Friday, August 07, 2009

Rant For The Abolition Of Feature-itis In Digital Cameras

fire escape alleyEvery photography firm is trying to make a camera with four thousand features plus video plus GPS plus home shopping network built in. I'm tired of it and want things to go back to basics. Though not the old basics, a new "basics" that includes all the development digital photography has seen in the last decade. (Baby, meet bathwater.)

This article is spurred on by the fact that everyone is so happy with the Pentax K-7. And yes, it's a very nice camera, likely the best Pentax has made. But it's the wrong camera, and here's why. Pentax, treat this like an open letter sent like a bolt into your heart. A bolt tipped with acid, but with a cherry on top.

Pentax can differentiate themselves from the other companies by making a minimal camera that simply takes pictures very very well. And which is more compact and portable than any of their previous cameras. And which is designed to be used in the dark. For a decade. By people who love photography. We don't need to give up features that are mostly just firmware programmes -- those can stay. But we might need to give up weather sealing and top LCD for size. Plus a few buttons.

sweet blue nectarBefore the K-7 was released we were promised a camera that would embody the "soul" of photography. One that would be like a Limited body to match the Limited lenses that the company has made for some time. (I don't have time to explain that concept, but suffice it to say they are the best lenses made for SLRs in this day and age.)

What did we get? An incremental upgrade to the previous body, the K20D, with video as the killer feature. Oooooh, I can practically smell the soul from here!

What I want instead is simplicity. One dial per feature, at least for those few key photographic parameters every camera needs: aperture, shutter speed, ISO, shutter. No modes, because modes are evil. Modes are where the feature rot sets in. We need controls you can learn with muscle memory and then naturalize completely, like driving a car. The accelerator always does the same thing; it doesn't change function depending on what mode you're driving in. That's the same reason why Leica rangefinders are/were good. It's nothing to do with superior features and all to do with standardisation, reliability and simplicity. (Though they took this too far with their digital model... remove the base plate to get to the card slot? Epic fail!)

It's not a new concept at all, it's an old one that's been forgotten. Remember when a camera was a camera? And not some crappy computer? Think big! Think outside the box! We can be heroes!

I mentioned before something about fewer buttons. But how about giving us a button we can programme ourselves? That's leveraging the best of the old (fewer thingies to twiddle) and the new (software control over everything). How about a customisable menu? So we can make the menu simpler -- even though everyone's simple is a different simple.

robin with canadian flagI have no interest in paying 1300 euros for a camera that will be obsolete the next time the marketing department gets a twitch in their pants. But I'll pay that much for an elegant camera built around sophisticated ideas. One that will keep me in the Pentax fold, buying accessories and lenses and proselytizing. All of which is more important than a body sale here and there. Pentax: Think of your image! Hoya: You know you have the money to blow on a vanity project!

Besides, none of this takes more research; all the technology needed is here today. The K20D and K-7 already take great photos, so long as there's a good eye behind the viewfinder. There is no need to improve anything in the camera. Only change the mind set behind how the camera is designed.

OK, so most people will hate it. The truth is, most people are idiots. It's the entire basis of capitalism. What did Barnum say? What did Ford say? Same thing. In fact, they were banking on it -- literally. But times have changed and now a soft word in the right ear (or a rave on the right blog) and all the world thinks you're the bee's knees. (Or is that "bees' knees"? I never could figure our collective possessives that had no grounding in reality.)

Pentax, do this because you are a company for photographers. Prove you care. You can still make your do-everything-but-make-the-martinis camera. (Mmmmm, martinis!) But do this one thing to put the shine back on the name that practically invented everything we care about in photography.

That's my rant for the week.

tail sectionP.S. I keep meaning to write a more complete article on the "new concept" camera but others have sort of done it already. Read The Time Has Come for a New DSLR Paradigm and Why There Will Never Be a Simple DSLR.

From those articles and this one you should get a pretty good idea of what it is I'm actually talking about. Or not. Future articles may follow.



robin said...

It's an article on photography, so I went back and added in some shots from the last couple of weeks. Because otherwise I'll get anonymous critics telling me I'm all talk and no action, not a real photographer, etc. etc. Sheesh.

Peter Zack said...

I agree Robin and would be first in line for a nice Pentax (not Oly mini sensor) rangefinder or SLR simple camera. Something quiet and easy to use. Small so the pancakes make it a real pocket camera. Imagine a 3-5 button, no LCD rangefinder with a DA40mm attached? Too sweet. No hot shoe required, just add a PC socket for those that need a flash. Maybe a basic (thin) rear LCD that doesn't show the picture but just the menu settings and the histogram on demand. I can wait till I get home to see my results. I remember waiting 2 weeks for the K25 slides to come back!

A K-LX sounds just about perfect if it's an SLR design. Mi,,ions of top quality pictures were taken (and still are) with that camera and it was WR as well. So there's no reason a new simple DSLR based on the LX idea couldn't be WR as well and still stay small. Maybe the Pen will sell well and we will see Pentax consider this as well.

IMO part of the reason 95% of DSLR users are men is the size and weight. I know even the *istD was much bigger than my wife wanted to shoot with. Something the size of the LX or a rangefinder would be a camera she would own. She's waiting for that day.

Miserere said...

I told Pentax what I want in an open love letter, pretty much saying the same things you are. They never did reply.

Post a Comment