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Sunday, 09 April 2023


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But here's the thing: "making variant models for different purposes or for different customers," is done by having all the variants embedded in the software, and with the combinations accessed through the user-configuration of the camera. Using the menus.

Nobody needs to learn all the settings. The combinatorial explosion from the variants is too much. But that is how you get the camera you want. You master your camera as-set-up, not the setting up the camera. But your set up isn't my set up. (For one thing, I would never give up the colors, that Sigma has such glorious colors.)

My raw conversion software of choice, darktable, is very powerful but also quite complex. It has so many processing modules and so many ways of processing things to get essentially the same result, it is overwhelming compared to the relatively spartan Lightroom.


A few versions ago the devs added a setup module. You can use this to display or hide whatever processing modules you prefer to use, organise them into your own preferred groups and even re-order the modules (although this also re-orders the processing pipeline, which probably isn't so good if you thought you were re-arranging the UI). Never use the "Soften" module or the "Sigmoid" module? Hide them from the UI.

I've always thought that some kind of desktop software that allowed you to program the options that appear in a camera's busy menus would be handy. That way an owner could customise the camera's features to suit the way they work. If you like Leica-simplicity, hide most of the menu items you will never need.

For me, the complication issue is not just with newer cameras, and not even just with digital cameras. Several times a year I use our Nikon F6 because some combination if its autofocus, autoexposure and/or OIS with the 24-85 zoom seems like a good idea. And I frequently have to refer to the manual for something or another.

OTOH, the only time I use a digital camera, other than my iPhone, is to scan negatives with our Fuji X-T20. I set the camera up for that function at least four years ago and I haven't touched any of the settings since then.

On the assumption that 'retro' and 'nostalgia' are in for a number of photographers (maybe me included), and given that it seems camera makers are catering to 'niche' markets (with unfortunately prices to match), I have a proposal for a camera maker like Pentax: Make a Pentax MX exactly like the original Pentax MX except instead of film it has a sensor in it. I know there would have to be some adjustments--a button (or some such) to change ISO, for example. But keep it absolutely simple, just like the original. Don't even give it a menu. That would be fun.

Which of the two car options has the shorter instruction manual - that’s the one to go for…
However they’ll both be an order of magnitude or two longer than the manual for her flintmobile. My elderly mother rejected a car I gave her 10 years ago because although it was the same model that she already had (but 3-4 years newer) it had an auto transmission, a/c and cruise control. These were added complexities and she preferred to keep the old car. She still has it.

The beauty of the camera(s) in the top-of-the-line iPhones is their radical simplicity. The ease of use hides the ridiculous amount of processing power and research behind the image management. The use case for large, hyper complex cameras is getting harder and harder to make. My ratio of iPhone/large sensor photos flipped from less than 1.0 to now over 100/1 a couple of years back, probably around the iPhone 12. I share your wish for a new camera that could make use of my investment in high quality lenses that would be small, light, and quick to master.

This will probably be a software variation on the colours, not many different cameras. Cameras could be purchased and customers upload their preferences. Just Saying.

Mike. You make some very good points in your "Six Pentaxes" post. I have thought for some time menus are getting out-of-hand and are filled with features for the few not the masses. It would be wonderful if camera manufactures would add one additional menu that would automatically lock out certain features. Something like "Basic", "Intermediate" and "Advanced" options. If nothing else the purchaser could grow into the system and possibly spend less time trying to turn off a function they selected by accident.

At least with cars, the key functions remain straightforward. It’s all the other stuff that’s an inconsistent jumble between brands.

“making variant models for different purposes or for different customers. “
That’s pretty much what Fuji have been doing for a few years, although they seem to be moving away from this if recent rumours are true.

I’d wished for a simplified camera for a while, but I realized my simplicity might not be someone else’s idea of simplicity. So, I’m fine with ‘kitchen sink’ camera model as long as there’s the option to turn off the features I don’t want and reassign or disable function buttons as desired.

Having the ability to set your Sigma or my Olympus to the subset of our use within the greater universe of possibilities is good design.
To know and be able to access what we need and ignore the rest, is the best.

I have two MMM cameras, and love using them. The digital that gets used the most is now a Canon 6Dmk2. It's always on manual (except when doing astro). I can tweak ISO, shutter, and aperture for the situation without thinking about it. Mostly it finds focus fast enough for me. I've got a menu button set to scrub the old photos of the SD card. I can't remember the last time I looked at anything else it can do. Yes, it's technically obsolete, and yet I'd buy the last one off the shelf when Canon decides to discontinue it.

Back in the era of film I taught evening photography classes at the local university and first assignment was always 'sit down with your camera and the manual and learn what each control does. There may be some features you will never use but you should ignore them by choice rather than because you don't know what it does.'

I now have an Olympus OMD EM-5III with menus that run 4-5 layers deep. There are 50 ways to use autofocus depending on where a moving subject will enter the frame. Well, maybe not 50 but too damn many. Olympus kindly provided a video online to explain all the settings but I got lost less that half way through. I now routinely ignore the advice I used to give my students.

