« Restoring My Faith in Photos | Main | Solving Problems »

Tuesday, 03 January 2017

Comments

I'm waiting for one of the retro-happy manufacturers to offer a camera body with the shutter button on the front of the body (squeeze to activate the shutter).
can't recall what long-lost camera had that feature, but it is extremely ergonomic (less shake) and makes better use of the minimal space for all the buttons and adjust widgets on today's bodies.

I think you overgeneralize about the late Michael Reichmann's tastes; he loved the dials and controls of the Pentax 645Z, and did not get along well with the unlabeled, programmable 4 button Leica S interface, even though he recognized that camera's build and design elegance. He commented about this in both writings and videos.

"Why put the little front knob on the front of the Pen F except that it looks like the slow shutter-speed dial on the front of a Leica III?"

Especially since all it offers are some "art" filter selections. At least they could have made it do something useful. Since I first saw it, that has struck me as nothing more than a useless affectation on an otherwise lovely camera.

I don't know about retro. There seem to be just two flavors these days -- buttons for everything, reprogrammable, and four buttons, no labels, for the medium format crowd. In both camps, the full function camera has two unlimited rotating control knobs, one in front for the forefinger, and one in back for the thumb. The E-M1 has the power switch on the left because there is simply no room left on the right and the upper two digits are busy moving those dials. Besides, with modern power controls, who turns the camera off until they are done for the day? None of this clean UI design excuses the power switch on the Leica SL, however.

scott

My view was that the E-M1 was one of the least 'retro' cameras about, using minimal dials and taking advantage of programmable controls.

The on/off switch kind of make sense and even if it is similar to that of the old OM-1, using what's worked in previous designs doesn't really mean it an affectation to retro design. It might just make good sense.

As for dials, I agree with Michael, the dual dials on the E-M1 (and previous Olympus DSLRs) makes for very fast, one finger, setting changes without having to adjust your hand in any way from the grip. I can't see how a dial can be faster, especially ones that are reasonably firm so as not to change themselves, or which have a lock button.

Very true. Also the OM-D appears to have a vestigial rewind crank. I don't think that does it any favors.

For me, the appeal of retro cameras is in the visual texture of brushed metal against leather. I don't care about the knobs.

(Apologies if this appears twice. My first attempt disappeared)

Hi Mike,

I'm with you on the aesthetic pleasantries of retro designed cameras. I really like the way the Pen-F looks. And I gotta say, I was enamored with the OMD EM5 just before I bought it 4 years ago to replace my behemoth Canons. It hearkened back to my youth and felt more natural somehow than the magnesium alloy/polycarbonate bodies I'd been using. Thankfully, the EM5, although it looks retro, maintains quite a few useful, modern UI elements.

After shooting magazine stories for nearly 20 years, I have to say that in my working hands, I prefer the ease of access of the under-the-index-finger shutter speed dial and the thumb-reachable aperture dial of the now classic, modern camera design ethos.

I sorely miss the lens mounted aperture dial, and more so the DOF markings. But I never really cared for the shutter speed dial on top of the camera. (and really, I only want the DOF markings back(and not out of sight in AF mode like some modern lenses). I like the rear dial too much)

As I mentioned with the EM5, I like the look of the classic SLR design that I grew up with combined with a modern, ergonomic UI. (let's not discuss it's menus, however!)

If push came to shove, I would take a modern looking camera with good, fast UI, over a pretty camera that required I take it away from my eye to make settings changes.

"Why put the little front knob on the front of the Pen F except that it looks like the slow shutter-speed dial on the front of a Leica III?"

Just so. And worse, it's really in the way there. At least with my hands, the edge of it digs uncomfortably into my forefinger when I hold the camera normally. I actually made a "ramp" up the edge with Sugru. It solved the problem, but to the keen eye it's clear that it did not belong to the original design. Well, to me function goes above form, but it's still a compromise which should not be necessary.

(To those who don't know what Sugru is, it's one of the most useful substances I've come across in years. "Moldable glue". It can make strong shapes and glue them to glass, metal, wood, plastic...)

Excerpt from Michael Reichmann review on Luminous Landscape regarding his impressions on the Leica S007...

"I have some concerns about the S(007)’s user interface. Except with the addition of Live View and a joystick it hasn’t changed all that much since the previous generation. The problem as I see it is that there simply aren’t enough direct controls. I know that Leica has tried for elegance and simplicity, but in doing so it has broken the first rule of ergonomics – that form should follow function. In the case of the S camera, sadly, function seems to follow form, and in doing so gets in the way of the S being as productive a tool as it could be.

For example, functions such as mirror lock-up are only accessible via the rear LCD menus. Others can be programmed onto one of the four rear custom buttons, but four buttons turns out simply not to be enough. No matter how you program them there will be functions that are used moment-to-moment when shooting that will require menu diving.

