NIKON Z FC
Do the physical looks of a camera matter a hoot? Specifically, is it worth one nanosecond’s consideration that this new Nikon Z fc is a near facsimile of the 35-mm. Nikon FM2 that Magnum’s Steve McCurry used to capture one of the most acclaimed photographs of recent times, his 1985 National Geographic cover portrait, Afghan Girl?
It’s probable that Afghan Girl would have looked exactly the same had McCurry shot it on a camera made from a cardboard shoebox; the subject, with her startled, green-eyed look—still haunting 36 years later—was likely not swayed one way or the other by the Nikon logo.
The truth is that a camera can be as ugly as you like: the Speed Graphic touted in 1940s Manhattan by the cigar-chomping Weegee was quite the contraption. Most subjects really don’t care what a photographer points at them.
Yet most great cameras—McCurry’s FM2; the Vietnam-era Nikon F used by Don McCullin; Cartier-Bresson’s Leicas; even, perhaps, Diane Arbus’s and Vivian Maier’s ugly-duckling Rolleiflexes—are all fine pieces of industrial design.
They may not be quite in the league of an Eames lounge chair or an early Bang & Olufsen, but they have what you might call mechanical charisma—which, like all charisma, is a mash-up of qualities and associations.
And it’s difficult for any photographer, amateur or pro, not to be influenced by those associations. It’s a tail-wagging-the-dog thing; pick up a modern Leica, and you can’t help shooting like Cartier-Bresson. Put this digital Nikon Z fc to your eye, and you feel you’re halfway to being McCurry—even if, thanks to its magnesium-alloy build, the Z fc weighs nearly 20 percent less than the old FM2 and is 30 percent smaller.
Naturally, the Z fc has all the modern twists. Like any digital camera, it can shoot thousands of photos on one media card, rather than restrict you to the 36 exposures on a roll of Kodachrome. Imagine how much easier that would have made shooting wars of old; perhaps McCurry, embedded with the mujahideen, could have taken a couple of hundred more photos of that Afghan girl. Plus some video.
And the Z fc takes superb HD. It’s also perfect for vloggers; the infinitely agile screen can twist round to be a good-size monitor for your self-shot videos.
But the really important thing about the Z fc—the reason it’s such an exciting camera—is that the retro look and associations inspire creativity and fun.
The ergonomics are pre-digital and glorious: faster, more precise, and more convenient than modern menu-driven controls. So eight notchy, tactile dials sit within range of your fingers and thumbs, each just where you want it to be.
A wonderful camera to remind us, if we’re serious about making photos, that a smartphone alone will not do. And that beautiful cameras inspire us to take fine pictures. ($1,200; adorama.com)
Loughborough, in the English Midlands (pronounced “Luff-bro”), is an unremarkable town, apart from its reputation as a sports-education center. So many elite athletes are educated there, it’s been calculated that, if it were its own country, Loughborough would have come in 12th place in the Tokyo Olympics medals race.
And it’s out of the Advanced Technology Innovation Centre at Loughborough University that the Incus Nova comes with a claim to be the world’s most comprehensive sports-and-fitness tracker, helping to train in running, swimming, and—coming in 2022—cycling.
The Incus Nova looks somewhere between a three-inch-long modernist brooch—with its onboard, flashing colored lights—and a surgical implant. It’s inserted into custom-made sports apparel that you order with the sensor, and the garments place it at a strategic spot near the top of the spine.
The device assumes you’re already fit and know where you are training, so it doesn’t bother measuring heart rate and location like mere fitness-tracking smart watches. It’s all about how you run, swim, or cycle.
To which end, it’s equipped with sophisticated 10-axis MARG (magnetic, angular rate, and gravity) sensors, customarily used on robots to quantify metrics such as running power, cadence, pace, takeoff, landing acceleration and deceleration, and balance between the left and right sides of the body.
It comes as little surprise that the Incus Nova is of particular interest to triathletes. Indeed, British Olympic gold medalist Alistair Brownlee is an adviser and advocate. ($275, incusperformance.com)
Now that travel is sort of possible again, it’s never been more important to keep your devices, most of all your smartphone, charged. It is hard to know what might happen at the average customs-and-border desk if, when asked to flash the required coronavirus-vaccination-card photo or app du jour, you were to smile weakly and explain you were out of juice.
In-seat power points on airplanes, when they are actually installed, often don’t work, or they are rigged not to charge your devices, just to keep them going. So carry-on-luggage-friendly power packs for midair refueling of gadgetry have been around a while. But they are inevitably protruding and awkward in your travel bag.
The genius of this new charging system, Arroe, is its “form factor,” in gadget-speak, or “shape,” in layman’s terms. It’s just a flat, featureless, oblong, 11 inches by 8 inches, and just a half inch thick—so, like a small laptop, it slides unobtrusively and tightly into your carry-on without flopping about loosely.
Arroe has the oomph to charge a laptop, a tablet, and a smartphone all from one pre-travel dose of power from a typical outlet, with a sweet spot for wireless charging of iPhones and AirPods. And it comes with a comprehensive kit of leads for every device you’re likely to travel with, or may travel with in the future. Arroe is already rushing to add as an accessory a cable compatible with MagSafe, the much-loved magnetic laptop connector Apple re-introduced this week, but in a new shape, for their latest MacBooks. There’s also the inevitable accompanying app for those who want to dive deep into their batteries’ health, even if few will bother with it.
Arroe is the epitome, perhaps, of boring—but a lifesaver for travelers. ($250, bestbuy.com)
NOMAD CARD FOR AIRTAG
Apple’s $29 AirTag, a wireless tracking device introduced in April, is Cupertino’s least celebrated product ever. Even the brand’s fans forget it exists.
A shame, because it’s so effective you end up almost delighted to lose stuff because it’s such fun to find it again. And if you mislay it out of Bluetooth range of your smartphone, AirTag will track it down anywhere in the world by tapping into Apple’s Find My network.
There’s just one thing: the 1.25-inch diameter disc, a third of an inch thick, is ideally designed for key fobs, purses, and luggage, but not so much as something to slip into a wallet. If you do so, you end up with an awkward, circular bump to deform your fine leather.
Until now, with this unbelievably simple adapter from Nomad—a company out of Santa Barbara—that turns an AirTag into a (slightly chubby) credit card–size wallet accessory.
Admittedly, it’s a little counter-intuitive to buy a product to make a small thing bigger, but this just works. It’s not leather or anything—for $20, you get TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane)—but the AirTag clicks in beautifully. It’s only surprising Apple didn’t think of it themselves. ($25, nomadgoods.com)
Based in London and New York, AIR MAIL’s tech columnist, Jonathan Margolis, spent more than two decades as a technology writer for the Financial Times. He is also the author of A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book on the history of futurology