« Remember the Dogs (OT) | Main | How Come Small Sensors Never Get the Love? »

Tuesday, 28 June 2016


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

Having a touchscreen does not equal simple. It could very well be a painful experience.

"a single dial and six buttons" Out of my head, and excluding the lens release button, I count a mode dial, 2 command dials and 12 buttons.

It's always worth listening to any opinion of Gordon Lewis. (I hope to meet him some day over a beer/coke -- my treat.)
Some cameras do a better job than others of minimizing the necessity of personalizing the menu. For example I've used Canons for years, and all that's required to do a better job than I usually can is setting it to "P for Program" and enabling "Highlight tone Priority."
My beloved little Sony RX10 and RX100, on the other hand, require a lengthy setup, and if anything changes my settings then I get really upset! They are, unfortunately, prone to spontaneously changing their settings, often losing valuable shots (the worst offender seems to be turning the flash setting to "ON," something that I NEVER do).

Agreed. I disable all the buttons I can. And the touch screen. There have been too many ruined or missed shots because the focus point was out of place or some special feature was somehow enabled and I end up having to dive into the depths of the menu system....if I know what to change back.

And I don't need video.

I believe that the lack of simplicity in user interfaces is due to the fact that most cameras are designed by Japanese companies where the push is always to add 'one more feature', whatever the product or market, and however useless the 'feature'.

It's by no means limited to cameras. I have a Sony amplifier/receiver for my TV and stereo, which is beyond comprehension; all I want is to control the volume, select a source, and sometimes a radio station, but instead I have 'large hall reverberation', etc, etc. to find my way past. And if I was to try to adjust the GPS, or audio, on my Lexus while moving, I would probably be a danger to other road users.

Well at least it provides an opening for companies like Apple, Leica, (and Hasselblad), Naim, and more.

There is nothing simpler than actual physical dials, buttons, and switches for the often-adjusted functions.
Touch screen? In the field? Where control changes have to made in half a second? With dust in the air and light rain coming down?

Spot on. Most of the current digital cameras are trying to be all things to all photographers. I can see how that would fit marketing and engineering economies of scale.

I'd like a true modular camera with interchangeable sensor, lens mount, viewfinder/evf and user loadable firmware - an truly open platform.

I suspect that Gordon Lewis knows far more about cameras than I do, but I don't think the new Hasselblad is any simpler, it simply has (digital) buttons on a screen, rather than as mechanical protuberances. I find dedicated mechanical buttons to be simpler.

Well, mostly square film was just a "film is cheap" reaction to technical difficulties making cameras that would shoot both horizontally and vertically. Especially for twin-lens designs rotating the camera 90 degrees just wasn't an option. The 6x7 cameras either had a rotating back (Mamiya) or were designed like a 35mm SLR and could sort-of be held vertially (Pentax) (And for a long time those were the only two.)

I've never heard of a sheet-film camera using square film; for those, rotating the holder was practical (within the very slow operating paradigm of large-format photography).

Some people did start shooting square photos with square film, though. I wonder how much that was a reaction to the 35mm cult of the filed-out negative carrier? And, perhaps, a way to brag about being able to afford the expensive medium-format cameras.

[I'm pretty sure the reason people shot square pictures with square cameras is just because you start visualizing like the camera does. With the D800 I tried using a 28mm while "intending" to crop somewhat, and I couldn't do it—I'd just instinctively compose with the whole viewfinder. The idea of leaving extra "air" around the image I wanted just was never going to work. I did manage to crop consistently when I worked with a 6x6 camera extensively, but I could understand how some people just wouldn't do that. --Mike]

If a paper print is the end goal of your photography, then Fuji has a radically simple digital version of the polaroid camera. So simple, in fact, that I see it marketed almost as a kiddie camera.

Agreed, there are several missing niches among today's offerings. My suggestion of most neglected tech would be in-lens shutters. I'm always looking for leaf shutter cameras. If you do a lot of flash outside the studio, having a 1/1000th sync option is priceless. Leaf shutter cameras, however, tend to be either pricey or puny. And when my work demands ultrawide perspectives, the shelves are empty. Until and if the Nikon DL ever emerges from the vaporous future, I'm looking at using a Panasonic LX with add-on conversion lenses. Am I really the only one who wants this?

I think the big challenge with any 'niche' camera is the shrinking supply base - I've had 6(!) cameras using the same 16mp sony sensor at their heart, which keeps sensor prices low but argues against small-run mono or square sensors. Especially when so many users are happy enough with software interpretations - The latest Acros setting in Fuji's, for instance, or Ricoh shooters 1:1 setting. I would love for Fuji to apply their Xtrans knowledge to a monochrome sensor, even if limted to an X100 style camera.