And how does one get to these menus? Through these same four buttons. Depending on what mode you’re in a long press or a short press either calls up a programmed function or a menu. Frankly, after three weeks of shooting with the S (007) I never became really comfortable with the controls.

On the other hand, the Pentax 645z (which I own) has some 25 external buttons, and while at first it looks intimidating, after a day or so it becomes second nature to access almost any of the camera’s functions without looking twice – quickly and directly."

Mike there will always be a part of us who will hanker after classically designed products even though we know in our hearts that more modern designs might be more practical, hence the success of the Mazda 5x which for most of us is totally impractical but we can't but lust after.

Long may we maintain these dreams, for something dies in us when we surrender them.

[Mazda 5x?? --Mike]

Mike --

i agree with our point about the tension between "retro" and ergonomic evolution of, particularly, a functionally evolving item like a camera body. But i think you left out two important concerns: the fact that, as noted, camera bodies are evolving functionally, and that users have an ergonomic "investment" in using earlier models. These factors are in tension.

One reason that i have a little more trouble accommodating myself to my various m4/3 models is the radically changing ergonomics even within a brand. Both Panasonic and Olympus have slowed down tweaking their "pro" bodies but the rest of both lines change the ergonomics radically in model-to-model iterations. Neither Canon or Nikon alter such things anywhere near as much even for consumer lines. So one reason for conservatism in evolving controls is consumer "investment" in the previous models' layouts.

A competing factor is the increasing functionality expected from these bodies which necessitates "new" controls. A contemporary body is but a printer away from the mini-labs of the film era. Without external controls, this expanded function set requires these functions being buried within the display menu infrastructure; a distinctly sub-optimal solution for all concerned. Thus we get things like Oly placing picture "styles" on an external control; where to put it? How about a dial that looks like an ancient slow shutter speed control (that even the 1935 Leica designer probably didn't think was optimal at the time)?

I shoot Nikon and have had five dSLR bodies starting with the d80. Though not intentionally so, you could call each of them "retro" in the sense that they were instantly use-able if one was familiar with the predecessor. The same could not be said of the half dozen m43 bodies on my shelf. Hah! Even the d80 wasn't a huge stretch from the (beloved) film F100. I do not believe that my spouse could tell the dSLRs apart. But their heritage doesn't extend back long enough to be "retro" in our current generation . . .

Designers ultimately have to sell cameras and, to do so, both create use-able tools for customers and, perhaps, appeal to nostalgia or their aesthetic sense. Those factors will always be in tension.

-- gary

I think there is a level at which 'retro' cameras make sense, but it's nothing to do with being retro.

I have some background in electric & electronic music, and something related to what has happened to cameras happened there in the early 1980s: synths became significantly more complicated but at the same time lost most of their knobs -- think of the sort of thing Rick Wakeman played in 1973 vs what Depeche Mode would play ten years later. This loss of knobs was partly because a complicated digits synth would require an absurd number of knobs, but quite largely because roadworthy knobs cost a surprisingly large amount of money.

The consequence of this is that it became enormously hard to understand what a synth was doing, because you had to navigate through some huge menu system: you could no longer look at it and see how it was set up. In practice almost everyone just used the presets that came with the instrument.

The same is true for cameras: my film cameras typically have four controls which matter, three of which (focus, aperture, exposure) you adjust frequently and one (film speed) occasionally. (They have some other controls, but they are dusty with disuse.) The state of of these controls can be seen at a glance, and a slightly different view of them through the viewfinder. I have no idea how many parameters a serious digital camera has, but it is probably closer to 100 than 10. And although it has many knobs the ratio of knobs to parameters has fallen dramatically, and there is no standardisation of what the knobs do. And many of the 'knobs' are now switches of various kinds whose state can not be read by looking at them. Mostly, people just use the presets.

Well, an interesting thing has happened to synths: people have realised that knob-per-function is a desirable thing and you can now buy synths which look 'retro' because they are covered in knobs: partly this is because they *are* retro, but largely it is because they are just glorious to play: you can look at the instrument and understand its state, and know what knob to turn to change its state.

And the good part of retro cameras might be the same thing: a modern camera which understands that there are, in fact, only four parameters which really matter, and which exposes those parameters directly via fixed-function adjustments whose state can be read at a glance. I am not sure if such a camera exists, yet, but it will.

It seems to me that the older cameras were trying to maximize function, with a few allowances for style and trends. Now, in some cases, they are trying to maximize style while maintaining function, and also juggling massive feature creep.

