The Silence of the Cams: Why Don’t They Make Cameras with Built-In Music Players?


posted Friday, May 4, 2012 at 1:49 PM EDT

Radio-camera-logoOne of the pleasures of photography is the solitude it offers. When I’m shooting on the street, I am enclosed in my own Henri Cartier-Bresson photo bubble space.

Yet that space is too quiet. I want to have a soundtrack for my shooting life. Sure, I have an iPod Nano but I hate the stupid earplug cord that wraps itself annoyingly around my hands and gear. Why can’t I enjoy the latest tunes by my occasional neighbor Shakira on my Nikon D747 itself?
It would be so cool, not to mention artistically inspiring. Think of covering a street demonstration with the majestic chords of Beethoven’s "Ode to Joy" ringing in your ears. Why has the digital camera industry missed this song boat?
Rather than taking a cue from the Swiss Army-ish all purpose iPhone and iPad, the camera companies have resisted multi-functionality. Sure, DSLRs can take videos but given the size and weight of a modern DSLR, you’d think there’d be room for lots of amenities like a MP3 player, a toothpick and tiny tweezers.

They already record and play Dolby sound with videos, so why can’t they play FM radio? There’s even an earphone jack on many cameras to hear the HDTV sound recording and playback. Some cameras even have GPS and Wi-Fi, but do they receive Satellite radio or let me download iTunes from the web? No!
Is this a big engineering problem? How could companies like Sony or Panasonic (its name even means "all sounds"), that started out making stereo equipment not be able to squeeze a music player into the next NEX?
Radio-camera-2Seriously, music and photos have always gone together, like franks and beans or Bert and Ernie. Ansel Adams was after all a trained classical musician and W. Eugene Smith used to make his gorgeous big black-and-white prints to the sounds of Bach and Schubert echoing through his darkroom.

Also let us not forget that all across America, there are dozens of outlaw/photographer garage bands. I know. I was in a few. So what is the problem?
Radio Cameras
My frustration, as usual, led me to a web search. Sadly, I found very little at first but what I did find was astonishing enough.
The Air King Radio Camera (shown to the right) is a product of the golden years of 1950’s Brooklyn engineering and innovation. It is a work of art that should have led to any number of other camera-radios, but did not.
The Air King is Brooklyn at its best, marrying together two separate worlds into one charming brownstone. In its top compartment, it has a fully functioning 828 roll film, medium format camera (in digital terms a 50 or 60MP equivalent camera.)

Radio-camera-rearThen housed below it is a four vacuum tube superheterodyne AM radio. True pinging and ringing tube sound. The Air King has a built in speaker and is battery powered. It goes anywhere for some serious music sharing. Imagine photographing the gang at your next pajama party while everyone’s rocking to the latest Elvis hit blasting out of the speaker.
Nonetheless, the Air King was a one-off, an idea so far ahead of its time that its time zipped right past it without stopping. In despair, I continued my web search, broadening my keywords, hoping perhaps to find something in China’s fertile camera industry.  
Well, faster than you can say "Chairman Mao’s Long March," up popped links to a wholesaler who was selling "camera radios" in bulk. Unfortunately, these were simple point-and-shoot cameras but they did have radios in them. It was a start and, as someone Chinese once said, the longest journey begins with first picture. Through it all I remain a hopeful person.

Oddly, while waiting for my own 16MP, Dolby Surround Sound Radio Camera to arrive, I have had a dream: a dream that one day photographers young Radio-camera-chineseand old, American and non-American will be able to have a richer, more tuneful, photographic experience. They will be able to photograph with Nikon/Bose camera radios. Then, with a song in their ears and their eyes to the viewfinder, a new era of musical photography will begin. Upload that Pan-a-sonic!

(Editor's note: Do you like to listen to music while you shoot or do you prefer silence? What about when you edit photos? For us, Miles Davis and a glass of Bordeux are near essentials to a slog through Photoshop. Let us know your thoughts about photography and music in the comments below.)