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Tuesday, 26 May 2009


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I have a closet full of simple SLRs...problem is no D. The simplest of all (my first adult camera) doesn't even have an ISO dial, no meter, but it does have MLU! I would never sell it, out of respect...it taught me the basis of what I know of photography. On the other hand, I haven't used it in years, not since I acquired my first overly complicated camera with a D. Maybe I'm just getting old, but I would gladly welcome a supremely simple DSLR.

My favourite camera (to use) is both simple and of high quality (in my view -given your previous post). The Zeiss Ikon has fwe fripperies, but is a joy to make pictures with.



While reading the comments to your earlier post, I went and took this photo:


I used the exact same technique that I used when shooting my Leica M3 yesterday:

(The M3 had just come back from having its RF re-aligned after a bump.)

The technique? Get a base-line reading of the light (in-camera on the 5D, using an external meter with the M3). Set the aperture I want for effect. Vary the shutter speed based on changing light using my right forefinger on the shutter speed control (a dial on the M3 vs a little wheel on the 5D). Bring the camera to the eye, focus manually then release the shutter.

Both equally simple.

The only difference is that I pretty much have to use the M3 that way. There are many other ways to use the 5D. But I don't have to use it those ways unless I want to.

...Mike F

P.S. I use the frameline preview lever on my M3: I often shoot a 75mm Summilux lens, the framing for which is about half way between the 50mm framelines the lens brings up and the 90mm preview framelines. An MP has 75mm framelines, though.

a thought: if some intrepid experimenter felt like it, they could build such a "simple slr"- I just found out yesterday there's a company called Elphel making all the necessary parts to plug together a digital back to retrofit (read: make unusable for film) onto your favorite slr. What's more, all the software is open source, so if you want to implement a certain feature, it's technically possible to do so. I'd do it myself (probably starting with a leaf shutter body) but the sensor alone is $3000, mono or color.

It occurs to me, thinking about all the work that would go into such a camera, that it would probably be easier, in the case of an SLR, to just turn off the features you don't use on some current body, and leave it at that. Of course, if the camera feature (form factor/sensor configuration/insert pet peeve item here) you want doesn't exist, then it might be worthwhile to build it. You could put together a full frame b&w leica for example.

I am with Mike.

A simple digital camera should (only) have:

1. a focus ring or knob, to set the focus.
2. an aperture ring, to set the aperture.
3. a shutter-speed dial, to set the shutter speed.
4. an ISO dial
5. the shutter release button, to take the picture.

A WB dial is unnecessary if the camera only shot in RAW. :)

Oh, yeah, a power switch to turn the camera on and off.

I don't think you could get it down to six functions like an MP, but six controls might just be doable. Using the Pentax interface and stripping back the features you could have the following:
1. Off/AFc/AFs/MF switch
2. Prefocus/fire Shutter button (DOF stopdown)
3. Shutter Speed wheel (ISO)
4. Aperture wheel (Program mode)
5. Review/Menu button (delete)
6. Option button to get the (options) shown above - kind of like the right hand mouse button or the apple key.

Of course in MF mode you would need: 7. Focus ring

Pretty much everything else can be banished to the menus if you assume that the user will want RAW in most situations and shoot in Manual or Hyper mode. The option button would be on the front of the camera for use while shooting and the Review/Menu button would be on the back.

My simple camera wishlist:

-Take a body with the shape, size, and aesthetics of a Pentax LX (removable viewfinder not required)
-Put, preferably, a full frame sensor in it (Shake Reduction also not required)
-Forget AF. But include a focusing screen optimized for manual focusing
-Center weighted meter (and I wouldn't turn my nose up at a spot meter either)
-Include a genuine Pentax K mount that will actually couple to the lens aperture ring
-Top panel dial or rear thumbwheel for the shutter speed. It can have an option for Aperture Priority if you like.
-Hot shoe, depth of field preview, and mirror lockup
-Forget the big LCD. If possible, make a little histogram appear in the viewfinder, or possibly on a little top panel LCD after the shot.

And there you have it.

Great post, Mike. I've often thought how nice it would be to have a good, high-image-quality DSLR with only controls for ISO, Aperture, and Shutter speed since these are really the only ones I use on my current camera anyway. But, I'd probably be the only one who would buy it.

