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Friday, 28 February 2020


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I like your idea of incorporating a depth-of-field preview button. I have always found this feature worthless on my film cameras -- stopping down dims the screen and you can't judge the result. But on your simple DSLR the screen brightness can be maintained constant. Brilliant!

And it should have a six megapixels sensor :-)
Happy birthday !

Wower, Mike, now you're sounding like me. But regrettably, there's no hope. When I started in photography about ten years before you, I was just fascinated by the process, but soon I became interested in making good photos, ones that were technically acceptable, but also communicated something. Photography became both a profession and a means of artistic expression for me.

Today, fuggaboutit. Photography has been hijacked by what we used to call "advanced amateurs," but I will now call "technical hobbyists." Folks fascinated by the technical aspects of the process, the lenses and the cameras. They live for complexity and are distant cousins of computer hobbyists. In my entire career I never wanted the sharpest lens ever, I was happy with decent sharpness. I never wanted to bracket my exposures in 1/3 stop increments much less even smaller.

The saddest thing is that for a number of years I shot, and still ow, a good sized OM system. AS digital came around the corner, I though, "why
doesn't Oly make an OM4 with a FF sensor that uses the same lenses" Yeah, sure, if they wanted to go bankrupt.

Ii still yearn for Fuji introducing a digital xPan, a camera that re energized my photo interests, but I'm not stupid.

Am I suggesting we will see the end of photography as an artistic medium? Yup.

Good one. I think we sometimes long for simpler and easier times. We wax nostalgic.

For what it's worth, I use Nikon DSLR's and set them up all the same, and then just roll with it. Single point focus. Matrix/Spot metering. I do use Auto ISO and keep an eye on minimum shutter speed. Aperture Priority mode for most part, sometimes P mode when using zooms. I use exposure compensation. RAW only. I find shooting RAW simplifies using the camera, I don't have to worry about all the settings related to JPEGS. I admit I like the rear LCD, mostly for viewing the histogram, and highlights.

Then there's the iPhone, which (in my opinion) is the most simple digital camera of all. The thing just works. I think the ease of using an iPhone is part of what might make us long for a digital camera that is likewise so easy to use.

I'm a Nikon guy, but Fuji XPro3 might be configured in way you like, maybe.

Your description reminds me of the Epson R-D1 but simplified even further and made DSLR instead of DRf.

Personally, I'd take a Df, a nice AI-P 28, 50 & 105 and be happy. Far from perfect but then, perfect is the enemy of Good Enough.

Take a stab at trying to explain the Sigma FP...

I think that you could call my Leica MD Type 262 a simple digital camera.

Indeed it has almost all of the simple features that you describe above and nothing more: Raw output only, physical ISO dial and shutter speed + A, A full range of MF lenses, It has no menus, other than what you use once when setting the camera up for first use, You can see more than 100% of the desired composition as it is a rangefinder. It has no rear screen.

Finally, since they are all second user now, they are reasonably priced.

The type of camera you describe is "simple to use" only for someone who already has a moderate amount of photographic knowledge and experience. Hand it to someone who doesn't know an aperture from a shutter speed and it's not simple at all. As a case in point, how many of today's photo-enthusiasts would know how to set color temperature (or remember) if they had to do it manually? Just to be clear, I personally prefer cameras that have physical aperture, shutter, and ISO dials, but that's because I grew up using such cameras and prefer non-modal controls, not because I believe they are intrinsically more simple to use.

[Might you be confusing 'simple' and 'easy'? A view camera and its movements is simple but not easy. --Mike]

I think I’d still want a hot shoe that could trigger a manual flash. No need for fancy menu adjustments, but flash can be fun and useful and doesn’t need complexity. I just might be up to ordering a “Johnston.”

And I just remembered the Hassy H1D II which is as simple as any digital camera will be anytime soon because it can be expensive enough to be simple.

I think that this *could* happen if there were a camera company that was intelligent enough to realize that such a device had an audience and courageous enough to break out of the standard dedicated camera design modes to go after that audience.

The relative simplicity of the phone cameras speaks to this ... most people do not want the various controls and customizations that the terrible menu interfaces provide. But it is in general taken for granted that "serious" users of "serious" digital cameras do want these things, even though the actual evidence is that most users use the menus once and then try never to look at them again. I mean, even the Leicas have a bad menu system.

I can imagine ways to make this better/simpler to set up ... but most of them either make the camera more like a computer or require that the camera be able to do things that the current companies have not been good at implementing, like talking on a network. Or, of course, just removing the features that need to be configured. Getting these kinds of tradeoffs right requires taste and courage, which are rare commodities.

So ... I think we can wish and we can hope but the reality is that the forces against this kind of innovation are stronger than the forces that could push it forward.

A simplification attempt
Canon M3/22mm lens

And the OM-1/50,1.4 is sitting there on the shelf and I am thinking soon, soon I will use it

Could this be the simple digital camera you seek?


It is indeed simple, and very compact. The major difficulty in using it will be finding memory cards small enough.

(Picture quality is not great.

