What Are the Most Beautiful Cameras of All Time? Here Are My Top 10

What Are the Most Beautiful Cameras of All Time? Here Are My Top 10

I will use any camera, as long as it's beautiful.

Once upon a time, I did buy a secondhand Canon 5D, because I wanted a full frame Canon on a budget. It was a tremendously ugly thing, but it did its job. But as the years tick by at a steadily increasing rate, I no longer want to press ugly things against my face just to get what I want out of it; that's a younger person's game. Now, I want that little box to have as much care and attention put into its outside as its inside. It wasn't until the 80s — or thereabouts — that cameras weren't almost automatically attractive. Then, the advent of black plastic cubes changed everything for the worse.

This week, I had the unfortunate task of helping to clear my Grandad's house ready for sale, and it meant going through some of his old cameras. Unfortunately, he got into photography and videography in around the 1980s, so there were to be no additions to my display collection of vintage cameras. However, on the drive home, it did get me thinking: what are the best-looking cameras of all time? I began to collate a list in my head, and then, after chatting to a few fellow photography nerds, I present to you my top 10, in no particular order, as that made it too difficult for me. Remember, we're judging judging cameras on looks only; performance, price, or rarity are not relevant. Also, I am only covering stills cameras in this article, video cameras will come in the future along with the top 10 ugliest cameras.

1. Hasselblad 500CM

Image by Gary Pearce used under Creative Commons 2.0 via Flickr (Click the image to visit the original.)

This was the first camera I fell in love with. It's now almost irritatingly famous due to an influx of Instagrammers a few years ago taking images of the top-down viewfinder with a nice scene inside.

This body (particularly with a lens sporting the square hood) is just iconic, and if I had a waist-level viewfinder, I'd be taking all my shots at a much lower vantage point for sure.

2. Kine Exakta

Image by Chia Ying Yang used under Creative Commons 2.0 via Flickr (Click the image to visit the original.)

This lesser know oddball has a decent claim to fame: it was the first 35mm SLR stills camera in regular production. Of German origin, this quirky camera had a number of curious issues, like the finder hood blocking the shutter release when fully collapsed, among others. It's worth reading more about it here.

3. Leica ASC 100 Edition

"To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the American Society of Cinematographers, Leica brings an exclusive rendition of the M10-P."

I discussed not wanting to put ugly things to my face' well, in this case, I don't believe my face has the right to put itself against the camera. This Leica M10 limited edition was produced in a batch of only 300 and will lighten your pocket by around $20,000. But what a way to lighten it. To me, this is the most beautiful modern camera and one I'd struggle to use without being frightened I'd scuff the body.

Click here to read more about it, or even take one of the 300, and be the envy of all your friends, or at the very least, one block on the internet. 

4. Rolleiflex TLR

Another iconic and influential camera, this medium format twin lens reflex is recognizable to most photographers. From vector silhouettes of its shape on t-shirts, to sitting atop shelves on sets, the Rolleiflex really marks a stage in photography that comparatively, wasn't that prevalent. Nevertheless, the TLR design is stunning.

5. Tachihara 4x5" Field Camera

One of the stranger cameras in this list and the first large format to be featured, these things are beautiful. Many of them are made in Japan from 300-500-year-old cherrywood, which gives them that rich, red hue. This is a brand of photography that's right up on my bucket list.

6. Hasselblad 907X Special Edition (and CFV II 50C)

This is a camera I'm very much looking forward to reviewing in the coming months. The 907x Special Edition is a mirrorless medium format body, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing which Hasselblad had a large role in capturing. The minimalist, boxy design is unusual in today's market, and the tilt screen entices users into that waist-level shooting style I find so appealing for some reason.

7. E. Lorenz Berlin Clarissa Luxus Nacht Kamera

This damn work of art is a "straightforward copy of Ernemann's Ermanox made by Ernst Lorenz of Berlin in about 1926." It's a small, handheld camera with very interesting lenses that would be popular today. For example, it could be used with the Ernostar 85mm f/1.8 or 100mm f/2, which had front elements that were massive for the time.

8. Kodak Stereo Camera

Stereo cameras were an unusual feature of the 1950s camera world and sold well. The Kodak Stereo Camera launched in 1954 and sold over 100,000 units. It took two photos, one from each lens, and the results could be viewed through "dedicated image viewers." A strange creature, but an attractive one.

