Much like everyone else out there watching the Camera Ventures / Japan Camera Hunter livestream on Friday, my ears pricked up when Bellamy Hunt announced he was working on a new 35mm compact film camera.
As Kosmo Foto’s Stephen Dowling reported in his coverage of the announcement, Bellamy stated, “We are going to start running out of compact cameras in about five or 10 years’ time…we’re going to be without a camera that’s easy to use…and in light of not having a compact camera, I guess…well, I’ve been working on something…”
Details were frustratingly sparse, so I grabbed some time with Bellamy earlier today to learn more about the project and what we can expect from him in the future.
Before that, here’s the slide Bellamy threw up on his screen during yesterday’s livestream:
Some very quick takeaways: an apparently collapsible lens, secondary digital lens, film reminder?, simple control dials, some form of companion app with remote control, viewfinder information and settings.
If you’re ready, let’s see what Bellamy has to say for himself…
EM: Well this is a turn up for the books, so let me start by asking the obvious. Why bring a film camera to market now?
BH: I wrote an article in May talking about the future of compact film cameras. In that article I laid out the case for a new camera and sent out a call to action to the camera manufacturers. I said that I would work with them in any and every way possible to make it a reality. I also said that I would be trying to do it anyway without their support and judging by the total lack of any serious response from the industry, I decided to take my destiny into my own hands. So, it looks like the best person to answer my call to action was me. That’s not me being arrogant, I promise. Maybe I was writing the article to a future version of myself…
As I said in the live stream, this industry needs people to be proactive, to make something happen and not just wait for innovation. Stepping out to build a new camera is definitely not something I would have done a few years ago, no way. But after having already taken the plunge with 35mm and now medium format JCH Streetpan, I found that I wasn’t shy to try.
I’m prepared to take the risk, even though it’ll probably shave a decade off my life trying to make it happen!
EM: With the announcement out of the way, how’s the reception been so far?
BH: You know, I went to sleep last night thinking it was going to be mad but checking my emails and other messages today, it almost feels like a normal day. Not quite but close.
I’ve had enquiries from all over the place but the really interesting thing for me has been the speculation coming from the community. People are taking the idea and running with it; and in many cases, they’re running in the same direction as me and the design team. It feels good to know that the things we I have been talking about over the past few months are being mirrored by the people that will be using the camera when it’s released.
I said last night that speculation is great. Of course, we need to check sources for the news and updates we read but speculation is a good thing. It’s hope and we need a bit of hope right now. I can’t promise all of the ideas being speculated will make it into the final camera but we’re all headed in the same direction for now.
EM: Do you have a huge manufacturing facility we don’t know about? How are you planning on bringing the camera to market?
BH: Can I take a step back? I’ll take a step back. When I started Japan Camera Hunter people said I was mad, and not always behind my back. They’d say, “it’s not sustainable”, “no one is interested in film”, things like that. Digital was on the up and film was seen as outmoded and outdated but I started JCH because it was something I truly loved. I still do and I’m lucky to be able to do continue to do it today as my living.
Over the past few years I’ve been incredibly lucky to have met and gotten to know a bunch of amazing people from every part of the film photography community – from photographers who are out there shooting every day to the people who make the cameras and film we use. Right now I’m working with some really cool guys to bring this project to life. They really know their trade and are incredibly passionate about the what we’re doing. We’re all heavily emotionally invested and we’re going to stick with it until we get it right.
We are doing everything without the support of a multinational partner. That may come in the future but we’re not counting on it. This means we can’t rely on a safety net and have to make sure we get everything right before releasing the camera and associated bits and pieces. Body, lens, app…the correct licensing of components, everything.
What it does mean is that this is going to be a collaborative effort across many industries and disciplines. Exactly how the camera I announced is manufactured will come together as our plans do but I will be keeping the film community informed.
EM: You were pretty light on hard details about the camera, can you tell us a little more?
