09 mars 2016

Back to the past design mania: The newest Fujifilm X-Pro 2 and Olympus Pen-F (and all other rangefinder style cameras)

The Olympus Pen-F get a perfect 10 for its
glamour design. (M4/3 Image Captor Format)
Is this the ultimate itineration of the past design trend in photographic equipment? 

We have seen many of those during the past years especially with mirror less new models of camera and even in the D-SLR garden with the Nikon DF or the Fujifilm X-T1/10 (The speedo D-SLR mirrorless) interpretations.
The Fujifilm X-Pro 2: The "Reporter" with
its very distinctive Hybrid Viewfinder.
(APS-C Image Captor Format)
But the Olympus Pen-F along with the Fujifilm X-Pro 2 may be some of the most interesting representations of modern imitation of ancient design that have started with Oscar Barnack creation of the Leica.

I won't review the functionalities of the Pen-F or the X-Pro 2 on the strictly photo taking sense since many fine reviewers have done that already very efficiently. My point of view will simply concentrate on the similarities that the designers have reinterpreted by drawing the Olympus Pen-F and the Fujifilm X-Pro 2.

Leica IIIG: The last version of the original screw
Leica mount ILC of its time (circa 1957-60).
You can notice the front slow shutter speed dial,
the rewind knob, strap eyelets, standard flash shoe.
The Rangefinder Style
The On/Off switch of the Olympus Pen-F is a very original representation of the antique rewind knob taken from the old film era. The similarity is confounding especially for old timer users of 35mm rangefinder cameras. In front of the Pen-F camera you will find the slow speed dial pardon the creative dial selector.
The Nikon Df with the traditional
shutter release cable and a front
(aperture?) selector.

(24X36mm Frame Captor Format)

Front slow speed dial imitation is not a first as we have seen the same illustration with the Nikon DF D-SLR model and may be others recent designs that I cannot recall. And how about the shutter release button of both Fujifilm X-Pro 2 and the Pen-F that offer the optional use of the ancien (mechanical) cable release as it has been reintroduced few years ago in several rangefinder style Fujifilm other camera models. The standard flash (hot) shoe remains another option from the past. It seems that the others flash bay experimented designs never be fully appreciated although most of the modern portable flash units are strictly dedicated to designed models of cameras.
Olympus Pen-F On/Off switch
à la rewing knob of the past.
Note the eyelet for the strap.

Triangular strap hangers fitted onto also traditional eyelets are coming back from the past which remains a good exercice of ability and string for your fingertips. And how about an almost plain back side when you are reversing the back screen even if it is not by far a real novelty. 
Off-axis Viewfinder is another mimic taken from rangefinder design, With the exception of the Fujifilm X-Pro1/2 doted of an hybrid optical-electronic viewfinder all others manufacturers are offering an electronic version (EVF) or simply no viewfinder at all.
Fujifilm X-Pro 2 Off-axis
Hybrid  Optical/Electronic

Many old rangefinder design solutions were based on mechanical constraints that have completely disappear with the electronic revolution. Direct controls are now more related to be by-pass alternatives to menu interfaces. Automatic continuous adjustments are more precise than manual step scale ones but the access through physical dials or buttons seems for many a faster and more reliable way of choosing specific options.
Fujinon XF 35mm F2 R is a
classical presentation with
focusing and aperture rings.
The focal fixed lens proposals are following the same path with aperture and manual focusing rings that are recalling the mechanical lenses. But we must add that all the newest designs are using by-wire technology.

Is it a practical idea?
Fujifilm X-T1 Direct Setting Dials with ISO sensibility, Shutter speed
and Exposure correction (Aperture/Focusing Rings are on the lens).

There is not a definite answer to that highly subjective question. For some of us the design and technical choice used for ranger finger style cameras will seem good sense and they will enjoy the look of the device. But it remains that on a daily use some practical flaws may appear. For example the On/Off switch on the left side will ask you to use both hands to active the Olympus Pen-F which will appear as a major draw in active photography. Many others (like me) have applauded the return of the mechanical cable release but in fact an electronic cable will generate less induced vibration. We must admit that the modern camera designs have solved or improved extendedly the fonctionalities of the device over the years. Menu interface have first replaced many single controls and offer by far greater versatilities of adjustments but now we are seing the return of direct setting tools for specific adjustments. Hopefully exposure tolerances are now greater with the modern digital image captor.

The art of designing is an experimentation of choices and a exercice of style. And using a specific designed tool is in fact prolonging its basic idea in time. At the end it is purely a subjective interpretation of our reality.

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