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Thursday, 15 September 2011


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Love is blind, as they say, but I won't contend that is a bad thing.....

NB as you mention the other 2, might be interesting to know, love aside, where you think it scores over them? Need to take into account as well, not just the computer behind the lens (which is what these cameras are) but the available lenses / systems to support them

NBBB as you mention the 5D, I have to say I'm still on version 1, with the 35mm f2, 50mm f1.4 and 50mm f1.8 - still an extremely capable outfit that will knock any APS-C into a cocked hat

I find the older I get (I just turned 50 this year) the less interest I have in gadgets for the sake of gadgets. I tend to value things that do a few things well, over doing many things less well.

I do wear a mechanical watch, but I'm not a purist - it's a Chinese self winding - but at least it makes a nice 'tick.'

I'd love to read about your 'Adventures In Word Processing,' it's gotten to the point I've been thinking about buying a typewriter just to bypass that whole issue...

I have the a850, the a900's sibbling. I also have a Hassey 39 MP camera. Both are great. I use the Sony for 80% of the work I do in the studio and 95% of the work I do outside of the studio. The a850 files are astounding. You can bend and stretch the hell out of them in PS and suffer no consequence. ISO 800 cleans up very well with a little bit of NR in ACR. The dynamic range is super duper. I am waiting to see what Sony's next FF offering(s) will be. I hear it's scheduled to be introduced in the second half of '12. Rumors abound. The sensor will supposedly be 36 MP. Fine, I see that as a benefit for my style of shooting. I hope they offer a FF without extraneous stuff--video, smile recognition, etc. Apple has surpassed Sony in the PC, phone, and consumer music content arena. Samsung and Panasonic are formidable competitors in the TV arena. But, for my money, I think Sony is the most forward-thinking camera maker. The NEX offerings are tempting, and their SLT technology is cutting edge. The range of FF glass--from legacy Minolta to Zeiss is mouth-watering. Okay, so there aren't tilt-shift lens or cup holder option. I don't shoot with tilt-shift lenses or cup holders, so I am a happy camper.

As I recall you already own a Benz, named after his daughter, Mercedes!
Meant to ask, has the Merc performed up to expectations, for Zander and you?

So is the Sony up to Mercedes (German- built) standards?

And is it any similarity to a German-designed vehicle or camera?

Does the camera have cup-holders?

Jeez. I guess we should just stay off of your lawn. ;D

For all the same reasons you love the A900, I love my Contax 645 / P30+ combo. A large enough viewfinder; aperture and focus rings on the lenses, as well as DoF scales; and shutter-speed and exposure compensation dials on the body. I can -- and often do! -- operate it in the dark strictly by feel.

Honestly, I don't know what I will do when my pair finally die and can't be repaired or replaced, or when changing technical standards leave me no choice but to put them to rest.

Obviously, a lot of people like today's generation of cameras, but I wonder how much of this is because they've never worked with a camera that was designed during the "golden age"?

Brilliant post, Mike! I think this is what happens when products are designed by product managers using focus groups and forum gossip to relentlessly upgrade their products just because the competitors are.

I never use LV on my K-7, nor video. Nor the art filters. So I would happily pay less for a camera that was focussed on doing what it's meant to do, well. It just so happens the K-7 is so ergonomic, I don't care that it doesn't do 1080p video.

In many ways I agree with you completely, but IMO you are overlooking the possibility that people may use some of the "extra" functions in ways not originally intended by the manufacturer. As an example, using your automotive analogy, I find the cup holder in my car to be very convenient - and I do not carry anything to drink while driving.

I have found the cup holder to be the ideal location in my car to place a mount for my GPS unit. (And to anticipate a comment about the GPS - with its Text-To-Speech capability I do not have to look away from the road to consult a map or written directions while driving in a strange area.)

Similarly, many owners of earlier Minolta/Sony cameras were upset when
Sony removed the pop-up flash from the A900 just because marketing said "everyone knows that real pro cameras do not have a built-in flash". The reason for the disappointment was not because of a wide-spread use of the pop-up flash for illumination, but because the Minolta system provided excellent control of off-camera flash units via the built-in flash - thus eliminating the need for carrying a separate controller.

You know, I bought my "previous" camera system, two OM-4Ts with a range of prime and zoom lenses, including the 24mm shift lens, and a motor drive, for exactly the $2700 that the A900 body costs.

Sorry, suffering from compound interest here (slow inflation over lots of time).

