The problems with camera design…today.

You would think…with the millions of people flooding into photography, 7 or 8 MAJOR players in camera manufacture, and the thousands upon thousands of professional and serious photographers providing feedback on cameras….

…that camera DESIGN would be very mature about now.  It’s really kind of SHOCKING just now IM-mature, camera design really is.  Here’s a great example, these two Canon bodies are TWENTY YEARS APART!

Canon and Nikon, in the last 20 years…..the 20 years that should have prompted the MOST innovation….have changed almost NOTHING.  Is it that they arrogantly believe they’ve had it right all along?  I don’t think that’s the problem…I truly believe the problem, is they don’t want to make major changes to a form factor that consumers ASSUME is good.  It’s just marketing.  As long as they remain sales leaders, they don’t rock the boat.

Along the same lines, Canon and Nikon have obstinately refused to design-out the moving mirror.  From the first time we put an LCD screen on a digital camera, the goal in camera design should have been to find a way to make a camera WITHOUT a mirror blocking the sensor.  That important moment, the first camera with an LCD, was CASIO and it was 23 years ago.  For TWENTY-THREE years Canon and Nikon have managed to manipulate the market by refusing to innovate.   It’s easy to imagine that if they had embraced the future of photography to the same degree other manufacturers have, we’d all be much farther down the path to camera-design maturity.

But how do we KNOW?  How do we know that camera design is “immature.”  That’s actually pretty easy.  They’re all different.  Not just different in the case of specialized cameras for specialized needs, but pretty much every camera maker uses a different control layout.

Believe it or not….there really IS a best way to design a camera.  Not for everyone, we always need variety in design, but for MOST people, there really is a best way.

If we know what that BEST WAY is, then all manufacturers make their cameras, more or less…………that way.  And they may also make some variations to satisfy individual tastes, but one good way to measure the maturity of a product’s design, is the industry adopts STANDARDS.  Cameras don’t have standards.  The shutter release is on the right, in front.  That’s about it for consistency.

So the first two problems with modern camera design are:

1. We still have moving mirrors, which today, mostly just block features.

2. We don’t have a STANDARD, best design for control layout.

Here’s one of my favorite, frustrating examples, the EXPOSURE COMPENSATION DIAL.  Why the heckfire do we even HAVE this on a camera?  Let alone, have it in such a prominent place on so many models…..

This is a Sony a7 body, which otherwise is brilliantly designed.  But there is that HUGE, un-necessary exposure compensation dial.  And it’s bad enough that it’s there at all, wasting real estate, complicating the interface, but it’s in the PRIME spot for a dial…the dial that SHOULD be there.  The control dial you can barely see, a little to the left, a little lower, a little inset…THAT’S the important one.

Because this whole camera is PROGRAMMABLE.  If you move that dial (the one to the left, down, inset) to where the compensation dial is, and make it big and easy to find and easy to use……and you want to shoot this camera in priority or auto with compensation, GREAT, just use that dial you just moved for compensation!

This is the CORRECT design, on an a6000:

That dial is HUGE, it’s easy to find, it’s easy to use, and it can be set to be your shutter speed control, your aperture control, or yes, even your exposure compensation dial.  The numbers you usually see printed physically on an exposure compensation dial are just there for looks, because that information is ALSO available in the much better locations, on the LCD and in the viewfinder.

This is a critical component of  a GREAT design.  When you shoot in priority, the dial you use the most is THIS dial, this is where it belongs.

When you shoot in manual, THIS is the most important dial.

Even when you shoot in auto, and use compensation, this is the dial.

If camera design was mature, pretty much every camera would have one, large, easy to find dial right under the thumb.  The a6000 version is so good, that even though we’re talking about a very small camera, you can still operate it easily with heavy gloves on:

Design problem number three:

3. Every modern, shooter’s camera should have a prominent, easy to use control in the most obvious place…under the right thumb.

And that leads us to design problem number FOUR:

4. All of the important controls should be on the RIGHT, under the THUMB.

If you hold a camera correctly, your left hand is busy under the lens.

It’s for support, and it zooms or focuses but what it DOESN’T do, is adjust settings.  That’s done by your right hand.  So why……….WHY?   Do so many cameras put controls to the LEFT of the LCD?

This, above, is the back of a Nikon D7200….to adjust white balance, ISO, or just to hit the MENU you have to stop what you’re doing.  There is no excuse for this, it’s just a TERRIBLE design.  It’s not even that hard to put them where the RIGHT thumb can get to them:

The above Sony a7 design is much better….if we get rid of that GOOFY exposure compensation dial, and move the shutter speed dial up to where it belongs, we actually have room for the MENU button on the right.  That’s how close this camera comes to being the best design out there.

But just having the controls on the right, under the thumb, isn’t enough…if you have to drag your eye away from the viewfinder to do things….so our last, current design problem, is too many cameras require the shooter to STOP SHOOTING.

5. A well designed camera should be controllable without removing your eye from the viewfinder.

Here’s a fact…almost no one shoots a DSLR that way.  They shoot, then they look at their camera, then they shoot, then they look at their camera.  There is NOTHING fluid about that design.

Take a minute to watch other photographers…it’s incredibly rare that they shoot fluidly, and pretty much all of them shoot, then have to stop and look at their camera, either to review an image, or to change a setting.

Those are DESIGN FLAWS.  And we’re too deep into the digital age of photography, to let camera makers get away with them.