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Thursday, 13 May 2021

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The reason this will never happen is that it will never happen until 2022 (late autumn). This is such a good idea that manufacturers will want to charge extra for a "subscription" for cloud storage of YOUR data for YOUR camera that YOU bought. When Fuji offered free software to download and reload camera settings, I jumped for joy (three identical camera bodies). It's still nice to have this software, but nicer is what Mike described.

Great idea. Sadly, camera folks, Nikon in my experience, appear to be decades behind using technology to solve the human interface and training issues. I suppose it is driven by money issues. Another reason people are using iPhones so much and have taken to them with great results. Snap, process, distribute; it's easy, reliable and has a track record of success for the average user.

Okay, here is my idea. You buy a modern ILC. It has;
A shutter speed dial.
A aperture ring on lens with clicks every half stop.
A ISO dial.
A perfectly damped manual focus when AF disabled.

The rest of the stuff can be set up on a menu screen, but those top four are not negotiable.
Of course I’d like to be sophisticated and good looking but that ain’t happening either.

Perhaps the Magic Lantern or CHDK people can pick up on this and carry it forward, at least for Canon cameras, though ideally, factory support is best.

I own 5 different Canon DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, and the substantial difference in menu layouts, not to mention the insane number of options I'll NEVER use, is a royal PITA.

The plethora of options is a real hindrance to actual photography!

My old Nikon D40 did a version of what you describe in Camera. It let you determine by check boxes which items you wanted to show up in the menu. I had it down to about 3-4 items per menu category. If you wanted to see everything, you only had to go into settings and uncheck the My Menu feature.

This is different than the current iteration of My Menu in most cameras, where you basically set up yet another menu category with you favorite menu items for easy access.

I'd be happy with this "old" D40 method...what you describe is even better, and I imagine you could configure multiple types of menus to be downloaded to the phone for whatever utilization or purpose.

I like your idea. I would opt to take anything pertaining to video out of the menu. I would enable changing the video button to a customizable function button.

I have long thought along the same lines. Can it be that difficult - the thought occurred to me when installing new firmware on an Olympus with the facility to save your existing settings on the computer to reload with the new firmware.

Might this not also open up the possibility of third party applications being created as was the case with smartphones?

Along similar lines the other question that has always intrigued me with digital is why sensors are rectangular when the lens projects a circle? Is it just a hangover from film?

Mark Galer has youtube tutorials on Sony custom memory settings. Custom memory settings show on the top dial are saved on the cameras internal memory, and additional custom memory files are saved on the SD card. You access those additional custom memories through the menus. The custom settings are stored in files that can be offloaded from the SD card onto a computer and saved there, then reloaded onto the camera via SD card and recalled from there.

Galer also has a Google spreadsheet listing the settings for each of many custom setups he uses, linked from this page: https://www.markgaler.com/sony-alpha-custom-settings-and-support

This isn't exactly what you are asking for, but it can be made to work reasonably well. You just need to go through the settings in camera (rather than on a web site) and save them, then store them 'off camera' for later recall. You could also share custom settings files with other people with compatible cameras. The ones stored on the card are lost when you reformat the card in camera, but you can save them to a computer and reload them after formatting the card.

Or you could simply have SD cards set up with different custom settings for different styles of shooting and swap those out in the field or before going out to shoot.

The website could be ON the camera if it has WiFi support, just enable an HTTP server. Cameras certainly have the CPU power, and enough program storage space.

Of course then the designer had potentially handed development of the web page over to the same people who designed the awful menu system.

Of course, that harks back to "why is Apple/iPhone" winning."

Be careful what you wish for, Mike. In the not so far future, we will see this - not for the benefit of the customer, though.

What will happen, is the same thing as in the car market: The company will sell you a thingie with potential for almost everything, but will make you pay for every extra feature, maybe even rent it out to you.

You don't believe this? Cars get already designed this way, and if you want extra horsepower for the weekend trip with a new spouse, you can update your car over-the-air as soon as the payment is made. Automatics for the windscreen wiper? The car most probably has it built in, but to use it you pay a premium.