Of course, that was in 1987. Abandoning Nikon over lack of support for spot metering. Found multi-spot less useful than I had expected, and ended up back with Nikon in 1994 to get AF, which Olympus missed out on; had only sold about half the Nikon equipment, so Canon wasn't a consideration.

All with you, Mike. Simplicity rules. My favourite camera has an add-on light meter.

Maybe they should resurrect their "Sony, No Baloney" campaign.

Well, it was all over when cameras got autofocus and metering. And then, what's there to easily distinguish one manufacturer's product from another's? New! Improved! Extra! Feature!

I don't remember whether it was you who used the term, but two words sum it up perfectly: creeping featuritis. We are all victims of that.

OT cars: It's kinda self-evident since it's you writing it, Mike, but it's the U.S. with the idiotic car accessories. The whole country is built around cars and highways, it's built around car commuters, so it's not really unexpected the cars will have all kinds of stuff in them. And then, roads that go in straight line as far as eye can see. Cruise control.

It's not that other countries are innocent of gewgaws in cars, what with superhighways and so on, but it's also mostly the case of follow-the-leader, seems to me.

That said, I wouldn't mind an Internet connection in the car. It would make it possible to tune into an Internet radio station and not to be at the mercy of the terrestrial pap that is the most of the radio scene in Croatia. :)

I most humbly agree with you on that. With all the numerous wundercameras that can cook and wash the dishes, there still is a market for simple and optimized tools. A bit similar to working with a prime versus a zoom lens.

Now if only they made the camera with a Nikon F mount and I didn't love my Tri-X so much.

I see your point about simplicity... I'm currently using a Panasonic GH2 which is devilishly complex in all its gimmics. There are lots of settings to mess up!

I must say I agreed with you-- why would anyone want video on a DSLR, until:

1) vacationing in Australia, I saw a guy with a large DSLR and lenses, and a camcorder-- all around his neck. I expected him to fall over at any moment.

2) I now have a granddaughter. All of a sudden, the video made sense. Life can change. Of course, you can always get some other camera.

As always, Mike, you are the thinking man's curmudgeon.

Like you, I have no use for video capability. I did video for a couple of years in the 90s and hated it.

I would buy the A900 (or the A850) in a heartbeat if Sony or Zeiss made the tilt/shift lenses I need for architectural photography. (If that segment of my business ever revives!)


I was nodding so hard with everything you said that my head was in danger of becoming dislocated. And yes, I do own an A900.

I think maybe it's time to start a curmudgeons' club.... :-)

Well, dude, you can get the same stripped-to-the-essentials, elemental style in a Leica M9. No pop-up flash,etc, there...not even autofocus. Guess that's why I love mine.:-)

I love my A850 and agree with everything you had to say but I disagree about Live View.

When shooting landscapes especially with old adapted C/Y lenses or M42 lenses, Live View is critical.

These lenses often don't quite have an accurate infinity stop and to get the best images you can at the time of capture, Live View can be critical.

Point on simplicity understood and agreed upon.

That's why I frequently use my Nikon F2A!

I must admit that I also use a D700 (never used LV) and a D300, the reason being they also take the same lenses as my F2A.

This probably explains why I love shooting my nearly 30 year old Canon F-1 so much.

There are no menus, multi-function buttons and dials, or anything much of anything to get in the way. Meter, set exposure, focus, shoot, wind on. Aperture priority AE if I happen to need it. Deciding which filter to screw onto the front of the lens if I'm shooting black and white is the only real "complication".

As for cup holders, I'm with you on that Mike. Before moving to the USA I don't think I ever drove anything with one. After moving, I've owned only one car that didn't have one. I'm appalled by the people around me trying to drive while eating, drinking giant sodas, and maintaining whatever cellphone conversation it is they deem more important than paying attention.

Though I do find that I can fit 3 rolls of film into one cupholder and a stack of filters in the other, so they're not totally useless!

"Well, dude, you can get the same stripped-to-the-essentials, elemental style in a Leica M9."

The problem there is that the A900 is right AT the bloody bleeding outer edge of what I will pay for a camera. Right at the VERY edge, I mean.


Pages!?! Whilst no Word, that's still the two-cup-holder version of a piece of writing software.

I had you pegged as an iAwriter kind of guy: http://www.iawriter.com

That sums up nicely how I feel about my a900 when I pick it up to shoot.

It's a camera for still photography, and I enjoy that.

