« Coming Up: Call for Work | Main | The Caponigro Father-Son Print Offer »

Saturday, 14 September 2013


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

When I bought a Canon G12 I gave my wife my G11. Easy to use, I said, I've set it up for auto everything - just point and gently press here, you can't go wrong.
But, she said, its got so many knobs and buttons. Leave them alone I said. But it stayed in the drawer and hardly got used. I eventually asked why she didn't use it? I'm scared of it, she said.
It's not enough that a camera should be simple to use but it must also be designed with minimum options so that it looks simple to use as well. The old form following function concept, as true as ever.

The Panasonic cameras with the "intelligent Automatic" button and a good prime, for example a G3 with the 20mm, are simple and good and dirt cheap on the secondary market. You can play with the manual controls if you want to (often to considerable advantage) but you pretty much always get a decent shot even if you just aim (through a viewfinder!) and press the button. Much better quality than a tiny-sensor compact without any required additional complexity.

Speaking of simple cameras, I think my favorite camera ever is the Olympus XA. The only problem is that I don't like 135 film (nor really the 35mm angle of view and I hate scanning film), so the XA's role got taken over by – yes, you guessed it – my iPhone.

The charm of the iPhone, as a camera, is mostly the simplicity. And of course the constant access. It's surprisingly good at exposure most of the time (like the XA, and my Olympus E-M5 – are Apple and Olympus the only companies I trust with my automatic exposure?) and white balance. It's surprisingly good in good light (as it should be…) I can't imagine spending the money required to buy a camera that slots in-between my iPhone and E-M5. The compromise doesn't sound attractive and anything I'd be happy with wouldn't be cheap.

Well… if there was a Ricoh GR-D with a bit tighter (prime!) lens, but anything like that won't agree with my wallet.

I think manufacturers could make a super simple camera if they thought there was a real market for one. However, in this highly electronicized world, simple is rarely better to most folk. Some cameras, which can automatically control shutter, aperture and 'ISO' come close, but to sell, they need all kinds of add-ons and operating options. If your aunt can ignore the options she may find some which meet her requirements. And then there is the question of what is meant by 'good quality'. Its different for different people. A century plus ago, the quality of a Brownie shapshot was fine for many, but the user of a view camera probably had different standards. Today, technical quality is still a debatable issue - pixel count, dynamic range, resolution, low light level performance, noise, etc. are all argued. And aesthetic issues complicate it further. Do you like high or low contrast?, bokeh? etc. are personal preferences.
I suggest you give your aunt a short list of well automated compact cameras (big isn't good on a canoe trip) and tell her to ignore most or all of the extra features.

Not even the mighty Leica can pull this off. Is there any reason the new M can't just be an M7 with a sensor and a SD card slot? But instead we get LCD's and live view and a host of other distractions.

And I'm not just a Luddite pining for what once was. It seems like now when I photograph I always have to spend a notable amount of time fiddling with settings. Which AF zone is best for this scenario? Which drive mode should I use now? Do I want a histogram in the viewfinder? The list goes on and on. On one hand we're blessed with tools that are extremely capable and customizable. But the need that arises to always be customizing means you think about the camera a lot more than If you just had a disposable with 36 exposures and not even an on/off switch.

I've got gaffers tape covering more than one button/switch/light on my cameras to try and discourage unnecessary fiddling. It doesn't really help!

If built & sold, I think such a camera would flop for two reasons. First, many people are very self conscious and wouldn’t want to be seen with the “camera for dummies”. Second, we’re also conditioned to overbuy out of fear that we may need feature X someday and that we’ll regret our purchase if it’s not available at that time. We’ve been conditioned to fear inadequacy, and both these scenarios reflect that.

Personally, I think there’s nothing more elegant than simple, robust functionality. If that makes me an outlier, so be it. Perhaps the best chance for such a device is if the present retro craze extends beyond appearance and into function.

Yes, I wonder the same thing. A lot of people, who if they were in 1970 would have a Kodak 124 Instamatic (and be happy with the results) want the equivalent in a digital camera, operationally-wise. Here is an idea. The more complex controls could be under a "hidden panel", a plane blank piece of plastic that would open if wanted. The only other controls, say on/off switch, zoom toggle, shutter button, and a scroll function for the view screen would be the limit for visible controls.

There is probably a hundred problems with this idea I haven't of but I still wonder if something like it would work.

I think part of the problem is that a lot of people wouldn't pay the price they pay for a nice cellphone (or a decent point and shoot) for something that didn't have crazy technology and "versatility," even if you'd actually get much better pictures out of it.

[Well...sure. That's right. A lot of people wouldn't. I'm not saying simple cameras would be required to take over the whole camera market. I'm saying some people WOULD buy them, and it's a shame those people don't have that choice, that's all. --Mike]

Mike, I agree that simple cameras are rare. But now and then, there are: no intimidating knobs and blinks, the unnecessary complexities well hidden. The Panasonic LX3 is, no was, one of them, alas without viewfinder (maybe only oldtimers do need that) and with a really fine lens. And - you had to pay more for less features, and that may be the crucial point: Many such cameras are bought as presents, and who wants to buy and hand over a seemingly lesser gift.

Hey Mike you got Fireballed http://daringfireball.net/linked/2013/09/14/simple-cameras

I gotta say that the X-E1 sure makes everything else seem unnecessarily complicated. Most of the time you can just, you know, point and shoot. If you want to fiddle the aperture or shutter speed, jog the dials off the bright red A-for-automatic setting. There are lots of other things you can do, but who cares. No “mode” dial is a good start.

I'm thinking that maybe the holy grail of the Simple Camera is nothing more than any quality compact that has been set up by one's nearest camera geek.

I just went through this with my wife, who's a great photographer but always shot with her Nikon FM2. She needs digital images for a project, so I've set up my D700 for her. Now she only needs to think about changing ISO, selecting the aperture and, if needed, pressing a function button to spot meter. All those other menus and dials and switches can be safely ignored.

A simple-looking compact like the Nikon J1 or one of the Sony NEX's could serve the same purpose.

"... wanted a camera that would give good quality pictures ... but that was very simple to use. She used to have a Contax T2, I think, and she wants a digital camera that's at least as simple as that.

I had to tell him I don't think there is one—despite the hundreds of cameras on the market."

I disagree. The T2 had various manual controls; one simply had to set it on auto and ignore them:

"While it offered full automation, including Autofocus and Program AE, the Contax T2 was one of the most readily user-controllable cameras of its era, featuring Aperture Priority AE selection on a dial on the retracting lens body, and manual focus on a thumb dial. Exposure compensation of +/-2 EV in 1/2 EV steps is controlled by a dial at the top left and the EV compensation is given in a small window. Shutter speed and focus lock confirmation is given in the viewfinder. "

Likewise, even fairly high end cameras have and iAuto (Intelligent Auto) mode or whatever the maker calls its equivalent. (Just checked; my E-M5 has one - never have used it.)

Like the T2, set full Auto Mode and ignore everything but zoom (which T2 didn't have) and shutter release. My guess is that contemporary full Auto Modes will give better overall results in various conditions than the T2.

Perhaps what the camera makers have missed is putting the full Auto Mode on a separate slide switch, rather than as one of many settings on a mode wheel. A slide switch with decent detent that goes full auto and disables all the other switches and dials but play/view and trash would make a camera super simple.