- Harold

Leica comes closest as you say, especially the M Monochrom, (try explaining that one to other 'photographers'!) and it's why I use Leica cameras (M and CL). But I am sure I'm not alone in feeling that simple-to-use, helps me get better pictures. Now that the race to master the higher complexity and have the latest techno gizmo is beginning to fade, many are wanting basic, high quality tools. As camera volumes decline into niche levels, and makers go looking for what might actually sell, I think you may indeed have a chance to get just what you are describing. (Five years out?)

In the meantime, I don't know why it has not occurred to the makers to provide a camera with a computer programmable user interface (with the app obviously), and let us make up our own 'simple' camera. Leave out the video – check, meter only on the centre spot or average – check, manual focus – check. etc. We all of us have computers, so it should not be hard to configure a camera totally on the computer, and then delete ALL menu items that are not relevant. That way the makers would satisfy the remaining master-the-technology crowd, while giving the rest of us exactly what we want.

Sounds like you're almost describing the Fuji X100 (followed by its "s", "t", "F", now "V" siblings), Mike. Or maybe now the new Fuji XPro3 with its 'hidden LCD', though I greatly prefer the "LCD OFF' button on my lovely XPro2. The minimalist functions you mention are all there to be used alone on all these models, or maybe in conjunction with just a few 'modern touches'? "'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished."
; )

Every once in a while I take out the X-T1 and shoot only with it for a couple of weeks. I am always impressed by the image quality.

Cameras like you describe already exist. The A7ii is so cheap that I purchased one. The only lenses I use are my F-mount Zeiss MF lenses (21, 35 and 100). Of course I needed a $25 adapter. So you can purchase one, use old F-mount or M-42 lenses. The bonus is that with a $25 adapter, these lenses also work great on Fuji bodies.

Just don't use the fancy pants stuff.

While nobody may be willing to make a simple camera, they could easily make cameras be simple. Cameras now are essentially computers with lenses attached. Given that, a camera could offer different programs for different kinds of shooting, including a "simple" or "classic" program (which is fundamentally what the "A" setting on most cameras tries to do, but that setting is usually *too* simple.)

The problem with cameras-as-computers is that the control system -- the computer -- is so flexible that you can do almost anything with it. Nikon has recently proven that, I'm told, with an amazing update of its Z system's autofocus firmware. But that flexibility gives engineers the opportunity to do all kinds of astonishing things that few people other than engineers are really interested in. But they do it, because, well, why not? The engineers see it as an enhancement, while users may see it as another confusing waste of time. I have David Busch's Nikon Z6 after-market manual, and it's 522 large-format pages long. It has 12 pages of "recommended settings."

The most obvious current example of this IMHO is the iPhone 11 pro, one of which I have. All I want is snapshots. But what I'm getting, most of the time, is a series of shots, or movies, or the flash goes off when I don't want it to, because the controls are awkward and honestly, I haven't bothered to study them. All I want is a button and lens for snapshots, and the iPhone cameras are becoming just like other cameras, a mess of complications.

All that said, the system you're looking for actually exists, and you once owned it -- it's the m4/3 system. Small bodies, pancake and even a few manual focus lenses. You'd have to dig through the menus a bit to get the simple settings, but once you did that -- there you'd be. The only problem is that m4/3 has inadequate sensors. They are now very dated, compared to those in other more modern cameras, and I'm losing hope that this will change.

How can you get any simpler than Auto mode on just about any digital camera? Auto focus, auto exposure including auto ISO setting. Its as close to a Kodak Brownie as digital can get. You don't even have to select a film to match your B&W or color preference, Post processing lets you do both from the same exposure. Yes, most digital cameras do much more than most users will ever need, but they still support point and shoot.
I spent over fifty years shooting film before I went digital and I have no wish to go back. I often shoot in manual mode, but I have the auto option when I want it. In fact, one of my biggest peeves is the new auto lenses which don't have a manual aperture control. I won't buy one. Most cameras today have features I will never use, but that's OK. Someday I might just want them, and they'll be there.
No, I think current digital is as simple or complex as the user wants, and that's a good thing.

That Df vs the FM3a looks like BMW's new Mini vs the original Mini. Looks like 'mine is bigger than your's' is driving business.

Good one - count me in.

DPReview has a film forum now and a recent post was "Show us your film cameras". The oldest camera I'm currently using was made in the fifties and my oldest lens is turn of the century.

I wonder if we'll even be able to use today's cameras and lenses seventy years from now.

Mike, I think you nailed the perfect simple camera, which is indeed simple and yet would satisfy a lot of very serious photographers. In other words, not a point-and-shoot, but a camera much like the ones I grew up with -- my beloved Nikon FA for example (thought that included matrix metering -- maybe more like the Nikon FE).

Of course I would miss autofocus, I would miss bracketing, maybe a couple other things, but I would in short order regain the skills that I grew up with using manual film cameras. It would encourage healthy shooting habits. Put me down for one.

My heart has ached for years at the hope of Canon ever releasing a digital Canonet. That was a great little camera.

I'm put off by the complexity and ephemeral nature (both) of digital cameras, so I've just stuck with film. In their latter incarnations, film cameras became almost as ephemeral, flimsy and futzy as digital cameras. I like a mostly metal construction, because it's both heavy and durable. To this day I regret not purchasing the Bessaflex, the last 35mm camera body done right, so I get by with a clutch of Spotmatics, a Cosina STL1000, and a Ricoh rangefinder with fixed lens of similar vintage. I got all this gear (well, over many years) for about what I'd have paid for an entry-level DSLR.

