Tuesday, November 19, 2019

WTF is going on in Europe?

No, I don't mean Brexit, or the rise of fascism, or global warming, or any of that.

I mean camera design.

We have Phase One making featureless boxes of sorrow, and now Leica seems to be jumping on the same bandwagon. I'm already had some harsh words for their Q2 camera, as well as for Phase One's system. Leica has with moderate fanfare now introduced the SL2:

The attentive observer will note that it borrows its design cues almost entirely from the Q2. This is clearly Leica's design language going forward, insofar as it constitutes a design language at all.

The only thing I can say in Leica's favor is that the weird fake leatherette pattern is at least drawn around to the back side, so the front and back do not appear to be two completely different cameras. No, they look like they're the same incredibly lazy sketch of a camera. It looks like someone just 3D printed something they found by googling "free camera clip art." In a sense, it's sort of a distilled Platonic essence of a camera, but that's not actually a good thing.

Both Leica and Phase One seem to be embracing some kind of minimalist aesthetic, and it's very disappointing. Both companies have picked out a sans-serif font that is so bland as to make Arial, that horrible uncle of fonts, look like an out of control techno dance party. The forms are more or less featureless black boxes with dim nods to historically relevant prior art, but with all the appeal laboriously machined off.

If we are honest, the Leica Rs were never lovely cameras, but at least they had some faint whiff of character. A radius here, a well-used texture there, fronts and backs looked like they came from the same design hand, and so on. The R3 may have been an unlovely brute, but at least it looked like someone designed it. If you boiled an R3 in acetone for 12 hours until all the character dissolved away, you'd have an SL2.

My impression from all these products is that they're being drawn by someone who wants to minimize the number of lines and surfaces that have to be separately drawn in whatever their CAD tool is. I suppose the conceit is that it looks "clean" but the actual result if that it looks "bland" and "underdone."


  1. Looks like one of those all-plastic (inc. lens) point & shoot 35mm cameras you got free with a magazine sub.

  2. I don't know or care that much about design in cameras, to be honest. Maybe that's why I'm indifferent to the way this SL2 looks.

    There is something that I truly hate however, and that is the pandering to tradition. The Leica M10 for example is just a pastiche of old rangefinders. It feels like this SL2 is doing the same with the leatherette, curved sides, and fonts. A bunch of modern Fuji cameras (or maybe all of them) just look like old film cameras, down to the manual controls. I think this is a much sadder trend in camera design nowadays.

    I own a Fuji X70, which I bought because I really like the image quality and portability, but by god I look like a poser when using it. At least this SL2 looks a lot less like it's trying to be a camera out of 1955.

  3. The failure of European camera design, obviously, is the real reason behind Brexit.

    I recently discovered my red Olympus Mju-Mini Digital in the back of a cupboard: now *there's* an icon from the heroic days of digital camera design, both hilariously stupid and breathtakingly bold: I love it. FOUR megapixels! Can't wait to get it charged up and out on the street.

    And, Carlos: embrace your inner poser. We Fuji X70 owners are an exclusive club. If you've got it, flaunt it... Besides, 1955 was a very good year.


    1. So you're saying that Lotus Motors saw the design apocalypse coming, and pulled some strings, eh? That explains a lot.

  4. Not THAT Ross CameronNovember 21, 2019 at 1:05 PM

    What’s it like to hold in the hand? Is it purely styling over substance, form over function?

    1. Don't tell the Leicaphiliacs, but it's brand over value.