I must be from another planet. For me the purpose of technology is to simplify life. More technology adds features while poor technology makes them complicated.

Crack the whip on those camera engineers and build something reasonable.

Actually, what would most likely serve best would be an "M9" - M8 with full frame sensor and live view.

Full frame sensor makes all the lenses have full field of view again.

Live view lets macros, long lenses, lenses there is no viewfinder for, etc. be easily used.

Who said it had be a dSLR? Why not ust a D...

(Or maybe Olympus will spring a micro 4/3 on us with a small RF like form, and over time we can build up the lenses....)

For me...

Take a FM3a and put a sensor in it.

Let it shoot just RAW.

That's it. Nothing else needed.


Why not let the photographer define the simplicity by letting the photographer customize the camera? Let the photographer create the his or her desired specific menus on a Mac or PC and download them to the camera.

Those magic 6 controls are OK for a rangefinder, but as soon as the mirror and prism are added, at least two more become important, at least in the sense that serious photographers complain when they are missing: mirror lockup and depth-of-field preview. The first is needed only because of a problem created by the mirror; the second is possible only because of the mirror.

Adding the sensor requires a way to lock open the shutter so it can be cleaned. (Not necessary with film.) Even the Leica M8 does this.

There's a similar situation that arises when an LCD is added to the rear: turning it on or off, deciding what it should show (histogram or not, etc.), its brightness, and so on. Not to mention the recent addition of Live View. (Which is sensational for macro work, by the way.)

You can see what happens: A feature that sounds compelling and fairly simple (e.g., LCD) then brings with it a bag of other features.

I'm in the software business. I can tell you that, over the decades, I have seen only one criterion used for selecting among competing products: Number of features, and whether the required/desired features are present. Ease of use and ease of learning have, in my experience, NEVER been taken into account, even when they are explicitly listed as important criteria for the formal evaluation.

So, as a software designer whose job it is to create software that people want to buy, what do you think I do?

(I should also mention that I use Apple's OS X, and not because it is simpler than Windows or Linux. In fact, its appeal to me is its extraordinary depth of features. Go deep enough and you get to full-blown UNIX, which has been the prototypical hard-to-use system for 40 years.)


I must be weird, 'cause as much as the concept of simplicity appeals to me, I don't long for this "simple camera".

For me, a simple camera is what I get after I pick up a complex camera and figure out which controls I don't need.

How hard is it to ignore controls which one has decided not to use?

One problem, of course, is that each of us has a slightly different definition of which 5 or 6 things are the essential controls.

But I agree with the main point. When my KM 7D got long in the tooth and it was time to trade up I switched from being a lifetime Minolta shooter to Nikon (D300).

No doubt the D300 is a joy and takes great images. But after a year I'm still tripped up trying to figure out how to do simple things that seemed obvious on my Minolta and yearn for that type of simplicity again.

*Sigh* If only my Rolleiflex T had face detection ....

simple digital slrs do exist. it's just that they cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Rangefinders and mirrorboxes are not simple and can get easily out of adjustment. For me, a really simple camera looks like an Alpa...

Again, I am with Mike - Why there will never be a simple DSLR - on the previous post.

Just in the replys on this post we guys have different "needs". Is live view necessary? Is mirror lock-up necessary? Is DOF preview necessary? ...... For me, these features are never used. Or, these are only tested on the purchase of my camera. :-) Of course, that's just me.

And all these unique, diversed needs or even outcry for some specific features made todays DSLR a feature rich monster. ;)

One simple camera, often overlooked, was the Nikonos V... Simpler maybe then the Leica (no rangefinder), nearly indestructible... And of course waterproof !
With a terrestrial 28mm it would do great pictures when one got used to acquire distances by sight (it did have a cell of the FM2 sort).
The fact that it was bright orange added some similarities with Sony's "My first camera" and most crowd wouldn't really pay attention to it (helpful for street pictures).
If my memory serves me well, it was featured in the movie "Stargate" (the original) in it's military olive version...