Aside from the SLR aspect, this sounds a lot like the screenless Leica MD262. It's beyond expensive for most people and the appeal has been quite limited, even in the idiosyncratic world of Leica users. The newer screen-free M10-D is more complicated and quite a bit less 'pure' in concept. Personally, I have a regular M262 and it's pretty basic.

I still have and occasionally use an old Epson RD1...that's the simplest digital camera I've ever used and the closest, I suspect, to your description. Hard to find, though, and Epson abandoned it after a short time. It's certainly a fun camera to shoot, though...

Yes but, yes but, yes but…

Only raw? I would never buy a camera that doesn’t deliver good JPEGs, simply because I don’t want to edit every single snapshot. This was initially the reason I switched to another system years ago. And no image stabilization?

Nice try, but I’ll stick to what I have now, unless someone would come up with a DTRL.

Mike, you lost me at "weight doesn't matter so much, but heft is important"... I checked the dictionaries and all I can find is "Heft (noun): 1 - weight; heaviness. 2 - importance; influence". So what is the difference in your mind?

1,. Any camera can fit your criteria if you program it like you like it to work and quit fiddling with all the potential options.
2. You have one in your pocket and it also makes phone calls.
Aside: Starting to shoot with the Nikon FM I acquired. Guess what’s hardest to get used to? Focusing? Exposure? Nope-winding the film!

There is nothing to stop the DSLR user from setting up the camera once, and from then on only paying attention to the ISO setting, the shutter speed, and the aperture setting. I do it every day.

FujiFilm x-pro (what ever the latest number is) is perhaps showing some signs of what you want, with the hidden lcd display. And of course FujiFilm have always had the control approach you are talking of.

I think the fault here is the premise that a modern digital camera is essentially the same as a film camera with the film replaced by a digital sensor. That is wrong. If you took a current digital camera with all it's capabilities and replaced the sensor with film, you would still have a complicated camera, as all the other aspects of the camera have evolved and gotten "better" as well. AF and setting that up to you preferences is advanced even if the sensor is film. You could in theory also have IBIS with film. :-)

The film camera could remember the settings for each frame and make it possible to have each frame developed independently. :-)

Putting the GPS location just outside the image area on each frame etc.

It's many of the new capabilities beside the digital sensor that drives up some of the complexity. And many people want those capabilities in their camera even if it makes them more complex.

I essentially only uses my cameras in two modes: full manual everything, or aperture priority with all else auto. But configuring those two modes to my liking is complex, and something I do once, then I use the camera for years after. :-)

We all are only using a subset of what the camera can do, but our subsets likely all are different. I wouldn't want a camera that is limited to someone else's subset.

Rather, I want a camera that lets me define my subset and ignore all the other stuff. One company that makes those cameras is called Fuji. My X-T2 and GFX 50R are basically a "Build Your Own Camera" experience. I don't even think about the things I'm ignoring.

That simple camera sounds very appealing. My first and last SLR was a canon 5D which I had from 2006 to 2008. Relatively simple, lovely pictures but I found its size/weight with L-series lenses just too great. After a period of no camera I had Panasonic Gf1, gx1, and currently Fuji x100t. The size and heft of the lady 3 has been perfect but the features/menus/manuals have also become more and more unwieldy. I can put up with dozens of unused functions if I can ignore them. But I so often find the surplus functions camouflage, or even alter, the functions I am interested in. It's so frustrating to take a surprisingly good or bad photo but be unable to ascertain/recreate the same settings again.

I sometimes feel like a classical pianist trying to play on a feature packed synthesizer.

"people buy SUVs mostly because other people buy them." but let's not go there.

There is (or was) a simple camera approximately like the one you described: the Leica M-D (type 262). It did not have a rear screen. You focussed via the rangefinder using your eye and took a gorgeous digital picture. The fraud-tographers hated it, as they do most any camera that is the least bit non-mainstream or unusual. But that means the M-D was too sophisticated for them and was a superb image capturing device for the methodical photographer.

I’d buy it! Honest, I would.

Leica is sooo close to already having something like this. Take the basic Q/Q2 body and UX and replace the fixed lens with an M mount.

I much prefer the Q/Q2 shooting experience to other digital cameras.

Have you ever taken a look at the Leica M-D (Typ 262) or M10-D?

...or a Contax IIIA, like I did! Love it, love it, love it!!!!!!!!!!!

With best regards,


I don’t have a problem with a gazilion features, every one of them has a constituency which feels that that is the only feature that matters. I am sure that a camera that makes bird sounds would be invaluable to cat photographers for instance. I also understand that almost all those features are essentially free in terms of unit cost.

So here is my modest proposal, a “menu menu” that makes not only makes features go away, but disappears them from the menu.

And speaking of features, how about a mode that when you partially press the shutter release , the center third of the screen shows an enlarged image as a focusing aid, but the rest of the screen is normal so you can keep track of the edge of the composition. Think of it as the digital equivalent of a micro-prism grid, and send Mike the royalties.

You lost me on manual focus. My aging eyes, used to staring at a monitor for many hours a day (for work), demand autofocus, or no deal. Then you just added a bunch of complexity, eh? I guess there is the crux of the issue: how do you please people who *need* AF (or flash or whatever) while keeping the camera simple?

