Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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Considering that silver and other camera colors are outsiders, I wonder if there is a specific reason to make black camera bodies.

I can think of several "marketing" reasons (discretion, first, or aesthetics - black is posh), but I wonder if more technical aspects play a role here, or on the contrary if the makers don't take some effects of the color into account to privilege design.

For example, black is probably pretty bad for the thermal protection (on hot days, the temperature of the body can jump due to light incidence), but good to avoid reflections. These are random thoughts...

Then what is the influence of the body color on the optical and mechanical system, or on the imaging process generally speaking? If there are sources somewhere explaining these aspects, that would be nice.

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Most importantly, I want my camera and lenses to be black for discretion reasons, I leave it as an exercise to the manufacturer to make it work! Some telephoto lenses for birding have sleeves to camouflage them and add discretion towards wildlife. –  Itai Jul 20 '11 at 14:37

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I think black is primarily chosen to be discrete, and because that's what people expect. Whilst some people like to be different, most want their camera to look like a camera. On the first point, a shiny camera would be a liability for nature photography, as light reflecting off it could scare away animals. People tend to use camo coverings over Canon's white lenses for this reason.

It's not a manufacturing limitation: there are plenty of silver plastic bodies, in the good ol' days bare metal was popular, and then there's Pentax ;)

The other argument comes down to temperature issues. Black absorbs the most solar energy, but also radiates the most heat energy back into the atmosphere so the problem isn't as bad as you might think.

Canon's supertelephoto lenses have traditionally been white (cream) and the reason given was to prevent heat expansion affecting the optics. Other manufacturers predominantly make back superteles (actually Nikon once made a 300 f/2.0 that was white), as Tzarium points out in the comments this may be due to their not using flourite elements and thus have fewer issues with heat expansion.

A white Nikon lens!

In the end then it comes down to marketing. White is Canon's trademark — when you see a sea of white lenses at a sporting event you know the majority of shooters are using Canon and that's a fantastic advert for them!

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Concerning temperature issue, I would have expected makers to design white/grey cameras now that there are sensors in DSLRs, which response can be quite heavily affected by temperature. I wonder what is the actual impact of external temperature on the signal. –  drolex Jul 20 '11 at 9:26
    
(Damned Canonians, they can't help showing off :) ) –  drolex Jul 20 '11 at 9:28
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While you're absolutely right about the marketing appeal of white lenses, it should be noted that Canon's supertelephoto lenses use fluorite elements which react faster to heat than, for example, the ED elements in nikkor lenses. So it's not just that other manufacturers don't see the point, they may not have the same mechanical needs. –  Tzarium Jul 20 '11 at 11:22
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The actual fact is that the equilibrium temperature of a body depends (as you expected and mentioned) on the ratio between absorbed heat and radiated heat. While black colors tend to absorb heat better than whites, it is definitely possible to paint the object with slow radiating white color, such that the equilibrium is higher than a "cold" black coating. –  ysap Jul 20 '11 at 13:17
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Oh, and I think Sony does white teles too. –  ysap Jul 20 '11 at 13:18

I think you're right: I'd say it's a combination of aesthetics (black is perceived as more professional) and reflection considerations (less distracting in reflected surfaces, subjects' eyes, etc.)

The fact that some DSLRs do come in colours (like the Pentax K-r in white and red) would seem to support the view that body colour makes no difference to picture quality, assuming the body is well constructed and light-sealed. (And if it isn't, the colour's the least of your worries. :)

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Kind of subjective, wouldn't you say? –  dpollitt Jul 20 '11 at 17:51
    
Yes, but deductive and concise. I guess only a camera manufacturer can give an objective answer on this. –  Mark Whitaker Jul 21 '11 at 6:46

The camera has a lot of surface area covered by your hand and the lens mount. The shape of the camera means most of the light is hitting the top, side and corners when the camera is held up during shooting. When the camera is idle on your chest only the top and maybe some of the sides are exposed.

Very little exposed area compared to a long telephoto lens. A silver or white camera is not easy on the eyes in almost all lighting conditions- I'm talking about looking at it to dial knobs and read labels on buttons.

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