while I agree that a simpler camera would be a nice tool for me. I still use a mere 10% of all the features of my Nikon D80, and for my shooting style it will not grow more than that. However the problem is that a camera as the one you depict has to incorporate the costs of R&D for the most complex gitzmos even if not present. R&D costs (which materialize before and regardless to a specific model) would be in place if the producer needs to have product lines that have all the bells an whistles.
There maybe a place for a producer not wanting to enter the arena of gitzmo competition but this hardly will happen since, I suspect, the R&D costs would be almost the same (Leica and Epson docet).
I think we should satisfy ourselves by not using the unwanted functions. But a thing that we could require is a "bare mode" menu entry that could spare us from reading a whole manual to understand how to disable everything (its funny that the time cost is the same using or not the offered features). The same applies in requiring basic values as water sealing as Pentax in every camera.

The Leica is still the quintecential example of the "simple" camera that takes superb pictures (in the right hands). So is the Zeiss and the Voightlander - and regrettablly the no gone Nikon SP. A venerable Nikon F in the right hands is still a superb picture taking machine.

Just think - what if Zeiss and Voightlander built digital versions of their rangefinder cameras ... without any additional frills. And if Pentax can build a supersealed tank for about the same price of a mid-level model from Nikon or Canon ... what if they just took out all the extraneous technojunk. Gee we might actually go back to focusing (excuse the pun) on photography ... corrcet aperture, appropriate shutter speed, precise focus and the esthetics of the art.

What a revolutionary idea!!!!!

Hi All,

I was thinking along the same lines this week. Dreaming of a Epson R-D1xG or M8, and wondering if not a DSLR with similar simplicity would not be even better. However as Aizan just commented the main problem with such cameras seems to be not the simplicity or the lack of there existence but the Price.

So I suggest a 7th (or 8th /9th depending on who's making the list) feature that such a "simple" camera must have -> A price tag below $1000.- Then everyone could get into the fun and the lack of sales to validate the development costs argument would surely be irrelevant.


sometimes simplicity even comes in the guise of complexity. Let's have a look at auto-ISO. I use a Nikon D300, and Nikon already does it quite well. You set a minimum shutter speed and a maximum ISO. That's it. Maximum ISO is always at 3200 for me, but the problem is the minimum shutter speed, because in reality that depends on focal length and the availability of stabilization. Thus I have to change the target speed upon each lens change.

A simple camera would have a very complex configuration system. It would allow for four shutter speed values and two focal lengths to be set: Let's say we choose 18mm and 300mm as focal lengths. For each of these lengths I would now be able to specify two target speeds, one for stabilization and one without. That's it. Depending upon the availability of stabilization (which is known to the camera) and the actual focal length (also known with modern lenses), the camera would calculate the actual target speed according to a simple linear equation. It would be firmware, nothing more.

Complicated, huh? Yes, but but a big simplifier as well, because it would turn specifying auto-ISO parameters from a once-per-lens-change into a once-in-a-lifetime operation. Camera life that is :)

I learnt on a little old Fujica STX-1 that was passed down to me. By necessity, I gained a good grasp of the principles of light being exposed onto film, which has been invaluable down the years. I only ever had one lens, and I loved the simplicity and total control.

However, I'm pretty much with the previous commenter - part of the process of "learning" a DSLR is finding out which settings are not necessary to fiddle with, and eventually you end up with a pretty simple experience.

However, I miss the fact the I completely understood every tiny detail of my camera, and the pure mechanical fell of it all.

This is really interesting. Although I kind of understand the desire for a simple camera, I tend to agree with those who suggest simply ignoring the features you don't need. If you're paying a fortune for the unneeded functionality, maybe it's worth worrying about, but I'm not so sure. The thing is that if you use your camera enough in a variety of situations, some of those extra features can suddenly become very useful.

For example, I don't normally shoot sports or wildlife, so I never really saw the need for high-speed continuous shooting capability. And then one day I'm in a factory trying to shoot a drop test (where they drop a product in it its packaging to see if anything breaks ... they actually have machines to do this), and how do you think I managed to capture the free-falling product in precisely the right spot? Yup, 5 fps. Would have been there all day without it.