As to Df, I think it failed b/c it was overpriced for what it offered and the price never went down. Priced at $1500-1800, that camera would've been a hit, imho.

After years of poring through its control menus, I think I have finally configured at least one digital camera (Olympus OM-D EM 10) to be as simple as such a beast can get: the mode dial is permanently set on A (aperture priority), the capture mode is RAW, the front top dial adjusts aperture, the rear top dial controls exposure compensation, and pressing a function button also on the top plate converts the front dial into an ISO control. The autofocus patch as small as I can get it, and set permanently at the center of the viewfinder. All the necessary controls, except for the ON switch on the back, are therefore within fractions of an inch of one another. (Compare that with an M Leica: aperture ring at the front of the lens, focus ring at the back, shutter dial on the top plate, and not even the option of auto-exposure, autofocus, or adjusting ISO.) Image files then get transferred to a desktop computer, where Camera Raw offers endless hours of innocent amusement.

Is it not possible to pare away distracting functions in similar fashion with other digital cameras, or did I just get lucky with the Olympus?

It seems to me that the Fuji X100V could be configured and used in a similar manner to the old film based Canon GIII. This is intriguing to me and I'm considering getting a X100V.

I think about the closest to manual film camera simplicity you can get in the digital world is the Fuji X-T/X-H/X-Pro series. These can be set up so pretty much all you have to do is set shutter speed, aperture, focus, and expose. You can leave ISO as a constant value or change it at will, but if simplicity is the goal, leave it as a constant.

Many years ago, I had a small book for teaching beginning photographers. The author used the acronym SAFE: Shutter--Aperture--Focus--Expose. Personally, I don't think all our complicated menus have improved on that.

All I want in a digital camera is a microprism focusing screen.

>Of course, all Nikon really wanted was to make a body for people who >owned lots of old manual-focus lenses. In that, they did fine.

Er, no. The Df screen is noticeably worse for manual focusing than several of Nikon’s then contemporary bodies, particularly the D750. There is no reason why the Df could not have been designed to use the K3 screen from the FM3a for proper manual focus, but it would have compromised AF performance. I like the Df, but it is not a dSLR for photographers with a collection if old Nikkors, unless you have a pile of very old non-Ai lenses, for which the meter coupling lever handily folds out of the way.

The closest we have to a simple digital camera, somewhat weirdly, is a Leica S series camera. Weirdly, I say, because Leica made their reputation from building rangefinders and the R series film SLRs were never very popular nor were many of the R bodies that great, but the S cameras are by far the best dSLRs for real photographers. Sadly, few photographers will ever get to use one because of Leica’s stratospheric pricing.


Rangefinder-type 35mm's from about 1963 to 2001. Jumped into digital with a Kodak DC4800. That was a fairly simple camera.

I have both a Lumix LX7 and a LX100. They each can do a lot, but I have them set up to use in a very simple manner. Most important, they can focus much better than I can.

Frankly, I LIKE that modern cameras take a lot of the burden off of the photographer. Just as I like that modern cars do not require setting the magneto and cranking from the front.

Right now doesn't the iphone 11 pro with it's 3 "lenses" come closest to this?

Hasselblad X1D...

Make sure there's a screw in for a mechanical shutter release, a non proprietary camera to computer cable connection (USB C?) and I'll take two. Add IBIS and I'll pay an unreasonable premium, plus proselytize on any and all photography forums!

Maybe none of the current manufacturers would build one but an upstart could, maybe. All they need to do is build a body with the buttons you described that uses a current mount, so there is access to current lenses. They might be able to produce the functionality you want by hacking the firmware of an existing body to limit the functionality to the "feature" subset you describe. It won't happen but it's a fun thought experiment.

So imagine your camera with a thin accessory back with a display panel and controls that slaps on magnetically and restores most of the whizbang functionality of a modern dslr. Your basic camera has all the necessary motors and gizmos built in for auto focusing, IBIS etc, but they are dormant until the units are mated.

Never say never. I see your camera being made one of two ways.
First through a kickstarter to see if people would buy it. That's possible, but with out advertising may never pick up as its very limited and the people who want it may not trust the kickstarter.
Second way the fully possible way and more likely way and surprised camera manufacturer don't offer it.
That being fully user configuration menu. Yes the set up would be a pain, but you only have to do it once. This idea being a Fuji pro like camera where you go into the menu and turn off everything and it will not show up again. You have only wahat you want where you want in the first and only page. Want it all back? Than just hold down three uncommon buttons at once to get back full menu with all sttings.l to reconfigure again.
This way you could turn a kitchen sink camera into any specialized single photo or video camera.

"Whenever I say I don't want a camera with video, people just look at me like I'm strange; first, why wouldn't you want it if you can get it for nothing?"
You're not getting it for nothing.
You're paying for it, so other people can make home movies, whether you want it or not.

There is only one feature I would add to that super-simple digital camera: memory card and battery door(s) that won't close unless there is a memory card and battery inside, so you can't possibly forget them at home when you grab the camera.

