HEART & SOUL

The cam­era isn’t just an­other con­sumer elec­tron­ics ap­pli­ance. It’s a fact Sam­sung ap­pears to have learned the hard way as it ex­its the still cam­era busi­ness (al­though there’s ac­tu­ally yet to be a for­mal an­nounce­ment), hav­ing failed to make any real in­road

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The irony here, though, is that while Sam­sung did in­deed ini­tially treat cam­eras like any other of its (many) CE lines, there had been a dra­matic turn­around with its last NX Se­ries mod­els, par­tic­u­larly the ex­cep­tional NX1. Here was a cam­era de­signed by some­body who re­ally un­der­stood the re­quire­ments of to­day’s mar­ket while also in­cor­po­rat­ing plenty of for­ward think­ing. The NX1 proved that Sam­sung did in­deed know about cam­eras, but it seems to have just been a lit­tle too late, the brand never quite gain­ing trac­tion in the en­thu­si­ast and pro­fes­sional end of the mar­ket. Pity re­ally… it was ar­guably close to be­ing the best SLR-style ‘APS-C’ mir­ror­less cam­era on the mar­ket.

It’s been sug­gested that Sam­sung failed here be­cause it didn’t have a ‘pho­to­graphic her­itage’, but nei­ther do ei­ther Sony or Pana­sonic, and both are do­ing very well across the board. No, Sam­sung’s down­fall was that it be­lieved its own pub­lic­ity and thought it could just sweep into the photo mar­ket and grab a hefty share based sim­ply on the strength of its brand­ing else­where. What it didn’t have, then, was any un­der­stand­ing of what a cam­era means to the se­ri­ous pho­tog­ra­pher. It’s not just a piece of equip­ment. While fea­tures and per­for­mance are, of course, im­por­tant el­e­ments, pho­tog­ra­phers have a more in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship with their cam­eras that’s bound up in the psy­cholo­gies and emo­tions as­so­ci­ated with cre­ative en­deav­ours. If you’re putting your heart and soul into some­thing, there has to be more to it than sim­ply tech­nol­ogy and clin­i­cally pre­cise elec­tron­ics.

Olym­pus knows this, as the OM-D line clearly at­tests. So, ob­vi­ously, does Fu­ji­film… just take a look at the new X-Pro2. And so does Sony, prob­a­bly thanks to some Mi­nolta DNA that’s still be­ing passed down to, most no­tably, the A7 cam­eras. Does it all start with de­sir­abil­ity? That’s clearly been the main ap­peal of Fu­ji­film’s X Se­ries cam­eras, the Olym­pus OM-D line-up (and now the oh-so-pretty Pen-F), the A7s and quite a few of Pana­sonic’s Lu­mix mod­els. And it’s no longer just about the ‘feel good’ as­pect of retro styling ei­ther, be­cause the practicality of, for ex­am­ple, good old­fash­ioned di­als has now been proven. Some­times the old ways are still the best ways, but with cam­eras the vis­ual aspects – per­haps not so sur­pris­ingly – are an im­por­tant start­ing point. Put sim­ply, it has to look right – which the Sam­sung NX1 did. Then comes brand her­itage and/or rep­u­ta­tion (but it’s no longer at the top of the list), fol­lowed by ca­pa­bil­i­ties and sup­port. Un­til re­cently, I’d have said that lens avail­abil­ity was the most crit­i­cal el­e­ment of sup­port, but Sony has proved this not to be the case with its A7 cam­eras which have been suc­ceed­ing be­cause they can be so eas­ily adapted to run other mounts (i.e. Canon and Nikon). That said, now there’s a good se­lec­tion of E-mount lenses – in­clud­ing those from Zeiss – to help keep up the mo­men­tum. Lens mount loy­alty can no longer be con­sid­ered a sure thing.

Con­se­quently, Sam­sung could well have even­tu­ally suc­ceeded if it had car­ried on from the NX1, be­cause it pretty well ticked all the above boxes, ex­cept for that all-im­por­tant emo­tional in­gre­di­ent which, of course, doesn’t fac­tor in when pur­chas­ing a wash­ing ma­chine, a re­frig­er­a­tor or even a widescreen TV. The peo­ple work­ing at the coal­face got it – many had been re­cruited from the photo in­dus­try any­way – but man­age­ment just didn’t com­pre­hend that it wasn’t all about the prod­uct… and it cer­tainly wasn’t just about ‘life­style’. In pho­tog­ra­phy, the cam­era es­sen­tially be­comes part of you.

You work more closely with a cam­era than per­haps any other de­vice, partly be­cause there’s that very in­ti­mate phys­i­cal con­nec­tion when it’s held up to your eye, but mostly be­cause it’s an ex­ten­sion of your imag­i­na­tion that turns ideas into im­ages thereby cre­at­ing a close psy­cho­log­i­cal bond. Pho­tog­ra­phers of­ten talk about “lov­ing” a par­tic­u­lar cam­era – many can’t bear to part with long-re­tired mod­els be­cause they’re the em­bod­i­ment of many mem­o­ries. And any de­signer or man­u­fac­turer who fails to ap­pre­ci­ate the in­trin­sic value of this re­la­tion­ship will surely end up pro­duc­ing noth­ing but soul­less ap­pli­ances.

Paul Bur­rows, Editor

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