The Olympus E-PM1 & 2 pretty much meet this ideal. No Mode dial to confuse or get accidentally moved out of iAuto and the extensive menu system allows disabling the touch screen and rear control wheel (then hiding its complexity).

There are actually fewer buttons/dials to ignore than on the T2. Just put on an Oly 17/2.8 or Panny 20/1.7 pancake lens (the Panny is the better lens), don't tell the user it's interchangeable, and you have the modern T2.


I think that's one of the reasons I love my X100: set the lens aperture ring to A; set the shutter speed dial to A; and you can hand the camera to anyone and you'll get a very good JPG. Anyone who liked the Contax will love it too.

You gotta get out in the world, more, Mike. There are simple and good cameras like that. There are 16mp Sony cameras with two buttons on the top -- the on-off and the shutter. Fully auto, with a good LCD on the back and an 8x zoom. Small as a cell phone.

Two theories:

(1) Cell phones are always there, and people get very comfortable using them, so they do.

(2) Cell phones are good enough photographically, and better in some other ways. I bought my partner an RX100, and she has probably made 100 photos with it. She has also shot a couple thousand photos with her iPhone, and never deletes anything -- they're up in the Cloud, available anytime she wants to look at them. Last night, she was sitting on the couch with my daughter and they were looking at photos on their iPhones, perfectly happy with the small size, because they were, after all, snapshots. She's perfectly aware of quality differences, and will use the RX100 when we're on a specifically photographic mission (we went out to the Lightning Field a couple of weeks ago and she used it then), but mostly, she doesn't think she needs it. And, there aren't a lot of cameras that park your photos up in the cloud, automatically. You've got to fiddle around with SD cards, computers, etc.

I think the eventual outcome of this is that the "phone" part of cell phones will get smaller and smaller, and the "camera" part may get bigger with better lenses, so eventually you'll have a cell phone with a short optical zoom with an added digital zoom capability so the photo capability actually becomes quite good. Not good for a cell phone, but quite good, period. And that will be the end of P&S.

Perhaps Lytro has the right idea. It lacks the quality for regular use right now, but the technology is compelling... just take the shot, one button, then fiddle with focus and light later as desired.

I agree with Ed Hawco. I think it's the engineers and software makers. This is why a spec list as long as your arm and an instruction book bigger than the camera is more important than being able to see what you are photographing.

There must be a place for a camera as simple to operate as the old 126 Instamatics. You point it, you press the release. Fixed Focus, but unlike most Instamatics it could have simple auto exposure.

Since many people, like my dad, (82 on Monday) do not have a computer a way could be found to save photos off camera easily. Perhaps a 1GB memory stick which comes with the camera, which has a USB port.

I've only just realised, he doesn't have a mobile phone either.

Most cameras have an "Auto" mode. Turn on camera. Put into "Auto". Press shutter.

Can it be any easier?

Does the Nathan Benn book have photographs that run across the gutter? Just curious because that's a pet peeve of mine.

[No. The presentation is quite nice. --Mike]

Lots of people buy simple cameras. What confuses photo geeks is that the simple camera is usually part of a phone. "That's a phone camera", they say, "can't possibly take serious pictures with that...".

Camera manufacturers seem to have a hard time making simple cameras for the same reason that Microsoft could never distill Office down to a more approachable set of core features.

When you try to do that there is always some set of annoyed customers who say "if only you had not left out feature A, I could buy your product"

So feature A gets left in.

This process repeats itself 5000 times (AF, auto exposure, white balance, color settings, black and white modes, in-camera editing, customizable buttons, etc etc), and you get the menu system of the Olympus E-M5, whose only saving grace is that after you spend three days toggling all the switches you can *mostly* leave it alone. Not quite, just mostly. The manual for the E-M5 has this full page table that explains to you how the programmable buttons on the back of the camera will act for various combinations of focus and exposure locking depending on which of four modes you have set. I looked at it and decided to just not touch it. And I *program computers for a living*. This is insanity.

So, what to do? Ignore the "if only" people.

One of the more amazing things about Apple is their capacity to ignore the "if only" people and just make a more streamlined product. As they have become the big player, this will probably get harder. But the capacity to leave things out is a big part of what got them to this place.

Anyway, my advice to the person who wants a digital T2 is to use an iPhone or iPod Touch. It's not exactly the same, but it's probably as close as you can come (single focal length lens, reasonably fast aperture, good image system, no myriad of stupid settings menus, some interesting bells and whistles like HDR and panoramas if you want them).

Any modern camera that you buy that has a PSAM mode dial will also have hiding inside of it some version of the psychotic Olympus menu system. It's inevitable if for no other reason than the poor firmware programmers wrote the code, so people feel like they have to ship it in every product.

..........what a question! Life is not simple and neither are cameras now or have they ever been. My word, you had to go in the dark before and now it's bloody anywhere that you are when the picture happens. You see, it is all in the mind this simple. If cameras were simple then life would be likewise. So put the little dial on the mark where it says "Camera +" and whala you get simple if that works for you.

What about an Olympus PEN E-PM2 and a 17 or 20 mm lens? Pretty simple and small with excellent quality photos. Of course, no viewfinder.

re: simple camera - I think it's all marketing: there isn't a big enough market to make a a cricket camera worth manufacturing (whereas there is a big enough market to make a cricket phone worth it).

And I think it's an urban myth that software engineers like complexity. It's their job to deal with complexity, but they (at least the experienced ones) love and strive for simplicity. But ultimately they too do what the market compels them to.

Never mind the point-and-shoot crowd, why can't I have a simple camera with three knobs for exposure and a shutter button. Can someone please, PLEASE, dig up the smelly corpse of Contax so we could have and end to the seemingly endless stream of cameras that gets us exited, not because they are great but because they are less crappy than the rest. *end rant*

Nice piece of writing but one contradiction I must point out: you say, (the camera makers) "must be deeply convinced that the complexity of the feature set (which certainly does appeal to a lot of us) is an indivisible part of how they add value to their product." IF it certainly appeals to a lot of us, then what are said camera makers doing wrong? You must mean that it *doesn't* appeal to a lot of us, hence the appeal of the camera phone? Otherwise, the camera makes are giving a lot of people exactly what they want, no?

[No, I said what I mean. I'm talking about a camera for my 74-year-old aunt. I'm talking about having a couple of choices in a field of hundreds of products. I'm not talking about all cameras and I'm not talking about cameras for enthusiasts. --Mike]

My Panasonic DMC-FS35 seems quite simple to me. Of course it has a few more controls than a Contax T2, but if I want to pretend I'm holding a non-zoom film camera I can just ignore them. Or if that's not enough, cover them with duct tape or Sugru.

If Panasonic simply removed those controls, would anyone buy the result? I wouldn't.

I wanted a really small camera. I got a Lumix FS50. It's about the size of a credit card, but a bit thicker. Set-up, there's an on button, a zoom rocker and the shutter button. There's a screen too and if it were ever cloudy here you could frame with it. All you do is point it, and shoot. It works for me. But I've noticed that other prople find it complicated. Horizons all over the place. Focused on whatever. Maybe it's too small. It's a lot smaller than a smartphone. What did Panasonic do wrong? For me it's like my Minox MB, my Olympus Mju, my Canon Powershot SD800, but smaller, much smaller. I wanted a camera I could really put in a pocket. Good lens too. Less than 100 bucks!