The one new camera that looks most impressive to me for simple, functional, non-retro design is the Hasselblad X1D. Take a few seconds to scroll through the photos on their promotional site:

http://www.hasselblad.com/x1d

Have been actively shooting since the 70's with 35mm, 120 and Large Format in various sizes. I am fine with cameras that have controls where I am used to them. I can see where some might prefer buttons and touching a screen as well as electronic finders.
I don't. I like what I am used as it feels comfortable and familiar. I am not against changing things but some of the newer cameras are just too small. No 'real estate' to hold onto when shooting. Many are not comfortable when shooting vertical compositions which I do a lot.
Really wish the top models had interchangable finders as Nikon and Canon used to do. Eye controlled focus on the EOS3 worked well for some of us - where is it on the new Digital stuff? Where is ISO 25 and slower?
Comfort and confidence comes from familiarity. Porsche or Pinto, Leica or Instamatic, if we use it we tend to get used to it even if we wish some things were a bit different.
Hanging a tiny body on the end of a 600 f/4 lens has it feeling seriously unbalanced. The bigger pro bodies feel right. They help with both handling and balance. Optical finders are still excellent in low light and night work, even for those of us with declining visual acuity who are more than happy that AutoFocus had helped us.
Then, battery life on newer gear. The bigger bodies have bigger batteries that make life much easier. In my case I get to shoot all day at 20 below zero without having to change a battery in the big Canon 1 series bodies. Much nicer than taking off the gloves and dropping a tiny battery in the snow on a frozen lake while photographing an ice fishing outing.
Almost anything out there now can take good images. If it fits and is comfortable, it works for me.

Looking at Olympus brings to mind (part of) one of the Herb Keppler quotes I found on Pop Photo's remembrance page: "Meanwhile, my kingdom for an SLR I can operate when I'm wearing my winter mittens."

Not that a Sony or Panasonic would be any better. As much as I love the concept of retro controls, I do enjoy the dual dials on my Nikon DSLR for quick changes of settings (I shoot a lot in M mode, using Auto ISO, often shooting many shots at the same settings, but occasionally needing to tweak either f-stop or shutter speed).

I haven't really paid too much attention to controls - I know I like the look of Fuji controls and I know that the original EM1 was really intimidating. My Nikon D7000 and Sony A6000 are both competent, if somewhat uninspiring. Sony is free from the constraint of retro, but doesn't really go very far in trying hard to be usable. The sometimes-maligned RX100 I find to be good for such a small camera. But I couldn't really pick a camera that stands out as right for me (because control layout wasn't that high a priority) nor could I call one out as particularly awful for me (though my suspicion is it would be from Olympus). It is interesting to see Leica trying new things. And while Fuji is decidedly retro, the new X-T2 looks pretty convenient and that joystick seems to get good reviews. (I'm in the market for a new laptop and am about 95% certain it's going to be a Lenovo Thinkpad because I just don't want to give up my trackpoint controller).

Despite the overwhelming controls on Olympus bodies, the cameras I think I get along with worst of all are those with minimal controls that require menu diving (like my Nikon 1 J1 or my original Sony NEX-5). For that reason, I'm not convinced that Leica's simplistic touch-based cameras would be very satisfying. (I feel no obligation to give them a fair shake, since they're priced out of contention anyway).

I have a suspicion that I would like Panasonic cameras very much (particularly one with an articulating LCD, which I prefer over a tilting LCD, and with the tilting EVF that you recently featured). Not that they do everything well - I tried out a GM5 (the tiny model that shipped with the 12-32) and found it a fiddly little thing.

Four of my favorite cameras are Minolta Dynax 7 (film) and 7D and Fuji's X-Pro1 and X-Pro2. The ISO dial on the X-Pro2 is the only piece that was gilded a bit too much.

Or maybe it's because they had it right and the last 20 years have just been an attempt to reinvent the wheel.

I like my SL a lot but I can't set my aperture and shutter before I turn it on. Nor can I check my settings while the power is off. The power switch is in the wrong spot. It should, like the M, or a Nikon/Sony/Fuji be around the shutter button. To me it makes complete sense to have the aperture dial on the lens. My right hand is already doing so much yet my left seems to be doing nothing except holding the camera off the ground.

I do think some things are a step back. I'm not keen on the ISO dial on the XPro2. But in general simple tactile controls, even electronically driven, are more satisfying in use than a button with 11 independent functions. The fact that these cameras do seem to be popular and that second and third editions are being released says others agree with me. Retro styling works because the designs were good. And they still are.

I think the reason that the S, SL and TL work isn't that they're a clean slate. It's because they have fewer buttons. The SL has about as many buttons as I can remember without having to refer to the manual. They don't need labels because they made it so they don't have to. The Sony and Olympus cameras seem to have so many things to push, twiddle and rotate that some of them are redundant in some modes. The SL has 8 buttons, two dial, a joystick and a shutter. An A7R2 has 13 buttons 5 dials and a shutter, all, except one, operated with the right hand and yet can't manage to have a direct way of switching between the rear screen and EVF, without a menu cludge.

