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Wednesday, 02 February 2022


I think product complexity has been around for a while. Who can honestly say they enjoyed recording TV programmes on a video recorder (VCR) in the 1980's?

It's a case of "I've spent six months designing this system and I can use it, so why can't you?"

Maybe "SS" is not a good idea, at least not in europe (and especially in germany and austria, where, with this name, it would be forbitten...)

I'm all for simplicity in menu design. The later Olympus m43 cameras did make improvements for menu navigation, while not losing any features. I think my Pentax K1 was pretty simple for a digital camera. My Fuji X-T4 is somewhere in between.

What I mostly want is a camera that works well without too much fiddling. Good focus. Good IBIS. Excellent viewfinder that is easy to adjust to needs. I need competence combined with what you call direct purpose.

As for having full video features I never use, I don't mind them, as long as I can ignore them without consequence. I might use them someday.

Even simple cameras are complicated because photography is complicated. Phones are fun because they are exceptionally good at picking the right exposure, allowing us to concentrate on composition only. I doubt if most of us want our cameras to be like phones, not really. I shoot in manual because it's fun, not simple. I rely on the histogram, blinkies, and exposure scale to get things right. When all that comes together with the composition, it feels like an accomplishment.

Mike wrote, "Smartphone cameras are radically simple and they get out of the way, enabling people to simply enjoy photography."

I've shown some of my phone pictures to friends who ask, "How did you do that?"

The iPhone, for example, has lots of features hidden away from most users. These features won't confuse anyone because they're invisible. But the same features delight those who have found them.

Perhaps the problem with Mike's complexified cameras is that the complexification isn't hidden enough.

My cult camera is the Pentax Q7.
It has rejuvenated my enthusiasm for photography in several ways:
It is smaller and lighter than any other camera with its features and it fits my hands.
It has a good manual mode.
It has sensor stabilization.
It has a reasonable amount of resolution (12mp), film-like grain structure @ high ISOs.
It accepts almost any lens from d mount on up.
It has fantastic depth-of-field.
It has a menu system that makes sense, but is not needed for regular shooting.
It has 1/2000 flash sync.
It has an absolutely silent shooting mode.
And, most importantly, it enables me to make great pictures, easily.

An example of this is the progression of the XT-20 to the XT-30 (Fujifilm's non-pro compact cameras). The XT-30 now has every feature except the ability to buy you a ticket on the Tokyo subway. Its menus are daunting.

Complex seems to put the emphasis on the gear, simple seems to put it on the photograph.

Well, I'd like to hear the specs for the People's Camera - I am not a manufacturer, just curious. (Don't tell if you are counting on this as a big payday)

The other side of the equation is the lens. Having came up on Leica M cameras and utilizing them for their strengths, I'm continually frustrated by modern cameras disallowing me from utilizing the techniques that made shooting fast and predictable: zone and hyper focus.

Using Fujifilm cameras today, when I have time and don't need to remain unnoticed out on the street, the autofocus is fine. But setting an aperture and a specific zone can be a hassle, a hassle that it doesn't have to be. Using the viewfinder display that gives a graphic representation of the area covered by the DOF works until you walk around. The focus by wire lenses gradually shifts just from the oscillation of your movement and there is no way to see that while holding the camera away from your eye. The techniques that I used on the street with ease on my dinosaur Leica M fail time and time again on my Fujis. I tried some of the low cost Chinese lenses, but they almost never have accurate DOF scales, heck, the infinity stops don't actually fall on infinity.

With all the street shooters using Fujifilm cameras, they should make one or two semi-wide old school manual focus lenses with comprehensive DOF scales and true infinity hard stops. A prefocused lens beats an auto focus lens every time, and modern gear makes that hard to do.