If any camera manufacturers are interested in this, I suggest they find a Minox 35 to let their engineers play with.
I might add that I have 3 m4/3 Olys which are all set up for specific uses so I do have to screw with the setups just to take a photo!
Just like cameras, cars have become overcomplicated. Recently I had two rental cars of different brands with touchscreens in the center of the dash. Over 5 days with one and 3 days with the other, I never figured out how they worked-and I am the quintessimal techie. Cell phones are lots less distracting than these touchscreens.
I once wrote a technical article,for the BMW club magazine on auto network technology and while researching the article found that the first BMWs with these systems had over 7 million options in the menus!!

The Sony NEX-7 Intelligent Auto mode "Automatically identifies the scene's characteristics and shoots a photo." I use mine as a point-n-shoot and it certainly produces "good pictures."

The two knobs on the top aren't labeled and can be ignored. One button reviews images, another wakes up the flash and the others need never be touched. I suggest your aunt Mary give it a try.

I think the marketing folks take the blame. They demand features that look good in an ad, but that in practice, few want. But god forbid that a customer be lost because there is no wifi even if it does not work in a useful manner. I waited in vain for the digital back for my OM4T. That is all I wanted.

That said I am quite pleased with my recent purchase of a Nikon 1 V2. Can be operated in a simple manner with image quality roughly equivalent to a Nikon D90. I mostly use it in aperture priority auto and it does a sterling job.

Virtually every camera has a simple setting for that frame it, shoot, and take what you get. Some of them even have viewfinders. Some allow you to turn off the automatic review of your shot to take what you get.

The Leica X2 would, I think, be the closest. More importantly, It looks simple to use. Only two dials on the top and a single row of easily ignored buttons.

It is my opinion that camera manufacturers just put buttons all over the place to make a camera look like it does a lot, which turns off a lot of people who just think its going to be too hard. Currently only the Leicas go against this trend, unfortunately.


There is a digital camera like the T2: a T2 and a good film processing and scanning service. Otherwise, something like an EPM in iAuto mode with a Panasonic 14mm is the simplest I can think of, and it's not that simple. I think the problem for people who aren't experienced with cameras and photography (and even to an extent for those who are) is that they aren't knowledgable enough to know what to ignore.

Hi Mike,
John Gruber over on Daring Fireball noticed this essay, and quoted from it. I expect you'll get a lot of new visitors.

As for simple cameras, boy, would I welcome one. Some of the pining for the good old days of film I think is actually about the simplicity of what the camera asked of the user. The Retina IIa (from 1954) my dad used only had three controls: exposure, selecting a focus point, and focus. My Olympus XA (from 1979) had the same three. Both concealed exposure choices a little - the Retina optionally linked aperture and shutter speed, so you only had to pick an EV value. The XA only let you change aperture and ISO. Which the savvy user could manipulate to change shutter speed - once again concealing a bunch of complexity. Both made excellent photos, in part because the naive user only had to attend to framing and focus, and the experienced user only had to keep track of depth of field and shutter speed.

I'd like to offer a recipe for a 'simple' camera. Take a small form factor, suitable for pants pockets. Add a rangefinder style, left side viewfinder for the presbyopic, and show a bright red square around the central focus point. With the word "This" above it. When the camera is on, let it continuously calculate focus and exposure for that point. Have one substantial feeling, well marked, shutter button with a nice, tactile, snap about three-quarters of the way down. Have one lever switch clearly marked with the word "on" on the front, where your index finger would push it to the on position when you pick it up. There would be a tiny ring of LED flashes recessed around the outside rim of the lens. (Look at the position of the selenium photocells on a Trip35 for an example.) A sliding button on the top side of the lens would say "flash", and the uncovered area side would say "on", or "off". When the flash is on, it would read "on, flash", when it is off, it would read "flash off".

The lens would be a fixed 35mm-equivalent. The camera would make all the exposure decisions, with one exception - a recessed button on the top left of the camera marked "fix it", that prompts the exposure computer to look for an alternative exposure with backlit subjects or white snow scenarios.

On the back, there will be no buttons, but instead a tilt screen for waist level viewing, with a springy silicone hood to shade it when you use it. The tilt screen would have a touch interface for selecting and grouping photographs, suspiciously similar to the Photos app on iOS. Holding the shutter button activates a burst mode, but playback groups the photos into an animated GIF for selection purposes. The playback software would license the combination of low power Bluetooth and Wifi that Apple is now using in the latest iphones (instead of NFC) in order to deliver photos to i-devices and your trusted local network. Sync to your laptop or NAS would begin whenever the camera detected its home network AND when it is plugged in to recharge.

The one concession to "serious" photographers would be an unmarked ring around the shutter release, the lens barrel, and the "fix it" button. Using the touchscreen, the photographer could enable them to directly control shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, respectively. Half-presses on the shutter button to hold focus and exposure would be as usual. The dedicated could change settings limits, default exposure offsets, etc.

Notice I'm saying nothing about the sensor. Any of the most recent sensors - even the 1" ones would have enough dynamic range to obtain a useable picture. "Usable" is what many of us want, most of the time. At some point the dynamic range and total number of pixels will be good enough for the kinds of practical purposes such a camera will be used for.

Thanks for reading all this, Mike.


My favorite cameras have been a Pentax ME Super, Leica M2, and Mamiya 6. I've tried to like digital cameras, opting for cameras where the feature set wouldn't distract from, you know, taking pictures. I've had the first Olympus Pen but its lack of a viewfinder sowed the seeds of discontent, then the Fuji X100 which is quite lovely but even so, I ended up selling it and bought a Canonet QL17. Now, that's a simple camera. I guess I'm incorrigible. The model for camera simplicity is one of many analog cameras. Maybe they were so good at allowing you to get on with the business of taking pictures because what was engineered into them was all about, only about, the act of taking a picture.

Interesting point of view but IMO the average smartphone users does not care about simplicity, that's not an actual reason. They just think "hey, I already have a camera in my phone, why bought another one?" and that's it.

Very few of them are interested in a super simple camera; the crappy one in their phone is enough.

I’m asked to recommend a camera like this occasionally and have nothing to offer. I think the ideal simple camera would have the exposure latitude of color print film but with automatic white balance that works under incandescent and fluorescent lighting. The camera would easily share photos via Facebook, Flickr, email, or whatever. And it would be so unobtrusive that you’d always have it with you.

Other than exposure latitude, that sounds like the camera in a smart phone. These advantages, plus zero extra cost for the camera once you have a smart phone, have clobbered compact camera sales.

Let’s give credit to the smart phone makers. They’ve recognized the value of the camera as a competitive feature and have worked hard to make it dead simple to take and share a picture.

It’s silly, but I’ve thought of smart phone cameras as “non cameras” because they don’t satisfy my camera requirements. They do for most people. I’ll suggest a smart phone the next time I’m asked for a simple camera recommendation.

Anyone else have a Yashica T4 Super, the affordable/simple/good camera from 20y ago? A 35/3.5 Tessar, decent metering, and the 90° angle finder. Mine's been sitting on a dresser, collecting dust for years.

I agree with Kalli, that between the iPhone and an old 12mp DSLR, there's not a need for gear in between those two. The Sony QX series isn't worth the hassle - cost, pocket space, charger.

FWIW, I read both TOP and Daring Fireball regularly.