Thanks God cameras are not yet constructed this way. But just think of software - years ago we used to buy it, now we have to rent it, and if we get behind with our payments, it won't work anymore. That's not what I wish for my camera.

Another direction this could go in as well? If you tell the website you are not at all interested in video, thus freeing up additional computing power for stills photography... possibly opening up more powerful features?

Mike,

Well, the first concern is cost. Then downloading a virus.

How much would such a program cost in programming hours?

Divide by the number of users and I'd bet it would be a cost-prohibitive feature.

There's also the chance of not downloading/installing a feature you might need on a job.

I'm afraid that we'll just have to eventually memorize where our most-used features are in the menu system. It sure takes longer than it did in the film days!

Be careful what you wish for...

This is a brilliant idea!

And it should be quite possible to do as well! Most cameras have som sort of SDK API that lets a computer control the camera. But even without that, it would be possible to do this with at least Canon cameras. On my R5 I can save alle settings in a file on my memory card, and then reload that later if I want to go back to those settings.

This means that if the format of that file was known, you should be able to have a website do what you you describe above, and then download the file and copy it to your memory card. This way you could generate complete configurations for different usage: still photography, video, B&W only etc.

I want this!

All I need to know is the aperture, speed, and ISO. So I really don't worry about the rest. For focus mode I use the S one. I think that means "(S)top screwing around with the focus. I know what I'm doing."

You ever notice that using the term ISO completly misrepresents what actually going on.

Calling it the "volume control" would actually be closer to what is going on. Just something that has been banging around in my head.

I would love the hear how someone in the camera industry would respond to this.

I had a Logitech Universal Remote control that worked this way.

The result was that the user interface at the web site was multi-layered and nonsensical. It was just laid out on a bigger screen so maybe you would not notice it quite as much.

Even the much-loved Apple phones now have dozens of screens of different setup parameters (though relatively few for the cameras in the phones), just like the cameras.

The problem is not the device the menus run on. It's the people who don't have enough invested in making the menus usable. Finding those people is hard... once you have them implementing a more usable interface is comparatively easy.

This is so simple and so smart that it's amazing no one has jumped on this yet. You need to get a patent on this one!

"The best way to fix the menu problem would be with an interactive setup/tutorial website that transfers your chosen settings to your camera."

With all respect...naw. That would make the manufacturers' support challenges exponentially steeper. (i.e. Now they have to deal with a whole separate interface and all the things that could go wrong transferring settings from computer to camera. It's already bad enough to deal with firmware updates.)

No, the problem most be solved in the camera interface. And it already has been largely solved by at least two manufacturers. Take a look at Leica's SL2 and SL2-S. Even better, look at Hasselblad's X1D2 50c and 907x. Both cameras' user control interfaces are paragons of simplicity and refinement.

Digital camera interfaces became exponentially more complex when the cameras' functionalities became more complex. Specifically, when auto-focus became so sophisticated and when video was introduced to the still camera model. The Japanese are infamous for insane user interface designs....for nearly everything they make. The terror of the call phone replacing their products is bringing change...just slowly.

OK, while we're wishing for things...once you set it all up, you should be able to clone it to another camera of the same model, or even the next upgraded model (for settings that apply to both the old and new model). And if we want to live in complete fantasyland, how about taking the settings with you when you switch from Brand A to Brand B.

I know that on the Canon's i have and have owned, that it is possible to build your own menus.
The utility is within the menu system itself, but eventually, i end up with the items of interest in one menu.
I have had my current camera for a year and half now, so i am still learning what it can do and how to make it do it.
For this reason, it is good that all the options stay on the camera, no deleting things i dont know what they mean until an idle moment at a later date reveals the purpose/functionality.
i am not a fan of the increased amount of firmware/software/fiddly bits on cameras that are great for taking still shots.
All that firmware/software becomes obsolete, and sooner or later a 70 year old camera functions better than a camera that is 5-6 years old and no longer supported due to the processor/circuit boards being too old/no longer supported.
This latest round of "new" photo equipment wont have a usable life much beyond what you get out of a cellphone. Including lenses that have firmware on-board in order to ensure an AI-enhanced picture.