You give Steve Jobs too much credit. Apple products were said to be simple and intuitive. If that means hunting endlessly and moving one or more fingers in umpteen different directions to accomplish something then we have different definitions of simple and intuitive. Cameras, cars, phones, watches... for any computer based device those days are long gone. Marketing needs endless features to market. It's a shame because it doesn't need to be that way thanks to, of all things, computers. Most companies are in such a rush to get the product done that they won't spend the extra time and money to make it easier to use. I was on the software side of this for over 30 years and I can tell you that it's a huge effort just to implement marginally helpful help. Your offline configuration tool done well would be a huge step in the right direction. But the initial implementation cost would be very high and the tool's cost would need to be absorbed by the product. Doable across sizable product line like Nikon or Canon but probably too late.

Funny, just this morning I had the thought, why don't I just give up on cameras and buy myself the most picture perfect smartphone instead?

In a way, I already have. This Galaxy S10 in my hand is the source of my baker's dozen submission. Meanwhile, at home rests a Huawei P20 Pro that I refer to as my "yellow camera" because of the grippy case I put on the slippery rascal. I use it ONLY for photography. Love the Leica designed camera and processing, and the monochrome mode.

Unless I hit a jackpot some day, I think the cameras I already own are the last ones I'll ever buy.

You know who else would benefit from something like an ebay camera? Artists. They've been liberated from slides, but if they're not established or can afford to hire pros, they still need to master photographing their work for digital submissions, social media and web sites.

Though isn't good product (and art) photography substantially about lighting and set design (no matter how pedestrian the "set")? Get that right and a phone would do for most people. Maybe that was ebay's thinking. Or perhaps more likely, such gizmos would threaten professional listing services and presumably their tithes.

You've no doubt heard this before, but the "cult" camera sounds like a natural for Kickstarter. Have you considered pitching it to a maker studio or incubator? For example: https://nextfab.com/ Or for that matter what about a tech-oriented college like RPI or Rochester?

[Following is relayed for person I bought this camera for as a present (was not new!)]

I think not enough people look at the Sigma DPnQ cameras (of course they can't know as they're ~dead). I went through the settings following the manual on the one you gave me pretty much once after resetting it. There are a few obvious things (turn off autofocus light, make the viewfinder not be too cluttered (there are viewfinder presets which is great), set a few fairly obvious other things. And make three custom presets: a colour one locked to 100ISO, a B/W raw one with automagic ISO limited to 400 and a JPEG one which I've never used, all of these a little underexposed which people say is wrong for foveon but it's fine. And that's pretty much it I think. The quick settings thing has lots of options but the defaults are right. Since setting it up I've changed two things: turned on the option to make it sense touches on the focus ring and magnify the image in the viewfinder for fine focus, and turned on voice memos so I can record a note for a photo.

The default autofocus is a single point which is ... the same thing (except, you know, auto) that a millionaire's Leica does. It is perhaps an awkward shape except that if you use it with the loupe and in portrait (and you've seen the exhibition: they're all portrait) it's really comfortable. And it's 'slow' meaning 'much faster than any film camera' which is in fact fast. And the sensor is not much good at above 400 which means you 'can't use it at night', because, obviously, all those Ektachrome photos of Chinatown at night don't exist. And you 'can't use it for anything but landscape' which means 'you can'.

I don't know what it cost [Zyni: less than a not-good guitar] but it's great: it's the first digital camera I've looked at for a very long time that does not actually make me nauseous.

And it does this: [Zyni: elided].

"I think I first realized this with the original OM-D EM-5. That thing just blocked me..."
Oy! Your reference induced a moment to PTSD! I owned an Olympus EM camera (don't recall the specific model) briefly one summer long ago. "Blocked" is a perfect description for how I felt, too. It was unquestionably the worst user interface I have ever encountered. I wanted to throw the thing in the lake. (Interestingly, I have no such recollection about the first Oly Pen model. Just that it was clunky. But, yeah, for me that Oly was the poster child for malevolent user interface design!