Sure, cameras tend to have many features that most people rarely use, rendering them unnecessarily complicated ... but I strongly disagree with the idea, if it is indeed implied, that

"fewer affordances (buttons, menu options, etc.) = simpler."

In fact, having too few buttons, such that you find yourself constantly needing to navigate the on-screen menus instead of using dedicated buttons, is arguably a significantly worse design.

It comes down once again to how you work, what you need in a camera. If you use only a very small set of functions, it's fine that the camera has fewer buttons. But if you have to quickly deal with the curveballs thrown your way and can't waste your time navigating menus on a display, having to press at the right "haptic-less" areas (you can't go by feel, you have to look down at the screen)—and it may not work with gloves (?), and it may be difficult to see in the sun, and so on—then that camera is awful for you—much more complicated, in fact.

Recommended reading:

"It's not complexity that's the problem, it's bad design. Bad design complicates things unnecessarily and confuses us. Good design can tame complexity. [...] Complexity is good. Simplicity is misleading. The good life is complex, rich, and rewarding -- but only if it is understandable, sensible, and meaningful."

My ideal camera:

only 3 dials (I shoot in manual mode only; if you like to change modes I suppose a dial more would be needed): shutter speed - aperture (on the lens, please, if possible) - ISO
and a "Q" button a la Fujifilm to access a dozen or so, configurable, other options.

And here's the deal breaker: I want the ability to load IN CAMERA my Lightroom or Photoshop curves. Or at least my curves, even if that would mean using a proprietary software from the camera maker, as long as it does the job.

This would cut my post processing time to nearly zero, and being able to see the image in almost its final state would mean the ability to more easily check if I've got THE shot directly in the field.

I am one of those people who go into lengths to learn the ins and outs of photo techniques to be able to understand what happens and thus tend to shoot with a lot of manual control. But recent years have seen some very nice innovations in automation, my favorites being customizable auto-ISO and face detect auto focus, which both help me to focus on the picture rather than adjusting settings. These sort of things help in my mind making the actual shooting situation more fluid.

In fact, last year bought a Nikon Coolpix A (only because it was cheaper than a Ricoh GR) and deliberately set it up to auto-ISO in P mode so I can just point and shoot and it works very well (though in fairness aperture adjustment doesn't have a huge impact on an 18 mm lens anyway).

As a point of clarification, I don't know for a fact that the new 'Blad is more simple to use than, for example, a Nikon Df. I was just noting how minimalist and simple the UI appears to be. This was a conscious design choice. Some photographers will like it, some won't. You pay your money (in this case, lots) and make your choice.

I have owned more than a few cameras in my time. No matter what kind it is, I have always relied on just a few controls. The rest is marketing BS. in manual mode, I want to set the ISO, and the shutter speed and the aperture. I usually use shutter priority—period. the only other control I may touch is the meter coverage area. If I want to expose or focus an area outside of the center, I move the camera to that position and press the shutter release half way—thats it. I guess I am using only about 5% of all the camera features that are included but that is all thats needed to take a good photograph. Its always been that way so why change. I order to put some passion and feeling into your photographs, you have to compose properly, expose properly, and focus properly. Then all you have to do is press the shutter at the proper moment. All those button swill not help do any of this.

Lots of discussion (mostly elsewhere) dwells on where cameras are heading, as if they're evolving towards something, rather than diversifying.

I know touch screens have their fans and for good reason, but so do cameras with well placed physical controls allowing an event photographer to change precisely the things he needs to change while shooting, with gloves when necessary, and without taking his eye from the viewfinder.

From event & sports & wedding photographers to fine art and landscape photographers, moms and dads and everyone else who picks up a camera, there's no design that's best for everyone.

Actually Phase started it; the Leica S borrowed from that brief relationship. And now the SL uses the same interface.

I didn't think I would like it...but I bonded quickly after testing the S and SL. Michael Reichmann (RIP) didn't like it, instead preferring the single function buttons on the Pentax 645Z. Different strokes....

Both Hasselblad and Leica make products to enable the photographer to control the camera and not vice-versa. Funny how it costs so much more! Turn off that WiFi and GPS! Big Brother is watching! (Sorry, I couldn't resist. Theres goes my safe traveller pass.)