It's that "that takes good pictures" part that throws a wrench in the works. My wife has photographed bears twice recently with her iPhone. (I've seen bears in the wild 3 or 4 times in my life, but only while traveling; my wife has seen them twice this year and had her iPhone with her !) The first time, it was in the dense shade of trees on a sunny day and with the poor DR of the iPhone, it's invisible. Second time, it's blurry and distant, but still a nice "record" for showing friends. Her comment: I need a phone with a better camera. (She never would have had time to get the new Sony QX gadgets ready).

“You know you’ve achieved perfection in design, Not when you have nothing more to add, But when you have nothing more to take away.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I bought my wife a Nikon D40 years ago, figuring it was reasonably simple to use. For her it wasn't. Finally I just told her to set it on the full automatic setting. Still, she mostly uses her iPhone as it is small, simple, easy to use, easy to carry, and takes photos decent enough for her and her friends. What else does she need?

With cameras that take even experienced photographers a week to fight through the menus and useless garbage in order to competently use them, why would anyone who simply wants to take decent photos bother? On top of that even the most compact of compacts aren't nearly as compact and convenient as an iPhone.

Amen, Mike. I recently picked up a Nikon D70s for my wife. 6.1MP and a 200+ page manual. She's really, really into weather and just wants to photograph cloud formations that interest her. I put the Nikon in Program mode and told her "press here and forget about all of those scene modes". She's getting along OK with it but even the lens shade is complicated; line up some marks and give it a solid twist. A screw-on shade is much simpler.

That new Olympus has more knobs and dials than anyone should have to agonize over. It reinforces everything I like like about my Fuji cameras: aperture ring, shutter speed dial, and just enough buttons to manage the camera when not photographing. Bliss.

To me, simple means all the main options are physical and visibly obvious, and each of them has its own single-mode button. Complex is when I have to remember where things are hidden in a deep menu tree.

To this ideal, I really liked the Pentax 645N. Set all buttons to "green" and it is fully automatic. Need to change shutter speed, move that knob; need to adjust adjust aperture move the lens ring; need to adjust ISO, move that knob (umm, swap in a different sensor).

I had an OM1n for many years and loved it. I would really like to see someone build a digital version of that. Full frame sensor, total manual control, nice 100% viewfinder. Manual ISO up to 3200. Perhap Olympus could resurrect the OM range properly rather than give use the unecessarily complicated offerings they do at the moment.

"I do think Nathan is one of the few photographers I know of who can really handle color, and Sam is another."

That's a rather sweeping statement. I'd say there are more than a few people who can handle a colour photo. I have to agree with you, though, there is something special about Sam Abell's photography. He has a knack for composing wonderful natural light photos. He's the photographer who inspired me to pick up a camera in the first place. I wouldn't say he can handle colour, I'd say he is a master of light. I dare say that he would be a master of black and white too, if he put his mind to it.

That's just my humble opinion.

The nikon 1 cameras are a reasonably good attempt at simplicity without sacrificing performance or functionality. I have a v1 and while there are one or two frustrating failures in the design, it is an enjoyable camera to use because it is very simple and mostly just works without getting in my way. Very different to the current Olympus approach where the EM5 has so many features and options it actually makes it less enjoyable to use.

My 78-year old father wants a simple camera but then he judges cameras by the number of features they have, so even if such a thing as a simple camera existed, he's not likely to ever buy it.

Perhaps we need to return what Kodak advertised, "click the shutter and we do the rest."
When I taught photography in the early 1970's my students used a very basic 135mm camera, an Olympus Pen which was a 1/50th shutter speed
and a variable aperture, or fixed as was required. My point then as now: KISS.

And I don't have an iPhone or a cell/mobile phone. Find all the so-called smart phones
to be more and more stupid as they are supposedly developed beyond what any normal person would require.

Sort of like digital image recording devices known as a camera!

With film, a lot of decisions were made when you selected your film and a bunch more by the lab technician making your prints. Shooting JPEGs with modern digital cameras means those decisions need to get made through the camera — white balance, picture styles, tone curves, "creative" filters, etc. — and giving the user control over them generates a lot of complexity for the user. Shoot raw and there's no need to set any of those while shooting, and back home on the computer you get to play your own lab tech. iPhoto works as a basic raw processor and many people are already using it (and similar apps) to organize and adjust their JPEGs, so shooting raw doesn't even require introducing much complexity on the computer end.

Of course, a lot of complexity is also driven by adding features. Many fondly recall the simplicity of film cameras, but film cameras weren't so simple after the addition of autofocus, motor drives and advanced metering, features now standard on modern digital cameras.

Smartphone cameras get to be simple because they offer minimal features and limit user control through automation. I'd like to credit smartphone maker with recognizing the advantages of simplicity and a limited feature set, but I suspect much is due to the compromises necessary to include a camera among the many features of a smartphone, given the limitation of current technology. I suspect technological advances will bring additional features and attendant complexity, though perhaps the soft interfaces of touchscreen smartphones will make it easier to hide the added complexity from users who prefer to forego those features.

As for a digital Contax T2, I'd suggest the Canon EOS M with 22mm f/2 pancake lens. It's solidly built, has very simple physical controls and a surprisingly well implemented and easy to use touchscreen interface. Set to auto mode, there's almost nothing to adjust, even via the touchscreen. IQ is what you'd expect from an 18MP Canon sensor, and the 22mm lens is really very good, though focus is slow (even with the latest firmware). I've played with the low end mirrorless cameras from other makers, and while they also have auto modes and simplified controls, IMO Canon's touchscreen interface sets it apart as easiest to use.

I agree with Paul Amyes — all I really want is a digital version of the OM1N please. Just give me an aperture ring to turn, a shutter speed dial, an exposure compensation dial and a simple exposure indicator such as LEDs rather than a meter needle. Manual focus is a breeze in the big bright viewfinder. My all time favourite camera to shove in my bag is my little Olympus mju II — either with 400 Fuji colour neg or preferably Ilford XP2 B/W. The lens is great and the sliding front means a case is often unnecessary. And it really is a point, focus lock, and shoot. And then all I do is hand over the film and get prints back — remember how easy that was!

a) define good quality, and
b) define simple

If your aunt could handle a Contax, then she'd probably also want results like from that one. I'd suggest an X100s or - if they can afford it - a Leica.

Contax cameras always had very good optics, so a camera for which a comparable Zeiss or Leica lens is available should do, if that is what they mean with 'good quality picture'.

+1 for a micro 4/3 camera and Panasonic prime (14/20/25mm to choice). I'd partner it with a GF1, available for next to nothing second hand, set it to iA, and shoot. Why a GF1? It has a bigger battery and consequently can shoot for longer than any later Panasonic m4/3 camera body of similar style. My mum is 82 and uses such a combo regularly.

I can see the need and desire for the simpler camera. I have a 5D MkII and use it pretty similarly to my old Minoltas, but with the addition of Live View. So Aperture Priority, set aperture, focus (sometimes manually) exposure compensation if needed. So in essence a waste of most of the camera's features. I also had the EM-5, a nightmare to setup and use. Just replaced it with the EP-5, still a lot to fiddle with, but I made it work for me, and much prefer it.
There are way too many features and really poor UI design on most cameras - that is the iPhone advantage, not too many features, and excellent UI design.

What is needed is this simple camera, few features, but good ones, but coupled with iPhone like Cloud backup, simplicity of connectivity to your home network (why do you need cards in a simple camera?) and a simple UX for using the camera.

The only drawback is that as a lot of users become more experienced, they want a camera with more bells and whistles, whether they need it or not!!

