The Pursuit of “Classic” Designs in the Camera Industry

Watts Martin of Coyote Tracks has an interesting piece titled “Iconic” that discusses the idea of trade dress — the reason why Apple doesn’t have any branding on the front face of the iPhone:

You don’t need to see the name plate on a Ford Mustang or a Corvette or a Porsche 911 to recognize one. Or a Coke bottle. Or, once you’ve seen one, a Tivoli Audio tabletop radio. Or a McIntosh amp. These products have a design language that’s become part of their brand identity […] That’s what Apple wants, too: products that look like Apple. They’ve nailed it. You can look at a computer or a tablet or a phone being used in a coffee shop and you can immediately tell Apple or not Apple even if you can’t see the logo. And this is virtually unique in their industry: you’ll usually need the logo to know exactly what the not Apple product is.

This is why trade dress battles are so important to Apple. Try introducing a soda in a container that’s easily mistaken for a Coke bottle and see how far “har har har, you can’t patent curved glass!” gets you as a defense. If somebody makes a product that can be easily mistaken for an Apple device, then Apple is going to do whatever they can to get that product either off the market or changed.

DSLRs are pretty uniform in their appearance, so we don’t see much fuss about trade dress in that sector, but it’s interesting that there isn’t more tension between Leica and Fujifilm — two companies that both offer cameras without front branding.

Iconic [Coyotke Tracks via Daring Fireball]

  • Nathan Blaney

    Both Fuji and Leica have produced film cameras for along time that have looked very much like each other as well as their current digital lines. i suspect that neither is intimidated by each other and does not feel the need to pursue any sort of legal action.

  • Michal Rosa

    “DSLRs are pretty uniform in their appearance” – huh? DSLRS are mostly very distinctive based on the brand, even without any logos it would be very easy to identify cameras made for example by Canon, Nikon or Sony.

  • MD

    Agreed. The only things that the Leicas and Fujis have in common are the aspects dictated by the rangefinder form factor. People have been calling the Fuji X- cameras “cheap Leicas” since they came out, but it’s fairly apparent to anyone who knows a bit of RF history that the Fuji cameras are no more a copy of Leica’s design than Nikon SLRs are of Canon’s (or vice-versa). Operationally, I certainly appreciate how the Fuji acts as a cheap alternative to a Leica (which is why an X-E1 might be my next purchase) but design wise, Leica needn’t worry about their trade dress being compromised.

    With that said, this article was a great find, and an awesome read for an industrial design geek like myself! Thanks!

  • Michael Zhang

    “Pretty uniform” but not identical. My point was that DSLR makers aren’t trying to sell their cameras based on looks, but on performance, while other camera companies are focusing much more on “trade dress” :)

  • Henning Nilsen

    And you know.. The small detail that it actually isn’t a rangefinder at all.

    Had Fuji integrated a rangefinder focusing system into their X-line, then maybe Leica would raise a brow. But at the moment they are only company offering digital RF cameras so they have no competition to fear.

  • AntonyShepherd

    Well, no, because Leica don’t own rangefinders. They weren’t even the first company to make a digital rangefinder.
    Cosina-Voigtlander and Zeiss Ikon have both made film rangefinders for years, and the first Digital rangefinder was the Epson RD1 (based on a Cosina-Voigtlander design).

    I think we can all be thankful that nobody in the camera industry ever tried to be as anally monopolistic as Apple.

  • Henning Nilsen

    I never ment to imply that Leica owned the patent on rangefinder focusing.

    I simply ment that they would raise a brow as to if fuji intended to capture a part of “their” market as it currently stands now.

  • Cemal Ekin

    The MAIN element in the classic look is a rangefinder. I would love to see at least viewfinders in all point and shoot cameras. Many such cameras have no optical viewfinders or they are not accurate to use reliably. Shooting with arms stretched is a poor way of shooting. But again, I may be speaking of my age ;-)

  • Renato Valenzuela

    that’s the thing with trade dress, how many different ways can you design a camera that’s practical, really.

  • Michael Zhang

    Even more so for a cell phone, right? :)

  • mona

    fuji onyl produces crap…

  • panopticon

    Actually the “rangefinder look” has allot to do with the Zeiss Ikon Contax, introduced in the 1930’s. Leicas of the same period had a separate rangefinder and viewfinder, and leica did not produce a camera with an integrated view/rangefinder until the M3 came out in 1954. German industrial patents were voided at the end of WWII, making the Contax design public property, which ironically benefitted the Japanese instead of the allies.