I'm a great believer in not having a trumpet unless you are prepared to blow it. So let me just announce that my new book 50 Landmark Cameras That Changed Photography is now available in the UK and the US. See my books pages for places to buy. Meanwhile, rather than go on about it too much myself, here's a review, written by my guest blogger today, Timothy Campbell. This review will appear in the next edition of Photographica World, the magazine sent to all members of the Photographic Collectors Club of Great Britain. (See the link on the Classic Cameras page of this website for more about the club.)
Now, over to Timothy...
I'd been intrigued about this latest book by John Wade since he first casually mentioned it to me last year at Photographica.
I was intrigued as firstly I have most of John's other camera related books (so wondered how on earth he'd be able to produce anything new!) and secondly because there are several similarly themed titles out there – Michael Pritchard’s A History of Photography in 50 cameras springs to mind. So what new perspective could be found within that format?
I needn't have worried on either count...
In his preface John sets out his stall by admitting that he got some grief with readers accusing him of heresy by not including their pet messiahs in his previous Schiffer publication From Daguerre To Digital, 150 Years of Classic Cameras. He has clearly learnt his lesson by stating that the 50 cameras under scrutiny here are what HE considers to be influential, important, interesting and intriguingly not necessarily famous or successful!
But fear not classic marque fans – there are a few Leicas and Nikons in amongst the Diaxes, Arguses and Instamatics!
The chronological approach taken is both sensible and enjoyable, as it does give a flavour of how camera production and development occurred, incorporating changes in technology as it went. The text is both informed and informative, managing to give enough factual information that balances with John’s obvious enthusiasm and love for his subject(s).
As mentioned, I do have most of John’s books on my shelf, but I was amazed at the extra info and ephemera on display here. It's of course vital to have an establishing shot of the camera featured, even if it's a well known one, but I applaud the attempt to show alternate views and angles that help the inquisitive and design-loving reader/collector to work out the functionality of the particular model.
I remember reading an article on the rare Mecaflex many years ago (in Photographica World) and being frustrated by the detailed description of hidden controls and switches that were absent in the single head-on shot that accompanied the article!
Not that this lavish treatment is limited to the rare creatures. The Ensign Ful-Vue gets possibly its best ever showing with several pages devoted to its variants, from its drab pre-war boxy debut, to its post-war multi-coloured 'from the future' makeover – à la mode indeed, to quote the oh so fab sales leaflet that is shown as part of this particular chapter.
I love seeing cameras displayed with their occasionally mad accessories – cameras to which I would not give houseroom suddenly take on an allure (to me) when fully kitted out. You wonder what the design team from the American firm Univex were 'on' when they came up with some of the add-ons for their already bonkers half frame camera, the Mercury. The shot of this camera with its Flash Gordon inspired lever wind, rangefinder and flash bulb unit is truly unforgettable.
Not surprisingly there are some chapters that feature cameras that have been the subject of John's own Photographica World articles, but even these come across as new items due to the use of layouts and the previously mentioned alternate shots and ephemera.
This fantastic 50 starts at the start (a Daguerrotype camera of 1839) but finishes in the past, in 1991 with the Canon Ion digital camera to be exact. It's funny that it's probably easier to use the former today than it is the latter, assuming you can get some floppy discs off eBay, have you got a drive to play them with?
I'm happy that it ends 25 years ago. Sometimes things need a few years to be appreciated and collected. And of course it gives John Wade the chance for a second edition featuring all those digital cameras that we forgot we ever had, and the phones/tablets/watches that will be the bulk of those featured...
As with both of John's previous Schiffer titles (still available from the publisher) this is a wonderfully printed and illustrated book, and for me contains the essence of why I collect cameras and photographica. There are facts, anecdotes, a few mysteries and a decent serving of barminess... from the camera designers I mean, not from the author!