Totally agree. If a manufacturer just put the camera & all its features from the upcoming iPhone 5S (amazing looking camera tech, mostly due to the A7 processor capabilities) in a body (basically an iPod touch minus everything else), but retaining wifi, bluetooth and integrations with online services for posting - they'd have a winner. Hell, perhaps apple should do it?

Slightly off topic, but still...


I think you're almost spot on apart from the comment that "...camera manufacturers don't seem constitutionally capable of making a super-simple camera". I think they can but it seems that we, the consumers, push for more bells and whistles. (In fact, I think you implicitly recognise this when you conclude that cameraphones will themselves get more complicated - "...as cameraphones gain an ever-enlarging share of the camera market, the cameras in them will inexorably get more complicated".)

I bet there is a camera for your Aunt Mary - maybe a Fuji Finepix. Set it to Auto and tell her to ignore all the buttons bar the shutter button!

What baffles me in this piece is, assuming your aunt gets the simple camera she needs, what she's going to do with the pix? A digital camera is useless without a computer. So presumably she's going to need an equally simple computer with equally simple software. Not going to happen, is it?
What's wrong with using a simple film camera? It's not as if these aren't easily available.

[She's good with taking the card to the local camera store. That part she's got down. --Mike]

Design specifications for a good, simple camera I would want to use, inspired by your post:


I don't have one personally, but the Fuji X20 is pretty close to a simple camera. Optical viewfinder, simple on-off/zoom control via the lens, mode dial rather than touch-screen or menus.

I'm happy enough handing my Nex F3 to non-photo/camera-literate friends/family set to intelligent auto.

If I had a digital camera with nothing but A/T/M, ISO and a focus point I'd be happy! Maybe the reason for all the other "stuff" every camera has is that it gives the manufacturers something to upgrade?

My sister got back from almost a month in Northern India on a trip with a group of artists to sketch and paint. She shot pictures with her iPhone, and for the life of me, after going through the results, I don't know why she should have taken any other camera, especially since photography is not her focus. She put together a wonderful show from the prints, for us to view on her computer screen, and has even self-published a direct-to-press book that looks great. Aside from being 'stuck' with one lens, her iPhone seemed to work far better on her auto color correct than my professional Nikon, and she seemed to have a larger number of 'correct' exposures without bracketing, than I get from my Nikon as well.

As some on here have said, and as many of my professional compadres have stated, aside from items like an iPhone, the idea that I would buy and use anything that didn't have an eyepiece viewfinder is ridiculous. The New Lumix (and Nikon point and shoot!) is going down the right path, and no, I don't think an add-on eyepiece that kills the hot shoe for other uses is a decent solution. I expect the "G" series Canons any day now to follow suit, after I've been begging them to do so for years! Someone from Canon called me a while ago on some other issue, and asked my what I thought of the new "M", and I told her it was ridiculous for them to introduce a camera like that without an eyepiece: I heard her furiously typing in the background....

The reasons we don't have a simple camera that works well has been alluded to by many on here, but to restate, it's about engineering and why they don't speak with actual users. It costs as much to make a chip containing twenty features as it does to make a chip with three, and ditto for the software. Some marketing person is also to blame, as advertising a camera that does fifty things instead of ten seems like a 'no-brainer'.

Layer on top of this, my problem with digital and it says it all: No digital camera has a setting that tells me that if I set it, it'll emulate what I'm used to getting from film! And that include sharpness, contrast, and color. My mother just wanted it to look like her color prints from film, and it never did. I don't even own a computer that has a screen large and defined enough to tell me what the sharpening looks like when I'm working in RAW, I have no idea if it's getting close to what I'm used to in film or not! I've used Canon point and shoots that just do jpeg, and have no sharpening setting, and the results are "soft", even on small prints. I've learned that Canon likes to "game" noise results by using underpar sharpening, but that doesn't help the average amateur shooter get something they're happy with. Again, my sisters iPhone pics look great and sharpened enough. I could go on and on about how digital has added so many "setting" and variables, and never identified which setting emulate the film we're used to, everything is in the dark!

Leave it to Apple to "do the right thing".

Slightly off-topic here, although a simple camera; not for your aunt's canoeing forays:
I find I always return to the Epson RD-1. Cocking the shutter with a lever, lovely - what a shame there's no up-to-date version of a digital rangefinder with this. A Mamiya 6 or 7 as is, just with corresponding sensor in lieu of film chamber (the S2 one would be nice …). Still a simple enough camera, innit?

I think camera makers are aware of the fact that people want simple cameras. The usual 'solution' is adding a 'simple' mode to the camera. Of course this additional mode makes the camera even more complex!

Well, judging from most suggestions above, most cameras seem simple enough. ; )

"It's not unlike Eggleston, and will appeal to people who like Eggleston, except I think Benn may be a better photographer.

Sorry, that's one of those opinions you are not allowed to express, because it steps outside of accepted conventions. I'm afraid I do it all the time, in my mind."

You're not alone. IMO he's the photographic equivalent of the "The Emperor's New Clothes".

When I want to have things really simple and old-fashioned with my EM-5, I disable the LCD touchpad, put exposure on M and ISO on the rec-button.
Judging brightness in the EVF (using the blinkies), I will use the wheels to adjust A or T (and if necessary ISO) without taking the camera from the eye. Nothing could be simpler -- or give me more "previsualizing" control over the resulting image.

Probably one of the simplest and least expensive cameras is the Canon A1300 (UK): 'peephole', AA batteries, largish simple buttons, modest but 'enough' zoom and a moulded grip. Nothing current is close on price (@£99) and spec.
We sell a lot to older people in particular - currently sold out.

I am all for simplicity. But simple cameras have been here for years, e.g. anything from Polaroid SX70 to Canon S90. But software can't understand what its sensor is looking at. How does it know whether to take a scene with long exposure, as opposed to wide open aperture? It can't and may never will. Hence the complexity in cameras, film or digital, with tons of parameters. Not until computers can be programmed to paint or compose music like humans do that there would exist a phone or camera that read a photographer's mind.

simple camera? simple answer. original model polaroid sx-70. open, peek thru viewfinder, press shutter. picture land in your hands.

..I, and apparently everybody else, agrees with you (on Benn/Eggleston)

A then girlfriend and I went on a short trip that we had been planning for quite a while. I encouraged her to buy the new camera she wanted at least 6 months prior to the trip in order to get used to it. She did. And was doing well with it. In the afternoon of the second day she asked me what scene mode I was using since my photos were so much better than hers. Further she was upset because I was able to shoot so much faster. We sat on a bench while I looked at her dSLR. Scene modes are a foreign concept to me as I shoot all manual. The icons denoting the scene modes are not intuitive. I put the camera on "P" and asked her to shoot for an hour or so and then we would review her photos. What a difference that made for her. The photos were better and she was able to shoot "faster". She has spent 15 years in the IT field and was trying to use the "correct" scene mode in order to have good photos--every photo required a decision whose parameters she didn't fully understand. Trying to figure out that camera gave me a headache--I've been shooting since 1974. So much for a simple camera.

Yesterday a friend and I were on a quick trip and he asked me to make a video of a section of the road. With him being elderly and technophobic I was curious to see his camera. The scene mode dial of his point & shoot has all of the usual nonsensical icons except 2 of them were altered. His grandson had taken a pocket knife and carved a "P" into one of them and a "V" into the other. He filled in the mark with a sharpie. With that his Pap was able to make photos and videos easily. My friend is very proud of his camera and pleased with what he was able to do with it. I'm sure that same grandson was handed the camera when he got home and was asked to "make it so that I can show everyone my photos".

