- Words by Mr Simon Bainbridge, Editor, British Journal of Photography
Until four years ago, the spiel that accompanied any new digital camera launch focused on the technical spec. Packing in dozens of marketable features - each seemingly given their own dedicated button, thumbwheel or command buried deep within the sub-menu system - digital SLRs, with their homogenous, bulky plastic bodies and intimidating array of controls, had come to resemble the interior of a Soviet-era helicopter cockpit. And even if the pixel race towards higher and higher resolutions had given way to a more sophisticated appreciation of image quality (especially a camera's low-light abilities), manufacturers still made little mention of elegance or design.
It's a far cry from Mr Henri Cartier-Bresson's paean to his Leica as "the extension of my eye" (ie, a tool that captured what he saw, but still gave him space to look), or Mr David Bailey's eulogy to the simplicity of auto-everything in his 1980s ads for Olympus that ended with the tag line, "No more snap decisions". It was Olympus that proved the game-changer once again, and with pretty much the same trick - reducing size and complexity without compromising too much on quality. The Pen E-P1 even looked like its analogue version, first launched 50 years earlier.
And what's more, the market for its self-consciously vintage design appealed way beyond a vintage-obsessed niche - it fired the imaginations of photographers who'd not been required to make any kind of emotional bond with their cameras since the analogue era. Middle-aged men wept happy, nostalgic tears, and hipsters finally had something to distinguish themselves from the homogenous masses of DSLR users other than the fashionably unreliable Lomo or Holga. Better fashionably late than never, the retro boom for cameras was born.