No wonder the Fuji's and Pen F are popular.

Gordon

Most of the criticism about the Pen F's front dial isn't that it's retro, it's because the dial only controls the color emulator function, a minor JPEG-only function. And as much as I like the Fuji X system, I think putting aperture control back on lenses is retro in a BAD way, especially on lenses that don't have marked f-stops.

Except, lots of things have evolved over time to the most convenient or comfortable location for them.

I work more quickly and fluidly with SLRs that have current controls, particularly when the there are enough button-with-dial combinations to minimise the use of the menu system. On the other hand, I'm very drawn to retro camera designs (I like the look of the X100 more than I do my current Nikon). They don't work quite as well for me, sadly. One example: even though I hated the idea of not being able to change aperture using a ring control on the lens when I switched to digital SLRs, I now find the old method clumsy. Also, I'm in the habit of turning cameras off when I've taken the last shot of a series and on the Nikons, you can accidentally spin the front or rear dials or press buttons with no ill effects—you need only worry about the mode dial. On the FujiFilm, any spinning of the control dials is read by the the camera when it's next powered up—and it still throws me.

It reminds of paper notebooks vs. apps on the phone. When I look at a paper notebook from years ago, the writing, the distinctive appearance of a specific notebook, the feel of the paper paper and the drawings remind of where I was and what I felt when I made the note. Even hastily scrawled, cryptic notes from way back mean something to me now. Electronic notes, with their letter-perfect blandness, need to be more detailed to be be meaningful and are less satisfying visually. Despite that, all my notes are electronic – being able to search through years' worth of notes with a few keystrokes is invaluable and having synchronised data available on all devices is a wonder.

With both modern camera controls and electronic notes, I know for sure I've benefitted but also feel I've lost something important. It's odd.

My immediate thought was that the opposite to retro is now Sony with Zeiss Batis lenses: a lot of custom buttons and software, lenses where even the focus rings are smooth. Both work well, though in fairness Sony's controls are more of a natural evolution rather than a revolution.

The full definition of retro (short for retrograde) also includes looking backward to an inferior or less developed state. So are dials, buttons and levers necessarily inferior to (for example) software and touchscreens? Or is it only where something is located that determines its "retroness?" What if Olympus had placed the on/off switch in front of the shutter button? There are plenty of older cameras that use the same location, so would this be any more or less retro for Olympus to use the same arrangement?

Based on my experience with electric guitars and amplifiers I can tell you that the reason this equipment looks almost exactly like it did 50 years ago is because these simple and basic designs are easier to understand and use in a performance situation. There is an extent to which this could be true for cameras as well.

You make some good points, Mike, but what the problems you point out seem to be are retro for the sake of retro. I find the X-T1 to be the funnest digital camera I've used.

I tried both crop and full frame Sony mirrorless. Great images. Ergonomics? Yuck. There are good things to learn from the past. Sony ignored them.

I do own a Panasonic G-X85 and it's a nice pocket camera, especially with the 20mm lens. The menu system seems logical, maybe the best I've used. It just isn't as fun as the Fuji, that invites me to shoot without menus after initial setup

The new Leicas are cool, as is the new Hasseblad. They don't seem to foster at your eye exposure changes like the Fuji.

Where "retro" brings back a elegant and/or familiar control or feature, I'm all over that. I don't own an OM-D, and it's not likely I will. But that on-off switch is, to me, "sweet" - it ergonomic in my estimation, as well as being simple and elegant. As always, YMMV.

OTOH, I probably won't ever own an OM-D because it isn't really a digital OM. By that I mean that it's too small, the dimensions are not "right" for me and it is cluttered. If I could afford a digital M (which I cannot) I would have one because it is, again for me, just right in the hand. And it has a real rangefinder/viewfinder.

Knobs 'n' dials = retro? Retro-shmetro. What I like about my LX100, after a deep excursion into m43 ILC for a few years, is that most of the things I want to change on-the-fly are right there for my fingers. No pulling the camera away, pushing the Menu button, putting on my reading glasses, and squinting in bright light to find (or remember, if I'm lucky) the single thing I want to change.

I wouldn't call the e-m1 retro. If it is, it would be late 80s AF retro. It has modern twin control dials, a PASM wheel and a chunky grip. Angular styling is of the moment in industrial design. Come to think of it, none of the Om-Ds look retro to me, except for having an SLR-like look, and they feel and operate like modern cameras.

Now the Pen F and the Fujis are true retro, though the Olympus have a modern control scheme.

[I meant the on/off switch is retro; didn't really mean to say anything about the whole camera. I was pressed yesterday (all the repairmen were here and the dogs were going crazy) and I wasn't writing well. --Mike]

[Sorry, long comment here! Hopefully of interest]
I come at this from the standpoint of someone who's done industrial design and interaction design for a couple of decades, and photography for as long (Fuji shooter here too). What we're seeing is a pendulum swing now "back" to knobs and dials, and surely it will swing back again.