I've wished this out loud before but my ideal B&W digital camera would be a Mamiya 6 with an actual MF-sized sensor. Aside from built-in metering, I want live view with focus peaking for manual focusing and a DOF preview button. I don't even want autofocus necessarily. Just manual controls.

This is a case where your smart phone can help you out with your “real” camera. If there are features that you keep going back to, yet always require a “refresher” on how to use them, simply transcribe the relevant bits out into a note in your phone’s note-taking app. Then when you need the info, you can skip the 1000 pages of irrelevant info and go directly to the paragraph you need in your notes app, which has the bonus of being written in a way that makes sense to you because you wrote it.

In my case, a never-ending bugaboo is that several times a year the little green autofocus box migrates in its own to the edge of the viewfinder. I always always always want that thing dead center and will never understand why anyone would want it any other way (focus and recompose is 10 times faster than resetting the focus box for a single shot). But I can never remember how to re-center it. Plus, this happens with both my Fuji X100 and my Lumix LX100, so that doubles the trouble. Happily, I have a note in my “self-made man(ual)” that I can find within seconds that tells me, in my own words, how to re-center the focus box on both cameras.

If only there were a way to disable that autofocus thing and other annoying features. Then we’d really be getting somewhere.

The linked post on Pentax Rumours appears to be from Dec 2021? Though there's also a more recent post speculating about a Monochrome camera...

Regarding simplicity, a bunch of folks will now pile on and say, "But Mike, even if the camera is complicated, you only need to learn the things you use and ignore the rest." True enough, until you hit the wrong button and the damn thing goes off into hyperspace.

There is a story, probably apocryphal, from the early days of computerized GPS/INS autopilots in commercial jets, claiming that the last words on the cockpit voice recorder were, "What is it doing NOW?"

Quick question for you Mike. The Pentax Monochrome would be a DSLR. Would this be good or bad since the viewfinder would give you the natural world in color? Does your Sigma viewfinder provide a monochrome view or can it also be set to color? Just curious what your preference would be.

I don't have enough skill with B&W to justify a monochrome camera, but I think I could be tempted if Fuji ever made one. But I would want it to be an X-T5 Monochrome, since I currently have an X-T4 and like it quite a lot. The X-T# model is my favorite.

Isn't the plural of Pentax, Pentax? Like sheep? Or maybe it should be Pentii? (Sorry, couldn't help myself. :))

I tend to change cameras systems faster than Hollywood stars change spouses. B&W film is my passion but I want a digital camera around for all the things I do not want to shoot on film. Tired of expensive mirrorless purchases that as you mention are crazy complicated I have reverted to an older camera, a Nikon D7100. No laughing! The files at lower ISO’s are beautiful, the lenses affordable and with simple, sensible controls it can be shot with a minimum of effort. Best of all? $299 in excellent condition. See that makes photography that much more enjoyable.

My habit seems to be to buy a new Nikon body every few years. Each time I do, I diligently read the manual, which reminds me of Nikon's flavors of the numerous menu settings I'll set or ignore just once, and forget all over again until the next time. Give me a body that shoots nothing but RAW and with only ISO, aperture and shutter speed controls and I'm happy.

Camera brands seem to be missing an obvious feature. Let me export all my settings to a file somewhere, later to be imported to any new (or duplicate, for that matter) model I might eventually acquire.

But…but…pretty much every single one of these dismayingly-complex cameras have an auto-everything mode. Which, may I add, makes them easier to use than a revered MMM camera, because one doesn’t need to learn the manual focusing, or how to use the internal light meter.

The real reason the overwhelmed-by-complexity photographers don’t use them in auto-everything mode, is they want something *very specific* — and that where the trouble starts.


An additional thought in response to comments praising phones for their simplicity.

It's swapping one problem for another.

No matter how good the image quality, no matter how simple and how convenient the UI, for camera use the form factor is terrible. A slim rectangular slab of glass makes for nightmare ergonomics. I purchased a clip on handgrip with bluetooth shutter button for mine. It transforms the handling. However, to use it, I have to remove the black leather wallet case I have on the phone, clip on the handset, take the picture, remove the handset, put back the case.... you get the picture. The handgrip stays in a drawer.

IMO, until phones get redesigned to look like cameras, they are just an emergency back up solution for photography. Simplicity isn't everything.

The meter mentioned was almost certainly the Minolta Flash Meter IV.

Four sliding switches, with at least two possible positions, on the lefthand side. Two sliding switches on the right side, with four or more positions, plus the reading button. On the front, six buttons plus the digital readout. And shadow, midtone and highlight switches, with individual adjustments available for each.

All this came with a truly appalling, multipage instruction book, which for all practical purposes was incomprehensible.

So bad that Minolta had to provide a double-sided guide on a single sheet of card, which clearly outlined the effective logic of the meter’s various functions.

Once understood, it was a first rate and very simple to use item.

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