Hi Mike, whenever I read these sporadic pleas of yours, I can't help thinking that you should at least have a go with the Sigma sd Quattro cameras. The bodies are really cheap by current-model standards, and they take m42 lenses with an adapter. Also the body is available with a 30mm ƒ/1.4 kit lens.

I know, I know: they don't really tick all that many of the boxes in your article. But they seem, to me, somewhat aligned with the philosophies embedded within your plea:
- no video
- for practical purposes, a fixed ISO 100 camera, which is a bit like having a favourite ISO 100 film that stays in our old film camera
- pretty simple menu structure, that can be 'set and forget' once you decide on a fixed ISO, manual focus, single shot, fixed metering camera setup
- stopped-down focusing and metering with m42 lenses
- encourages, by design, a considered and thoughtful approach to photography, more about the photo and less about the tool
- rewards the owner with quite strongly distinctive and impressive images, which don't look like they came from any number of interchangeable cameras
- incredible monochrome mode, combining (with raw or DNG output) the OLPF-and-CFA-free sharpness benefits of a monochrome sensor with the colour-to-mono conversion benefits of a colour image file.

I have had my dp0 camera for some years now and I am very reluctant to part with it. Both the operation and the results are so non-stereotypical of digital cameras, that it feels like having access to a different way of image-making.


Up-step zero on your super simple camera will be a switch to turn ON a sound for your near-silent shutter. So that the subject can hear it and shift to her next pose, or simply know that the shot has been taken.

Have you come in contact with a Leica M10-D yet? There are some controls that can be adjusted, with the help of your smartphone, but basically it has only film controls plus ISO selection. Including A on the shutter and A on the ISO dial.

Surely the cameras on phones come close to this?

Oh, but there are plenty of supersimple digital camera. They're called smartphones.

But didn’t you just about describe Leica M10? Not an SLR but otherwise as close to your simple camera you are ever going to get. I would like them to put an EVF on that and shave couple of hundred grams off the weight and it would be close to perfect.

A "simple" camera has just been released.. called the Nikon D6. Everyone bemoans it's lacklustre video credentials, but it is a camera made for very specific users, with very specific capabilities, and not too much "fluff besides".. Not quite what you were envisaging. However note the reaction from the net - "Underwhelming". Exactly the same reaction you would get for your "simple ILC". What camera makers don't understand though is that there ARE customers who would appreciate your ILC, and enough to probably make it viable for them. Sales of the Fuji X100V are set to surpass the previous generation, which means that people like them.. enough to make it profitable to Fuji to market such a camera. Yes, it's not as simple as your "simple ILC, nor is it an IL :-), but in spirit it's getting close to the mark. Leica sells enough of their VELBEN goods to stay afloat, so there is definitely money in servicing fewer customers. I'm sure Nikon would make money if they came out with an F7 (with pre-ai tab option included at launch instead of a service upgrade..).. Not a simple ILC by a longshot, but servicing those subsets of customers that are out there, just waiting for the right product. And to go back to your SUV analogy.. isn't there such a thing as a Mazda Miata 2 seater that also sells well? So I have to conclude that you are wrong in saying that a simple ILC will never happen. It's just a question of which manufacturer will have the balls to make one!

I had argued before (as many others, I am sure) that this is precisely what Fuji should have done with the x-pro (a bare-bones, high quality full frame with just 3-5 primes), but it seems that only Leica has the guts and clout to go somewhat against the tide (and with outrageous prices at that — the opposite indeed of the workman like film cameras you were referring to).

I would remove the iso dial also. If shooting raw their is less and less need of analog Amplification (iso), most of modern sensor are so called “iso invariant”.
A switch to bright scenes, dark scene, and something in the middle which would correspond to 100, 3200, 800 would do the trick.
I would rather have an anti-clip mode. When shooting manual (aperture and shutter), the amplification (iso) will be so the histogram is on the right with care that none or little of the pixel are clipped for an optimized amplification/dynamic range.

I have often thought the same thought while scrolling through 'pages' of menu items that I have never used. A reputation for complexity is one reason I have never bought an Olympus M4/3 body.

The Pentax menu system is sometimes criticised by reviewers for being 'old-fashioned', but actually it is simpler and easier to navigate than most. I would certainly buy a simple camera body that could take Pentax K-mount primes, preferably mirrorless, to enable focus-peaking (I regard that as an essential feature).

I wished we could at least simulate this behaviour on a digital camera. I would be happy to disable most of the dials and buttons and modes and leave the camera in a state similar to the one you describe. Even the focus on the groundglas can be simulated on an EVF.

I have three cameras.

A phone that is super simple, always with me, makes very nice pictures but lacks the image quality of my other cameras. The simplest of the simple.

A full-frame DSLR that can do anything, makes great images, is a little bulky and takes time to master. This camera is for my serious and important photography using less than ten percent of its capabilities. I manually adjust focus, ISO, f-stop and shutter. I find the screen very useful for tripod work and reviewing images.

A mirrorless APS-C camera with a high quality zoom lens (24-105 equivalent) that I use as a point-and-shoot simple camera. I'm not sure I could manually focus it if I wanted to. It has made some great pictures for me. In my hands it is a simple camera. For me, a very smart simple camera is good.

I remember paying big money (for me) for a then-new Canon AE-1 so I could make pictures of our new baby while letting the camera worry about exposure. Never want to go back to the old way.