The watershed camera IMO in the move away from knobs and dials was the Canon T-90, which was designed by Luigi Colani and informed by his concept of "biodynamics". I love this quote from Colani: "It took two years of me telling them [Canon] that a camera is a thing between the human hand and the human eye, so it had to have ergonomics on both sides!"

It created the template for the modern SLR even now 30 years later. It was a breakthrough design in many ways, one of which was its interaction model: a function-agnostic single dial whose behavior was modified by other buttons. Virtually every camera today, even the knobs-and-dials heavy ones, use this paradigm to some extent.

The T90 introduced it for the same reason it's still in common use today - dedicated knobs and dials are impractical as the feature set grows beyond a certain point - you can't continue to map control-to-feature 1:1 ad infinitum. So it's great for flexibility, but it imposes a cognitive load on the user - you have to remember what mode the camera is in and what the dial will do, and you have to learn all the button combos, which Fn button you've mapped to a setting, which menu tab a setting is buried in, etc. Some cameras make this easier than others, and some people are more comfortable going up that learning curve than others.

I shot with a T90 for many years before switching to digital, and have little experience before that with a more traditional knobs-and-dials camera. So for me it's not so much the retro aspect of the Fuji's that appeals to me, it's more that they have "glance-ability" - I can quickly tell how the camera is set, even when it's turned off or asleep. It feels like I have more direct control over what's going on, rather than intermediated by electronics. I give up some power functions, but for me it's worth that tradeoff, and makes the camera faster, more straightforward, more predictable, to operate.

As you note, digital cameras could push beyond the conventional analog controls, and some do successfully. Like the early days of digital cameras when we saw crazy form-factors like the Sony 707 and the whacky Nikon flippy Coolpix, we could probably do with more of a shake-up of UI. Though I would argue that it's the LCD/touchscreen UI's that need more of that than the physical controls - most of them are horrible...

But just because something is newer doesn't mean it's better. Remember when cars went through a phase in the late 80's of digital displays instead of analog gauges, a la Knight Rider? Now they're back to analog gauges again - or high-def digital representations of them. Same thing with wristwatches.

PS. I've got a write-up about the T90 design and lots of photos of it at. Still one of the best-looking cameras ever made, in my opinion. http://www.massmadesoul.com/canont90

The reason I really, really hate retro, is that form doesn't follow function.

The automobile still has a retro steering wheel because no-one has come-up with a better way to guide a car. Gauges with traditional. swinging needles are harder to read than digital read-outs. What cars need is a heads-up display—no need to take your eyes off the road to check your speed, or how much fuel you have left. Having you phone integrated into the HUD would also be safer. BTW a floor mounted shifter for an automatic transmission, make much less sense than Chryslers pushbutton shifters introduced in the 1950s (retro that is a better idea).

[You would like the new Acura TLX (I drove a loaner when my ILX was being serviced). Pushbutton PRNDL...except for reverse, which you have to hook your finger under and pull up!

I liked it. --Mike]

And now back to cameras. Knobs 'n' dials are sorta like steering wheels, they just work (and aren't really retro, just practical). Having a faux pentaprism on a camera with an EVF, is like having a buggy-whip holder on your cars dashboard. Faux pentaprisms get in the way of Tilt & Shift adapters, and faux slow shutter-speed dials get in the way of fingers—why would I want an Olympus?

The simple to use and inexpensive to make, iPhone-like Leica T touch-screen is the future. Add a pair of eye-glasses with a HUD, and that would be perfection.

["HUD" means Housing and Urban Development as far as I can figure out. Somehow I think you must have something else in mind...? --Mike]

Gotta add the lens into the "retro" equation too. I like the aperture ring on my lens. ISO, shutter speed & exposure compensation are all things that belong on a dial. After that, modern style "quick menus" are great for taking care of less frequently set options. I shot film for 40 years so I like a digital camera to "function" as similar to the film era as is possible, but still not ignore new advances.

"As time goes on, on the other hand, the M seems more and more out of sync with the rest of the lineup. I'm sure Leica will never abandon the M—the company will protect its customers who are invested in M lenses, if for no other reason—but the fact that the M is so heavily influenced by retro styling cues and design makes it seem more and more like an odd bird in the flock."

Come back Mike. Come back off that limb. There is actually zero point zero chance that the Leica M goes away as long as Leica is a going concern. There are very few products in the world so inextricably linked with the identity of its creator. The Leica M camera is in the same rarefied air as the Harley V-Twin and the Porsche 911. They may - and have - changed the heck out of them. But none of these companies would be the same without their legacy product.

