Stephen Bayley Design consultant

Stephen Bayley

Design consultant

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.


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