Even if the current cameras complexity doesn’t bother me at all, I would sure be very interested in your simple camera just for the experience of shooting with it.

I’m not sure how photography schools are now regarding teaching how to control the basic controls of a camera, when I was learning some years ago my school handed us Pentax K1000 coupled with a 50mm.

I wonder why the top camera companies haven't adopted the modular paradigm we once saw in the Nikon/Canon pro film line?
Technology should theoretically also allow the user to adapt the user interface to suit the personal needs and hide everything deemed unnecessary.
I imagine a camera with a choice of interchangeable top/rear plates. Analog dials or digital display, with or without a electronic viewfinder. Rear screen type to suit your preferred style, flip, articulate, none.
With the ability to tune, de-select and priortise the UI functions, you could make a video centric camera, or the opposite.

Totally agree. No video: the best!!!!

I have attained the level of simplicity you describe on many of my digital cameras by being unwilling/unable to read or comprehend their many features. I learn enough to set them on RAW, center focus, and no image review. I then never touch the settings again.

Ignorance is bliss for me.

Mike, interesting thoughts and at the very least a fun mental exercise (to explore what an idealize, simple digital camera might look like). But agreed there’s really no place for this in the market especially with the manufacturers on the ropes financially, as they are now. Out of curiosity, have you ever worked with the Sigma DP Quattro? It’s definitely the simplest feature set to the highest image quality ratio camera I have ever owned. It’s designed to make stills. That’s it. It’s quirky as all get out, don’t get me wrong. But ultimately when I’m using it, all I’m thinking about are my exposure settings and composing my image. Nothing else because there is nothing else. And in specific circumstances, it performs unbelievably (and others, like low light - high ISO, action, fast-paced work....it does not do well haha).

Aw, come on, Mike. It's just not that difficult to set up a new camera ONCE, and just shoot with it.

I tested every camera that came through The Imaging Resource for twelve years. With all those ever-changing menus from all the different makers at all the different market levels, it only took a few minutes to set up a brand new camera once for the best possible results and ease of use.

You don't have to do this every time you take a shot, just once. Then, leave it alone!

Occasionally (rarely!) a menu item would have a cryptic label (koff, Olympus), but they all had really good user manuals.

Pro-level cameras are simpler to use because they expect you to manipulate the shutter speed, aperture, and sensitivity, and they make it easy. The complexity of their autofocus menu options exists because the autofocus is so damned much more capable than anything that ever existed before. But you don't have to use it! One click on a physical button, and you can manual focus forever!

You gripe too much, Mike.

Ah, the sound of a familiar tune this leap-day!

In 2009...

and again in 2016!

(I’m sure I’ve missed a couple of others.)


The Nikon Df review on dpreview says “While it's true that many potential Df owners might not care about video, if you can add a function, why not do so?”. The emphasis in “can” is in the original text.
Even a web site whose target audience is essentially photographers states that more is always better.

I do indeed shoot with a modern DSLR that has lots of capabilities, of which I use many and just ignore what I don’t need. But I’ve been at this long enough that I shot for many years with a Yashica YF (Leica clone) until it’s shutter literally tore itself apart. One camera, one lens, many years and no desire to go back. If a company can find enough customers for the camer you propose to justify building it, then by all means go for it. I just will not be one of those customers

I think my O-MDs run in simple mode mostly:

Single point focus in the center of the frame.
Swivel LCD turned inward.
Aperture priority, controlled by the front dial.
Exposure compensation controlled by the rear dial.
I can choose manual exposure also, by simple twisting a clearly marked dial to M.
Focus clutch enabled (although I rely on AF).
There’s a preview button on the front.
I don’t have an ISO dial, but I have a button labeled ISO that changes the dials to ISO.
Single shot mode.
I have 12, 17, 45 and 75mm primes (24, 35, 90 and 150 for those FF fans). I did have a 25 (~50) but never used it, so I sold it.

It wasn’t hard to set up that way. I have this configuration saved in a Custom mode, so the camera resets to this mode whenever it’s turned on.

Oh yeah, I also have some very complex cameras that don’t take up any additional space in the drawer, or cost me any additional money. I don’t see the problem. My complex cameras do all kinds of video, which I don’t use and can easily ignore. They probably do all kinds of tricks I’m actually not familiar with, because I don’t need them.

Ten-plus years ago I set my Canon 5D Mark 2 to "A" (aperture priority) mode, ISO 100, -1.0 EV (since I'm more interested in not having blown highlights than I am in recovering plugged shadows), and a single focus point in the center of the field of view (it blinks red when focus is achieved).

I do sometimes increase the ISO, but rarely go as high as 1600, mostly stay at 800 or below, and generally keep it at 100. I almost never shoot anything but raw. I only rarely ever look at the screen on the back to review what I've gotten or occasionally to check the battery status.

I mostly use manual lenses (Leica R's, which I got nearly 20 years ago when I didn't know any better and someone I trusted told me that's what I should get) with an adapter that lets the camera sense that there is indeed a lens attached so that it can determine the shutter speed and also detect when I've got the single focal point in focus.

And that's how it's been set "99%" of the time for over a decade now, while a seemingly endless array of new features continue to pour forth from the manufacturers.