Backlight compensation is another one. I thought it was a dumb, fluffy idea until I found myself in a situation in which it saved the shot.

Another thing I don't get is why people don't want WB control even if they do shoot RAW. If the camera gets it right, then you don't have to fiddle around getting it right in your RAW processor. It's not just for jpegs you know. Accurate WB can save a lot of time in PP.

When DSLRs start featuring egg timers or TV tuners, that's when I'll start to worry.


I agree ! It's exactly the way I use my brand new 3 years old DSLR 99% of the time : single central point AF, Aperture priority (sometimes manual), RAW mode, central average mettering. It's the way I always used and will always use a camera : it's all you need if you understand how a camera works and how a picture needs to be taken.
Another point : dedicated buttons for Aperture/speed, AE lock/compensation, ISO, and WB. That's it !
(And I'm a mid-time pro)

Mike, I just bought an F3 for long distance shooting. I find it compliments the simple shooting techniques of my M8 and M3. But, man, is that shutter loud (to my ears).

Albert Eisenstadt wanted a simple camera that operated much like an eyeball MK I. Just blink and you captured the image. Not sure how you would go about replacing the battery however.
And Mike, how about you or ctein doing a hands on review of this "eleph" sensor insert. That sounds to be of interest once they bring the price down.

It seems perfectly possible to do this with better software (or more configurable software)

Take a typical camera body with most of the bells and whistles and provide much higher levels of software customisation - create a 'landscape shooting profile' where mirror lockup is actually on a physical button. Or a 'sports profile' that enables disconnected AF and shooting buttons, or a 'RAW only' where anything to do with JPEG controls is just not present at all.

Maybe some of the buttons need to change their icons along the way too.

I realise I'm describing a more complex camera, so that it can be changed to look like several simple cameras, but you just let 'someone else' do the configuration and pick up their profiles. I'd even like to be able to write more intelligent exposure choice algorithms, that make the decisions and trade-offs I already make all the time (on when to shift to a higher ISO, or open up and so on)

Doesn't address the physical aspects of simplicity, but maybe that just needs a few bodies, all with flexible software profiles.

I still use my Epson RD-1s just for many of the reasons given. It is simplicity and some days I just want to keep things simple.

It may be "simpler" to shoot raw at the moment of capture but it's more work later. A camera that only shoots raw condemns one to sitting in front of a computer doing post-processing on every shot (or nearly every shot if you take lots of pictures in changing light conditions).

This may be fine for people who enjoy (and have time for) post-processing. But not everyone who wants to be able to understand photography and take decent pictures wants to get married to Lightroom.

Thus, there are perfectly good reasons to shoot jpeg and aim for getting the shot (including the WB) right in camera, so you can avoid having to post-process at all. For me, that's the simple approach.

Does one achieve ultimate quality this way? No. But are the results from raw so much better than jpeg that they make it reasonable for a non-professional to spend hours every night post-processing pictures of his kids? No. For people in this category, you want to spend your time taking pictures, enjoying your family, and enjoying the pictures -- not painstakingly editing them one by one.

Thank you, thank you Mike for this article! I personally have no problems understanding all 184 menu options on my SLR, but this is getting too much. It is getting in the way of photography.

If I had to, I would guess that of the total camera buying population the advanced amateur and pro shooter make up perhaps ten to twenty percent.

If I had to I'd say that approximately 80 + percent of these advanced amateurs and professional shooters use twenty percent of the options and controls of any given top-tier camera. The problem is, as you have so well pointed out Mike; which twenty percent?

Which features to cut, which to leave? What a dilemma for manufacturers! I've always personally thought the "feature" that takes away skill most is the histogram. Heck ... keep the whole LCD I say. Companies should be brave; I mean what is so wrong with camera sales in the teens anyways?

It has gotten that even gear heads use but a small percentage of the feature. Mostly, "features" use them.

After nine years digital I've recently gone back to film. I have the smell of fixer on my hands. I feel like I am participating in photography, that the picture belongs to me, not a programer's algorithm.

Leica. Six controls you say?