I have the Sony A850 (purchased largely because of your Canon/Nikon/Sony article from a couple of years ago) and I agree completely with your assessment. Like the A900 it's a workhorse and a "photographer's camera" in every sense. Except for a few niggles (it seems as if I can never get at the DOF preview lever) it's a joy to work with.

I would love to use the a900, and the only reason I say that is the viewfinder (I think that's reason enough ... to love a camera, I mean).

I like single purpose devices which are made singly for my purposes.

I hear you about how a tool can really fit. My problem is that while I love my D700, I sure don't love hauling it around. Takes away a bit from the thrill...


"...it's looking now like the A900/A850 were one-off anomalies rather than a stable development direction for Sony."

I guess I better buy one now while I can; the A900 might be the last <$20K purist camera.


Hi Mike
The two things that stand out for me when using an A900 are 1/ The body feels like a real camera, yes it is big but it has the same feel as my old Nikon Fs and F2s did. It inspires confidence and even though it would make coffee if you asked you can keep it simple.
2/ The absolute beauty of the files it produces.
I was just hired by an American couple visiting the Alhambra in Granada to record their visit. I used an A900 with 85 CZ, PEN with 24mm and M9 with 35mm.
Without exception the A900 files are just in a different world and class.
The other files would be great if they were not alongside the Sony files.
If you were to ask me which lens to buy for your A900 I would suggest you and you other half do a Bony and Clyde to allow you to buy the 135 CZ or 85CZ or I am using a CZ 50 in Nikon mount converted to Alpha with a Leitax adapter and James Lau Chip.

Good A900ing


I guess I'm Mr. opposite, love that the pop up flash can be used to trigger better off camera strobes and bring on the video! But no word processor should ever have an HTML out option let alone a direct print to Wordpress =p

Have the a900 but am not thrilled with it for some reason. The body is great but I am still not sold on the Zeiss 24-70/2.8 that I bought for the body. If Zeiss made a decent and fast 50 for the a900, similar in speed to its 85 and 135, I would probably use it more.

Like the M6 better though.

The A900 is about the only DSLR that tempts me to make the move from Olympus, but the cost stops me dead. And 2 other things: Live View has totally won me over, at least with the E-3's orientable screen. For low or tricky angles on a tripod, it's beats an angle finder hands down. And I believe the A900 is not dust or splash proofed, which probably means it wouldn't last long in my hands....

Jeffrey, I've been shooting 35mm since 1966, and processing it myself since 1968. I've owned Pentax and Miranda and Leica and Nikon and Olympus film SLRs, some fringe medium-format gear, and a 4x5 (the last film camera I still own). My Nikon D700 is very nice. It's more complex than my FM was, but it also does more -- AF is a HUGE difference, and auto-exposure, and the ability to review pictures and so forth. And it takes pictures film couldn't touch, couldn't come within light-years of. Anyway -- a curmudgeon for modern cameras here!

Mike, cup holders are an important safety feature in longer drives, any sort of road-trip or whatever. Also a useful place to put the inverter that powers the laptop :-).

Hi Mike,

In many ways my ideal camera would be a digital Nikon FE, with it's change-the-battery-once-a-year-on-my-birthday, DOF preview button on the front and exposure lock by pushing the self-timer lever the opposite way.
THEN I realise that now I use the interval timer for meteor showers and lightning, the pop-up flash for firing slave flashes and emergencies (sometimes a record shot is better than none), and the over/under exposure blinkies are handy.
I'm beginning to think that geo-tagging would be useful as I photographed a couple of trees in spring and want to do the same in autumn, but I don't know where they are..., that is the problem with randomly exploring the lanes (there are an awful lot in Devon). Also a spirit level as I'm still getting sloping horizons which I didn't with the FE (different balance? focus screen markings?).

We're all prone to the "looky, looky, shiny, shiny" mentality; I blame evolution myself!

We use velcro to attach GPS to the dash, also mobiles and TV remote to the bed headboard (make sure the hooks are on the static object).

What we dread is getting a car with electric windows, it's a pain to switch the ignition on every time we want to open them.

best wishes phil

I've never even held a Sony DSLR in my hands, but, in reference to the mention of the Mercedes in an earlier post, the picture of the A900 reminds me a LOT of the Contax RTS which I really wanted back in the 70's but could never afford (much less the lenses for it).

