The Demise Of The Catalog – And Its Resurrection

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The Demise Of The Catalog – And Its Resurrection

I loved October when I was a kid in the Canadian bush – the catalogs arrived for Christmas. Hudson’s Bay Company, Eatons, Sears, Montgomery Ward.

Big thick buy-anything from a .303 Enfield to a baby-doll nightie catalogs were issued once a year and were the basic go-to for all of us out there in the woods. We could write down to Calgary or Edmonton – or over east to the main stores and they would put stuff in the mail or on the next CNR freight train and it would eventually reach us. We reckoned that the Mounties might occasionally lose their man but the Hudson’s Bay Company would always get our order to us.

Now the Christmas catalogs were thinner, brighter and glossier. They were pointed affairs and it was at us kids that they were pointed. Toys, sweets, clothing, Christmas decorations, and then all the other ephemera of the season that our parents might have wanted to get for themselves –  never looked past the toys but I could let my folks know which ones I wanted ( like, them all…) and most times something appeared on the day. The catalogs were more than just a quick list – they were inspiration books that proved to be playthings in themselves for the months leading up to December 25th. They generally had accurate depictions of the articles for sale – unlike the fraudulent sort of advertisements that we saw on the back of the comic books. You could trust the Christmas catalogs.

Used to be the same with camera manufacturers – big thick catalog books from Leica were the staple of photographer’s dreams. Linhof books were like texts – you learned more from careful perusal than ever you did from your teachers. Indeed, Linhof books were written with a Germanic rhythm to the text and a ponderous exactitude to the images that marked them apart even from the Leica house magazines. Leica images were …umm…lousy ( Ouch, ouch, ouch… but it is true if you look at the LFI) but Linhof’s were perfect.

Hasselblad produced their Forum…and traded on NASA and the moon for decades while displaying some pretty basic images. Oh, we tried to emulate them but that is another story.

Today Nikon make a series of pamphlets to advertise their cameras, lenses, and flashes, and they are beauties. Good images, enough technical information on the back to satisfy the geeks, and generally a pretty fair explanation of the thing in advertising terms in the middle. They function as a great wish-book for people to take away and chew over – paper salesmen, in effect.

Olympus has produced a rather artistic catalog for the latest E-P5 camera and a number of their lenses. It has incorporated drawings on modern style of the design features of the body – to inspire you to appreciate it as a work of sculpture rather than an instrument. Do that if you must, but not where we can see it. Anyway, it is a wonderfully glossy catalog.

Ditto Panasonic – though we get fewer of them here than other manufacturers. They tend to give out more of a general listing and they make a LOT of different models…I suspect that these sorts of catalogs are outdated as they appear since the production lines are faster than the writers.

Deare Olde Canon…who produce some dynamite gear and conduct a very good promotional day whenever they release new products…have eschewed the big pamphlet or printed catalog. Go on-line to see their gear and read all the good reviews and see it in-store…but I can’t help feel that they would do better if they followed the lead of Nikon and gave us a collection of take-away books. They did a wonderful hard-cover book for their lenses and many people have it, but you really need to give someone a small thing that they can leave around the house for their family to see…

And finally…Lee. Makers of wonderful filters and gels. Great quality stuff. Desired by professionals and amateurs alike. Costly. They do a great catalog, however, and we have a lot of their catalogs. They send them out in all their deliveries. Can’t supply their most popular filter, mind, but they can supply catalogs. I think they run on the soviet system…

I am getting cynical in my old age. And good at it too…

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