I'm going to be the contrarian here. I don't want the type of "simple" DSLR you describe. What I want is a camera that provides every control and feature option I might need but allows me to configure the physical controls (buttons, dials, etc.) to my liking. For example, if I wanted to set the front dial to control aperture and the rear dial to control shutter speed, regardless of what exposure mode I'm in, I could do it.

It might take a lot of underlying complexity to achieve this, but if the end result was a camera that operated exactly the way I wanted it to then I'd be a very happy camper.

In terms of manual focus film SLR exemplars, I think some folks were on target with the OM, especially regarding size and weight, and also regarding one thing perhaps implied, but unstated, on your wish list: excellent ergonomics. I'm thinking of the OM's gorgeous viewfinder and "no-look" handling.

At the other end of the "simple" spectrum, though not high-spec, I think of the Nikon EM--a tiny, "dumbed down" SLR locked in aperture priority mode. One dial did let you select bulb and a mechanical 1/90 sync speed, and another dial set ISO, which was also the means for exposure compensation. The only other controls were a button to overexpose by two stops and a self timer lever.

No, we won't see a "digital OM" from from Canon or Nikon or Sony, or even Olympus or Pentax or Sigma. If it comes at all, it likely comes from Cosina, in collaboration with a sensor maker. That is, if Cosina ever decided to experiment with digital. Stranger things have happened.

btw, if anyone was offended when I gerundized "babelfish" and verbed "URL", I apologize. I guess trying to read computer translations of Japanese into English can have side effects.

"5,000 actuations for an entry-level model."

Surely you must have meant 50,000 actuations? Five thousand would be a ridiculously small number. Even many amateurs would finish off such camera in a couple of months.

In the early digital camera era a company- who I forget the name of- tried to develop a digital back to replace the film door for existing film cameras but it was never realised commercially. If this had have come to fruition then that would have seen perhaps the only true development of a simple DSLR. Now ,however, cameras are packed with such complexity in order to make them 'simple' to use. I think we have come to a divergence in terminology that camera manufacturers will unfortunately scratch their heads and say, how much more simple do you want ? The problem for me is that the designers see it as necessary marketing to display the cameras inner functions on the outside (button bragging), and will not trust a large group of photographers to purchase what they want, which is a solid, simple tool, aka a digified SLR. The moment for such dreams has sadly passed.

It seems there are two ideas of simplicity here. One sees it as someone else taking care of the complexity and allowing the photographer to choose how simple to deal with it. The other sees it as bare bones controls and all the complexity taking place in the photographer's head.
I think of my Nikkormat when I think of simplicity. Film carriage, aperture ring, shutter speed ring (on the lens mount), ISO setting, shutter release, depth of field preview plunger, mirror lock-up, self-timer.
It took longer to program it (learning how to use it) but all of the algorithms were portable and required no batteries. That was simplicity.
How much of that can realistically be brought to the digital experience I don't know. Frankly the less I'm tied to the grid the better I feel. So any simplification that reduced dependency on "juice" would have my vote. Ditch the LCD altogether? All read-outs mechanical. No auto-focus. Mechanical shutter. I'd love to experience that again but I think the route to go is offering up the myriad features in a thank you/no thank you kind of way. But in a sensible way. Less clutter. Less chart junk. Take the good of the digital age - tons of features, and the best of the mechanical age - well thought-out design, and lump them all into a Nikkormat's body for a retro look. Got to leave something for marketing after all!

We should clarify one important thing: It seems to me that Mike was talking strictly about a simple Camera, while some are clearly yearning for a simple picture making Experience, from taking to end product: the photograph. One reason why many of us find the film camera experience so enjoyably simple is that very complex and critical processes like making and processing color film, and color printing, are done for us. (B&W, while it can difficult, painstaking and exacting, is relatively simple.)

This is another reason why such a camera is unlikely. If one is going to shoot only RAW and process every image, it's no great leap in effort to shoot and scan film, and one gets archival backup in the bargain. And in that case, it makes little sense for a new camera to compete with the vast and ready supply of simple high-spec cameras already in existence.

I'd like that high-spec light tight box, too, but I also want enough computing in the camera so that I can get the kind of jpegs I like without being tied to a computer-centric workflow. But I also want the RAWs saved for those images that need or deserve the effort at the workstation.