You were a bit unlucky posting this piece on the very day that the Ricoh GRD 4 was announced and proved you more or less wrong :D

Thanks for that, Mike. This is exactly why I decided that I had the best of all possible digital cameras, the Pentax K-5, but that I needed something a little more transparent, a little more like I had to be the driver. and that was a Mamiya RB67 Pro SD. Whoo-ee... Can't shoot a video with this baby, it won't make a cup of tea, and I've got to use the Pentax as a light meter. But now I know I'm *making* pictures, not taking pictures. A shot of the back yard? Yep. But just exactly the shot of the back yard I worked out. Next stop: 4x5?

Your post made me think of some half remembered quote from probably 15 or more years ago. I think it was from Lee Iaccoca and I think it went something like " don't even try to go to the party with out a cup holder". The meaning was it didn't matter how perfect a car you built, people wouldn't even look at it if it didn't have several cup holders. Just in case you needed confirmation that you are out of step with the majority....

"... technological devices of any kind—should have what I need and no more."

I couldn't agree more!

That said ... you don't need live view, I find it very useful for accurate focusing. I don't need video, others do. You don't need a flash at all, -et- wants a pop-up flash, I need a standard hot-shoe, not a proprietary piece of junk designed to maximize lock-in ... and so it goes.

I suggest that the answer is not to find the lowest common denominator, but rather to build a platform that is customizable to the needs of each individual user.

Can't do it? Sure we can! My guess is that just about every iPhone on the planet is unique: you buy a basic package and then install whatever apps you need to turn it into your iPhone. Need to add a feature? Get a new app. Don't need the feature anymore? Delete the app. Simple.

Why don't we do this with cameras? I don't know. Thom Hogan has been writing about this concept forever, so it can't be because the idea is secret ...

(Incidentally, I've been suggesting something similar to engineers in the automobile industry since about 2002. Nobody home there, either. ;-)

"As I recall you already own a Benz, named after his daughter, Mercedes!
Meant to ask, has the Merc performed up to expectations, for Zander and you?"

Mercedes is named after Emil Jellinek's daughter.

Emil Jellinek was an Austro-Hungarian financier / diplomat / racing car driver who used his daughter's name when he raced, and became one of the earliest backers and dealers of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft.

He sold them as Daimler-Mercedes and the name stuck.

Daimler-Mercedes didn't merge with Benz until 1926.

"In June 1903 Emil Jellinek obtained permission to call himself Jellinek-Mercedes in future. "This is probably the first time a father has borne the name of his daughter," the successful businessman remarked at the time.

In 1907 Jellinek was appointed Austro-Hungarian Consul General, becoming Mexican Consul shortly afterwards. In 1909 Jellinek withdrew from the automotive business and devoted himself to his duties as head of the Austro-Hungarian consulate in Monaco. Until his death on January 21, 1918 Emil Jellinek remained an interested observer of automotive engineering."

Mike I don't mean to disagree... but I think there is a difference in the sensors. The Canon 5D sensor is warmer and better for skin tones and because of that, it is the most popular camera with wedding photographers and portrait photographers. It manages highlight clipping better than the Sony sensor in the Nikon and Sony. Wedding and portrait photography is my area of interest and I study the images on Flickr. After a while, you can spot when the shot was taken by a 5D over a D700 or a D3. It is just prettier.

(The Sony A900 is almost never used for weddings. Neither is Pentax.BTW... I am a Pentax user like yourself.)

The sony has done what apple did to the tablet, took all the things you thought you needed and gave you what you really need. Apple seem to do this really well other tablets before were incorporating thousands of ports and drive solutions to make an all encompassing device. Sony has given just enough not too much in this camera.


Buy it, buy it, buy it already. I'll chip in $26.99. As for me I am getting the Sony NEX-7.
But I have a D-700.



Nikon has one feature that continues to ensure my loyalty, and that is the wireless flash system. I have three SB800s. Together with the pop-up flash on my D300, it is a wonderful way to control the lighting, avoid the flash-on-camera blues, and add backlighting when needed.

Actually I rank the D700 and A900 in a similar mould - workhorses for courses. No video, no nonsense, built for hard work.

The Nikon is the low light king, the main reason why I use one. The Sony has the extra resolution and low ISO DR which makes it a great landscape camera. I also agree it feels and handles incredibly well.

The Canon is simply too flimsy and gimmicky for me. Its on paper performance is great but I find it gets in my way when I am working, something the Nikon never does. Seems people mainly buy them to shoot movie shorts.

Have to hand it to Nikon though, they have flash photography nailed. If you want an all round event camera for flash or available light work, the D700 is hard to beat.