I have had my PEN-F for a month or so and like it a lot. Actually, considering there is no front bulge I have found that the rear thumb protuberance along with the front knob actually works pretty well for holding. While my index finger is on the shutter button my middle finger sits just underneath the knob and against it. My finger has a stop so doesn't slide up and the whole effect is to give a better hold on the camera. Yes, that is not the reason for the knob, but it is a very nice side benefit.

Personally, I like the look and feel of the PEN-F along with my several prime lenses or my 2 small zooms. All the controls do something so they are not just non-functioning decoration that are there just to look retro.

By the way, the whole idea of retro with regards to digital cameras is not all that meaningful to me. Most DSLRs look like 30-35 years old film SLRs. Pretty retro. Some mirrorless look like 40 years old film SLRs (Fuji, Sony, and Olympus OM-D) and some like the PEN-F look like Leica, Contax, Canon, and Nikon RFs. Even Sony E-mount cameras don't look all that different. I guess the Sigma Quattro dp2, Sony QX1, and Olympus Air 01 are fairly new camera designs though.

>>Retro styling cues are nice in some ways, but in other ways they represent the weight of tradition creating a sort of distortion, a limitation on fresh thinking in design.<<

Hmm, maybe. But it's also possible that, at least when it comes to manual control, camera ergonomics more or less peaked with the SLRs of the '70s and '80s, and digital cameras have gotten away from that, only to return under the banner of retro. Those older cameras weren't necessarily designed to look good but to function well, and they did. Digital cameras do so many more things than film cameras that changes to the ergonomics were unavoidable, but that doesn't mean they are an improvement.

It also depends on what you're familiar with. I started out on an OM-1 and OM2S, and the on-off switch was just fine on the upper plate at left. On my OMD EM-5, it feels a little out of place on the rear panel. I haven't sprung for the new EM-1 II, but when I tried it in a shop, the on-off switch felt like going home. A small matter (a bit surprised by all the grousing!), and not hard to adjust to either way.

There must be some good ideas on older cameras that would improve the control layout of modern cameras. Sony cameras certainly have needed help over the years.

The two you mention are good examples of what may be amusing but not the best solutions. The Olympus on/off switch was on the first SLR I bought and it would amuse me to have to look for it, even though it really is a bad idea.

The backwards shutter speed dial (relative to the light meter) on my Sony a7 reminds me of the equally dysfunctional control on my my Leica M6 (early, later called "classic") But it really does go the wrong direction.

How did they manage to replicate that error?

I personally think Fujifilm does retro right. The dedicated dials serve a real photographic purpose. Some people hate the imbedded ISO dial in the shutter dial of the X-Pro2, but it works...really well...and it keeps the camera looking clean while providing direct access to one of the prime control parameters.

I have been tempted by Olympus. They are pretty, and I like the IDEA of IBIS, but I can't help but feeling like a poser with a retro camera with features I don't use, and are there for the sake of appearances.

Just give me an aperture ring, please; I like shutter and ISO dials well enough, but I tend to set them on "auto" and then never touch them again.

It's not nostalgia, because I didn't learn on cameras with aperture rings.

A nice thing about the E-M1 and its on/off switch is that it is out of the way. I automatically turn it on with my left hand when I lift up the camera or take it out of the bag. Then I never go anywhere near the on/off switch until I purposely turn the camera off. That was not the case with another camera I owned that had the on/off switch placed around the shutter release button. Sometimes I turned it off accidentally, or I got fidgety and started playing with it.

Another nice thing about the E-M1 is that you can turn some of the buttons/switches off if you want. I use a minimum of the many available controls, almost exclusively the front and rear dials, plus a custom function button.

The controls on the Fuji XT 2 look great. Dials just like I might use from time to time, plus the front and rear dials. And some of the lenses have the aperture control on the lens! I miss that. Just imagine, changing the aperture and spinning a control dial at the same time. Hard to do those two operations simultaneously with the same hand.

The XT 1 came out shortly after I purchased the E-M1. I stay away from Samy's so I won't have to resist picking one up. :-)

May I make a suggestion? When you discuss cameras or other equipment, make the name a hot link to B&H and/or Amazon. It might help to stimulate some sales through TOP. As we say, what could it hurt?

When it comes to ergonomics clearly 'one man's meat is another man's poison' and is partly, if not mostly, determined by what you are used to.

Someone said that Fujis lens ring aperture control is a bad thing. I think it is a good thing because you control the aperture with your left hand leaving your right hand on the shutter button. It's all a matter of taste.

Also when a design feature becomes standard it is usually because it works best that way.

I agree that retro design is a big problem. So today's cameras have rehashed and built on the elegance and clarity of Canon/Colani's T90 to the point where all everything is a huge muddle.

Cameras need that sort of long hard look once again if they are to beat the march of the smartphone in anything but the most specialised niches.

