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Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Hunchback of Solms

In response to the Ugliest Cameras post below, Hiding Pup said, "Surely the world's ugliest camera has to have something to do with the mid-1980s?" I'd agree in that I've always felt that the Minolta 7000 (1985) is one of the truly ugly cameras of all's got all the stylishness of the flat-sided Detroit iron of the era, the kind of cars that had opera windows and fake wood stick-ons so poorly printed you could see the halftone pattern from ten inches away. The Maxxum/Dynax 7000 wasn't just a pastiche, or some kind of accident. It had a thoroughgoing, designed-in ugliness that I could almost admire, if I weren't grimacing so hard. Also, I must say I'm a bit conflicted as to whether the 7000i, a completely different design, is slightly uglier than the 7000, or slightly less ugly. A tough call.

I'm not sure how many people would agree with that assessment of the Minolta 7000. Maybe you had to be alive and sentient in the mid-1980s to fully appreciate just how Gawd-awful the mass taste of that era really was.

And how about another camera I think is just dreadful looking—the Leica R8, a.k.a. The Hunchback of Solms? Granted, other cameras surpass it easily in terms of how immediately repellent they are. But many ugly cameras depend on cheapness or shoddiness to achieve their ugliness, and others are simply misguided attempts at stylishness or just great examples of execrably bad taste. The R8 (a fine picture-taker, by the way) is possessed of a more notable sort of unattractiveness. It's a deep-seated butt-ugliness, bred in the bone, a bad concept carried relentlessly to its logical conclusion.

Photo of Minolta 7000: Ritz Camera; of Leica R8: photoxels


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Put a DMR on the back of R8, and it will knock the Minolta off the top of the list to be the true leader of modern butt-ugliness.

6:28 PM  
Blogger Daniel Liu said...

The Pentax SFXn comes close to the minolta 7000. I guess square shutter-release buttons were all the rage then.

And if we've moved on to modern-er cameras, I'd have to say the Kodak easyshare p880 looks pretty terrible.

7:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I kind of like it, but I can see what you mean. It has that sort of solid, "I don't care what you think about me," almost purposeful ugliness. Like a modern Rolls Royce.

8:15 PM  
Blogger kickstand said...

What a great topic. I worked in a camera store during college in the mid-80's, and sold a few of those Maxxum 7000's. I thought, and still think, that it was inspired by the cylons in (the original) Battlestar Galactica. Somehow, I think it's a rather attractive camera, in the same way the Gremlin car was attractive. Don't ask me why.

That Leica, though, is a total dog.

8:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the Minolta possesses an excusable ugliness. As a child of the '80's, at least one who graduated, got married... in the mid '80's I can remember thinking those horrible electronic dashboards and all that Tron look styling of the decade was pretty cool (at the time). I even bought a 7000 new, with an assortment of Tamron (!) lenses. I knew, even when they bought it, the fake woodgrain on my parent's Chrysler minivan was lame.

8:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Minolta 7000 is a beautiful piece of ugliness, very consistent in its hard industrial looking shape.

Since nobody has mentioned Hasselblad I will. Their offences to good taste include the sun yellow 501 and the over the top Golden Blue Special Edition.

9:01 PM  
Blogger Dibutil said...

In yacht building there is axioma: "If the hull is perfectly calculated and designed but does not look beautiful - the boat will not run"

I believe this applies to any device or piece of art produced by a human.

10:16 PM  
Blogger Pancho said...

Perhaps I've just always thought that the purpose of a camera was to take good images and never really dwelt on the ugly aspect, but to me the Minolta 7000 looks just like a......well camera.

10:56 PM  
Blogger Martin B. said...

I would add all the gold plated, snake skinned "special edition" Leica M's. The M is one of the most beautifull industrial designs of the 20th century.

The Nouveau riche, eurotrash makovers they get is truly an aesthetic insult to their form follows function zen like simplicity and makes me angry just to think about it. The fact that they are vacuum sealed and stored in vaults makes it even worse...

Not just visually ugly, conceptually ugly too...

12:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i actually like the way the R8/R9 looks with or without the DMR. it is not elegant like an olympus om1, but it looks very purposeful and is born of ergonomic concerns. i do find the maxxum highly unattractive, but the other recent entries are even worse.

1:24 AM  
Blogger JeffH said...

How about some ugly, square instant cameras from the 70's…

My parents had a Kodak EK6 instant camera when I was in high school. Kodak's instant film had color that blew away anything Polaroid had to offer, which is probably why they sued Kodak and abruptly put them out of the instant film/camera business. I came across some photos in a drawer that I took with the camera almost 30 years ago and amazingly enough, the color looks just about as good as the day they were shot. No perceptible fading. On the other hand, Polaroid SX70 photos from the same time frame are horribly faded.


2:07 AM  
Blogger Spontanik said...

I agree with Sonnar! A beautiful peace of ugliness :)
How about the new Sony DSC-R1 with flipped up screen? pretty terrible too....

2:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the 1976 Minolta XK motor beats the 7000 out for pure industrial ugly.

Though the 7000 with a "Program Back Super 70" attached brings it to a whole different level. Owned one of those myself.

But don't you think functionality should play a part in rating how ugly a camera is? Part of the problem with the 7000, or the Pentax SFX, is how difficult these cameras were to use.

Tiny inset buttons, oddly placed controls, switches here and there - these cameras were the first steps away from the peak of pre-af funtionality that was achieved in cameraa like the Olympus OM series, Nikon's FM/FE, and other clean, reliable, functionally designed cameras?

There's been some great cameras since then too, but the 1980s, and especially the 7000, marked a major change in approach to camera design.

2:25 AM  
Blogger hugo solo said...

Esta diseñada como un "panzer",pero para tanques los alemanes eran unos genios,pero esta cämara originalmente esta hecha para proteger a fotógrafos vertcalmente disminuidos.

2:25 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

I think the Minolta is more ugly than the R8, but sleek the R8 definately is not. I read an article by Erwin Puts regarding the design and development of the R8 and he really played up the effort that Leica put into ergonomics when designing the R8. When I got a chance to handle one I found it amusing that never have I held a camera that felt so wrong in the hand. Probably just my hands.

2:57 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

To the anonymous who nominated the Minolta XK Motor, I agree. I have vivid memories of students helplessly appealing to me with their Minolta 7000s because they just couldn't get the hang of how to operate them comfortably. I had to learn to use one just to be able to teach them, and it taught me a dislike for that particular design, and that trend in design, that lasted for years.

I also agree with what Steve says of the R8. It doesn't feel ergonomic to me at all. Of course, that's not really a fair criticism, coming from me at least, because I never really learned how to handle one. Think of how many people first handle an M Leica and think it's awkward and uncomfortable. That first impressions can be mistaken in this regard is something I have to concede.

Thanks for all the great comments!



7:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a photo retailer in that time frame, the introduction of the 7000 was a bellweather of sorts. The 7000 along with its siblings the 5000 and 9000 were the start of the 'golden era' in photo retailing. (Also Canons, Nikons, Pentax. etc.) These cameras and others brought an easier way to photograph to the masses. This huge influx of new photographers kept many photo stores in business over the next decade. Many of them also installed the new 'instant' photolabs of the time. All in all a great timeframe for photo retailers. All kicked off by one ugly camera body.

8:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the digital era has spawned a few bizzarre contraptions such as the awkward Kodak DC40 and of course any Olympus that has a name which uses a letter e and a number 3 (ie, E-300, E-330). Strangely the E-1 and the E-500 are among the more handsome DSLR designs.

7:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well...does it matter if its ugly?

Ive always found the R8 to be a surprisingly comfortable camera to use. Its not nearly as heavy as it looks (a canon 1D is way heavier) and ergonomically its quite comfortable....

Does it matter if its not going to win a Miss America contest? Cameras are tools, afterall, and I care most for the user experience and reliability, and then for the pure, I dont think its ugly. Its no worse than a F4 or a F5 were.

10:34 AM  

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