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Attention all Camera Makers: 23.5 Things To Please Your Customers

Why should it even be a consideration when choosing a camera as to whether it has Eye AF or frame averaging support or focus stacking support or AF-ON separate from the shutter or... <insert_your_own_favorite>. Most such features should be taken for granted now, just like autofocus and exposure.

Further below, I list the things that could make cameras better for everyone, at no downside in other aspects of operation.

I hope that Nikon, Canon, Leica, Panasonic, Sony, Phase One, Fujifilm all read this page and formulate a plan to improve/add.

In many if not most of these cases, there is no credible rationale for not getting it done. The key shortcomings can be lumped into several categories:

  • Features that improves sharpness.
  • Features that improve image quality, including dynamic range.
  • Design that simplifies the user experience e.g., eliminating all JPEG-centric stuff for those of us that shoot raw. Real customization, not just a My Menu.
  • Features that raise the hit rate (e.g., Eye AF that really does focus on the iris of the eye)
  • Addressing anything that reduces the chance of missing the shot or getting a sub-optimal picture in any technical way, e.g., auto-ETTR, deadly accurate autofocus.
  • Features that automate challenges that need not be challenges (exposure, focus stacking, etc).
  • Features that make it easy for the photographer determine that optimal image quality has been captured (exposure, dynamic range, sharpness, depth of field, etc), turning that into a guarantee in some cases (no verification needed).
  • Computational photography of various kinds, which will surely kill off any camera maker that does not embrace it (Sony has publicly stated that it Sony is investing in AI for photography).

I have a deep well of ideas in my noggin, as many other photographers do. Why do camera makers apparently design without serious input? Not-invented-here syndrome? No one at any of the camera companies has ever contacted me for input. Ditto for other photographers I know—this is not about me but about listening to skilled photographers out there, and there are many. Why camera companies ignore such a rich resource is puzzling, because asking and listening are one inexpensive way to prioritize R&D—all it would take is tasking one person at the company to make it their mission.

Addressing these issues would make cameras more competitive and useful—much more in some cases yet without adding any complexity for those that don’t use the features (at least if designed right). Still, I (sadly) expect this list to be ignored by most or all camera makers.

Going forward, any camera make that makes no effort to address these issues in new cameras and firmware is going to get called out by me here on a regular basis with some kind of Clown Award, at least if the easy stuff is left unaddressed. There is no defensible reason for not getting much of this stuff right.

After all these years, anyone who understands programming and computers* or just usability alone can only throw up hands in frustration at the scattershot approach camera makers take to their feature set. It makes no sense either technically or for marketing, given how trivial some of these things are to add or fix.

* I majored in mathematics and computational science at Stanford and have a long and varied professional software engineering history in the professional world.

Camera Functionality Deficits

You don’t have to be an engineer to scratch your head at the lack of some of this stuff in many or most cameras. Most of it is not hard.

All brands refer to mirrorless offerings, as DSLRs are dinosaurs and preclude some features.

Ratings subject to change (going from memory for first pass). Rating of 0 means not supported, low numbers means problems/bugs/dumb stuff, 10 means perfect, anything less means room for improvement. Please contact me if I have made an error for any brand.

I’ll see if I can come up with a better layout for poor table presentation. Partial list to be continued...

Feature / Behavior Difficulty Sony Nikon Fujifilm Canon Leica
Self timer:
– option to remain enabled for power on/off and between shots
- at least supports 1/2/3/5/10/15/20/30/60 seconds
- supports user selectable time
- supports multiple frames at specified interval
trivial 5
- too few choices
- no flexibility
5
- too few choices
- no flexibility
5
- too few choices
- no flexibility
5
- too few choices
- no flexibility
1
- 2/12 seconds only
             
Long exposure:
- must not require remote release
- must support one press to start, stop
- supports dialing in any time in minutes/seconds
- must support arbitrary timed exposure min:sec
- counts time remaining for exposure, dark frame too
trivial 0
- cannot shoot longer than 30 seconds
- does not display time remaining
- cannot enter duration
6
- does not display time remaining
- cannot enter long duration
TBD TBD 3
- - does not display time remaining
- cannot enter long duration
             
Lossless compressed raw format
- well established technology
trivial 0 10 10 10 0
             
Save/restore settings
- save/restore settings to camera card
- simple text file for easy editing
- must also save My Menu
trivial 5 5 TBD 5 0
             
AF-ON support:
- supports release without refocusing
- support AF-ON independent of shutter
trivial 10 10 10 10 LeicaQ2: 0
Leica SL: TBD
             
True raw histogram
- histogram of actual raw data for each color channel (no RGB processing)
easy 0 0 0 0 0
             
Frame averaging

- option to keep all
- option to store 2/4/8/N-frame averages
- option to
- full electronic shutter
- FAST
easy          
             
pixel shift
- FAST so checkerboarding declines as an issue
moderate 2
- generally unusable in the field
0 0 0 0
             
Aperture and focus, Live View including magnified:
- stop down option
- wide open option
- choosable aperture option
- toggle aperture while focusing
- avoids unpredictable aperture choice
- must support AF across frame
- allow focus anywhere in frame
- must have deadly-accurate mode
easy 5 7 5 TBD
- no control
3
- no control
             