BH: OK but bear in mind that this is my personal decision / wish list. We’ll obviously need to work around technical and manufacturing limitations, as well as ensuring that the retail price doesn’t totally run away from us – it’s a delicate balancing act.
Speaking of price, I don’t…can’t talk about it yet and there’s a good reason – there are too many unknowns. We need to first create a design, then have conversations with manufacturing and other partners. We need to understand what every aspect is going to cost to design and build. Then there’s the app, packaging design, and all that kind of stuff…and that’s without factoring in all the logistical costs and timescales to bring everything together, do all of the quality assurance…the list goes on.
Have a conversation with someone in the trade about making a thin metal box with sharp vs rounded corners and when you go mad from cycling through all the variables, ask them about different finishes and then doing all of that at production scale. It’ll give you an idea about the kinds of detail we’re having to go into at even this early stage.
What I can say is that the camera will be a premium compact and have a build quality, lens character and set of features to suit. It’ll hopefully be of a metal body design and will definitely come with manual ISO selection
Beyond that I can tell you that as project mastermind*1, I want to mix and match the best features of compact premium point and shoots from Contax, Minolta, Ricoh and others. Things like custom modes / user profiles, some form of fixed-focus mode and definitely no auto-on flash are really important to me.
Anyone who’s read my compact camera guides knows all the little things that frustrate me with compact cameras. I plan on putting my money where my mouth is and make something I wouldn’t complain about given half a chance.
*1 – Project mastermind: my word, not Bellamy’s 😉 ~ EM
EM: What can you tell us about the companion app? Are you toying with us, or is that a part of your current working design? On first glance it looks like a little more than just a simple digital viewfinder.
BH: Yes, there will be a companion app but it’s not as simple as that. Although much of this is conceptual right now, you can see that we’re hoping to build something that provides full remote control capabilities. From shutter speed to aperture as well as focus aids and reminder info…amongst other things.
I look at the camera and app as analogue and digital components of a single ecosystem. Right now, the app is secondary in terms of design timing but we’re putting in a lot of work to make sure that the capabilities we’re looking at include those that digital shooters have come to expect, whilst also making sure that it serves needs that are unique to film shooters.
Right now we’re wishlisting based on what we know we can deliver with current technology but I can tell you that there’s already significant innovation that will make our ecosystem unique.
EM: Ok, so final question. When is all this happening? Can I have a review unit next week?
BH: It’s happening right now…but not that fast. I’m meeting regularly with my designers and I’m in discussions with the other people and partners who are going to help make this a reality. It’s going to involve a lot of moving parts and relationships to bring it to reality.
We are tentatively planning for having a camera and app ready for testing in late 2018 but that’s a timescale based on our current knowledge of the challenges ahead.
We won’t be releasing anything until it’s right, no way. There are no half measures and no second chances. I’m not happy to release a “beta” badged as a final product. The community deserves better.
I also know that I’m not going to be able to make everyone happy. It’s painful but that’s not the point of doing this. There will be purists who will say I’ve gone too far and then there will be others who will say I haven’t gone far enough but I’m not building this for them. I’m making a camera that meets my own pretty high expectations and serves both this and future generation of film photographers.
I guess the only guaranteed timescale I can give today is this: It’ll be done when it’s done.
Closing thoughts and recent developments
This is no small undertaking and disappointing as it may seem that no vendors took Bellamy up on his call to action, I don’t see that as a bad thing. Quite the opposite in fact. In my personal opinion, we’re closer than we’ve every been to the perfect, no holds barred film shooter’s camera. After all, who better to bring this to life?
I’ll leave the speculation to you all, as well as this little tid-bit…
I confirmed that Bellamy has recently been in discussion with Hamish Gill, friend of EMULSIVE and operator of 35mmc about a possible tie-in with an early stage project to bring a lens to market(!). There’s nothing set in stone just yet, but it should give you some idea of how many creators there are in the community begging to mobilise and bring products to market. More on that as I learn more.
Thanks for reading and remember that you can catch the recording of the Camera Ventures / Japan Camera Hunter livestream right here.
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