And there I am, right back at the film paradigm, which I also believe is one of the things holding back digital camera design. Well, what can I do? I guess I'm a Luddite and it's just my nature.

"Surely you must have meant 50,000 actuations?"

Actually, I don't know how many cycles the shutters in entry-level DSLRs are designed for. But in the film days, entry-level SLRs typically had shutters spec'd for 5,000 actuations. Kodak, which used to track such things when they were more easily trackable, determined that the average American consumer shot between 5 and 6 rolls of film (180-216 exposures) annually. (Statistically, 72 to 90 of those shots were exposed at a Disney theme park. 60% were pictures of children, and at least 36 shots were exposed a birthday party.) At that rate, a shutter in a low-level SLR would last the consumer for 23+ years, so 5,000 actuations actually incorporated a considerable safety margin.


Mark, Leica made a digital back for its R8 and R9 SLR's. Never saw one myself, but "beast" was a common epithet.

Bring back the OM-2:digital version, that is....

Andreas: a tip I found tremendously useful on using D200 auto-ISO was to turn on auto-iso and then set manual exposure. I'm now setting the aperture and shutter speed myself (thus getting around the need to change the minimum shutter speed when I changed lenses, which was a serious problem) and the camera is picking the ISO to make it work. You can also set shutter-priority mode and pick the shutter speed and let the camera pick aperture and ISO to match.

Vincent: Can you do commercially viable sports action shots using just the one central AF point today? I've heard professionals claiming no (I'm not a pro, and don't specialize in sports even as an amateur).

If I could have my dream simple digital camera, it would be similar to Mike's, but would have NO ability to 'chimp'... no LCD screen, and therefore no need for the "review/delete" functions.

Whenever I've suggested this on other sites, people have always responded by saying something like "put tape over the LCD if you don't want to look at it" or "you don't have to look at the LCD if you don't want to". That's not my point. I just love elegant simplicity and how it affects the creative process. All the "bells and whistles" of modern American consumer products has become truly annoying, time consuming, and generally a turn-off to buying any of this stuff! If you love all these buttons and functions, great. But why can't I have a Nikon FM3 with a digital sensor built in??

"This is another reason why such a camera is unlikely. If one is going to shoot only RAW and process every image, it's no great leap in effort to shoot and scan film, and one gets archival backup in the bargain"


According to Lightroom, I've shot and "developed" 97,000 raw images since 2005 and that doesn't count about 20,000 jpegs during that time, and probably as many that I threw out or used another raw processor and never imported the files.

When I shot film I would shoot and process an average of about 4 36 exposure rolls of 35mm or 4 120 rolls, or 30 feet of 70mm most days, and that was all personal work where where I would only carry as much film as would fit in my pockets. I only know this because I figured it out in 1986 when someone asked me.

Incidentally, the only camera I ever wore the shutter out on was a Canon 1Ds , but a 10d lasted for 20,000 ( rated for 10,000 from what I hear) exposures and was traded in as being in E+ condition. Go figure. Nikon FEs and F2s seemed to last forever, and I ran a couple hundred rolls through an Argus C3 without incident. I did have the mirror box of a Hasselblad come apart but that was 6 years after I bought a "Too ugly to rent" used body from a dealer / rental house who promised to fix it for 4 years.

Digital for me for the past 4 years has been better than 35mm , nowhere near as good as 70mm , but takes VASTLY less time and money. Digital is almost free, although I am getting the itch to start using 70mm B+W again now that it is available again

Of course everybody tells me that I'm not normal but that is my experience...

Have had a D200 for 3 years has hardly been off M setting, aperture priority forces me to use exposure compensation, which silly me I always thought that was done by the time and aperture ring. But some modern day items sneak in, switching between center weighted, matrix and spot metering. Using white balance, seems to me hitting the correct WB gives a slightly better pic than adjusting in the RAW processor. I'm also a firm believer in 16 bit RAW processing. But I find most frames I want to use take less than 5 minutes to do. If I had the $ I would probably try the M8 as Leica Ms are still the cameras that feel best in my hand.


Dear fjf,

I'll happily do an in-depth test and report on any sensor insert that reaches market at a tolerable price point.