Yes the world needs a simple camera and camera companies need more usability engineers for the low end dSLRs.

Just ordered Kodachrome Memory via your Amazon Canada link.

Thank you for the book recommendations Mike! Haven't been disappointed yet by what you mention/review so please, keep them coming.

Thank you for clearly expressing an aggravation that we (and many of the people that commented before me) share. One additional observation. For a couple of years in the mid-80s I sold cameras in a local mom-and-pop store. At that point the "high-end" cameras that we sold most weren't like the fully-manual Nikon FM2, but instead were able to automatically control exposure (the Nikon FA was "aspirational" hardware) or at least aperture (Canon) or shutter speed (Nikon FE2). Even then the "professional" cameras (Nikon F3) were overburdened with buttons and knobs. My point here is that the "mainstream" cameras today are consistent with the "mainstream" cameras then; the only difference I think is that the gee-whiz technology has followed Moore's Law.

What I think users are noticing (following Mike R.'s wonderful Saint-Exupery quote from above) is that the "experience" of using an iPhone is enjoyable because it takes pretty good pictures (akin to the quality of any mid-80s point-and-shoot) and that the technology falls into the background. This, of course, is an old Mac vs. PC argument. [Yes, I arrived here via Daring Fireball!] Do most users need to be able to customize/add to/configure to the Nth degree? I don't think so. Basic controls work fine for just about everyone and allow most of them to execute their task without needing to know a whole bunch about computers or cameras. ("You take the pictures, we'll do the rest...")

However, I think there are really two desires being expressed. The first is that a simple camera would be available for your aunt. The second is that there would be a simple professional/advanced enthusiast's camera that allowed the purchase of construction quality and image quality without having to pay for unwanted (and, arguably, unneeded) technology controls. What I would like is a high-end SLR camera that is relatively small (discretion is important in my work... I visit poor neighborhoods and refugee camps often), has great glass and doesn't have more than aperture, shutter speed and ISO controls. I'm not even interested in auto-focus. I'm basically trying to recreate the experience of using the Nikon FM2 that I grew up with.

When film and digital scanning became dramatically expensive (c.2004) I started using a series of higher-end point-and-shoots; most recently a Panasonic LX-5. (I chose the Panasonic because of its 24mm equivalent lens.) However, this summer I had an opportunity to spend 6 weeks in Istanbul (and will be spending much more time abroad for work in the near future) and wanted to "upgrade" my equipment. As I hunted for the digital equivalent of my beloved FM2 I discovered (as have many of your commenters) that Leica is the only company that is making cameras with the simplicity of the fully-manual Nikon (or, for that matter, a Mac.) Unfortunately, the Leica system I would want for my field work would be around $25,000; aka: out of my range.

After a lot of searching and testing I've ended up with a Nikon D600 and some nice fixed focal length lenses (24mm, 50mm, 85mm). It has fully-manual controls available, is weather sealed and, most-importantly, takes very good pictures (thanks to the full frame sensor). The problem, of course, is that a lot of the cost of the camera went into the R&D that has (unquestionably) yielded breath-taking technology, but that I don't want and won't use even though I paid for it. And it is HUGE and HEAVY and not in any way discreet.

During a recent family get-together my mother walked into the room carrying one of those Fujifilm instant cameras which use the Fuji pack film. She's been disappointed in general since her Polaroid film disappeared from the shelves at the drug store. I won't even suggest that it's once again possible to load-up her Polaroid. I've tried for the better part of ten years to move her to a digital point-and-shooter and handing a memory card to the one-hour print lab attendant saying "one of everything" but she won't have anything to do with it. It's not simple for her. I'm fascinated by how all of us have very different definitions of "simple". I've realized my mother isn't interested so much in the image quality in the prints she keeps in a box as she is in the ethereal connection the poor quality instant prints provide her to her family. They trigger the memories that make her happy, and that's just the "simple" she has in mind. It's all good.

I also think most of us are selling phone-cameras short because we don't realize that photo printing as a mass market media is dead these days. People want to take their photos with the same device they use to view, show, and email them. The best kind of "simple" is always "easy". Perhaps Nikon's future is one of returning to its roots of providing lenses to other manufacturers. How about the iPhone 6 including a Nikon VR lens? Go where the money is, as they say.

I'm also fascinated by comments I see online praising the Nikon 1-series cameras. I know the series is seen as a market failure in the US and yet I read of so many folks shooting with them and being very happy with their results. I bought a J1 because I did see it as a new Kodak Retina (yes, more correctly an Instamatic), and went so far as to pick the silver camera plus the brown leather never-ready case and strap so as to recreate what I consider a true point-and-shooter camera. It's worked for me. I'm of an age that when I think of lighters I think Zippo. When I think of washing machines I think of Whirpool. And when I think of a simple camera for carrying about while on vacation I think of a '50s-style Kodak. Why not carry a neat little cool looking snapshot camera when what you want to shoot are snaps? And it would have been pure black magic to consider shooting video with a Retina.

Finally, I've taken many snaps with my smartphone which I've printed in snapshot size with nice results. What percentage of camera users have ever printed any photo to a print size larger than 4x6? It's funny to think the majority of 101 years' worth of my family's photographic prints including dozens of big 5x7 prints from my great-aunt's Kodak Autographic, my dad's Kodachrome slides shot with a Kodak Pony in territorial Alaska, my own shots from college may be considered unworthy of the Internet + HDR age.

Nikon and Canon are in the business of selling big, complicated cameras. That's how they have made their money for decades. All other cameras they make must contribute to the sale of their big, complicated cameras.

Small cameras that are good are to be avoided. They are only made to respond to pressure from outside, such as Panasonic with the LX1 or Apple with the iPhone. Even when responding to outside pressure, their small cameras are still made to be complicated, to train people for their big, complicated cameras.

For Nikon or Canon to make a good, simple small camera is for them to contemplate suicide.

One other related point. Why was Apple the first to release a camera that has a flash with auto white balance? I think the technology to do this has been around for at least a decade. Again, I think it is because Apple's goals for their camera are low cost and hight customer satisfaction, while most other camera companies want people who buy low cost cameras to be dissatisfied and move up to more expensive models.

Mike, Most of the low end digital cameras really simple and uncomplicated.
Finding one is not a big deal.
the hoopla about simple cameras is a lot of hot air.

"That's been one of my mantras - focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end, because once you get there, you can move mountains."
Steve Jobs in BusinesWeek, 1998

Simple can sell very well, see iPod, iPhone, iPad. What many don't understand - making a great and simple product is very, very difficult. Selecting the perfect trade off between functionality and usability requires a special insight which is rarely (never?) found in design by committee.

Many here and other places blame this on Marketing, others on software engineers. My experience is all sides contribute requirements and the stack always gets higher. It takes a very special discipline to pare down to a perfect design.

The challenge is simplicity without the loss of control. And to me this has always meant two things: focus and exposure. I loved my Minolta STR101 because of this: split prism focus, and a two needles for exposure: one moved with shutter speed, and the other (which had a circle in it) moved with aperture change. No auto anything. When I looked through the view finder, I could very quickly focus where I wanted to, set the exposure, decide if I wanted to over expose or underexpose, and then concentrate on composition. How I miss that Camera.