However, its not a camera that tugs the heart strings. It's functional, like a Volvo :)

Sheesh Mike, why on earth do you have a stereo in your car? You bought it to get from A to B, not listen to music! Go get yourself a hi-fi system and do it properly.

Well five years ago I bought a sony R1 and still can't find anything that makes me want to replace that. Shame sony decided that was a dead-end. Mine is starting to play up and I'm seriously thinking of simply NOT replacing it, as 99% of my photography is film anyway, I only ever used digital for it's convenience, now I just find it boring, and even worse it forces me to use a computer and I find that REALLY boring.

My A900 is what made me realize that I could sell my Nikon F100. The A900 was a digital version.

If nobody had told me that the 5D2 had video function, I probably never would have known.

As for the "just rob a bank/win the lottery/sell some major organs and buy an M9" suggestions: If you're like Mike and have a normal income like most of us, I'd suggest a relatively affordable film M like the M6 or lower to scratch that itch without going into massive debt.

The A900 is not a 'Sony'. It is the last of the Minolta's before Sony started changing things to their own liking. It is a clear follow-up on Minolta 7, and 7D. It was probably well under development already when Minolta sold its camera division.

Zeiss does not make shift lenses for Sony, but Schneider does. I have an old 28 Schneider shift lens that works perfectly on the A900. And now there are some new tilt and shift versions in other focal lengths as well. I also happen to have a 2.8/80 Hartblei tilt/shift on Minolta/Sony mount that works surprisingly well.

Mike, you are NOT alone. There are many photographers who feel the same way and abhor the way cameras are designed today with menu after menu overloading us with extraneous features that just get in the way of taking photographs. I just purchased a Panasonic GH2. It is capable of taking really nice photographs, but the experience of using the camera is just a burden. So much of the "feature set" just gets in the away of understanding how to access and use the few really important controls. It's a shame the manufacturers of these cameras don't buy an S2 and set up at least a model or two in their lineup just like it.

Use a Mamiya C330 TLR and forget about all this full-frame nonsense


Triumph TR6. No cupholder. No radio. No AC. No automatic transmission.

I drive it.

I am in France and cars do not have cupholders here. People eat and drink at meal times, at a table. In America you snack and drink all the time hence the upholders.

bah, this camera pisses me off more than any other because it is almost perfect for me. i like simple cameras. i've never read a camera manual and never will. i can count all the things i want a camera to do on my fingers and i don't care if it can do more or not. i don't understand why you want it to not do things though, just don't use those features.

the first thing i always do when i get a new digital camera is turn off autofocus. i never turn it back on. the viewfinder on the a900 is fantastic for manual focus, almost makes me forget that some of that light is going to the useless (to me) autofocus sensor. i don't care about the lens system i'm buying into – i use my favorite lenses no matter what brand of camera i shoot. if i can't use an adapter to mount them i take them to the machine shop and make new mounts for them. BUT, i'm still not trusting the viewfinder for focusing lenses near infinity for landscape shots (still better than anybodies autofocus at infinity though). liveview is so much more accurate for that. the difference between being kinda close to perfect focus and having perfect focus is huge. i'm never shooting film (or a rangefinder) for anything other social snaps anymore for this reason too. this killed the a900 for me, what good are all those pixels if you can't count on perfect focus when it counts most. maybe i'll buy a used one for portraits when it drops to the price of the original canon 5D.

The fundamental difference between a cup holder and, say, a live view is that you can switch the live view off (if you happen have a viewfinder ;-) ). You can turn smile detection off, and you can turn off auto flash pop-up also ( nota bene, buil-in flash on alphas is mostly used to trigger wireless flashes).

Now I'm reminded of the dearly missed motorcycle I sold 35 years ago: Velocette Thruxton single cylinder, 500cc (no cupholder or ashtray)

To be more camera oriented: I've never owned a digital camera until now. I wonder if the Fuji X 100 is an example of simplicity? It does seem to be so in my hands, but I suspect that's a lot to do with having an all round acquaintance with a number of film cameras.

How difficult would someone find it to travel the opposite path: digital to film for the first time?

On the point that any of the three mentioned cameras are good enough I couldn't agree more, but it depends on when you look at the competing models. If you assess them at a time when all the manufacturers have broadly similar technology then they are likely to be very similar. It hasn't always been like this however.

When I first made the move to autofocus, only Canon had ultrasonic motor lenses. The autofocus performance left Nikon and others for dead. That is the only reason I use Canon. When images stabilisation was introduced (Canon again) there was an imbalance for a while. Now is not one of those times. Everyone has broadly the same technology, so no significant difference.

