Colored cameras, what do I think? Make mine black with a splash of Sunshine Orange!

Nikon Zf
Nikon Zf is available with the option of a colored front panel insert (Image credit: Nikon)

Black or silver? Silver or black? I seemed to have had an early preference for silver until I bought my Nikon F4 back in 1986 and then it’s been all black since then, although mostly because there wasn’t any choice. 

The contention seemed to be that silver was more elegant and classier – perhaps because of the contrast with black inserts – and that a black finish was more workmanlike because it looked to be the choice by professionals. Did the black paint wear any better? Not really, but now that patinaed look of brass showing through the scuffs and scratches of a well-worn Leica M or Nikon F is highly desirable… perhaps even more so than mint examples especially if there’s provenance involved.

If pros picked another finish other than black then it was titanium which was popular on higher-end 35mm SLRs for a while… the Nikon F3/T and FM2/T, and the Olympus OM-4Ti are notable examples, but you could still have them in black as well the slightly warmer silver finish of this coating.

Leica’s signal that its cameras meant business was a khaki green finish for the likes of the M4 and the R3 35mm SLR (along with various lenses) which was dubbed ‘Safari’ and aimed primarily at wild-life photographers. It’s since been reprised, but more as a limited edition thing than cameras to go bush-bashing with.

Canon clearly decided right from the start than pros preferred black so the various iterations of the F-1 were only ever available in this finish, likewise everything from the EOS-1 to today. Nikon has been the same since the F4; but the F, F2 and F3 could all be had in silver (the titanium finish for the F3). 

The Pentax K-r DSLR which was offered in a choice of 12 body colors and ten grip colors plus 12 colors for the DA 35mm f/2.4 AL prime lens (Image credit: Future)

Do some cameras look better in one color or the other? Well, big seems to wear black well which may explain the pro camera thing. It’s hard to see, for example, the Nikon Z 9 in silver, but the petite Nikon Z fc arguably looks much nicer in silver just as, at least in my opinion, did the original Olympus OM-1. 

So where do we stand on colored inserts as per the Z fc and now the Nikon Z f? Leica has been doing it for years with the M models, both film and digital… sometimes in good taste, sometimes not so much. 

The Z fc’s options are a bit ‘bubblegum’ which probably suits its intended market, but the choices for the Z f all look quite classy. I saw them all in the flesh at a recent trade show and I think it would be quite hard to pick a favourite. Notably, the Z f body is only available in black… the FM2 in black looked much more purposeful too. Colored inserts are one way of having a little bit more individuality without going over the top, although it can be quite dramatic on a bigger camera such as when, in the early 2000s, Hasselblad did limited edition versions of the 503CW and the 501CM 6x6cm cameras in red, blue, yellow and green. They were great to look at, but possibly attracted just a bit too much attention when you were out shooting.

Nobody can top Pentax when it comes to colored cameras and many of its entry-level DSLRs came in red, blue and white as well as black or silver. It all came to a head with the K-r which was offered in a choice of 12 body colors and ten grip colors plus 12 colors for the DA 35mm f/2.4 AL prime lens. You mixed and matched however you liked and, after you’d made your choices, the camera was built to order. It was popular in Japan, less so in rest of world where research as shown that, when it comes to colored cameras, we’re a pretty conservative lot…. perhaps because serious cameras should, well, look serious and not toy-like. 

The Pentax K-r was a very capable compact DSLR regardless of its color scheme…but perhaps a pink body with a gold lens and a yellow grip wasn’t necessarily so good for the image. As it happens, hot pink was actually one of the standard body colors (along with black or white) and should perhaps be revived to make the most of the current Barbie fever.

I have to confess that I’m definitely among the traditionalists here, but I also think colored inserts can be a great look and a nice bit of inexpensive personalization… so make mine black with a splash of Sunshine Orange. 

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Paul Burrows

Paul has been writing about cameras, photography and photographers for 40 years. He joined Australian Camera as an editorial assistant in 1982, subsequently becoming the magazine’s technical editor, and has been editor since 1998. He is also the editor of sister publication ProPhoto, a position he has held since 1989. In 2011, Paul was made an Honorary Fellow of the Institute Of Australian Photography (AIPP) in recognition of his long-term contribution to the Australian photo industry. Outside of his magazine work, he is the editor of the Contemporary Photographers: Australia series of monographs which document the lives of Australia’s most important photographers.