I someone made a digital version of the SRT101, no auto anything, I would be the first of a long line of people to buy this Camera.

About the title of the book: I'd like to think for our sake that there was a market for sneaking serious photos to otherwise uninterested folk by giving the book a bland title, but I don't think that happens too often.

I saw a picture of an Olympus OM-1 on Craigslist today. Now, that's the camera that Oly fans wanted the "digital OM" to be like, nice and simple. But let's look: load the film, which wasn't automatic. Set the ASA on the dial on top, or else the meter won't work right. Know how to read the meter and set both aperture and shutter, or nothing good happens. Oh, wait, switch it on first. Manipulate shutter speed dial, which was in a non-standard position. There's another switch for the mirror and another for self-timer and another for flash sync right there under your fingers. If your photo teacher taught you about depth-of-field preview, that's another non-standard control. It's certainly a pretty camera, but not really a simple one.

Ed Hawco: This is less true than one might think. I'm a engineer (but not in cameras), and I can't count the number of times I've had to fight tooth-and-nail with professional "designers" who want to add more doo-dads that nobody will ever use.

In my experience, "engineers" want to push either incremental improvements (in cameras, things like more megapixels or bigger sensors), or new features which can be completely automated (and hence invisible to the user, like maybe power management systems). It's the "designers" who always want to put their 10 cents in the interface.

Virtually every mass manufactured product in the world has professional designers behind it today. No product manager would ever let an engineer simply ignore the approved design and make it more complex because they want to. In almost every case where you see overly complex design, it's the designers who are to blame, not the engineers.

Okay. There ARE simple cameras out there. Or, more specifically, complex cameras that can be operated simply. But they are all too damn intimidating. The problem being that many people have no interest in the fundamentals or language of digital photography. All they want is a camera for family pictures, vacations, etc. Many of these people have a good foundation in photography but it was learned during the days when film was King. These people don't want to have to go through a complex learning curve to take vacation pictures.

Here is an excellent example. I have a friend who is in his late 70s. Long retired, he worked as a photojournalist for daily newspapers for over 30 years and was a photographer while in the armed forces prior to that. He has a long history of shooting pictures and knows more about the practical aspects of photography than most people posting and giving advice on Internet forums. Long before I ever owned a digital, he bought a digital P&S camera for snapshots. I don't recall the brand or model but it was a very simple camera and he liked using it but it no longer works. He was not interested in technology or keeping up with the trends in photography, he just wanted a snapshot camera. Last year he bought a Pentax DSLR and 2-3 lenses in anticipation of an upcoming vacation. He never used it. He no longer takes pictures at all. When I asked him about it he said something was wrong with the camera and he couldn't get it to work right. Later his wife confided in me that he is so intimidated by that damn camera he is afraid to touch it. She said he read the instructions and he told her he didn't understand what most of them meant. The camera has too many controls, too many functions, too many features and too complex a language for him to understand or ever feel comfortable using. Furthermore, he has no interest in learning all those controls, functions, features and languages just to take some vacation pictures. The camera and lenses reside in their boxes, unused.

This is a camera that has all the "idiot" modes that people equate with simplicity. But the whole concept of making the process simple has actually made it more complicated when the user has to learn new and completely unfamiliar words, meanings and vocabularies.

You're right, and it's a shame, but it's not just cameras that fell victim to this.

I bought a microwave oven 20 years ago that had 2 knobs. Today you can't buy any microwave oven with fewer than 20 buttons, a digital display, and a sound chip. The insides of the doors are covered in tables of codes for what incantation to key in to defrost a medium leg of lamb or a large roast. Nobody knows what the "POPCORN" button does, or why microwave popcorn bags say to not use it. Yet overall it's not any better at microwaving my food than the old one, and much harder to use.

It's getting hard to buy a car whose dashboard isn't a giant bitmapped touchscreen, too. Cars are safer and more reliable, but a touchscreen dashboard doesn't help with that. Almost all modern reliability (fuel injection, manufacturing improvements) and safety devices (crumple zones, seatbelts with pre-tensioners, more airbags and airbag sensors, ABS, traction control) of the past few decades require no user interface at all. Manual transmissions have pretty much gone away (in America, at least), and been replaced with much more complex user interfaces.

Home audio systems, sewing machines, blenders and food processors, rice cookers -- it's hard to think of any consumer device that uses electricity that isn't significantly more complex than it was 20 years ago before somebody got the idea to put a computer in it.

Yet almost none of the improvements have been able to address the biggest problems people had before. My old analog sound system sounds better than most new digital systems, not because analog is better but because a digital system can't help you if you have a lousy room and bad speaker placement. My rice from my old $20 rice cooker is better than my friends' rice from $120 computerized cookers because they don't wash their rice properly. And on, and on.

Re: Nathan Benn vs William Eggleston.

Been's work is more photojournalistic. He does people pictures really well. Eggleston's work is more documentary. He does social artifacts better than anyone. Both are valid. Neither is better than the other.

(May I say, "Just sayin'"?)

Daniel S. says it well -- the needs of the market lead to overcomplication. Add to that the fact that marketing and product people tend to add features over time since that makes the spec sheets and feature lists look good and adds sales arguments. Case in point: the recent Sony add-on camera module for phones immediately got criticism for not having all sorts of manual controls and raw format. It's also my observation that most users are incapable of actually designing good tools; the result tends to be the Homer Simpson car.

As for a simple camera, I don't agree that smart phones are perfect and cameras are not. How about getting a great camera, setting it up properly and then jsut shooting? My OM-D is set up, I can pass it to anyone and don't have to worry about issues with the shot. My Nex is a bit more challenging, but works pretty nicely in A mode for me. My iPhone is ok, but misexposes every now and then, it's easy to get a finger in the picture, blows highlights, is hard to hold steady and really hard to level.

PS. as for Eggleston and Benn, what does "a better photographer" really mean? Are we talking about the body of work each has produced, the technical qualifications or what? I don't it's entirely clear cut.

Um, what? I never said "smart phones are perfect and cameras are not." With whom are you disagreeing?


Yes, we need a digital Trip 35. I s'pose any number of compact digital cameras could be set up to emulate that paradigm. But how would I know? All the advertising and marketing is about friggin' whizz-bang features that obscure the simple act of making a picture.

One thing about taking pictures from a canoe: you can paddle right up to your subject. The zoom is in the paddle, water strider.


There is a good essay about music at "Rocknerd" ( http://bit.ly/14QlrsS ), but it applies to all art and technology.

"Musicians are in competition with every other musician in the world, including literally everyone who wants to be a musician and doesn’t have to do it for money."

For camera makers to put out something as simple as a block of wood that makes recognizable images would be to undermine their whole reason for being. They are the experts and have to act like it or they have no business.

Imagine a camera with a built-in phone. The phone would be rudimentary at best, and dead simple.

Reverse that, and you have cameras built into phones. Rocknerd: "...whenever quality competes with convenience, convenience wins every time."

David Vestal wrote about this around 40 years back, in a slightly different vein, while discussing the quality of materials available. When a mass market develops, quality drops. No one misses it. No one cares. No one even realizes that it used to be different.

Photography today is not about making images. It is about sharing. Good enough is good enough. "The purpose of culture is actually social bonding..."

Kodak is gone. Phones won. They are photography's state of the art.

Yeah! Just got a notofication from Amazon Germany that my copy of Kodachrome Memory has shipped. Seems to be in a bit earlier than expected in that case.