Retro may be a sign of lack of new ideas. Or a commercial hype of fashionable gadgets. Sometimes though it is better to go back, better to have a renaissance, than to move on in a dead end street. Aren’t the Leica III and Olympus OM-1 not a much nicer source of inspiration than the amorphous forms, the huge lumps of tar where the Canons and Nikons have been stuck in? For many dark decades by now. Being a designer myself I know that one should avoid words like ‘pretty’ and ‘ugly’ as arguments. But when it comes the styling of modern DSLR’s the primary description that comes up is ‘pretty ugly.’

When I bought my E-M5 four years ago I hesitated because of the design survival of the pentaprism that is not a pentaprism at all. Fuji does the same with its X-T models. The front dial of the PEN-F also puts me off, but not as much as that guy in its commercials. You know, that smart looking one we all would love smack in the face. Come on Olympus! Focus on optics and innovation, not on lifestyle!

With Fuji I am not sure. Is it retro or is it because they never modernized? You see that with Japanese cars too. They can be very conservative up there, but in fact, the more conservative their designs are, the better they often look. Your identity is a part of your core and soul. Design should be a translation of that.
The camera companies that are least struggling with that are Fujifilm and Leica.

A small counterpoint to Dave Karp's note about liking the placement of the OM-1 on/off switch.

I prefer the switch being around the shutter. Since I always use a wrist strap and carry the camera in my hand, I can turn the camera on with a small flick before even starting to bring it up to my eye. And similarly, I can also turn it off while it hangs at my side if the pictures aren't presenting themselves. I always found it fiddly that on my previous Canon that the switch was on the upper left. But to each our own!

A sneek peek at this year's new products!

Mike, as a longtime Leica user who most enjoys the spontaneity its design favors, my biggest complaint about these cameras is the difficulty of shooting with pre-focus or via calculation of hyperfocal distance, meaning one simply frames the shot then activates the shutter, having already taken into account distance from the subject.
I'm a Fuji x100S user, and enjoy many things about this camera, but it does not make doing this anything like as easy as a Leica. Do any of these retro cameras?

I think there are just too many buttons on today's cameras. I am probably old fashioned but all one really needs is a shutter speed dial, an aperture dial, an ISO dial and an on/off. The rest of the stuff is pure glitz. On my Fuji X-Pro 2 I have set the focus area and mentoring are and never looked at it again. Its an auto-focus camera so I have never used the manual focus. As for the menu—its exhausting. What I really dislike though is when I accidentally hit one of those buttons and things begin to go strange (like shooting jpeg instead of RAW). Too many buttons and dials. I prefer the simplicity of my M240.

The one thing I dislike about my Pen F's controls is the on/off switch. Don't like the placement on the left hand side, it's way too easy to move it in normal handling, and to see its status you have to look down on the top of the camera. Seems like an affectation to me. The small vertical front dial, on the other hand, I quite like, mainly because I actually use it for its intended purpose. I never did get on with the E-M1 I owned for a while, just didn't get all those switches & buttons. For me, they got in the way of taking photos.

"HUD" means Housing and Urban Development as far as I can figure out. Somehow I think you must have something else in mind...? --Mike

I defined HUD, in the second paragraph, while talking about car design. Gauges with traditional. swinging needles are harder to read than digital read-outs. What cars need is a heads-up display—no need to take your eyes off the road to check your speed, or how much fuel you have left. Having you phone integrated into the HUD would also be safer.

Here' what Wikipedia has to say: A head-up display or heads-up display, also known as a HUD is any transparent display that presents data without requiring users to look away from their usual viewpoints. The origin of the name stems from a pilot being able to view information with the head positioned "up" and looking forward, instead of angled down looking at lower instruments. A HUD also has the advantage that the pilot's eyes do not need to refocus to view the outside after looking at the optically nearer instruments.

Although they were initially developed for military aviation, HUDs are now used in commercial aircraft, automobiles and other, mostly professional applications. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head-up_display

give someone a heads up. ​ to tell someone that something is going to happen: I just wanted to give you all a heads up that we will be talking about the first two chapters of the book tomorrow. http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/give-someone-a-heads-up BTW this is exactly what a HUD does, i.e. that you are going to run out of fuel (when using a HUD fuel gauge).

I'm from a generation where many men, and a very few women, served in the military. Therefore I sometimes forget that younger people are not familiar with military terms like HUD, FUBAR and SNAFU. Another thing that the military taught me is how to hold a weapon, or a camera steady, with-out the need for IBIS (In Body Image Stabilisation). Your mileage may vary.

['Kay. Editorially that is handled like this: "Gauges with traditional. swinging needles are harder to read than digital read-outs. What cars need is a heads-up display (HUD)—no need to take your eyes off the road to check your speed, or how much fuel you have left." Then any subsequent mention can use the acronym, initialism, or abbreviation, whatever it is.

