Silver Olympus E-P2 Voigtlander 35mm f1.7 Ultron

What is it about the retro look that fascinates so many of us? The attention that the newly announced Fuji X100 is getting is surprising. The Olympus Pens are very popular and Leica is having something of a resurgence. 

Its not universal though. A wonderful comment on a forum recently "What is it about a bit of leather and metal that gets you people so hot and bothered?" What indeed?

Leica X1

As far as I'm concerned there are lots of reasons. Its history and memory to a certain extent. A reminder of those first cameras that I used. Its old black and white films and remembering back to times when the world looked and felt duller and something with a bit of leather and metal seemed a passport to excitement. Its a sense of solidity and days when things were made to last, though often this is a complete myth. Its a reaction against plastic, uniformity and the colour black. Its also a perverse delight in complexity and having to learn how to use something that isn't immediately obvious. For some reason I'm much more inclined to use a camera that doesn't give me great results easily and has to be worked with. I like the process, I like the challenge and the satisfaction of working to achieve great results is somehow better than having them handed to you. I'm suspicious of easy. If something doesn't require any effort or a learning curve, what is it worth? Where's the achievement? I like metal, chrome and yes I like leather! They are all tactile materials, nice to handle. We are surrounded by plastic, artificial hybrid material, which of cause has lots of advantages, but somehow feels soulless. Its a Shelby Cobra rather than a Nissan GT-R.

Having said all that my E-P2 of course is crammed full of electronics and functions. My Leicas are simpler but still far from the mechanical simplicity of old. I want to take advantage of technology but I want it in a package that I can pretend reminds me of a mythical simpler world. It never was like that, but I can still attempt the fantasy. Ahh there's nothing like nostalgia.

So I went out yesterday with my E-P2, Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Biogon, 90mm f/2.5 Summarit-M and my X1. I was of cause complaining at various points. "Why didn't I bring my AF lenses?" "I wish I had my zoom" "Why is this thing so slow?" Yes reality is often the antidote to impractical romanticism. The fact that I had forgotten to charge my Olympus battery and it died on me, was another reminder that the retro look and the 2010 retro reality are somewhat different. These days its the look we admire while still wanting all the comforts and conveniences of the microchip world. While I think the red monster pictured above is one of the most beautiful artefacts ever created by the hand of man, I'd probably be too chicken to ever drive one and even if I did get some forward motion going would probably be asking "Where's the heater" after 5 minutes.