Sounds very much like I've been using a relatively smart camera in a very dumbed down mode, which suits me just fine, and approximates (so it seems to me) your "truly simple digital camera."

I do think that the marketing theory of the "camera for everyone" manufacturers is not that everyone will use everything but that anyone in any of the myriad niche markets can select what suits them and ignore the rest.

I'll bet there are a lot of us out there …

I think that this camera would only work for those of us that used film cameras. The rest have been brought up to be used to, and depend upon, all the digital wonderfulness. They would also have to understand a fair amount of basic knowledge - something that today's users are most likely not willing or interested in doing. I have a bunch of cameras, both analog and digital, ranging up to medium format (film). For the last few years I have been quite content with using a Fuji X100T pretty much configured like one of my old Pentax film cameras in terms of settings. The only concessions are the use of some of the film simulations and shooting JPEGS, which yield pretty good results and decrease time spent on the computer.

The only thing I would add is a simple match needle display in the viewfinder, a la the OM. The analog-ness of that type of display is a significant assist for me.

And I would prefer a rangefinder patch for focusing. I suppose it could “glow” or “sparkle” a bit when precise focus is achieved, but a patch a la the M system is just fine. My favourite OM screen was the #14 which had a diagonal split screen. Those now cost unobatinum, decades later.

Such a simple 35mm sensor size camera would be a dream, along with a similarly designed Rolleiflex MF camera. I don’t even need interchangeable lenses for a MF digital. The bayonet Rolleinar type close up lenses would be enough.

PS - A GPS function that simply marked location in EXIF would be great, IMO. As I look at negatives from decades ago, I sometimes ask “Where the hell did I take that?”

To me, photography is using all your knowledge to get the photo that you want. So electronic first curtain, high speed sync, rear-curtain flash, histograms, protecting highlights, et cetera, is all part of the game. I do not wish for a camera which prevents me from practicing 'photography'.

I do support anyone who feels that photography is all about capturing a certain view from a certain viewpoint. And anyone who wants to fuss about photography paper and chemicals after the event. Cheers.

Okay, now don’t dismiss this out of hand.
Why build a whole camera? Many good quality 35mm SLR’s were available with removable backs, in order to use data backs etc. So, for my OM-1 for instance why not have a digital back?
Because the shutter curtain is so close to the inner film rails the sensor could only have a minimal filter stack, and it might have to be a little smaller than 24X36, say 20X30, to preserve the 2:3 ratio. The battery power and electronics could be housed in an extended base and hand grip, probably smaller than an auto winder. The back would interface with the power/processor module via gold plated contacts.
A sensor would be at the edge of the frame and as the first curtain cleared the film gate would switch on the sensor.
Included in the kit would be a screen with markings of the sensor field.
Finally, enough of these would have to be produced to bring cost down to $700 to $900 per kit.
That last requirement is probably where the idea falls flat but I can still dream can’t I.

The pro audio recording manufacturers can make relatively simple to operate digital recorders. I bought a Sound Devices recorder a couple of weeks ago, which can record 32-bit floating point WAV files. Effectively it means that you can pretty much not have to get the input levels right before recording, (from mic, line, etc.). Then press record, similar to my simple Revox A77. Admittedly nothing beats those 10.5inch reels of RTM 900 going round though.

Hi Mike,

Thanks for perfectly capturing my wishlist for a digital camera that thinks it's a Nikon FM. Straightforward, not hefty, but with a big healthy high quality sensor and an eye to manual focus lenses, albeit with focus recognition to help us out a little as we take pictures and in-body image stabilization so we can get the most out of our classic, great glass.

Nikon could do one to highlight its wonderful lens line going back to 1959 or so, Canon also, Pentax-Ricoh too, including their terrific Takumar screwmount lenses. Re-invigorate camera and lens refurbishment in the process so there are plenty of manual focus lenses in fine shape to go around.

Simple and clean is good. Perhaps the world will come around to your thinking, that would be a fine thing.

Jeff Clevenger

Exactly, the cam in the main story is the cam I used when I was working as a photojournalist first 20 years. F2-F3 and F4. Ten years ago I made a drawing about my dream cam which was quite the same as in this article and sent it to Nikon and Canon and Fuji, I did it several times cause they never answered. Never.
All gimmics in nowadays cams are useless. A camera has to be durable and ergonomically fit ones hands. That is all.

Several commenters have already pointed out, and I agree, that there are several Fujifilm cameras that come close. I use my XPro-3 this way -- choose my "film" (simulation), choose aperture priority and ISO, and go. It's ultra simple and feels very much like my old days of using film. Your mind needs to "turn off" all of the other options, but once you do this you're left with a simple and fun photography experience.

Tom Judd:

Amazingly, the Nikon D40 (2006!) allows you to customize the menu system as you described. You can select which items to appear in the menu, and the rest disappear. And you can turn them back on or reset at anytime. Pretty cool.

The newer Nikon's let you set up a "My Menu" that is pretty much the same, you can load it with the items you want and then ignore all the other menus, which is actually my approach. I don't have much in the My Menu.

X-Pro3 on manual focus.

As an exercise - set your Fuji up like this.
Shoot raw only, view finder only, manual focus, use the aperture ring, remove everything from the display and so on.
Tape over, or tape controls to fixed postions and try to live with it for a while.