9. LeCoultre Compass

A limited edition, 1937 camera manufactured by Jaeger LeCoultre for Compass Cameras Limited, London. I'm going to quote Camera Heritage Museum to better reveal the details of it:

The Compass measures 2 3/4 x 2 1/8 x 1 1/4 and weighs 7 3/4 ounces. It has a coupled rangefinder, built-in lens hood, and filters. The viewfinder converts from normal to right angle. You can overlap two frames to take a panoramic picture. Originally designed as a plate camera, there is an accessory roll-film pack, which holds a short roll of six 24x36 negatives. The Compass has a rotary shutter with a speed range of 4 1/2 seconds to1/500. There is also an optional folding tripod.

Incredible design and functionality, but rarer than dog eggs.

10. Graflex KE-4 Combat Camera

This one might be met with a little disagreement, or quite a lot, actually. It's essentially a large army green tin, but for some reason, I love it. Perhaps my interest in it is colored by the fact it uses 70mm film, or was intended for use in wars, or even that it's deceptively big — massive in fact. Check the video below to get an idea.

Over to You

I was going to do an honorable mentions section, but it'll get out of hand. I discounted a number of gorgeous cameras and even a few modern ones that were sure to rile people (the Fujifilm 100V and the Olympus E-P10 in the two colors that aren't black, for example), but they didn't quite make the cut. I didn't want to be accused of recency bias, now did I?

So, what did I miss? What are the most beautiful cameras of all time? What comes in at first place? What cameras on my list are an insult to beautiful cameras everywhere? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Log in or register to post comments
84 Comments
Duncan Gruer's picture

Leica iii, obviously!!!

Robert K Baggs's picture

Certainly up there!

Duncan Gruer's picture

I think it scores for being 'beautiful in the hand' as well as to the eye. It just feels gorgeous and is hard to put down - not sure I've ever held another camera that's made me feel like that 😂

Benoit .'s picture

Sinar P3

Duncan Gruer's picture

Interesting, certainly...

Robert K Baggs's picture

Yeah, I'm not quite sold on the Sinar being beautiful. Each to their own!

Jesse Hildebrand's picture

Voigtlander Vitessa with the collapsible lens

Jesse Hildebrand's picture

Tessina Subminiture wrist mounted camera

Robert K Baggs's picture

Great shout. Very cool camera.

Deleted Account's picture

The Contax N1... It's also one of the most comfortable cameras to hold. Really, anything Contax. They're all beautiful.

David Y's picture

I quite like the aesthetics of the 90s point and shoot cameras like Minolta TC-1 and Nikon 35TI.

Usman Dawood's picture

I'm guessing the Sigma Quattro H will make a different list to this one.

Robert K Baggs's picture

It'd be lucky to not be on the next list of top 10 ugliest.

Alexander Ramos's picture

Olympus OM-2N, in black. No longer have it, but recently scored a couple of E-M10 series cameras which look a bit like the older film OMs.

Matt Williams's picture

Did not expect to see a stereo camera on this list haha. Off the top of my head:

-Minolta Autocord
-Leica M9-P Hermes
-Polaroid SX-70
-Pentax 67
-Contax IIa

Michael Dougherty's picture

I'd like to add the Contax IIIa.

Matt Williams's picture

The IIIa is very nice too.

The Contax Aria 70 Years edition is quite pretty too.

Deleted Account's picture

Kodak retina iii

Dan Seefeldt's picture

I'm guilty of the 500c viewfinder photo.

Duncan Gruer's picture

I think it's obligatory to do it at least once - I certainly have!

Dan Seefeldt's picture

I do it mostly because I haven't bought film for it yet.

Robert K Baggs's picture

If I had one, I'd do it too! I'm just bitter I've never bought one.

David Pavlich's picture

I've always like the twin lens reflex cameras. That's what I remember my Dad shooting when I was still a crumb cruncher. :-)

Les Sucettes's picture

ALPA!

And Mamiya RZ 67!

Robert K Baggs's picture

Wow, yes. Great shout!

jim hughes's picture

Argus C3

Mike Shwarts's picture

It is brick with a lens attached, but I like its looks.

