Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Evaluating The K-7: The Interface

photographyIn this article I continue my evaluation of the new K-7, again with the proviso that this is based on documents, pictures and video -- not actual hands-on usage. This article won't provide any solutions to the problem of DSLR design -- that will come later in the series. Instead I'll continue my critique from my previous article, looking at the physical interface. All the images here come from the official press kit (with one enhancement).

What do I like and dislike about the K-7? I will answer these questions with special comparison to the K20D.

K-7 front

Front dial tilted
This is a good thing, since it more naturally fits how one's right-hand index finger will come to rest when gripping the camera.

K-7 top

Larger grip protrusion
This compensates for the fact the camera is smaller. I have always been able to hold the K20D with one hand and I can't image the K-7 would be different in that regard. This looks solid.

On/off/depth of field switch
This looks the same, but on the K20D the final position is also used to turn on Live View, should this option be activated in the menu. The K-7 has a dedicated LV button, as we will see.

Exposure compensation moved to top panel
At first glance this appears to be a poor choice. I cannot imagine how one is supposed to hold this button down while moving a dial. On the K20D this was simple since the EV button fell to the thumb.

Dedicated ISO button
This is only for obtuse reviewers who complained there was no ISO button on previous models. There was, but it was labeled "OK". So now we have an extra button that provides no new functionality. And again, this is on the top surface. Could this be because this is how Canon does things?

Lock button on mode dial
I don't think I have ever moved the mode dial by accident, as it is quite firm. For those that have, this is a nice touch that might prevent an accident. For the rest of us it provides an inconvenience that is perhaps not warranted. These sorts of decisions are certainly difficult for the designers to make.

K-7 side

The controls on the side are the same as before with only minor changes. For some reason "AF.C" now simply read "C", which is a bit clumsy. Why not label the three "S", "C" and "M" with "AF" marked on the switch itself?

K-7 back

Moved delete and play buttons
They are out of the way near the top of the back panel. This makes good sense at first glance, but then note where one's left thumb lies when holding the camera... yep, right over these buttons. Something more important could have been put here. [Er, what was I on when writing this? See comments.]

So why have they been moved? Well, consider that this is how the D700 and other Nikons do things. Hmmm... another case of copy cat?

One button bracketing removed
This control, once placed for handy thumb use, is now gone. [Same brain glitch as above.] The function has been moved to the drive mode menu. This will bother those who need the function and please those who never (or rarely) use it. This highlights one problem in design: different users have different needs. Me? I'd prefer to have it retained, and also happen to need quicker access to multiple exposure mode. (There is a simple solution to this dilemma I'll discuss in the next article.)

SR switch removed
This control is also gone, moved to the menu. Personally, I do not mind this, so long as there is a very obvious indicator somewhere on the camera of SR operation. I wouldn't want to have SR off by mistake!

New four-way controller
The OK button now chooses between two modes. By default the four-way controller can choose one of the four icons. Alternately, it controls the AF point. It's hard to see this change as an improvement, since it adds more modality to the controls. How will we know which mode the camera is in? How will we remember which button functions are active?

Removed Fn button
Previously we had to press a button to activate the four-way controller. Now this is active all the time, increasing the chance we will hit a control by accident. Worst of all, rather than being set back to avoid this, these controls are actually raised. Unfortunately for anyone who is left-eye dominant, looking through the viewfinder puts our cheek in touch with exactly this part of the back panel.

Changed AF dial
This dial used to be larger, around the cardinal controls. Now it is smaller and around the AF button. An arbitrary change.

New LV button
This is positioned badly, near other controls that need to be frequently accessed. I think it made more sense to have it out of the way as before, together with the on/off switch. That's because some of us might never use it, and even those that do will not want to hit this control by mistake.

Green button on back panel
On the K20D the green button is right near the shutter. That makes sense, since the functions are related and sequential. One can accomplish both tasks with a quick movement of the same finger. On the K-7 we need to use a different motion to press the green button and the shutter switch. Sure, we can get used to this, but it makes less sense.

Info and Menu buttons relocated
These are now near where the "Fn" button used to be. That's ok, but it made more sense to have them grouped with other controls as before.

3" LCD
The screen is bigger, but I do not think it needed to be. It is also higher in resolution -- that I find very welcome. If the screen had stayed at 2.7" there would have been room to space out the existing controls and create a more usable interface.

Overall fit and finish
It's going to be hard to fault the K-7 on this. The camera looks very solid, with no ugly seems or textures. There are grippy surfaces where grippy surfaces should be. The white and black colour scheme is stylish. The addition of green and even a bit of orange and blue does not detract. After all, careful use of colour is a good visual indicator of function. Of course the body is weather-sealed. So far, all is like its predecessor.

Unfortunately the nice SD card latch has been removed. The equally nice battery compartment latch has been retained.

Well, that's it for my blow by blow account. I am truly sorry things turned out so negative! In my next article I will recommend improvements to the interface, applying the everyday design principles I wrote of previously.



Anonymous said...

Theoretically it is possible to critique a camera one has never held in their own hands. Theoretically such a critique could be useful for its readers.

Unfortunately you failed big time.

robin said...

Thanks for your detailed refutation which provided counter-arguments and examples to show my wrong-thinking. I am sure this has opened up a fruitful dialogue from which we can both learn.

Or maybe not.

robin said...

A poster on Pentax Forums has pointed out I was on drugs when writing of where the left thumb is during shooting. I am not sure how this brain glitch occurred, but I acknowledge it here.

robin said...

After trying out the K-7 in person my viewpoint has not changed. Moving the green buttons and EV is an arbitrary change. Placing the LV button close to the others makes the camera more difficult to use.

Unlike some, I have no problem whatsoever with the smaller size. Indeed, I could live with a body that is smaller still.

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