There are many reasons why I wouldn't be a customer for that, that I'm sure many of your commenters will outline for you. The first thing I do when I get a new camera is not sit in front of a computer trying to figure out strange software. The first thing I do when I get a new camera is pick it up, put a battery and a card in, put it on "automatic" and wander around shooting pictures of my dog. It may take days or weeks before I get around to my preferred settings.

That said, I've recently whittled my camera holdings to three systems.

1. Sony RX100 VII manual. The online printable PDF manual is 634 pages long. No joke.

2. Nikon Z6 and Z7 II. The reference manual is 809 pages long.

3. Panasonic GX8. The "advanced features" manual is 403 pages long. The good thing about that is, you can print it with less than a ream of paper.

You are certainly not alone, and I suspect you and I aren't the only ones who have had this fantasy. One thing I would add is the ability to save various settings groups, for different uses.

My multi-remote for TV/Audio/etc. works that way, setup on the web. (OTOH, it doesn't always do what it's told.)

Until then, for those of us familiar with digital cameras in general, I can say how I do it, and remain almost sane. When I get a new camera, I go methodically through the whole menu, end to end, setting things I already know about - Raw, aRGB, and so on. With unfamiliar or unclear, but interesting looking settings, I either note them or research in manual and web immediately.

An advantage to this approach is discovering useful functions I never knew existed.

The moment I am done with this first pass, I save the settings as Custom1. Based on my research, I may change them, then re-save.

That way, when I turn the camera on, it's always set to my personal default.

The next thing I do is get to know whatever quick settings tool it has ("OK" on Olympus, "Fn" on Sony, "QMenu" on Panasonic.) Then, if it's customizable, as on Panny, strip it down to the essentials.

Once all that is done, there is generally almost no need to dive in to the full menu system again. All those settings for things I don't need or want are still there, but it doesn't matter, 'cause I don't see 'em.

Don't let waiting for perfection keep you from enjoying the good.

Mike
Thanks for bringing attention to the encyclopedia that comes with a new camera. Newbies will have no problem with the Quick Start Up Guide. I find that useful too because we all cannot wait to go shootin', right?
The other thing I have discovered is the focus highlight function found in my Fuji X-E3 (plus others). It's such a useful feature when you marry a manual focus lens (like an orphaned Contax G lens with adapter) to an adoptive mother camera. Focusing becomes a breeze and especially for ol' eyes in seniors like you and me.
Dan K.

Amen. And then you could transfer settings to the Mark II of that camera when it comes out. Kind-of like with the iPhone.

This is one of the best ideas to ever emanate from the eastern shores of Keuka Lake. I must give those Nobel people in Stockholm a call.

"The fewer button-pushes you have to make in the field, the better." I respectfully but totally disagree. It is not the number of button-pushes, it is whether they are complicated or intuitive. I want full control, not the camera reverting to default settings. Maybe I don't want the focus on an animals eye because I am focusing on horns or trying to show color patters on the wings?

Film cameras and DSLRs came with buttons and dials and those worked just fine. It is all the unnecessary bells and whistles that are the problem, not the basic control dials and buttons. If you need to adjust ISO or aperture while shooting an animal or bird because the sun went behind a dark cloud, you should be able to do it without ever removing the camera from your eye. Otherwise, you lost the shot.

I would rather makers just simplify their cameras rather than allowing custom settings. I don't want to hook up a new camera to a computer and mess around with setting up a damn menu, let alone customizing a camera menu or a website. And I don't want to look at a website to figure out how to set up my camera or upload settings. Forget all that.

Just give me a few basic controls that I can operate without even looking at a menu - give me dials and buttons for shutter, aperture, focus modes, ISO, etc., and then get the menu out of my way. I don't want to mess with JPEG settings, film simulations, touch screens, or any video stuff. I'll never use GPS or bluetooth or wifi. And I don't have any need to instantly transfer photos to Facebook. If I want all that, I'll use a phone. With a camera, I only shoot raw and I only shoot stills. I am not interested in learning all the fancy stuff cameras can do - I just want the best sensor and autofocus I can get on a camera that I can control without ever lifting my eye off the optical viewfinder. Photography is only a hobby for me and if the number of friction points keep increasing, I'll just wear out my existing cameras and take up some other hobby.

