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Image Quality Advances, Usability Declines

As I wade through so many different new cameras, what has become clear is that they are all getting really, really good at image quality. The Sony RX100, the Nikon Coolpix A, the Sigma DP Merrill and so on.

But every one of them misses the mark on usability in some way. Some are better, some are worse, but they all manifest the same disease: a failure to think through the feature set, which can be termed fairly, the “kitchen sink” design approach. Meaning not so much bad design (the result), but a failure to think about design in a meaningful way (the cause). Inertial design crossed with kitchen sink.

Even the new Leica M Typ 240 is showing symptoms of this malaise, though less than most. Still why can’t I reprogram that video button and hide all video settings?!

All suffer from a failure to think about the usability and ergonomic aspects: the non-existent grip, the unhelpful size and position and arbitrary grouping of buttons, the absence of tactile feedback, the fiddly controls that are too small for stiff or arthritic or gloved hands, the lack of an EVF for older shooters (presbyopia). And so on.

Next, add in the growth of menus and apps and modes and endless multi-level lists of settings. A simple decluttering exercise is in order. For example, consider just three global settings that could hugely simplify the design for many shooters:

  • √ Hide all video settings.
  • √ Hide all JPEG settings (for RAW shooters).
  • √ Hide all beginner-mode options (or show only beginner mode options).

Decluttering is low hanging fruit. Really good design is much harder, but for starters cleaning up the mess would help.

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