Mike Johnston wrote:
> The old New Beetle had a flower vase, which made me want to visit
> dealerships in the night with a hammer.

I'm appalled by such a boorish incomprehensison of the atavistic German longing for the Gemütlichkeit a flower vase brings to what would otherwise be only an efficient, but soulless and barren technological transportation implement ;-)

zeigt her eure Vasen! (Now show your vases !)


@Christian Dönges:

My iPhone actually comes with a lot of apps that I cannot delete. Like a Stock ticker - and I don't care about stocks. Or a weather App that is inferior to the one I installed myself.

But I definitely subscribe to the idea of customizable camera UIs. The configurator could even be an iPhone app, transferring your preferences by WiFi :-)

The M9 just has too many extraneous features: engravings, multiple frame lines, removable base plate. In a word: ornamentation.

A car stereo may seem like a frill to you, but here in south-eastern Australia it is considered an essential safety item because (i) the motorway tunnel emergency systems will retransmit instructions via it (ii) in rural areas, particularly when there is a fire risk, you need a receiver for the well-known emergency stations independent of mains power - and a car radio is ideal because it has its own petrol generator and can be driven to the top of a hill. I imagine there are places in the US where one or other of these apply, which means your car makers have to have the radio as an option. Once they've done that, there's a cost to producing cars with and cars without radios such that it might be better to put them in all cars.

That situation occurs with many products, including cameras.

Where the car makers went wrong is putting the radio controls on the steering wheel where they do interfere in the primary task of driving. A correct solution is a touch panel so that those who don't want to use the radio never have to see it. This is an argument for correct interface design, not one against installing radios.

In the camera world, Canon at least have it right with their 1-series cameras. I never use P mode or the evaluative and partial metering patterns, and I can set the camera up so they disappear from the user interface completely. On the other hand, the 5D sports the confusing "AI focus" - I think it was a full 2 years before I could reliably remember the difference between that and "AI servo". That has to be a judgement on their part that 5D buyers are more likely to be influenced by a guy in a hat tying balloon dogs.

"Still, part of the appeal of the Sony is that it's pretty purely pure camera. Not a lot else there. And I like that."

Have you ever touched an EOS 1Ds? I mean the original or the mark II? These are purist workhorses. And they dont even have decent screens.

Just for the fun of it, let's look at this from a different perspective... I hate cupholders because they often look disgusting when they are used regularly, with various coffee and soda spills having left their mark. Yuck!

I also hate seeing the driver in the car next to mine holding a hot coffee mug, because I know it affects his priorities as a driver, and may ultimately push him into making the wrong choice in emergency conditions. If there was some way to measure the number of accidents ultimately caused by people drinking while driving, cupholders would probably be banned in a jiffy anyway.

I don't mind people taking my picture. Heck, there are even some, albeit very few, good pictures of me floating around. But I HATE being "filmed". I tend to be a bit of a clown in social gatherings, and there's nothing worse in life than having to watch the same joke over and over, especially out of context. So video cams turn me off big time. You cannot imagine how much I hate that everything up to the toaster has video these days!

And don't get me started on the quality of the content of most videos being shot! =8^((

As far as I'm concerned, the world was a better place before video recorders became commonplace.

Another thought ... I think this may be why many photographers prefer to work in Lightroom rather than Photoshop/Bridge/ACR. Photoshop does everything you need plus hundreds of things you don't, but someone might. Lightroom does more than I need, too, but at least the stuff I don't need is squarely aimed at photographers, and it doesn't bother me to see it there. (Who knows, someday maybe I will use it).

Christian Dönges wrote:
> buy a basic package and then install whatever apps you need to turn it into
> your iPhone. Need to add a feature? Get a new app. Don't need the feature
> anymore? Delete the app. Simple.
> Why don't we do this with cameras? I don't know. Thom Hogan has been
> writing about this concept forever, so it can't be because the idea is secret.

Last time I checked, even with smartphones, which are essentially tiny glass slabs with a few buttons, and thus look pretty much identical, it was impossible to install an Android app on an iPhone, or a Symbian app on a Windows 7 phone.

The phones' hardware — CPU architecture, CPU instruction set, built-in peripherals, controllers — and the software — i.e. the OS functionalities made visible to the programmer via an API — are different and incompatible even across pretty identical-looking devices.