Mike,
This is a good idea. But why a website and not dedicated software configuration program?
Also this could be a way for a manufacturer to sell you multiple cameras of the exact same camera. Buy 3, have one quickly configured one way and others configured completely differently. Then easy to get what you want.

That seems like a sensible suggestion.

I see the temptations of this, but also at least one pitfall. If you move the configuration/setup process to your computer, you won't gain hands-on knowledge of the menus and controls at this step. That may leave you perplexed if you have to alter those menus and controls in the field.

The way my GX8 handles this is excellent, I believe. It gives a one-sentence description of each menu item as you select it. It's like a simplified menu cheat sheet built in to the camera.

An existence proof that this can be done and is a good idea is the Harmony remote for home theater systems.


In a different forum, I’m in a discussion with a guy whose Home Theater system requires seven remote controls, each with its own personalty. No one else can figure out how to watch a movie on this system. I’m recommending he get a Harmony remote. (Harmony is owned by Logitech: https://www.logitech.com/en-us/harmony-universal-remotes). There is a setup phase where you go to the Harmony web site and list the stuff in your system (tv: Sony KV-20fs120, vcr: Panasonic PV-V4602, a/v controller: B&K Reference 31, streamer: Roku 3, etc.) You then tell tell the website what you want to do with the system (watch TV, play a DVD movie, etc.) The web site then loads this information into the remote control. That evening, you push the Play DVD button and the remote knows to turn on the dvd player, turn off the vcr, and turn on the TV. You don’t need to have the schematic diagram for the hifi stack in your brain to pick the four traditional remove controls needed to play a DVD, just push the Play DVD button.


The essence of the Harmony is that once configured, you tell it what to accomplish without having tell it all the individual steps to the goal. The camera equivalent wouldn’t expect you to walk through flash: yes/no, GPS: yes/no, questions in the field. The fewer-button-pushes would be goals, not steps: “portrait” (favor wider apertures, lower ISO and middle focal lengths), “landscape” (favor smaller apertures, lower ISO, wider focal lengths), “sports” (favor higher shutter speeds, moderate aperture, higher ISO, longer focal lengths), etc.

I thought about this idea when I first encountered "music synthesizer configurators". Synths are electronic devices that can have hundreds of settings and you want to access a particular configuration (a combination of settings that will produce a particular sound, often named a "patch" for when these settings were made with wires and jacks) readily available when performing.
In the eighties, software that saved and kept track of those patches (not the sound but the settings the synth needed to make the sound) became available from the synth manufacturer and some third-parties. Then some got access to the synth’s brain and provided a graphical user interface of its settings.
I imagine one of the cameras manufacturers reluctance to do the same would be that it could allow "third parties" access to their software. Think of Canon vs Magic Lantern.

This sounds like a wonderful idea...

However, it would be an immensely complex piece of software, with all the options, combinations, and permutations, as well as the user-adaptive features.

In addition, software developers generally know little about cameras and photography, and those who know photography generally don't understand web-based software capabilities. So you'd need a team of both types who could talk to and understand each other.

I don't know what camera companies budget for user instructions. Clearly the creation of current camera menu systems is a mixed bag at best, but has cost a lot, I'm sure.

Adding the system you suggest might be a significant additional development expense - for each company and each camera type. (Although some software module reuse might well be possible.)

And what if the development of the web-based user configuration system revealed the need for changes in the camera software itself?

In short, making it look simple and easy might cost a lot of money.

Sigh. It would be nice.

It certainly would be a good Idea, and It wouldn't be terribly difficult to do. They could even use the model of all the folks who sell "Lightroom Presets" ----Here is how your AF works if you would like to set your camera up for ,say, Indoor Sports' use this preset, and let the camera call them up.
That is not as comprehensive or educational as your approach but could still be very helpful.
I'n a Canon user, and they do have lots of how to videos which can be helpful, but it is not very well organized.