It's with some frequency (winter?) that you complain about general digital camera complexity. It seems a chronic complaint with some of your readers, too. So why not simply switch back to "the good old days" and start using film cameras again? There are plenty still out there on the used market for a song! (And what about that big lumberyard of a camera you recently bought?) And film is still puttering along. So go back to the future, if that's what it will take to just get you shooting with ANY camera again?

Aside: I am certainly not immune to quaint charms of photography's rich gadget history. This week, in fact, I'm playing back-to-the-future with my Hasselblad 503CX and the CFV II 50c digital back. I guess you'd call it "simple". You clip the back onto that old 6x6 and that's it. Shoot like it was 1988! It really is quite a piece of engineering cleverness! (But it's much simpler to use that back with the tiny 907x camera and X lenses. And produces much better images.)

I just purchased a 2013 Scion FR-S, which you wrote about when it was new. It is an uncomplicated car to drive, and I love it for that. There's even a place in the passenger's seat for your Nikon Df camera which, if you like simplicity, only needs menus to change white balance and format the card. Everything else is on the top deck.

You answered the conundrum of your own proposition at the head of the article, Mike. You can use the ideal eBay camera possibly even if you're also concurrently making a phone call on it.
In an era of online media and LCD photo albums, when the physical Print struggles for relevance, what place do craft skills and resolution still hold in the equation?

Ok, now you’ve made me curious…..

Please describe this Super Simple People’s Camera…eBay edition!

I discovered photography because my parents had been to a Man Ray exhibition at LACMA—I went the next weekend. This was my introduction to anti-art Dadaism.

#Nice pen, bet you write good stories with it. Nice camera, bet you ... Tools don't matter, it's what you do with them that counts.

Photo by Luigi Zanasi using a Olympus digital camera. Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Canada (CC BY-SA 2.0 CA)
Building houses counts.

"radically improve the quality of the average product photo for items posted for sale". The photographs from American vendors are often absolutely abysmal. The Japanese eBay sellers do much better presentation. And, while I'm ranting: why are so many of the American sellers totally ignorant of the cameras that they are selling? They couldn't spend two minutes on the internet to learn a bit about the product? Also, why do they post three pictures of the camera and six pictures of the case, and then in the description say something inane like "the strap is broken." Duh. And why do they say "I do not know anything about cameras", and then, when you describe how they can click the shutter, refuse to do so? Duh.

I work with photographers on technical stuff. I have a technical background (decades of various IT-related things, including a bunch of coding) but am still disappointed and mildly irritated by camera interfaces after all these years because there’s so little consistency in the design language of the menu systems. Each model presents new interface quirks. Sony and Olympus seem to me to be the worst, though I like the cameras themselves.

For most stills photographers, the best thing is the simple camera interface that you describe. That’s outside the interest of most camera makers, apparently; the second best thing is a camera body that doesn’t require the use of menus beyond the initial setup, as time-consuming as that setup may be.

The GX8 is that way: you can change aperture, shutter speed, sensitivity, IBIS settings, focusing mode (AF-S, AF-C, MF), drive mode, etc. with buttons once you’ve set up the camera to your liking. I call up the menu only to format the SD card – a button press, then a tap on the screen.

I’ve read that the Tesla Model 3 requires the car’s touchscreen to open the glovebox. I’m not an Elon hater but this feels like a show of contempt from his designers.

I'll say right up front, have no idea what the solution is and I don't make, sell, buy, or write about cameras for a living. Heck, I don't even *use* them for a living. But I can offer some observations based on three different people I'm close to, using the same model of camera.

Me first: My current main camera is an Olympus E-M1 mk.iii and you would be right to conclude that it is ridiculously complex. The "advantage" I have is that after shooting for 40-odd years, and starting with a Baldinette (with the printed exposure guide from a pack of FP-4 taped to the back), I mostly know what I like, to the point that I have a preference for what front and back command dials should do and which way they should turn) and so the first thing I do when I get a new body is to set it up to do just that. And once in a while I decide I want to use a new-fangled feature so I study the manual to enable that feature too, and that's it.