As for the PC, last time I checked, the PC platform has essentially standardized on an "industry standard" architecture, where the hardware standards — CPU instruction set family, PCI expansion bus specifications etc. — has been pretty much unified and precisely codified. This allows both the OS and app developer to target a well-defined, standard abstract machine thanks to strictly-defined BIOS, EFI, ACPI and OS API specifications.

On the other hand, last time I checked, the camera manufacturers tended to select microcontroller CPU architectures tuned to the hardware functionalities of a particular camera, with the accompanying difference in terms of execution environment — e.g. operating system.

Furthermore, the cameras' hardware specs and capabilities e.g.:

    Purely mechanical shutter / mechanical shutter compatible with electronic first shutter implemented as a reset wave of the image sensor's pixels / purely electronic shutter compatible with movie mode
    Motors controlling e.g. the shutter cocking and mirror movement on a SLR
    Viewfinder design — OVF or EVF
    Control dials number, markings and placement
    Control buttons number, markings and placement
    Sound recording hardware
    Touch screen functionality
    Number of displays — some cameras like the Nikon D3 have three external LCD display panels
    Number, type and placement of the various symbols on the LCD
    AF module technology and functionality
    Flash control circuitry and functionality — e.g. capability to fire or detect rapid pulses to send/receive a digital stream of information from remote flashes
    Sensor control — e.g. CCD charge transfer clock generation
    A/D converter archtiecture differences — e.g. CMOS sensor with built-in ADC or CMOS sensor with multiple parallel analog outputs connected to external ADCs
    Lens control — focus and aperture — interface and bidirectional data exchange capability, including e.g. movie focus compatibility, motor zoom control etc.
    Temperature and overheating sensor
    In-body image stabilization sensors — gyroscopes and accelerometers — and drive mechanisms
    Communication interfaces and extension connectors

are very different among the myriad of camera models available on the market.

I tend to trust the camera manuafcturer's software developers and QA process — however perfectible they tend to be in practice — more than, say, some budding Russian programmer who hasn't maybe thought about all the implications of whatever "cool" functionality he thinks should be added to a camera.

Do we really want an environment where camera manufacturers would be forced to use a uniform and constraining platform that might be incompatible with some developments not foreseen when the standard was developed — e.g. liveview, movie mode, EVFs, combined phase and contrast detection AF, WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth, USB host mode, 3D LCDs etc.

Do we really want an environment where we'd mix and match camera software modules of dubious provenance, compatibility and functionality ? What's next ? Will we need a virus scanner to detect malware subtly corrupting your image files, or stealing or embedding information without your knowledge and consent ? This might be necessary, if one considers e.g. the naïveté of a huge number of PC or smartphone users who blithely download and install apps of unknown origin on their devices.

Anyway, cameras with modular software make about as much sense as cars with modular software on which you'd download, say, a "cool" app that would modify the parameters of the electronic stability control regulating your steering wheel's degree of power assistance and angular response, or "improve" the gear shift change algorithm of your AT gearbox or the deceleration curve controlled by your brake pedal or swap the devices controlled by the airco and car radio switches.

Reading this thread makes me think that there is at least a small market for truly custom cameras - Why can't I get a fully manual, full-frame camera with an upgradeable sensor?

I know this is the idea of the Ricoh system, but couldn't there be a smoother, more typically camera-looking system?

I think your idea is hinting at a much more configurable GXR camera as a direction for the camera industry. One where both the camera OS is highly configurable and the module options are highly configurable. You could go to the manufacturers website and select all of the features you want in the camera. They put in the software and modules that minimally satisfy that request. Viola! Custom cameras!

On vehicles...
If there were enough people like you, it would seem to me that there could be a decent market for third party "tuning" companies. Not performance tuning but asthetics tuning! If you want the Miata without cup holders, they design replacement parts to eliminate the cupholder.

Only trouble is.......it does'nt take slides!

I actually have nothing against the flower vase. Actually it was a sign of the "think different" mentality I like. Although I have no need for flowers in the car, that's just me.


I agree, I don't want my camera to come with things I don't need, but for an entirely different reason.
Every time Pentax (I shoot with a K5 and an old P30t) spends thousands of dollars developing things like Live view and a bigger screen, that's thousands of dollars they DON'T spend on improvement of the things y DO NEED.
I don't know about you, but I rather have a camera with a super wide dynamic range than with a gimmick no one is ever gonna use.

People who opine for completely customizable cameras should be careful what they wish for.

The PC industry to a large extent grew up under the notion a PC is just a box with commodity parts in it which you can build and configure in any way you see fit. The result is a "standard" platform where every instance of a PC is a completely unique configuration.