No worries. I skim these comments pretty quickly. --Mike]

Why does anyone need an exposure compensation dial? Way-back, when I worked in Hollywood, it was common to test a new film when it first came out. Kodak may have rated a film at ASA/ISO 100, but from your testing you knew that ASA/ISO 125 is what tested best for you. When working with 5247/7247 I set my meter at ASA/ISO 125, instead of Kodak's recommend ASA/ISO 100—simple as that.

I prefer cameras that don't get in the way of photography. More dials and more buttons, just get in my way. Too much technology today is overly complicated, just to make you feel that you are more in control. Meh!

I detest "retro" styling for its own sake - a cynical contrivance meant to appeal to the desperate longings of those, young and old, who feel displaced by contemporary technology. But what I despise even more is throwing out the baby with the bathwater - the idea that new technology necessitates reinventing the wheel.

Form follows function is the formula to follow as far as I'm concerned. The basic UI of the small camera was refined over many decades and generations. It didn't suddenly become useless because of the advent of digital, and yet to look at many of the offerings among cameras since then, you'd think it had.

The knob and the dial, thoughtfully placed, are still the quickest way to get from A to B. Being able to adjust what I need to without taking the camera from my eye is as important to me now as it was when I was using film. That's what I most appreciate about the X-T1/X-T2. But, of course, I also appreciate, thanks to current technology, that I can flip out the screen and use the camera as a TLR, holding it above my head or at waist level.

The best cameras, in my view, take what was best from all those decades of refinement and combine it with what current technology allows for. The surprise, to me, is that so few companies really get this right, Fuji being more the exception than the rule.

Fuji seems to get retro best, in that while they are working to make their cameras fit a classic look, they are also delivering a great UI, at least to me. Olympus has the look down, but like others on this thread, a big part of the utility of manual controls is being to see and modify settings even when the camera is off, which the Oly's can't do. I loved EOS cameras as a film user, which makes me laugh that I now get very frustrated with mode-based controls. Being able to set ISO, Shutter, Aperture manual or to 'A' as i need is faster for me, now.

The battery on the Nikon FE lasted about a year unless you left the frame advance lever half-cocked, in which case it drained the battery.

The loss of the charge in that little Mallory cell was heartbreaking, even if you had a store of batteries on the shelf.

The FE2 had a built-in cut-off to prevent the battery draining. And that technological advance was pure pleasure.

I strongly disagree with the "gauges being harder to read" than digital readouts. Yes, they are more difficult to actually read the number, but if you just need an indication of the setting (e.g. speed, vehicular or shutter), the quick visual indication of the angle is much quicker than having your brain process a number and understand what that means.

I find that with the overwhelming amount of information in the viewfinder/display these days, I actually take the camera away from my eye so much more than in the film days, and settle on looking at the top LCD display (if available on the camera at hand, or secretly hope that a labelled shutter speed dial was there). Maybe that's just me. I still don't feel as naturally connected to the camera at hand (despite trying to familiarize myself over several years and many thousands of shots).

It's why knobs and dials were/are important in a usability sense (as you could change settings without taking your eye away). For some reason, I just don't trust the dials/buttons etc. on "modern" cameras when combined with information overload. This is where the iPhone approach is actually welcome from a new design sense as it's been simplified to the extreme (maybe too much for more serious users?).

Maybe it's just that most camera displays haven't been designed to focus on the priority exposure variables and have just dumped everything into view. It would be nice to be able to fine tune this on all cameras, as well as the information displays anywhere on the camera. I don't see why not, and I know there are multiple display modes available on most cameras, but it's usually "digital readouts" and not analog gauges, and the options aren't typically fine-grained enough from what you can choose.

Back to retro cameras: I had hoped that the Epson RD1 aesthetic and gauges would have held more attention in the industry. Simple visual gauges to show how many shots you had left (empty to full, back when memory was expensive), white balance setting, quality setting, plus the analog shutter speed/ISO/exp. comp. dial. Alas...

As I was writing my earlier comment, I was thinking about the RD1, and I regret not mentioning it, so I'm glad Dave did. I too hoped the industry would pick up on its design cues and aesthetic (hell, Leica could have essentially stolen the entire design for its digital M and I'd have been happy) but it was not to be. I'm still hoping it happens, though. It's not too late.

That was small digital camera design done right - everything you needed, where you needed it, nothing you didn't need. That it also looked cool as all get out was just an added bonus.

Hi Mike
Re the design of the PenF, especially the front control - after being a little sceptical at first I've come to really like it. Maybe that says a lot about my inability to decide what sort of shots I'm taking - but it is great and makes me think far more about what I am seeing and how I want to capture it.
As for the rest of the camera as Patsy would say "absolutely fabulous"!
Happy New Year
Mike

The comments to this entry are closed.