Then there's my brother: he's late middle-aged like me but he just started shooting last year and turns out to have a pretty good eye and a decent aptitude for learning how it all works. So, he bought the same camera body as me and basically just rushed headlong into all sorts of night-time, street-shooting techniques and more. He loves to experiment and he studies youtube videos to try out all sorts of fancy things (hi-res, various "scenes", and too many others to name). He often calls me up and asks me about a new setting/mode he wants to try and most of the time, I have to embarrassingly admit that I've never used it and don't really know what it does!

The third example is another close family member who also shoots with an E-M1. But they are completely different. They have been shooting quite a long time. They have a very good eye and a good understanding of composition and they turn out really nice work, in my opinion. But they never had any early training about camera technique and they don't really understand the relationships between aperture, shutter, ISO. I'm guessing they may be quite unlike most of us photo-dawgs reading this site, but I don't think they are actually very unusual in this regard. At any rate, they generally keep the mode dial on A. It turns out using P-mode with "program-shft" is confusing, even though it amounts to mostly the same thing (I think this should be one of those lessons for camera designers, even though you can do the same thing two different ways doesn't mean you should). They also often use a static ISO (instead of Auto-ISO) to reduce another variable.

So, taking into consideration just these three examples, who should the manufacturers design the camera for? I wonder if that's part of the problem they face? It's easy for us to say that they should just make one stripped-down model, like you suggest, and I think many of us here would know how to choose it if that's what we wanted, but I don't think either of the other two people would be able to know if and why they should choose a Simple Camera over one that can do all those fancy things that they might one day want (even if you, me, and the salesperson know that they probably won't).

I don't know the answer. With all the constricting, changing market dynamics the camera companies face, I can imagine the perceived risk of offering a simple camera without the veneer of Leica/Hasselblad luxury-good to enable a very high price, is impossibly daunting.

In the past there were several cult cameras and all were film cameras. Today I can only think of one - LEICA. For some strange reasons, I never saw Nikon and Canon as cult cameras.

P.S. I agree wholeheartedly with the idea of being in it to make pictures rather than to keep up with rapidly evolving complex devices. There's nothing wrong with pursuing the latter--as a hobby, passion or profession--I even enjoy it to some extent, but that's not my intent and it shouldn't be taking up inordinate amounts of my time or attention.

At one time, it was normal to pick up a new camera, even from a different brand, and basically pick up right where you left off, with minor adjustments, as far as operations. That's not the case any more.

As long as we're making impossible wishes, I wonder if an open source standard for camera OSs would help? I'm sure this was suggested before on TOP. It would save development time for camera makers and save learning time for consumers. Brands could skin the OS, like many do now with Android phones. Advanced users could replace it with their own favorite skins (including menus, of course). Some makers would opt out, and that's fine. That's their call. Buyers will make their call.

i have two cameras that are my "people's cameras"

a fuji x-30 and a pentax q

picked them up for less than 300usd combined...they both lingered on their respective shelves for years

once mounted on a support they produce remarkable
product images with little effort on my part

they are goldilocks cameras for the use i put them to

i set them once and forgot about them

it couldn't be simpler

You've tweeked my curiosity, Mike. Prey tell... what would your simple camera look like? I'll bet if you post its specs, you'll get WAY more than a handful of comments. :-)

Perhaps I look at the issue differently because I've been dealing with technology for almost 60 years now. I'm used to setting up tech equipment so it works like I want it to. My first jobs were setting up equipment to run scientific experiments where correct set-up was essential to get good data.

Perhaps it's because I don't care about using all the bells and whistles every time I drive my car or use my camera. But I appreciate all those options because they allow me to set up the car or camera to work just like I like it.

Perhaps I've chosen cars and cameras with fewer physical controls because I don't use them. In fact I hate buttons and controls, especially small ones randomly scattered around, that I often hit by mistake.