Dear Mike,
I would like a digital camera as simple as my Leica M6, however my problem is I just can't afford a digital Leica M. Surely there must be a very eager market waiting for an alternative camera maker willing to dare build a cheaper digital rangefinder? I'm convinced it would be a hit.

Cheers Paul

IMO, highly configurable cameras are a de facto step in the right direction. Although you still have to spend the time setting them up, once that's done you have the ultimate simple camera - one that works in exactly the way YOU want it too...

I don't think that a touch screen and lack of dials equals simple. Depending of course on what is on the menus and what they control, wading through menus isn't my idea of simple.
If I have difficulty reading a screen in bright sunlight to see the menus, it wont be simple.
I like most controls on buttons/dials where I know what they do and I can access them easily while I still have my eye on the viewfinder. A barrel ring controlled aperture still seems to me the best/simplest place for that control.
I'd happily not have all the modes and gimmick shot stuff that I can later do PP (if required), taken off my cameras. I'd happily not have any video on my still camera (but of course recognize that some models are useful to many people. I'm just talking about what I want in my camera)

Just make sure it has more than one button...


I recently spent some time with a Fuji XPro2 (XP2). The simplicity of its operation was a bounce back to early film days. But simplicity of operation can mean different schemata amongst photographers. The XP2’s ISO setting is similar to the ASA dial on my first SLR; located underneath the shutter speed dial for safe and easy access. All you have to do to change it is raise the shutter speed dial up a little and then turn the ISO wheel just like we did back in the SLR days. But no, the internet reviews are full of hate for this lovely function.

I enjoyed shooting with the XP2’s simulated ACROS tones. Here is a cat-snap of my Joey as I saw it through the viewfinder (no crop with ACROS tones) minus the text from my Facebook meme. And for anyone that wants to know if the XP2 is fast, well there is another “crazy redhead” out of camera view that Joey pounced on the moment the shutter clicked. Fast autofocus with zero shutter lag is what cat-snaps call for from my experience.

In regards to a square sensor: there is a workaround inside the CSV-50c back called the “square crop mode.” Yes you lose pixels, but it is there if you want to use it, and I am sure the X1D will have something similar. With so many new cameras heading our way, I am enjoying the spectator seat right now. I plan on renting some of the new gear as it becomes available before I make any buying decisions this time around.

Isn't the cell phone camera simple enough (1 button).

I bring this up from time to time and I'll do so again here, why can't I talk to my camera I can ask my phone to do all sorts of wondrous things for me.. usually without error, but my camera is still plagued with a menu system and dials that should have been obsolete five years ago.

robert e's comments nailed it for me. I find the aperture ring/shutter speed dial control system of Fuji X to be the essence of simplicity. Fast, fluid and intuitive. Personally, i think I'd find a touch screen interface both slow and frustrating. No thanks.

I suspect that a square frame camera might be too niche, but it gives me an idea. I'd like a camera with a high-resolution circular sensor the size of the lens imaging circle. Then I could select any aspect ratio, using perhaps a control wheel. The EVF would black out the image outside the selected viewing area, or it could have a mode where it shows the full sensor area and a frame line for the selected crop. That way I can see what is outside the frame, just as with a rangefinder or Fuji's OVF cameras.

I quite often use quite 'extreme' aspect ratios - especially short, wide 'letterbox' landscapes, and it would be very useful to see this in camera rather than afterwards.

Another advantage with this scheme is having portrait format without rotating the camera, which screws up the ergonomics unless the camera provides duplicate controls. You could even have a 'self levelling' mode, so rather than having to match a horizon line manually, the camera automatically rotates the rectangular image area within the sensor's total area to keep the horizon level.

Regarding complexity of modern cameras, to me, the most complex and obscure feature is autofocus. My camera (DSLR) provides a number of modes and settings which allow for a plethora of combinations. Somehow I fail to see how memorizing all this and dialing in the right combination before taking a picture is easier than just using a split image screen or zone focusing. I find that autofocus disrupts the flow of photographing - if I use autofocus, I often "chimp" to check if the camera locked on the right distance.

I think it's just changing fashion. Fuji and Olympus go retro and everyone screams "MOAR DIALS!!!". Now it seems like the pendulum is swinging the other direction.

Given how I use my camera, I could easily imagine being happy with a camera that has two dials, one shutter release, one power switch, and everything else on the touchscreen. I think the thousand-and-one button approach appeals a lot more to action and wildlife photographers than it does to me.

Simplicity, Nikon 1 V1. A clean design, well built. People complained about the small sensor until Sony did it in the X100.

This is the part where I casually mention the new Leica that doesn't even have a screen.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007