BBC Future


Radical Conran camera brings back element of surprise

About the author

Stephen Dowling is BBC Future's associate editor.

Twitter: @sjdowling

He also blogs about analogue photography: Zorkiphoto


  • Simple snapper
    Conran's digital camera is very different compared to the feature- packed digital compacts most people shoot pictures on today. (Copyright: BBC/Darren Russell)
  • Look through the lens
    Conran's Jared Mankelow (pictured) designed a camera without a normal viewfinder, meaning the photographer looks straight through the camera’s body. (Copyright: BBC/Darren Russell)
  • Minimalist
    Its front has two rings surrounding the aperture – the dark ring houses imaging sensors and the white one contains a flash. (Copyright: BBC/Darren Russell)
  • Two-in-one
    The controls are on the back – the bottom two-thirds house simple snapshot controls, while the top bar has settings for more creative control. (Copyright: BBC/Darren Russell)
  • Retro features
    The camera has design touches not seen since the 1970s, such as the knurled dial which would let more creative snappers choose the aperture. (Copyright: BBC/Darren Russell)
  • Tiny size
    Mankelow says he designed the camera to be the same size as a post-it-note – which was achievable partly because it has no playback screen. (Copyright: BBC/Darren Russell)
  • Surprise snaps
    Mankelow says the working camera would send pics to another device to be viewed, allowing photographers to concentrate solely on taking pictures. (Copyright: BBC/Darren Russell)
  • Taking shape
    The camera's design was influenced by non-photographic objects, such as bike grips and door handles to achieve the right physical feel. (Copyright: BBC/Darren Russell)
  • Hefty handful
    Mankelow says he wanted the design to have the weight of old cameras, rather than make it feel too fragile. (Copyright: BBC/Darren Russell)
  • Future photographer?
    There is a chance the camera could hit stores some day; Mankelow says it uses existing technology and could be brought to market reasonably quickly. (Copyright: BBC/Darren Russell)
In the second part of BBC Future’s Imagineering series, British firm Conran reimagines the digital camera with some of the retro joys of analogue photography.

Forgotten that old-school feeling of waiting for your photographs to be developed before seeing how they turned out? British design firm Conran may have the answer.

For BBC Future’s Imagineering project, in which designers are asked to reinterpret everyday objects, the designer chose to reimagine the digital camera with some of the joys of the analogue age.

Sitting in an apartment above the company’s London offices, senior designer Jared Mankelow unveiled the company’s vision. His bold design is a Post-it note-shaped square in bold blue, with two rings at the front for the imaging sensors (black) and a ringflash (white). A large hole bored straight through the camera serves as its lens and viewfinder.

The square snapper may only be a mock-up  -made by the UK’s Complete Fabrications - but it includes many of the attributes Mankelow would like in a finished product. Firstly there is the weight  – the design’s reassuring heaviness harks back to the chunky character of models from the 1970s, when old-school film cameras arguably reached their golden age.

The bottom two thirds of the back of the camera are devoted to point-and-shoot photography; turning it on, activating flash, and pressing the shutter. The top bar, with its knurled dial and other details allows more creative control – such as fine-tuning aperture and shutter speed, and changing flash settings.

“When we look back at old film cameras, one of the nice things we have here is you can almost navigate round the camera blind, we’ve got these beautiful knurled details,” he said. Some of those old features are found on the new camera, such as the textured detail on the aperture ring, which mimics the detail found on older cameras.

The changes don’t end there. “What we’ve really tried to do is boil it down to the essence of what a digital camera should be, and what its core functionality is.

“What we really have to ask ourselves is, what is the screen for,” adds Mankelow. “What is its purpose? And for us, it’s just another element that chewed through a lot of power. Everybody’s got a smartphone, tablet  or PC  nowadays, and they are built with very, very high definition screens.”

Using these – instead of an inbuilt screen – give several advantages, the designer said.

“[There are] two things happening here – one is with the surprise or delight of not actually viewing the subject matter you’re taking photos of, and the other is transferring via Bluetooth to your smartphone, to your tablet, and viewing photos that way.”

It may not quite recreate that feeling of waiting for your pictures to come back from the lab, but if the prototype becomes a reality, it may be the closest thing in the digital age.

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