So perhaps the angst is not aimed correctly. All the options may not be the problem, but all those tempting controls. Maybe some people can't resist them, thinking they're paying for them so they will damn well use them all!

Second thought: a corollary on the 1C1L1Y idea:

1C1S1D = one camera, one setup, one day (surely most of us can do one day....)

1 camera - any camera, any lens
1 setup: chose what you like, even auto, or pick a setup that mirrors a film you like, use manual or auto exposure, whatever.

Shoot with. it on a photo session for one day. Adjusting speed/aperture/exposure is OK (as is zooming a lens), but no messing with other options - especially no buttons or menus. Just relax and enjoy taking pictures.

See if it feels good to not be a slave to the camera....

I don't want to be stuck with someone else's version of simple enough. Someone else's version will either be too simple, or not simple enough. I want my idea of simple enough.

I like tools that let me set them up how I like them. I think Adobe did a good job in that respect with Lightroom. You can turn off any feature you don't use and never see it again... until you want to.

There are vastly more features on my Fuji cameras than I know how to use, or want to know. It's not perfect by any stretch, but I set things up to get to what I need, and just ignore the rest. This could be better. I'd love to be able to hide whole sections of the menu that I don't use, and likely never will. But I also want it to be easy to see what I've hidden, and to bring it back just in case!

Unfortunately, you're right about the people who build the stuff we use. They're not going to listen to you or me Mike.

There actually is a very simple, very loved, well selling camera - The Fuji Instax series. No focus, 2-4 exposure settings, no zoom. Load film, point, push button. By far Fuji's best selling camera for years.

The top camera designers at Canon and Nikon are not the top photographers in Japan. People who design cameras are camera designers. They may or may not take a lot of pictures, or talk to photographers or watch the competition.
People who design cameras are not the same as people who make photographs for a living, and visa versa.
People who design cameras are not the same as people who make photographs for fun, and visa versa.
It seems everyone is working on best-guess implementation.

'... a People's Camera ...' You've just described the thing that phone companies are striving for with each new product release.

4 years ago I visited amsterdamlightfestival.com/en
Ik couldn't get my Olympus camera to make a reasonable picture of the items at display .
The rest of the people brought their smartphones and scored great pics. 4 years ago, so in the Middle Ages! I felt my camera was from the Jurassic.

You’re “SS” camera already exists. Apple beat you to it.

The Polaroid Big Shot was the most consumer oriented camera of the single use camera genre that I can remember. One shutter speed, 220mm, f/29 meniscus single-element fixed-focus plastic lens, but with a rangefinder. Made everyone look like an Andy Warhol portrait.

Judging by the number of old film cameras you see around, it seems that a lot of people have already found their "cult camera." They're cheap, reliable, easy to understand and take great pictures. What else do you need?

I've found a way to tame the OM-D E-M5 II -- I use it only for one purpose. It is permanently mounted on a horizontal tripod arm, perfectly aligned with a Kaiser Slimlite Plano 5000K lightbox on which I copy negatives (sandwiched between two slabs of anti-Newton glass). The camera's high-definition (pixel shift) mode makes 40MP jpegs from 24x36mm images. All the changes I need to worry about are on the Quick Menu array.

I'm pretty much all in on Olympus m4/3 these days, but I admit those menus drove me crazy for a while. Kirk Tuck had a great self portrait on his site a while back where he looked stunned and lobotomized after dealing with the E-M5.2 menu -- I laughed and sympathized.

When I got my E-M5 I tried to set it up just like my Nikons and mostly succeeded, but kept hitting the wrong buttons because they were so close together. The E-M1 cameras are better in that regard, and most functions are available with a button press and the turn of a dial. Still, the initial setup is a challenge.

I have to admit, Mike, that after years of reading this site, I have no idea what sort of modern camera you'd like. When Fuji introduced the XT-1 I rented one for a while and thought: "This is the camera Mike has been talking about! I can use it like my old Nikkormat!" Really -- I thought you would LOVE that camera. Then you ended up with a Sony that I find irredeemably clunky. I give up, I tell you!