This, it turns out, is a software and mangement nightmare which is of course part of the reason why Apple has eaten everyone's lunch lately in the consumer space with machines that are more turnkey.

To a first approximation every single thing you make customizable costs you more money in either deveopment time, bugs after deployment, or both. The iPhone is an interesting example to bring up in this context because although it does have a large ecosystem of available software one should note that

1. The hardware platform is available in an extremely limited number of configurations. I think there are maybe 4 or 5, even if you cound variations in memory size as a different model.

2. The software platform is fairly restrictive in what it allows applications to do with the hardware when compared to more traditional platforms like Windows or MacOS. This brings howls of objection from traditional developers, of course, who hate to have their flexibility stolen from them. But overall it's been a win.

So in all I'd rather not have a customizable camera. I'd rather just buy a camera that seems right to me and use the parts that make sense to me and ignore the rest. That's what I do with my D700 (P, auto ISO, wireless flash, autofocus, black and white, sometimes live view. That's it). On the other hand, the iPhone camera does a lot of really useful things because of the software ecosystem. So I think there are ideas to be explored there. But you don't want Nikon and Canon doing that, they have proven over the years that they have no clue about software.

I would suggest that for one's mental health one stop worrying about any minor "tyranny" of the markets and concentrate on the positive. No one likes someone with an artificial oppression complex.

"Devices that do one thing well have become as quaint as a Model T or a mechanical watch." Funny you should use mechanical watches as a comparison, because obviously, a) some people pay stellar amounts of money for them b) some makers try to push the number of features and gimmicks to the point where you can't tell the time on the @*!! thing. If you are looking for an analogy, how about a ... Bowie knife?

Less really is more IMO. Actually, of late I find i'm taking more photographs with my Contax 159MM than my Eos 1Ds. Somehow, it's just more fun. Of course you can go too far with the minimal thing, I just put a roll of film through an Exa I was given (in Dresden, ironically), and found it just a bit too pared down!

Driving a motorcycle is probably the closest you get these days to a single purpose device. If you don't pat attention you die, or if lucky get seriously injured.

I currently teach photography and have the same mindset - my main concern is to unlearn the bells and whistles of the camereas. Day one is exclusively aperture oriented; day two is shutterspeed; day three is mainly about manual eposure, exposure compensation, manual and prefocusing etc, and day four about the posibilites the "new age" cameras need. I generally add composition, light, colour, BW etc into the mix.
Half of the time is dedicated to exercises and they get homework.

I try as best I can to make them forget the "cupholders" and focus on the driving, and to drop the 350 page manuals.

It is trilling every time to see how grasping and understanding the basics releases energy and creativity. Creativity that is being hampered by really excellent tools with an abundance of options that everybody uses for auto everything, and therefore end up with results that are OK but not quite what they want.

Therefore I teach the basics and for the most part only the basics, with great sucess.

...well, I just bought one with less than 50 shutter count for a good used price.

There you go... damn blog influencing my behavior.


I don't know if there are too many like me out there, but I am guessing that there are some anyway. I am still using my KM 7D, as it gives me beautiful files that my aging computer handles beautifully. I am able to print lovely 12 x 18's on my Epson R1800, and as an old retired guy, that is within my budget. I would have loved to have gone nuts and bought the a900 except that I couldn't justify the price and buy it and still look my wife in the eye afterward. I agree with your wishes for more simplicity in DSLR's today. I think that if SONY had put a PC connector on the a580, and made it element resistant, I could have ignored the extras and probably would have bought one by now. Instead, I am looking to buy another good used KM 7D, because it is a photographer's dream of a tool, as far as digital cameras go. NO video, No live view, No Smile detection, NO BS! I am still using my Maxxum 9, and 800si film bodies as well as a goodly number of Minolta glass, as well as my Mamiya RB 67 Pro S. Too bad SONY decided to make the photograpic version of a Swill Army Knife as something we should be force fed.

20% smaller and lighter, but similarly designed for photographers by photographers?


i'm still waiting.

I agree with your sentiment: I too prefer things simple. I miss my 1969 Chevy Impala which had no cupholders, no air conditioning and no cruise control. It had bench seats. It had a big V-8 mounted the proper way, and plenty of room in the engine compartment. I could reach all 8 spark plugs without pulling the engine!

Anyway, my thoughts are that this is 'a guy thing.' We love simple, yet powerful tools. Inconveniences remind us of the good old days: when things were less complicated, girls were prettier and beer less gassy.

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