And now for the answer to the Milspotters' Challenge from the other day.*
Why are Single Lens Reflex cameras black? Most (emphasis most - *koff* - Minicapt**) of my clever commenters were on the right track. It has to do with light refraction. But there is fascinating backstory on why the camera companies started to use black for their professional quality SLR's.
I have the story from a combat photographer who saw action in Vietnam. I met him many years ago on a plane, while flying from Los Angeles to London. He was that guy who skated on board at the last minute and came barreling down the aisle in a disheveled rush, prompting me to silently urge the seating gods to send him to some other seat but the empty one alongside mine. I was miserable to see him plunk down beside me.
But he turned out to be an okay guy. For much of the 10-hour flight, he regaled me with stories of his life as a combat photographer.
At one point, while examining his cameras, I noticed that his Canons' white lettering was covered in black tape. And that all his cameras were black. I asked why.
SLR cameras used to be primarily silver, he said. But during the Vietnam War, combat photographers noted that the silver finishes acted like mirrors. The shiny surfaces possibly could draw enemy fire. The photogs responded by covering their cameras in black electrical tape, he said, sealing off every possible refractive surface. Eventually, my seat-mate said, the camera companies caught on, and began making black-body cameras. These were snapped up by the pros. Henceforth, a black camera became a status symbol, marking its owner as a pro photographer.
I checked the story later with a Nikon spokesman, who confirmed that the black color was crucial to a photographer's safety. He didn't know about the taping part, but said it sounded reasonable. He added that it likely was true.
So there you have it. A Milspotters' Challenge solved, with a bit of lore thrown in. Feel free to use it as a story to appease your disappointed seat-mate the next time you scuttle someone's hopes of having a bit of extra space on a flight.
*With apologies for holiday-induced slowness of update!
** Who totally missed his opportunity to mention Vietnam!