Mike, what you are describing as a set up process for new Sony cameras is pretty much what exists. You are also showing why most camera users completely misunderstand Sony Menus. They still think of menus as they used to be once where they were what you went into to operate the camera. They aren't where you operate a Sony (or probably also an Olympus). It would be more accurate to call the Menu section of a Sony another name. It is more like an Index.
A higher level Sony is extremely complex and configurable. They are not good cameras for novices. You need to know how you like to shoot for different purposes and what the Sony can do. Then you set the camera up for your own particular needs and it becomes a very responsive camera indeed. You really only need to go into the menus when you first get the thing or if you want to make later changes to the way you work. In practice, you use things like the Function and memory recall settings to put all the controls you use for your photographic style, exactly where you want them and where you can get at them fast. Once set up, you don't have to wade through the Menus.
I'd recommend any new Sony owner, before using the camera, goes to an online Sony accredited ambassador like Mark Galer https://www.markgaler.com/
and goes through a (free) process close to what you have outlined.

And to go one step farther in an improved experience, the settings could be saved in a standardized format and transferred, to the extent applicable to any other camera you acquire. Then you merely need to tweak the particular new or different feature settings rather than do everything from scratch when upgrading or changing brands.

Sounds very sensible, Mike. I think the chance of good ideas like this being adopted by any of the Japanese camera companies is best viewed like water dripping on a stone. Just look at how long it's taken for any of Thom Hogan's many sensible suggestions to be acknowledged, let alone adopted.

The camera companies may be excellent at technical progress but sadly the UI experience is not given the attention the customer deserves.

I like the idea. I'd make sure that the features I add can be grouped in a menu subheading that makes sense to me. For instance, I'd want RAW, RAW+JPEG, JPEG and sizes/resolution of JPEGs under the same subheading as monochrome, film looks etc. as they all have appearance of the files in common.

Mike - I had a "Universal Remote" once that could be configured to run a home theatre system. It was programed exactly as you described. The web site allowed you to select your TV, sound system, room lighting controls, etc. Then you described how they were connected. Then what got turned on when you wanted to watch a DVD and what inputs and outputs were activated. Etc, Etc... Then you downloaded it to the handheld remote and, presto, everything was programmed.

I have often wished I could program my Olympus this way.

How about a restorable option in the menu that removes any unused section and line item so the menu is condensed making navigation cleaner and faster.

a gopro and an ipad are an interesting paired solution to the menu problem, not quite what you have described, but similar

I haven’t checked recently but there are a couple of projects for canon cameras that do something like that. Actually they do vastly more than that but they could be made to do what you want. You make up a specially configured memory card that reprograms the camera every time you turn it on. I had a point and shoot compact canon camera that I set up to automatically take a photo using a combination of motion detection and intervalometer.

Canon’s attitude seemed to be somewhere between indifference and enthusiasm. Warranties remained intact.

Sony on the other hand crippled their own applications just to prevent the possibility of third parties doing anything to improve the camera. I’m hoping that the spin-off of Sony’s camera division means that lawyers that focus mostly on entertainment and game consoles won’t be messing things up at the new company.

Hmmm set and forget seems like a valid approach I guess? Especially with Fuji cameras which have all the aperture, shutter speed etc. on dials anyway?

Me, I'm using Oly cameras, and most recently I'm mostly in "P" mode - because I sometimes think that the camera is able to read my mind, and to set exactly what I would have chosen anyway - and if not, a quick turn of the rear dial just shifts these aperture/time values, and cycles through them... no quicker way to operate a camera I guess?

What an absolutely brilliant idea Mike. I wonder if Fujifilm would be interested. You could try to pitch it to some camera makers. I fear however that it is far too sensible an idea to be accepted!

Part of the answer must lie with proper alphabetical indexes and contents lists. I understand your side of the Atlantic use contents lists more than indexes but a properly configured index with intelligent search engine would be very helpful.Think Google search engine. I may know what I am searching for but may not have the correct terminology which can be very frustrating especially at my advanced age :-(
When I purchased my first BMW 7 with its much wrongly maligned control knob a sales man, on the familiarisation drive, took me through every option available. At the time I thought I'll never remember all this but what I did remember was being told what options were available so I could then do a search for what I wanted

If it were only possible to configure the camera via this external web site, then the camera would become unconfigurable the day the manufacturer decided to stop maintaining the configurator for that model. I can't see many camera makers putting resources into keeping the configurator for a ten year old camera model running.