I don't think there will be one. Ever.


Dear robert e,

I photograph in RAW. Lots. I scan film. Lots. Film's a HUGE leap in effort and time. And film isn't remotely 'archival' without special storage, don't let anyone con you otherwise. You will suffer if they do, I promise you that.

I hardly mind it if people prefer film! But claiming it's close to anywhere as fast or convenient for the same level of quality in the prints? Sorry, that's just wrong.

pax / Ctein

Dear folks,

This is a bit of topic drift, but I'm genuinely interested in the question. So I hope I will be indulged.

What are the problems that people have with automatic WB (to the extent that they want this to be one of the basic controls on their simple camera)? I hardly ever run into a WB problem. I don't know if that's because I'm not hitting the truly pathological cases or if my two Fuji cameras have just been exceptionally good at setting the white balance automatically. Which is why I'm asking you folks for edification.

Understand I am not talking about a RAW versus JPEG issue. When I pull up my photographs in Adobe Bridge, I see them with whatever white balance the camera assigned, regardless of format, until I decide to modify them. The white balance is almost never far off.

So is this a case where I've simply been lucky (in which case it is a useful control to have) or do I happen to own cameras that are especially good at doing this properly, automatically? If the latter, then it shouldn't be one of the basic controls, it should be a function the engineers get right in the camera design so that it doesn't have to be one of the basic controls.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

No thanks. I want all my features. I have set up my custom functions to get the camera to work the way I want. I have all my most commonly used functions in my custom menu.

No LCD? Well if I spend days travelling to a remote place to get "the shot" then I'm going to use the histogram, because I don't see any joy in getting home and not having an exposure I'm happy with.

No Aperture Priority? No way! I only use manual with flash nowadays. I've learned how my meter reads a scene, just like I learned how to read my old handheld meters.

No AF? I have great eyesight. But it's not as good as it was and it'll get worse. AF is mostly as accurate as I am and a lot faster. I've learned when to overide it though.

I take the time to learn how to use my gear. I set up the features i want and ignore the rest until I need/want them. The current camera, while I would like to see vast improvements in the way they are layed out, allow me to get photos that would have previously been impossible to get.



One concern I heard interests me above others and that is the notion that a fixed white balance (in this case a "daylight" setting) allows one to see differences in light as it changes through the day, rather than a record of how the algorithm determined we should see it as it changed. The photographer who brought it up was not pleased with the camera levelling the varying light to a determined standard. I think that's a valid and interesting point.

Dear Ctein,

I have to respect quantity and diversity of experience orders of magnitude greater than mine, especially regarding film. But now you have me worried. Where do I find reliable information about film storage? Are PrintFile sleeves and boxes in dark places insufficient?

I have found auto white balance impressive and reliable for most cases. A couple of cameras had issues with tungsten bulbs--an engineering problem. But there are mixed lighting situations where manual control is handy, especially when chimping, but also just for the sake of getting it right while eyes are on the scene. And, within reason, I want the option to override anything "auto".

Ctein, I'll indulge your topic creep (and then pull it back). Based on several digital cameras and similar shooting, AWB is highly variable. My little LX3 is the best - apart from some odd mixed lighting, don't remember needing to adjust. The Canon DSLRs are highly variable, even between frames. Almost every frame needs adjustment. (I've read somewhere that Canon AWB is only based on the spot meter circle.)

Like you say, I'd just prefer the engineers to get it right than need a separate control. Simple is usually facilitated by good (not over) engineering.

And I'd support the idea of limited buttons and a lot more (i.e. complete) control over what they did.

David : you're right, I don't shoot sports. Maybe it's the only case where it doesn't work.


My Sony A200's AWB gives a blue cast in CFL lighting. The fluorescent setting is better but not ideal either since fluorescent lights vary so much in their temperature as well as how much green they put out. So I do custom WB anytime I'm shooting indoors and I get great skin tones every time. When using a bounce flash, I gel the flash to match the color temp and amount of green in the fluorescents. Again, great results and I don't have to mess with post-processing.

