonishing. It's not a good or a bad thing (I have no reason to believe that doing any of this stuff manually is qualitatively better than doing it by machine -- I assume it is just that the volume of production isn't high enough to warrant developing dedicated manufacturing equipment), it's just surprising that such a high-tech tool is put together with such (arguably) low-tech techniques.

Best regards,

Wouldn't this be representative of all modern cameras to a certain extent?

Thanks. I love things like this. I recently watched some film showing manufacturing in the Raleigh bicycle factory in England from the 1940s. The revelation in that one was the way the bottom bracket shell (the bit the pedal crank goes through) starts life as a disc of steel and after a few pressing operations becomes a cylinder.

If I ever had any doubt, this video has confirmed it: Working on an assembly line isn't for me! A few days of doing that would end up with me drooling and mumbling to myself, if not certifiably insane.

But as a cameraholic, I'm sure glad there are other people who can and do enjoy this sort of work! 8^)

Likewise, I love watching these clips, but how I wish they'd hold the shots and show me more. It's too fast, too soft focus, too hard to see properly. Only about three seconds on the Chemical Conversion Coating. How does that work? I wish ...

I've always loved watching manufacturing machines and wished there was a TV program. Yes, I know about Super Factories or whatever it's called, but they are plagued by cameraman's disease - wave the camera around, whiz pan, out of focus, jerk zoom. And edited at a frantic pace - never leave a shot to screen for longer than 1 second. And endlessly dip to black between shots. Cliche, cliche. I'm thinking of starting a new career as a cameraman. I could do an even worse job and get paid for it. I wish ...

The assembly line almost drove me nuts even though I only visited for summer jobs while going to college in the early 1970s.
One year I welded spring clips onto shadow masks for 25-inch RCA color TVs and another I fed a machine that puts those cardboard disks into plastic bottle caps that always fall out.
Maybe in the long run the U.S. will be better off without those soul-killing jobs, but we still need to come up with something else for the middle class to do as far as work goes.

Re: Bill Tyler's comment: I learned long ago that the softest material known to man is neither velour nor chinchilla fur. No, it's the metal they used for making the pentaprism humps on Pentax MX's, most of which dented under light polishing with a soft cloth.

Fun video to watch (I'm an X-T1 owner and expect the process is similar for the big brother). I don't think I would take away from it though that the top-plate is still the most cost-intensive part. In the "old" days the lower part of the camera had much less going on, but today with the sensor, all the motors, circuitry, processors, etc. I expect a higher proportion of the cost is there. I fully expect that all of that is put together robotically as the tolerances are going to be much tighter than what's involved on the top-plate. The lack of human involvement also makes it less photogenic :-)

Like adamct I was very surprised to see the Fujifilm name was hand-inked! There are ways of automating that, so I wonder if there is a technical or pride reason behind doing it by hand?

If you want to see what the insides of an older film camera used to look, Casual Photophile has some great exploded view photos of a Canon AE-1 that show the amazing intricacy under the hood. http://casualphotophile.com/2015/03/26/exploded-views-canon-ae-1/

@ Peter Croft:

If you like manufacturing videos, then check out The Discovery Channel's How it's Made TV show.

Plus one to Mike's recommendation of The Pencil by Henry Petrosky. There's fascinating history and a lot of technological development involved, beginning with raw lumps of graphite and ending in the deceptively simple modern writing tool.

Thanks, Mike! I have read Longitude and liked it. I will look for those others at my library.

Some of my work colleagues point our engineering Students towards that old Raleigh bicycle factory film. Fascinating stuff... to the likes of ourselves! You can find it here:

To satisfy Peter Croft's hunger for manufacturing videos, I recommend the series showing the making of BMW's radical i3 electric car. In most versions there's no voice-over and some ambient sound. Some shots are quite slow. Of course, there's a lot they don't show.
See if you can spot the times a robot holds a part still for a camera's inspection! There are other videos that cover the carbon fibre bakery in Washington state.
It's a big contrast to the car and transmission plants both in Europe and Detroit that I remember visiting in the 1980s.

Passingly related to all of this, one of my all time favourite cinema shots is the opening scene to Edward Burtynksy's Manufactured Landscapes. The camera is at about chest height and moves at a moderate walking pace to the left through endless aisles upon aisles of some non-descript manufacturing plant in China - it goes on for close to five minutes with just the sound in the factory (and eventually some voiceover). It's a really elegant and impactful way to portray the immensity and complexity of these places and processes. I should definitely rewatch that. (The doc itself is also quite good outside of the opening scene.)

And my X-T10 just arrived this week. Perfect timing!

I'll echo adamet's comment - it is surprising just how many manual steps there were in that process, and I suspect in many manufacturing processes. We live in a period of time when the products from a very, very cheap labour force are available worldwide thanks to the highly-automated global distribution system. There have always been cheap places to manufacture, but the costs of distribution to the market were very high.

Of course, it won't last (at least, not based on manufacturing in China). As society in China develops, real wages will increase. Also, as the Yuan increases in value vis-a-vis the US$, £, €, etc so prices for manufactured goods will increase in those currencies. Enjoy it while it lasts!

On the topic of books on the making of stuff, another interesting read if you're into that sort of thing, is Factory - though I'm having a hard time finding a link to it - essentially discussion the evolution of factory design in Britain. Will dig up and post.

This is great stuff.

Here is a video of how my camera is (was actually) made: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72eKejgO6eQ

Took a while to find, but I believe this was the book I was referring to - http://www.amazon.com/Factory-Reaktion-Books-Gillian-Darley/dp/1861891555 - not well reviewed by the single reviewer, but I enjoyed it at the time.

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