There is a general trend in electronics towards devices which can't be used without some sort of cloud service from the manufacturer. I would be sorry to see this trend reach cameras, and I don't think that it would serve the interests of photography enthusiasts, or certainly not of those who keep their cameras for longer than the manufacturers want them to.

Another possible solution might be a built in Web UI, such as is typical for home routers. This would require a camera to have Wifi... which could also at last open the door to the wireless transfer of pictures from camera to computer.

By the way, with your proposed solution you wouldn't load your "customised firmware" into the camera, but just the configuration settings. The firmware itself would remain unchanged.

Best idea I've read in a long time. It should not be that difficult either given that almost all such selections can be saved and loaded, or changed via firmware. A first generation implementation can be limited to things like User settings and custom controls (Nikon language as I'm a Nikon user) and then extend it to more advanced functionality. Please, camera companies....please!

Mike, with all due respect:
The average user of any electronic device, including cameras, hardly gets to read the user manual, and that has been the case for decades. Furthermore, those who read it get often confused and give up quickly. People just read that kind of stuff to try and solve some specific problems. Do you really need there would be a part of the consumers significant enough to warrant what you propose to be implemented from camera manufacturers?
Don't get me wrong, I think your idea is nice. I simply say that it would not get any significant traction in the real world.
(All IMHO of course).

mark galer does this with the a7r4 this is a first for sony i have down loaded and saved his setting from the youtube channel and his web site

This is a good idea, but it might be better as a phone app. Just connect your phone to the camera and run through the customization dialog and have the settings downloaded. Most camera companies have an app already, so it would be an extension of an existing capability.

As you say, there are lots of reasons this will never happen. :)

The design, engineering, testing, and lifecycle management of that 'site' alone, along with the 'get results to the camera' workflow would make this unpalatable for a camera maker. As we've seen, they (camera companies) lack both the ability or the will to be software shops, or at least competent ones from a UI and quality-of-life perspective.

I believe a bunch of this would be great in an app on a phone, but at that point might as well just use it for preferences/settings on the phone imaging pipeline and forget about the cameras altogether.

This seems to be a stellar idea. It is similar to what Leica did for their screenless M10-D, which you need to set up using an app.

The only issue I can see, from a manufacturer standpoint, is the cost involved to do the programing and design. I have to think that the only reason Sony has never updated or improved their UI is that they are simply too cheap (ie. it will affect the bottom line too greatly).

That was all far more confusing than any camera menu I've come across.

My idea is to take a cue from smartphones and make cameras understand voice commands. Press a button to activate it, then: Change the aperture? Say "F8". Shutter speed? "five hundred". PASM setting? "Switch to Manual", Custom setting? "Load Custom 2", etc... It would also help find things buried in the menu that you can never quite remember how to find. "Find ISO", "Find function button 2"..

This is a really good idea!

Fantastic idea! They need to do it for cars too.

Having struggled with setting up the Sony Menus on my Rx-10IV this is a brilliant solution that all camera manufacturers should adopt.

I love this idea and would welcome it in a heartbeat.

None of my cameras have, or need, menus.

Do. Not. want.

I find Panasonic M4/3 menus very intuitive and easy to use. However, they are bloated with things I will never use. It would be great if there was a way to hide those things. In my case, I never use video or shoot jpg. So, if I could hide all of the video functions, digital zooms, creative modes, etc., I can only imagine how simple and easy to use the menus would be! It would not matter to me how this could be accomplished - using a computer would be fine. In fact I think your suggestion is an awesome way to accomplish this. I think video centric users would love to be able to turn off all of the stills functionality as well.

However, I feel any improvement to menu systems is highly unlikely and just wishful thinking.

Is it really that difficult to learn how a camera operates? Is it really that difficult to set up a camera if all you need are basic options? When all you need is aperture priority, AFS, auto-ISO, shoot RAW, why all this jumble of going into a camera website to set it up? And, if you are an advanced user and need complex setup, you are supposed know how to setup the camera anyway.

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