It was from this collaboration that the five companies created the Advanced Photo System camera format. This format emphasized ease-of-use, the ability to change the format of the pictures from standard print size all the way to panoramic with no more than the turn of a dial; the ability to view the entire roll of prints in one glance thanks to the convenient and standard index print and the ability to store negatives in a safe, scratch-free environment in the cocoon-like cartridge that the unexposed film came in.
Canon ELPH cameras incorporated all of the signature functions of the then new Advanced Photo System format— that is where any similarity to the other Advanced Photo System cameras ended. The Canon ELPH camera excited the senses, inspired the imagination, and made fashion-forward style a key component of camera-purchasing decisions, as well as a key purse or pocket-sized accessory for a night on the town.
Barely the size of a deck of playing cards, Canon revolutionized camera design. The company built the ELPH camera in a stainless steel body that provided a reassuring sense of substance and a luxurious heft despite the camera's diminutive size. Its iconic design conveyed a “shoot anywhere, anytime” attitude and bespoke style whether dangling like a precious pendant, bangle-ing like a bracelet or slyly tucked away in a classic clutch.
The secret of Canon's out-of-the-box success was not simply to market the new film format and camera features, but to market those features and format in an attractive, go anywhere, pocket-sized package and to create the kind of “ gotta have it ” demand that would be the key to the Canon ELPH's future. As the Canon ELPH camera first became synonymous with the Advanced Photo System, it would soon become synonymous with a sleek, chic, lifestyle-oriented camera as a fashion accessory
The Soul of Simplicity
Call it providential or simply a ‘eureka' moment of creative clarity, but the design that remains the hallmark of the ELPH brand began with the simplest of all camera representations: the box and circle. This shorthand sketch of a camera is as practically identifiable as the picture-writing symbols used on universal road signs and provided an initial inspiration to the ELPH camera's original designer, Yasushi Shiotani.
“When you give anybody a piece of paper and ask them to draw a camera, they will draw a box and a circle. This is the most simple, iconic image of a camera that exists in everyone's mind,” explained Shiotani.
The product engineers gave Shiotani and his design team basic specifications for weight and size and their mandate: create the world's smallest autofocus zoom camera and oh yes, make certain it communicates a snappy style statement about the users without compromising the quality of the pictures or the ease-of-use of the camera.
The simple box and circle theme notwithstanding, the final design of that first ELPH camera resulted from more than 100 sketches and ultimately took the marriage of style and substance to another level.
They constructed the camera body out of stainless steel with a newly-developed finish that gave it a more luxurious feel rather than the aluminum alloy Canon typically used. The fresh new look of the outside would match the innovation and technology that lived inside. Canon's ELPH model introduced the concept of the camera-as-a-fashion-accessory— a camera that could be attached to an elegant neck chain and worn like an item of jewelry, or slipped slimly into a blazer breast pocket in lieu of a silk hanky.
Canon's research and development department received the requirements and in an environment nearly academic in its purity. Shiotani deliberately avoided viewing the R& D team's work in progress and provided them with no feedback. “That way,” recalled Shiotani, “we could stay true to our vision and avoid a diluted consensus view.”
The result was true to the original design and in short order; the Canon ELPH camera became the dominant player in the Advanced Photo System global market and for many consumers, embodied the very essence of what this new camera format promised. Indeed, within months of its launch the Canon ELPH (also called the IXY in Asia, and IXUS in Europe ) camera accounted for nearly a third of the worldwide Advanced Photo System market. All told, Canon sold more than 10.5 million Advanced Photo System ELPH cameras.
Canon ELPH cameras continued to dominate the Advanced Photo System marketplace and with each new ELPH edition its design influence and sales successes spawned a spate of imitators. No slaves simply to sizzle and style, the world hailed Canon ELPH cameras for their technical innovation, optical excellence, physical integrity and the level of quality that Canon cameras are renowned for. Nonetheless, within five years the Canon ELPH camera would transcend the Advanced Photo System format and embrace a new, innovative, and truly advanced photo system: digital.
Building on the tradition established by the Advanced Photo System version of the Canon ELPH camera, designer Seiichi Omino set out to create a digital ELPH camera that embodied the brand's essence without making it a cookie cutter copy of the earlier cameras. To be sure, Omino respected the original box and circle design created by his colleague Yasushi Shiotani but mechanical considerations – given the vast internal differences between film-based and digital cameras – meant that modifications to the outside must be made.
“We could not place the optical axis precisely in the center of the Digital ELPH yet we knew we had to find a way to incorporate the ELPH models' key motif without sacrificing the camera's sense of balance,” Omino revealed. “We studied the wide space in the center of the camera and found that by moving the circle just slightly off center we could accommodate the internal requirements of the camera while adding character to its exterior. This off-center orientation became the defining look for the new, digital generation of ELPH cameras.”