Yo may find you love or maybe even hate your dream camera.

The point is - with our flexible picture making machines we can always dialndown to your dream camera.

I am just learning to imagine in my head what I want my end product to look like, adjust the settings to get as close as possible and then make the photos - move the whole darkroom process into the camera and get ready processed jpegs as I like them. I am starting to find this quite liberating - but also have to let go of my old ways. I’ve shot film and digital side by side since I bought my first digital camera - the Canon D30 early 2000, and have done a lot of raw processing treating digital as film. No more of that - finally - digital is not film, learn to use it.

A camera like this will never be produced but Fuji could easily implement it as a shooting mode. Even on existing cameras through firmware update.

a particularly lovely and simple digital camera is a Leicaflex SL2 with a scanner.

IMHO the iPhone 11, if you happen to have one already, is pretty great to use as a fast snapshot camera.

Out of your pocket, slide up on the screen, hit the button.

The newer low light modes mean the flash never fires. But, if you really want to be sure you just hit the button on the upper left corner of the screen to lock it off:


The flash setting used to be more stable ... it seems to reset itself back these days. But like I said unless you are literally shooting in a closed closet I don't think the flash will try to fire.

As with any tool it takes a bit of practice to get used to it, and I realize that a modern phone computer is not going to scratch the itch of anyone nostalgically longing for the mechanics of an M6, OM-1, FM2a, or even a Konica Hexar. But those cameras are not coming back, and you probably have the phone in your pocket already.

I started photography seriously 30 years ago with the simple Nikon FM2A and now use a Sony A7RIV with its absurd 200 menu items.
Ideally i would like to see a camera with a simple menu without JPEG and video and use a separate camera body for video.

It's probably something that only Leica can pull off. A B&W [large-ish format?] inkjet printer might have a decent chance though.

I agree with Tom Judd, I want a camera that just gets out of the way, but I don't want to give up all the modern features to get it.

I like autofocus, particularly eye focus for family snaps, but I still like nice focus rings for when I need to override the camera.
I like a histogram on digital so that I can make sure I didn't leave the aperture ring at f/22.
To me the ideal camera would have a mode dial with "green", P1, P2, P3, P4, P5 each of which was a configurable profile on the SD-card.
I could have my mode, you could have yours.
The key, is allowing profiles to be posted/traded/shared.

It is unfortunate that all camera manufacturers still insist on setting all these settings on a stupid camera screen. why not make a phone app to generate profiles. For you Mike, you could just download the retro profile, then when you realized you missed a feature, you can just add that one feature in, maybe even trading it for a feature you don't actually use.

The manual focus is the really key option here. I basically use my XT-2 the way you've described above. There are many features it has that I don't even know how to use and that is just fine, because the camera can be operated in a very simple way. But I often wish it had true manual focus.

It's not only cameras that have become more complex. Look at cars (and these days, SUVs). I would trade the ergonomics of my 1985 Saab 900 over the new vehicles with the touch screen LCDs and steering wheel controls. I could see the instruments at any time of the day or night, even with sunglasses on, and even when sunlight hit the dash. The radio was at the top of the dash, so you would not have to take your eyes off the road to see it, and within easy reach of the steering wheel. The three rotary ventilation controls were just below the radio, and could be grasped while wearing winter gloves. The position of the air distribution control indicated the direction of the air flow, and the fan control was smaller than the other two, so you could control the ventilation system by touch alone, and not have to look at the controls. All of the power window switches were on the console between the front seats, within easy reach of the driver and the front seat passenger, eliminating the need (and cost) of extra switches on the doors, where they would be exposed to moisture on wet days. The headlight switch was wired into the ignition switch. Turn off the car, the headlights also turn off. No chimes or timer relays necessary.

Ok here is the simple camera I cannot believe nobody has built. It takes Leica M mount lenses. It is NOT a rangefinder camera. It would be shaped like one, but with only an electronic VF in the upper left and a rear LCD, but no RF mechanism. The rear focusing cam simply presses against a simple potentiometer telling the camera you're moving the lens focus. The camera then just into a magnified view and goes back after a brief period of not detecting the focusing cam moving. Also you could have the option to use focus peaking (always on or upon detecting focusing) if you choose. Other than that imagine a modern Leica digital. Seems someone would have tried that by now. Why Leica doesn't so this is beyond me, but I'd like to see someone Like Cosina make this as a newer version of their RD camera and of course it is a FF camera.

That’s part of the reason I’m back shooting film, with a Mamiya RB67 Pro-Sd and a Mamiya 7. Simplicity in controls and features.

I just don't see the attraction. Every time I lost a shot (or an entire shoot) because the camera couldn't cut the mustard I'd be grousing "why did I ever buy this thing?".

But then I am a photography hobbyist and a computer hobbyist and a computer professional—exactly the person who's supposed to have that kind of taste in cameras.

You can disable the programmable buttons on my Olympus, at least. If you bump them and get distracted, that might be worth doing (if you can't learn to not bump them). I kind of like switching in and out two different forms of focus aids for manual focus lenses with two of the buttons, myself, and I don't recall ever hitting them by mistake.

Just mate an M42 lens to a modern camera, you have a decent amount of this experience...

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