The irony of this is that the camera you describe fits the Sigma SD10 almost to a T (except for the weight issue) The build quality was excellent, shot only raw, simple controls, and was capable of excellent image quality IF the user followed the basic doctrines of photography.
It was a great camera but always took a beating from the reviews for the features it "lacked".

I would give only my two cents. (Sorry for my english) The camera simple to use is would be not the camera simple at all.
In digital era we have to control sharpness/blurr and DOF, then colour (temperature), contrast and brightness. Maybe focal lenght,maybe point of focus. But MLU and AF S-C and flash slow- rear - and distorsion/ CA correction, and NR on/off -nice to control but - You need time to customize. Better - spend it taking pics.

Another great post, Mike, that seems to parallel my recent articles. Ten Interface Design Principles sets the background for the discussion. Your post follows these perfectly, with a special emphasis on number 6, "make things as simple as possible".

Quite a number of replies have also focused on 9, "provide user customisation" and I agree that is incredibly important, and sadly overlooked, on today's complicated DSLRs.

I look forward to further discussion!

Dear folks,

Thanks for all the valuable information. So it seems to me that most of the problem really is poor implementation of automatic white balance to some cameras. If done correctly, as some cameras seem to be able to do, a white balance control moves from the category of something that's commonly used to the exceptional, which I think moves it out of the category of a "basic" high-level control. Just my take on it.

Personally, I don't really have a basic feature list. Well, I could come up with one if we were talking about a purely manual camera... but honestly that's not what most people want.

I would definitely like the customizable menus. Come to think of it, I don't need them to all be customizable, I just need the top-level menu named "my favorites" into which I can alias the half dozen menu choices I use 99% of the time.

Implementing that wouldn't be rocket science. Remappable buttons, on the other hand, might very well be. Raises a whole bunch of usability and function-conflict issues. Not saying it can't (or shouldn't) be done; just saying that that requires some fairly serious smarts applied to redesigning the whole user interface. Whereas a "my favorites" top menu is a really simple code change.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Ctein - certainly the "My menu" on my latest Canon (40D) has been a big bonus in that direction. And thoughtfully, it's always the first menu to appear when I hit the menu button.

Nikon actually does a pretty good job (in my opinion, much better than Canon, although maybe not quite as good as niche player Pentax) of having the basic controls easily accessible, and keeping the innumerable computer controls off to the bottom or the far side where they don't get in the way.

I just picked up my D3x (at first glance, the most control-laden camera imaginable, with no fewer than 35 external controls and 124 menu items - yes, I counted them), and counted the controls that are actually to hand when shooting.

Right thumb - shutter speed dial (from time immemorial - the Leica 1 had it right on the top deck where the right thumb manipulated it, while many modern cameras including my D3x have moved it to the back, while keeping its controlling finger intact) plus 2 AF controls (from the Nikon F5).

Right forefinger - aperture dial plus shutter button plus exposure compensation button. The first two have been the right forefinger's responsibility forever, while exposure compensation was added somewhere around somewhere around the F2AS, and moved from the shutter dial to a forefinger button around the N8008)

Right second finger - depth of field preview (which hasn't moved since the Nikon F!)

Right third finger - level (this one IS new on the D3 series).

My count of shooting controls is only 8, four of which aren't on the M (the Nikon's missing the frameline lever and the film winder, of course). Of those, one (exposure compensation) was added the day aperture priority came along in the 1960s, two (AF related) were first seen on the Nikon F5 when we first got selectable AF points, and one (the level button) is brand new, but replaces a hotshoe-mounted level many photographers have
used since someone first stuck a carpenter's level on a Speed Graphic.

The remaining hundred-plus controls and options on the Nikon are like the film-loading controls on the Leica - you use them when you're not shooting (if you use them at all) . I agree that many of them are gratuitous, superfluous, unneeded extra controls (an in-camera retouch menu on a professional camera? What Coolpix designer slipped that one in as a joke?) - at least Nikon avoided Canon's favorite print button - but the design is good enough that you don't worry about them while using the camera. The difference is that the Nikon has a hundred plus film loading controls, while the Leica has two or three.

The really problematic camera designs are those where some essential control is buried deep in a menu! Point and shoot designers LOVE to do this - sometimes to the extent that there are NO exposure controls available without digging for them.

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