When my father in law retired we bought him a Nikkormat EL to replace his Argus C3. He liked the camera but whenever he went on vacation he borrowed my Olympus XA saying it was "less bother".
I'm a TV news photographer and I carried that XA around in my pocket on and off for years until it finally croaked.
A few years back my family bought me a Canon S95 to carry around and naturally I love it.
But when I stepped up to an iPhone I decided to see if its camera would be good enough. After six months of leaving the S95 on the shelf I have found that while the iPhone is quite a good little camera it is too clumsy for the kind of photography I did with the Canon or Olympus so the S95 is back with me most days.
However there is one thing the iPhone does better than any pocket camera. Part of my job is to go read police reports and search warrant returns. Rather than spending a couple hours transcribing documents I just shoot them with the phone and use an ap called CamScanner to turn them into a big pretty PDF file that I can shoot back to the station.
I mention CamScanner only because it has a perspective control function that is designed to square up a document but will also act like rising front in a view camera thus answering the question "is that a Deardorff in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?".
As for the simple camera question: The little Canon on fully auto or program seems to fit the bill and if you happen to pop a major keeper a 16x20 is not out of the question.

I shoot some sports. For roller derby, I need fast continuous tracking auto-focus. This also takes long telephotos, I use out to 400mm.

For other things, I need full control of the focus point, and when focus is taken.

For landscape, and some indoor events even, I need manual aperture and shutter speed. But when the camera is in the bag I want it set so I can get into action as fast as possible, and that means program mode (and, ideally, auto-ISO, too).

And if I were taking a camera up to the Boundary Waters I would *very much* want GPS in it; that's the poster child for why you want GPS in a camera. Otherwise you'll never know where the pictures were taken.

For me personally, the "scene" and "art" modes are the "obvious cruft" that my cameras would be better off without. Every time I try one (just because), I find it produces less good results than I do setting manually. That, and all the stuff to get prints without going through a computer; never touched that stuff, wouldn't dare at this point (I don't understand it, but I *do* understand how to use the computer).

Then again I'm an experienced photographer. I haven't yet seen anybody else in this thread depending on them, though, and several people talking about how they were problems even for inexperienced shooters. But they don't actually hurt me any (though I'd be *MUCH* happier to have the control dial space used for them given over to a user-configuration setting instead).

People who really only shoot one thing can, in theory, get by with a much simpler camera than the rest of us -- so long as they can find one optimized for their style of shooting their one thing!

But essentially no amateur really only shoot one thing; nearly everybody also does family snapshots, if nothing else. And many amateurs are like me and dabble in multiple areas of photography (portraits, macro, sports, landscape, copy photos of artworks and documents, product photography for Ebay sales, etc.).

In the interest of full disclosure and maybe to underline what others have said, along with the analog phones I mentioned as favorites, not least because of their simplicity for the user, is my Android phone (HTC, Motorola, whatever) with the Vignette app.

Poor choice of words from me, I should know better than to write late at night. The point that I intended to make was that well designed cameras currently on the market and smart phones are not that different in ease of use when both are initially set up properly (I don't know if there's a camera that's good out of the box, I never use out of the box settings myself). Actually when I got an iPhone, I needed a few tips to best use the camera and I've been in the mobile device business for 10 years!

I wonder if there ever has been any more discussion about a "universal RAW" file...something like loading every camera produced today with the exact same roll of Kodachrome (or Velvia, or Tri-X.) I don't know who I heard this idea from, probably it was here, but I like it.
Then, if a universal RAW file could be created by any camera, I would love a digital Spotmatic, Konica T or Leica MP.
I'll be sitting here waiting.

Do a search on reviews of a recently discontinued model. You'll get six million hits linking to pre-release speculation; six thousand repeating the day-one press release; a hundred or so 'hands on' reviews telling you what it feels like to hold and look at for five minutes; and perhaps three or four considered pieces (usually hidden away in obscure forums) saying what it is like to use as a photographic tool in the long term. All of that will be buried in a sea of chatter comparing spec lists and high scores.

A camera's reputation is not set by its users. Promised specs are more important than delivered specs, and both are more important than fundamental performance.

The Pentax K-01 is a good granny camera, which apart from the lack of an optical viewfinder, matches what you say you want. It flopped completely. Nevertheless, it's a good deal at current prices. Excellent sensor. Small, but not so small that stiff fingers can't use the buttons. Streamlined design with simple buttons for everyday tasks, but with complexity there and available should you want it.

The complexity was always there, even in the "good old days," it's just that it was under the FILM heading.

Black and White or Color? Prints or Slides? 24 or 36 exposures? Fast or Slow? Single Prints or Double? 3 by 5 or 4 by 6 or 5 by 7 or 6 by 9? Proof Sheet? Jumbo Proof sheet? Borders or Borderless? Straight or Scalloped edges? Booklet? Slides Mounted or unmounted? Cut or rolled? Cardboard or Plastic mounts? . . .

My definition of a simple camera is a machine that you can hand to someone who never has used it before, and they can quickly take a photo. That is not a Leica M anything since everybody assumes it has auto focus and they forget to focus. Interestingly an Leica S qualifies. But it is more than $100.

When you said "simple camera" I got all excited because I thought you were going to talk about a simple camera FOR PHOTOGRAPHER. Drat!

I'm going to put my idea out here anyway...
- Body like Fuji X-E1 or X100
- Great electronic viewfinder
- Only controls are aperture and shutter speed like X100 (including the feature that if both are set on "A", then the camera is operating as "Auto")
-Camera only creates 16MP RAW files... no JPEG and thus no in-camera menus needed
-tiny little postage stamp size screen on the back that's there only so you know something got recorded when you pushed the shutter
-small interchangeable manual focus-only lenses

That's it.

Canon PowerShot ELPH 115 IS
$95 @ Amazon
The whole ELPH series has only two modes, Auto & All Auto :)

F**k yeah!!
I've ranted on the same thing in the past, and even talked about it in the recent couple of days.

I think Olympus should lock five engineers in a room, with the spec: a quality camera with *only* a shutter button. And for every feature they feel forced to add, every team member have to take a hard whip lash.

And if it has any menus, they should be limited to, well, 12 selections.)

(OK, I'll admit to also wanting a 28-120mm zoom, otherwise it'll just be too limiting to me.)

I know more about cameras than almost anybody I know, and yet every camera I own confuses me! I've been known to search in vain for a way to change the dang ISO!

Some enthusiasts and teachers on the web hate automaticity like the plague, and wants everybody to set everything to manual. (They also want them to use ISO 100. Bah.) Well, I come from a painters/artist's viewpoint, and I love to have my mind on the image, not the camera, and the auto does a splendid job 95% of the time, and it almost never happens that the pic can't be salvaged.

BTW, you and I and a couple others (you most famously) bitched for a few years to get the quick, portable quality camera. And we did get that. So this could happen too.

Mike, nothing to do with a small, simple digi camera (DFM3A please) but the book "Kodachrome Memories".

I just received my copy and all I can say is WOW, just like my reaction to here, far away.

Just a beautiful book. I kept saying to my wife "ya gotta look at THIS one" so many times she stopped what she was doing (making cookie dough) and sat down with me. Her reaction was a strong as mine.

There is/was and will never be anything like Kodachrome! And in the hands of Nathan Benn it was taken to another level.

So far I've purchased three books that you have recommended and they have all been worth every penny.

Cheers, Bob

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007