Distressing A Camera – Or, Making The Fujifilm X-E1 Sexy Again – Or, Am I Nuts?!
A couple of months ago I ran across a message board post about a guy who distressed his Fujifilm X70 to make it look old. When I first saw it I thought that it looked cool, but you’d have to have a few screws loose to do that to your new camera. As the days went on I couldn’t get what this guy did to his X70 out of my mind. I was fascinated by the idea of distressing a modern camera to make it look old and worn.
One day, about a month after I had initially seen the distressed X70, I was photographing my wife as she was distressing some old dining chairs. My wife takes unwanted furniture and gives them new life, making them look “shabby-chic” or whatever the current term is for making something look old and worn but still really cool and interesting (she calls it “reloving”). She’s very good at it, and she gets a lot of compliments. I told her about the distressed X70 and showed her the pictures. She thought that it looked neat but it takes some guts to do that to a nice, new camera.
I began to contemplate how to do something like this myself, even as I contemplated my own sanity. They say that it’s a fine line between genius and crazy. Is this something that I should even try? After much back-and-forth in my mind I decided that this was indeed something that I was going to do it. I don’t distress furniture like my wife does (although I have helped her on occasion), but I have done some scale modelling and “weathered” things to make them appear old and well used. So I started to research. Is this a unique concept? Have others done it? How did they do it? What are some reasons why someone might do this?
I discovered that two other photographers did something similar to their X-Pro1 cameras. They took it a few steps further and I thought that the end result wasn’t as good as the X70. I also found out that Fujifilm distressed an X-Pro2 to simulate how it would look after years of heavy use, and they displayed it in Japan. Interestingly enough, the distressing treatment that was given to the X-Pro2 was similar to that given to the X70, so, not surprising, the results were strikingly similar.
Something else that I came across was a limited edition Leica M-P that was designed with the assistance of Lenny Kravitz. It’s a film camera that Leica introduced in 2003. The Lenny Kravitz model is made to look worn as if it had been heavily used for decades. Similarly, Pentax made a version of the MX-1 that was also designed to look old and worn, but it never went into production.
There are collectors who will pay top dollar for certain models of vintage Leica cameras that are worn but functional. I discovered that sometimes these cameras are worth more beat up than in near-mint condition, and the more worn-looking the better.
Some interior decorators will dig through flea markets, estate sales and antique stores for old film cameras that appear well-used and worn. These cameras look interesting displayed on shelves and such. I found a couple of people who claim, if they can’t find a camera that looks worn enough, that they will add some distressing to make the cameras more visually interesting.
Something else that I discovered is that people will hide the fact that they have a nice camera when they travel, so that they might be less targeted by thieves. Typically this involves taping up the camera body with black tape to hide the make and model and make the camera seem less nice. They don’t want to appear to be carrying something worth thousands of dollars because it could draw the attention of crooks looking to make a quick dollar.
With all my research done, I knew what I wanted to do, why I wanted to do it and how to accomplish it. My intentions were to buy a used Fujifilm X-E1, which has the right “vintage rangefinder” look, and can be found for cheap yet is capable of excellent image quality, attach my Meike 35mm lens to it, and distress it to make look old and worn.
One reason why I would distress an X-E1 is that it looks neat. Displayed on a shelf, around my neck or as the subject of photographs, the camera looks very interesting. Someone told me, as I was doing some street photography, that they thought I had a 1960’s rangefinder. Another person said, “I bet that camera has some stories to tell!” The distressed X-E1 simply looks cool. It has much more character than any shiny new DSLR.
Another reason is that the camera appears less valuable to potential thieves. I feel like I’m less of a target. There have been times when walking the streets with my X-Pro2 or X100F that I feel like I’m being watched and even followed. Maybe I’m paranoid, as I’m not going into rough neighborhoods. But I have had my gear stolen before, in a high-end district of Scottsdale, Arizona, so perhaps I’m a little more suspicious and cautious than the average Joe. With the distressed X-E1, I feel like my camera is less attractive to somebody looking for something valuable to steal. And even if someone does take it, I didn’t pay a whole lot for it, and so it’s not as big of a deal than if someone took off with something I paid over a grand for.
A final reason why I would distress an X-E1 is that it was fun to do. As I mentioned before, I’ve done some scale modelling in the past. I found the process of distressing the camera to be similarly enjoyable. It was easy enough to do. I used fine-grit sandpaper to rough it up, using a heavier hand on the corners, edges and anywhere that someone might handle the camera more, such as knobs and where fingers would sit when holding it. I purchased a vintage strap and used rust-colored paint with a dry-brush technique to make it appear rusty (more rusty, actually, as it already had some natural rust).
The results are pretty convincing, I believe. This X-E1 looks like an old camera that has seen heavy use, and not something that’s fairly new. I wouldn’t have done this to a camera in mint condition. The one that I purchased had some obvious wear already, I just added some extra “wear” to what was naturally there. The Meike 35mm lens, which also looks like it came out of the 1960’s, received some distressing, as well, so that it matches the camera. I really love the way the camera and lens look together, but, perhaps more importantly, I love the images that they create together.
Some people might not appreciate what I did to this camera. I truly understand that it’s not for everyone. Some people might even say that it is inherently dishonest, which it is, but so are most people’s photographs. I’d rather create honest pictures with a dishonest camera than create dishonest pictures with an honest camera. I’m sure that this whole article is a bit polarizing, but when it comes down to it, it’s my camera and I can do whatever I want to it, and it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks. Still, I hope that some of you think that it turned out alright. I still haven’t completely decided which side of the genius/insanity line it falls on.
Below are some photographs of my distressed Fujifilm X-E1:
Below are some photographs that I’ve captured with my X-E1 and Meike 35mm lens: