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.

Robert K Baggs's picture

Robert K Baggs is a professional portrait and commercial photographer, educator, and consultant from England. Robert has a First-Class degree in Philosophy and a Master's by Research. In 2015 Robert's work on plagiarism in photography was published as part of several universities' photography degree syllabuses.

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Previous comments

I nominate two Art Deco cameras: the Kodak Bantam Special, and the Kodak Gift 1A. The latter was designed by noted industrial designer Walter Dorwin Teague.

Topcon Super D among many favorites.

The Pentax 6x7 is #1 on my list...as far as great relics go.

The Nikon D4/D4s would have to be one of the most beautiful modern camera's both inside and out, it was designed by a famous Italian designer and I personally think it's a gorgeous camera. It's the last Nikon to have nice curves, every newer camera is much more straight lines. As far as all time though, I have to agree that a lot of Leica's special edition's are amazing. I think though every major manufacturer has made a few beauty's in the past. Hard to pick 10 though isn't it?

- Argus C3
- Rollie 35
- Canon F1
- Canonet G-III QL17
- Yashica Mat-124 G
- Mamiya RB67
- Polaroid SX-70

One of the most beautiful cameras I've held

Olympus OM1 for sure... was my first camera 45 years ago...still have it...still works flawlessly

that specific Leica is gaudy as hell unless you want to walk around looking like a knockoff sultan of Brunei.

Mamiya RZ II & Mamiya 7

Nikon SP

Leica M2

Ditto 99

Ansco Sure Flex 66

Ducati Sogno

Olympus OM1

Kodak Bantam Special

Bell & Howell Foton

something about any TLR gets me all, hrnf.

nice information <3

Deardorf 8x10

Nikon F

I still think the F3 is a thing of beauty.

Yes it is and should be! It’s designed by one of the best designers in the world! It gave Nikon its iconic red mark on the handle.

I totally agree with you on the F3, but i d'ont own one :-(

5. Tachihara 4x5" Field Camera
looks like the British camera Gandolfi Variant!

I don't own one, nor have I ever seen one in person, but from the photos, the Plaubel Makina is a very unique-looking and handsome camera that would be toward the top of my list.

As someone who owns two of them, I concur. It’s the prettiest camera I’ve ever seen. And based on the interest I get from random people, I’m not alone in thinking this.

Rolleiflexes are iconic, but the most beautiful TLRs are the late-model Flexarets.

camera porn

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I've had my 5D series for close to 10 years and I still think it's a thing of beauty.

Me too. And I've always suspected that Canon got more popular than Nikon because the 5 series just looked better. A lot better.

Zorki 10 for me - it may be heavily inspired by the Ricohmatic 35, but the design is absolutely gorgeous and still looks great today.

You forgot all about the Landers B35!

Ah man, the choices! I’ve to admit there are to many beautiful camera’s. But when I think about how a camera should look the Nikon FE comes to mind. But when it comes to beauty, I think the shen hao hzx-iia or a well used Leica M4 that is starting to show the bress Metal.
(Images from eBay)

Plaubel Makina 67 should be firmly at the top of this list.

Minox subminiature and 35mm ML

This is one of the most beautiful cameras I know of... The Pentax LX.

I love the look of my M6; however, I still think the Leica M3’s are better looking. I also wholeheartedly agree with you on the Hasselblad’s and Rolleis.

Mamiya RB67!!!

For me, it has to be the Zeiss Contarex - whose 50mm prime was upscaled to ti onto the Hasselblad that went to the moon, so its 50mm F/2 lens became in a sense the first lens on the moon.

I loved that camera and took tens of thousands of photos with it. The quality of the camera body, accessories (like interchangeable magazine backs, so you could change films whenever you wanted to!), and Zeiss lenses put it way out in front. And Carl Zeiss stood by their product - their service was second to none.

Minolta Dynax 9xi