But all this talk has made me realize that, while I'm hooked on the image stabilization and relatively lighter weight of my Olympus kit, I miss the ergonomics and effortless use of my Nikons. I've decided to keep an eye on what Nikon delivers with the new "Z" line, but to use what I have for the time being.

I took the camera budget I set aside for 2021 and drove out to the Adirondacks last October. There I visited Hornbeck Boats and, after some testing on their pond, ordered a 12' Classic Pack Boat which I'll be picking up in May. I'm going exploring when it warms up, and I'm currently working on some ideas to safely take my camera with me on the water.

[Rick, I actually still use my X-T1 more than anything. I keep the X-H1 in the car with the long lens because it has IS. But the X-T1 has been my go-to camera since I bought it at the end of 2014. --Mike]

She has a face that would brook no argument of mine
Indeed, she has no face for you at all.
No sir, she has a face that is like an open book
That shuts itself when e'er you look
I do say that is a Facebook.

Examination of the manuscript, from which the above is taken, suggests it is indeed Shakespeare's unfinished Thirteenth Night.

[ :-) --Mike]

I’m old and a bit of a crank so….what follows don’t mean much. That said my last real thrill with a new camera was in February 1974 when I bought a used OM-1.
NO Digital camera, of any type, has ever done the same! Have greeted their purchase with the same enthusiasm as when I had to replace my refrigerator when the old one quit.
Maybe I just got old, but no, that’s not quite it. Just last year a friend dropped off a camera they found cleaning out a house. Thought I might like it. It was a low spec Kodak Tourist 6x9 with a 100mm f8.8 triplet in a 3 speed shutter. The bellows was shot but was able to unclip and repurpose the lens/shutter as it was clean and working. I had enormously more fun fooling around with that than handling any digital.

I am fortunate to have been able to purchase and start my photographic return with a Leica R9. It was the simplicity and intuitive nature of the beast that pulled me in.

A Sony Nex 7 led me to never buy one of their cameras again. The form factor and imaging were great, but the menus were designed by a software designer who had never used a camera.

On a birding trip, the instructor gave me his Olympus outfit while he used my Leica SL and 500mm lens. I struggled with everything about that Olympus and got zero usable images. Another one off the list.

I stick with my SL and M10 and all my film cameras

Talk about brain block/torque, you should try to set up an AV receiver.

I now use 2 cameras with the most universally reviled menu systems: the Oly EM1.2 and the Sony A7Rii. Of the two, the Oly is far worse. The arbitrary choices they give you for the setting of the AFL/AEL button is surreal. Otoh, I actually enjoyed figuring out and setting up both cameras with enough commonality as to make switching between them more or less feasible. Guess that makes me a glutton for punishment.

Y'all are making me feel bad that I love the EM5 so much. I just had to set it up for center-area-metering, MF + center AF with the AF lock button, magnified display with the record button, quick menu by pressing OK for frames/timer and ISO and WB, viewfinder only with no extra info, and voila! awesome camera!

Ok, i guess I see the issue now.

Really speaks towards having a mom and pop go-to camera store with someone there to set it up for you, and to be available for support. I think that went away with digital cameras, too! ... with price being the sole way people make purchase decisions now.

I do really love that camera though and feel the need to defend it, and to apologize.

Didn't someone say that perfection is reached not when there's nothing more to add but when there's nothing more to remove?

Anyway, this is why I find user presets so important. I don't know my camera well enough and don't use it often enough to remember everything.
However, once those presets are configured it is just a matter of turning a mechanical dial to get to the right setup.

Providing many settings can be understood as value, giving the user many different options. It is also good for the spec-sheet, as your list of options may be longer than mine.
On the other hand, one can also argue that it shows that the manufacturer doesn't really know how his product is used, what is important and what not. The problem is pushed to the user, yet another setting so that the user can decide.

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