photokina And “Real Live Cameras”

Long banished for being retro, unconnected, and perhaps even unhip, this year’s worldwide photo show, photokina, marked the return of what might be called RLCs, or “Real Live Cameras,” at least in their appearance and build and in all instances in digital manifestations. Most have new features, new capabilities, and even have sprouted “antennae” for connectivity, yet at the same time have the look and feel of photographic instruments with world-class lenses and handling to match. We begin our photokina reports in this issue, and will follow through with other reports on new products in subsequent issues of Shutterbug.

These “real live cameras” are not like their point-and-shoot cousins and in many ways seem built to appeal to real live photographers, at least those old enough to remember working with the classics of the film age, or young enough to have some ersatz nostalgia instilled in them by tales of the great street shooters of the past. What the designers came up with, and what was on display here at the show, was a kind of hybrid of high-tech features in retro clothing, marrying click stops on lenses with Raw file format and Scene modes, and mid-century modern looks with high-end AF and exposure controls.

This new breed is both feature-rich and tech-impressive, with a certain panache, a certain photographic joie de vivre, that the classic camera design brings to the table. Perhaps it was pressure from smartphones and the folks who felt images from them were “good enough,” but the designers have seen the demographic divide and perhaps understood that there would only be a small trickle-up by the smartphone shooter to more fully-featured cameras. Being raised on “good enough” and making pics for little Facebook boxes does not always a photographer make, but one can always hope that the passion for pictures, at least, will be engendered on the way.

Perhaps what most drove this new crop of cameras was that crowd—you know, photographers—who might use a smartphone for the occasional snapshot but somehow felt unfulfilled by the experience. They seek cameras that allow for both a visceral and intellectual photographic experience, that make it possible to actually see what you are shooting in bright light, and that do not reduce the photographic experience to jamming a forefinger or thumb into a screen and hoping for the best. It’s that elusive “second pro camera” that a “serious” photographer would carry instead of their larger D-SLR, although for some enthusiasts this new breed will be more than enough.

All in all, we are happy to report that what we saw was a resurgence of products that appeal to the photographer in us all, and that make the experience of creating images both challenging and fun once again.