Smallness suggests maturity and sophistication. In most fields of human
activity, except office buildings, the impulse to miniaturise has gone
hand-in-hand with progress. Making things smaller produces a virtuous
circle where the functional benefits of one tiny component spread like a
benign virus throughout the whole system. Small is clever.
So any device that is exceptionally compact has a winning quality for
the mature mind. But this is only one reason why Olympus single-lens
reflex cameras have a special appeal. Never mind its technical ability
to capture reality on photosensitive film, cameras of all sorts appeal
to the child in man. Those beautifully conceived knobs, switches, dials,
slides and buttons are like a mechano-erotic secret garden, irresistible
temptations for exploration and feeling.
So the handsome little Olympus is dually and paradoxically attractive.
At once it denies that it is a toy because its intelligent size suggests
how grown up it is. Equally, its seductive arrangements inspire intense
longing. Olympus engineers and designers have orchestrated a hierarchy
of textures and colours, from the black crackle of the body, through the
powder-coated pewter titanium of the pentaprism to the solid soot of the
main controls. Beneath these is another hierarchy of graphics.
The single-lens reflex format may not be the ideal layout for cameras,
but as wet-chemical photography waits to be overtaken by full digital
imaging, I reckon pentaprisms are going to be with us forever. In a
sense, it’s a beautiful memory of what a camera should be.