Garth Scholten's picture

Absolutely! The C3 was my first thought.

Ben Coyte's picture

Olympus OM-1 because it was the first in a line of great looking cameras

tom ploegmakers's picture
Alex Yakimov's picture

Q2 and possibly SL2

Harold Clark's picture

Deardorff 5x7 or 8x10

Adriano Brigante's picture

- Rolleicord I (Art Deco version)
- Kodak Six-20 Brownie Junior
- My very own stripped down chrome version of the Ferrania Elioflex 2
- Olympus Mju-I limited edition

Warren Williams's picture

Rollie 35 Minimalist jewel

Peter Blaise's picture

Wow, not a single camera designed for the human in the bunch, just one contrived machined mechanical contraption after another.

Beautiful is as beautiful does, yet you don't even explore how these work beautifully:

-- "... judging cameras on looks only;
performance, price, or rarity are not relevant ...
... in the [ future I'll be judging ] the top 10 ugliest cameras ..."

You just did.

Other than Leica's slick concealment of form-follows-function of exposing movie film one frame at a time, everything else has the skeleton exposed, no skin to interact with the outside world, to which the Compass excels in it's own definition of functional beauty.

Simple Google Image searches will reveal designs by Polaroid, Olympus, Minolta, Sony, Contax, Minox, DxO, Pentax, Casio, Kowa, Sanyo ( yes, Sanyo ), Canon ( Photura / Epoca / Autoboy Jet ), even Fisher Price, and more, and so on, on and on, cameras that explored and predicted new ways of photographing, as well as refining old ways.

Replace "beautiful" with "favorite" in the click-bait headline, and get a minor-league editorial preview before pushing such rushed rough raw, even undeveloped ( so to speak ) opinion.

Thanks for the tease, but I'm back to exploring Google Image searches and digging from there.

For your entertainment:

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/sep/18/strictly-analogue-p...

Deleted Account's picture

The headline was quite clear and the introduction clearly established the premise. Beyond being an arse, it is unclear what your issue is.

ignacy matuszewski's picture

black leica with silver lens will do the trick. TS-E 17mm is quite sexy thing as well, connected to some sturdy tripod ;)

Blake Aghili's picture

- Leica M3 with optional light meter on top too.

Timothy Gasper's picture

My god....so many cameras to choose from. It's all subjective of course, but.....maybe a few more?
Minolta XK Motor
Canon F1
Nikon F2as or any variety
Leica R8 or 9
Fuji GX680

And many more for all of you to name. What is beautiful to one person might not be so for someone else, but that's ok. It also lets us explore other cameras we maybe haven't seen before.
I forgot....the
Arax 60. I know, I know, but hey...to me it looks good. Not a bad camera either.

Blaine Covert's picture

Canon T90. Still have a couple in a drawer. Never had a better fit in my hand. Used them professionally for about 10 years when I wanted something light to carry all day. I believe it was designed by a firm associated with Porsche. I could carry three with primes.

Ed Sanford's picture

My last film camera was the Hassy 500CM. So, I am in total agreement. I still have two Rolleiflexes. They were certainly very interesting instruments and were workhorses for pros who were in the field doing photojournalism. Good article.

John MacLean's picture

I may be mistaken, but #5 appears to be a larger format than 4x5”? It looks more like an 8x10” model.

A couple of unmentioned cameras I love are the Nikon F2 AS, and the F3. I also loved my Hasselblad 501C and 903SWC.

Deleted Account's picture

Here is the 8x10" model.

Howling Basset's picture

?

John Ellingson's picture

I liked using the Hassy 500C as much as any camera I've had over my 65 plus years of taking photographs.

Michael Smith's picture

Had two Exacta's in the lab mounted on Poloroid MP-4 copy stands. Purchased at Kirkland air-force base auction. These cameras were money makers in my diazo slide business back in the 80's. Used to get finger calluses from winding knob for time exposures. Images were razor sharp.

Ryan Davis's picture

This is my pick for the most beautiful, the Kodak Bantam Special

Evan O'Bannon's picture

My father had one of those and lent it to me while I was in college back in the 70s. The only problem I had with it was that the bellows would develop pinholes which I would cover up by dabbing black shoe polish. It's now long gone...

vik .'s picture

I'll post my most beautiful hammers. :P hA!

More comments