Back Story: Ever since the early days of Swiss type foundry Dinamo, which was founded in 2013, the team has been interested in the idea of updating light traps — typographic nuances that originally compensated for the low resolution of early television screens in the ’60s and ’70s — for the digital age. These worked in similar ways to ink traps (a feature of certain typefaces designed for printing in small sizes in which the corners or details are removed from the letterforms), which have already been reimagined by Dinamo in its font ABC Whyte. “Turning our attention to light traps felt like a natural next direction for us,” said the Dinamo team in conversation.
Light traps meant that when a font appeared on an early TV screen, “the screen’s blur filled in its holes so that each letter looked complete,” the team explained. Dinamo first encountered them on a 1960s typeface for the American TV station CBS, and the designers’ curiosity was further piqued when their friend Florian Lamm showed them a TV typeface catalog released by Studio Hollenstein in the 1970s.
“While light traps are obsolete now and were never intended to be seen, the circular holes are beautiful in their own right, and so we wanted to celebrate them and interpret them for contemporary digital eyes and using variable technology,” said Dinamo. “Light traps are such an unintentionally bold visual feature.” ABC Camera sees these light traps scaled up to accentuate them, and in a nice Swiss touch, the team dubbed them ‘holes’ (“as in Swiss Emmental”); however the font is also available without the holes.
Why’s it called Camera? The name Camera hints at those ’60s and ’70s light traps used on TV screens, according to Dinamo. It was also chosen since the word includes some of the designers’ favorite letterforms from the typeface, including the double-storey “a” and capital “C”. “We always like to highlight star characters in our font names — we even created a tool, The Dinamo Name Crawler, to help us and others find suitable names for new fonts.”
What are its distinguishing characteristics? Aside from the obvious use of the ‘light traps’, or ‘holes’, Camera is a fairly neutral, toned-down grotesque sans serif that Dinamo described as “similar in style to Helvetia but with freer, less strictly defined proportions and a narrower body.”
The font comes with five sets of alternates, with both the ‘hole’ and ‘plain’ versions available as a full family of five weights, including italics. “Creating italics was a bit of a challenge for the hole version of Camera,” said foundry cofounder Breyer, crediting new Dinamo team member Fabiola Mejía as having cracked them. “For our italics, the holes stay upright while the character slants and we decided to keep the bullet holes as circular as possible,” Breyer explained.
What should I use it for? Camera was originally used as the typeface for a visual essay on surveillance, security, scams, and fakes that appeared in Shoplifters, published by Actual Source — a publishing imprint and online store. The font is also used in its hole version for the Actual Source logo, and appears on the bookends for its its series of board books released in collaboration with New Tendency that include editions by the likes of Hassan Rahim.
“We’re always interested in seeing uses that explore and mix various ends of the font’s variable spectrum together,” said Dinamo. “There’s already been lots of nice and unusual uses of Camera that we’ve loved. It appeared on the sticker sheet of GQ Korea’s 20th anniversary issue, so we’ve seen lots of pictures of the font stuck on people’s laptops and phone cases. It was also use in the identity of the Biennale Carbone by Clémentine Léon and Gautier Scerra at Service Local and more recently, Swiss-based Onlab used it for DJ Stringray’s new label MICRON AUDIO (released together with Tresor Records).”
Clearly, it’s a great choice for cultural-leaning projects, but Camera’s neutrality means it’s pretty flexible, working across identity designs, headlines, mastheads, and posters; as well as on less flashy applications like branded texts or wayfinding.
What other fonts would it pair well with? Again, Camera is both quirky and neutral, so could make for interesting pairings with anything from blocky display fonts to more traditional serifs. For Dinamo, however, there’s one obvious pairing: “Camera pairs perfectly with Camera Plain, and the other way around!”