Focus stacking support:
- AF single-focus to INF
- AF focus near point to far point
- control over step size
- accounts field curvature for INF
_ must support focusing to frame edge
- must operate FAST
- analyze image and don’t do stupid stuff like 10 badly blurred frames past INF
- option to preconfigure near-to-far setups eg 1m to INF, 3.5m to INF, etc
- auto detect near/far blur boundaries and narrow step size locally
moderate (basic)

challenging (advanced)
0 6
- does not understand INF
- does not offer far point, keeps taking images way past INF
- relatively slow
4
- serious bugs with tele lenses
- difficulty focusing in outer zones
0 0
             
Auto detect camera movement in capture
- audible warning
- blur rating
- option to take up to N images keeping least motion M of N
moderate 0 0 0 0 0
             
Auto detect subject motion in capture
- audible warning
- blur rating with mask
- option to take up to N images keeping least motion M of N
moderate 0 0 0 0 0
             
Auto-ETTR exposure mode
- best possible ETTR exposure
- adds EXIF flag for pull adjustment relative to 18% gray
- specular highlight support; allows 0.DD% blowout
- bias control for shadows or highlights when both cannot work
- electronic shutter
- retakes automagically if calculation wrong
- gets it right to 1/10 stop
- just works!
moderate 0 0 0 0 0
             
16-bit dynamic range
- high speed electronic shutter melds exposure brackets
- produce single raw file
0 0 0 0 0 0
             
AF accounts for focus shift:
- option to focus wide open but compensate
- option to focus stopped down
- option to focus at fixed aperture
moderate 5
cannot focus wide open and compensate for shooting aperture, no behavioral control
5
cannot focus wide open and compensate for shooting aperture, no behavioral control
5
cannot focus wide open and compensate for shooting aperture, no behavioral control
TBD
no behavioral control
TBD
no behavioral control
             
Auto select best sharpness of N exposures
- option to keep all
- mark/flag best exposures with ranking
- option to keep best M of N
- mode that show mask of what has high micro contrast in taken image
challenging due to CPU speed 0 0 0 0 0
           
Electronic panorama mode
- electronic shutter for quiet/fast
- works like iPhone
challenging due to CPU speed 1
no ES
0 0 0 0
             
multi-shot high-res mode a la Panasonic
- intelligent motion detection, mitigation
challenging 0 0 0 0 0
             

Robin D writes:

Your editorial... just rammed it home to me how Sony, now with an utterly dominant position in the market, is now leading the industry backwards. You may not know of it but believe it or not Sony had a rough (and I mean it was a toy, a joke) focus bracket app in "PlayMemories" . The least said the better on that score, but it proved to me that Sony is brain dead when it comes to software.

They have great engineers I am sure, but they could do with some photographers and have the two groups talk to each on occasion, because as your list makes clear they are the worst of all your listed camera makers at including features that make the Photographers job easier, more professional, and more fun. Good grief it took them until a year ago to add an intervelometer on the A&something I had in my D300 in 2010 I love the output from the A7R3 but I can't and don't love the camera.

DIGLLOYD: let’s not forget ergonomics and haptics—while the Sony A7R IV is another improvement, it just doesn’t rise to the feel of the Nikon Z7.

I’m not sure Sony is leading things the wrong way so much as omitting things and what they do implement not done well (e.g. pixel shift). I wonder what Sony’s investment in AI will yield but hopefully not PlayBadMemories.

Mark A writes:

This is a great and well thought-out list and I hope this sparks mainstream manufacturers to improve engagement. I can't imagine how being a hardware or software engineer at these places is deeply pleasing if some of the most obvious things are either not occurring to them (pathetic) or being suppressed by management (sad).

In any case, quick comment is this: Hasselblad tried to do this with Ming Thein and I had expected more, as I'm sure he did, too. It may be worth at least recognizing that attempts have been made and maybe Ming Thein or other people can help figure out why such seem like "tissue rejections." I suppose https://www.red.com/ could be an example of a company that does it right? Corporate America (and Japan?) is pretty much the same with suppressed entrepreneurial spirit, no real meritocracy, HR-driven organizations and cultures, management with economically perverse incentives, etc.

One other thing just occurred to me as I'm writing this. If a camera's hardware is sufficient, perhaps community-driven software is an answer ala https://magiclantern.fm/ Great leadership is required to make that work really well but perhaps medium well would suffice to get people what they need?

DIGLLOYD: agreed, it’s quite possible that engineers are not allowed to follow sensible priorities. OTOH, it’s also possible that many otherwise talented engineers have nil talent or interest in rethinking approaches to long established assumptions. I observed that firsthand for 25 years in the professional world.

As for Ming Thein and Hasselblad... brilliant minds are a poor fit for just about any corporate culture unless it comes from the top (think Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos). Most of the time, corporations create a stultifying quagmire for the those capable of original thinking.

Things like MagicLantern are not a solution IMO, any more than Linux is a substitute for macOS. And in a world of hackers, cameras are already getting hacked.


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