A friend the other day said I'm a "rock star," which made me giggle. He was referencing the formidable reach of my influence and the broad sweep of TOP's popularity, not the fact that I wear my bathrobe until noon.
And he's right, in a way. I mean, look what just happened: I wrote an article about a type of camera I felt was needed, and BAM! A mere three years and ten months later, a manufacturer comes right out with a slick new camera that sorta comes fairly close to fulfilling my design brief, kinda. I think that proves beyond a doubt that the camera manufacturers are hanging on my every word, don't you?
Well, anyway. It's not like I know anything about what'll sell.
I thought I'd share with you another set of idle musings—not about something that I think we need, this time, just something I've been thinking about.
I started off by accepting the self-evident truth that DSLRs now come packed with ever more features and capabilities, with no end in sight, and simply wondering what a DSLR would be like if it had as few features as possible.
Y'see, I don't really like features. The more a camera can do, the less I figure I'm going to like it. What I want is for it to be really good at one thing—what I need it to do—and not distract me with anything else. Cameras are little computers these days. But I don't like computers. I like cameras.
Before we go any further, let me just say that a) I know this would never sell and b) I know no manufacturer will ever make anything like this. I know. You don't have to tell me.
I also know that you might want lots of features. Lots of people do. (Plus, not everybody will want just the features I happen to want.)
But this is my daydream, Gumby, dammit. Let's build an imaginary camera.
Pickin' an' choosin'
First of all, I'd start with a size and shape about like the Pentax LX (picture here. You might have to refresh your browser to see it). All things considered, I think the LX with its little hand grip is the most comfortable camera to hold and look through and use that I know of.
We'd make it full-frame. Let's give it a viewfinder as good as the one in the Sony A900.
We'd make it weatherproof. Remember that great picture of the Oympus E-1 being held under a running faucet? I can't find it, but I remember it. Like that.
While I'm talking about the E-1, let's give it the E-1's shutter sound, too. Quiet and smooth. Or the E-P1's—that has a nice shutter sound. (I'm not sure that's technically feasible with a full-size mirror.) I'd spend a good deal of time on the feel of the shutter button. Let's reference the old Contax RTS II for that.
For my money, body-integral image stabilization. I like Konica-Minolta > Sony's implementation of that feature best.
Here's where you'll laugh at me: I'm going to say...6 megapixels. Okay, maybe as many as 8 or 10. But the best possible quality pixels...the greatest color depth, the best possible DR, no compromises for low noise at silly ISOs. IQ über alles.
Speaking of ISO, I'd have just two settings, 200 and 1600, set with a sliding switch on the upper left of the camera back. (In fact the principle of having one analog control for one function and one function only would have to be given great weight.)
The camera would only shoot raw. The only JPEG processing would be what's needed for review on the viewing screen. It would have live view, though.
All "real" manual exposure controls of f-stop and shutter speed, with the three basic AE modes of course—shutter priority, aperture priority, and program. And full manual. I'd give it one quirky exposure feature, this one lifted more or less from the admirable Olympus OM-4T: a button that combined spot metering with exposure lock. Except instead of a middle value reading, it would put the spot-metered area 5 or 10% from the right side of the histogram. You could hit the button once for single-shot AE-lock, twice to leave it engaged until you turned it off. Okay, this is a feature, I'll admit.
Another feature I'd indulge would be a flip-up viewing screen like the one in the Sony A550 (picture here), so you could use it like a waist-level finder. (If you didn't have that, you could get away without the live view.)
I haven't decided if it should be autofocus or not. Maybe manual focus with focus confirmation.
I don't suppose I could get away with not giving it a hot shoe. I don't use them flash thingys, but I hear other people do. But no pop-up flash.
Naturally, a camera built to be as feature-free as possible would be notable for what it wouldn't have: not only no pop-up flash and no JPEG modes, no scene modes of course, but also no continuous shooting, no video. Could we get away with no menu?
Could we get away with no color? No, that's crazy.
In every parameter of responsiveness, it would have to be blazingly fast. Of course we've given it so little to do that speed in the few remaining parameters shouldn't be that hard to provide.
Finally, it would need a name. Back in the days of Chivalry, Nikon augmented its full-battle-dress F with a simple, basic, but very well made secondary camera that a lot of pros chose because it was more affordable and just as tough. So let's call my low-feature DSLR a "Digimat," in honor of the Nikkormat.
You gotta admit, this is a radical idea. Completely impractical, arguably insane, but radical. I rock, don't I?
I do. In fact, I will say that except for the girls, the drugs, the money, the fame and renown, the sense of style, the devil-may-care lifestyle and personal charm, and the musical talent, I am a rock star.
...Just one without any features, that's all.