Sunday, January 16, 2011

Complex cameras (updated twice)

I love the power of modern cameras, but let's face it, digital camera makers are insane. Cameras are so complex! I was just trying to figure out how to make bracketing work on a camera, and it simply would not work. Finally I found out that somehow I had mistakenly selected "multi-film mode". I have no friggin clue what that even means!

And who needs or wants "film modes"? These are digital cameras, and any effect can be made better later in the computer anyway. And the scene modes too. You can never predict what they are going to do, all they do is confuse people with a lot of options.

The camera has *three* "function buttons". I pressed one by accident, and this again meant that the functions I was trying to set simply did not work, because the camera was set to "Intelligent Auto", meaning "the user has no control". And the big problem is that the button is easy to press by mistake, and beyond a tiny symbol on the screen there is no warning. (The saving grace is that I could change the function of the button so it at least would not f**k anything up if I did happen to touch it.)

My opinion is that they would make much more powerful and useful cameras if they got off this kick of stuffing in as many "features" as they possibly can.

Many years ago David Pogue wrote in a book about a famous movie star he was coaching on using MS Word. The guy got delighted when he found out he could remove menu items he did not want. In the end he only had two left: "bold" and "print"! Love it.

Pogue also once asked: why are simple word processors not selling? Why does everybody want the bloaty MS Word app,  like they want an SUV instead of a useful car? Well, we are addicted to power, even if it's power we will never use.

But maybe there is light at the end of the carpal tunnel: Fujifilm's upcoming X100 camera, a quality camera with simple, physical dials is generating tons of interest, way more than Fuji themselves had expected.

Dave said:
Since I have no interest in studying photography. "Intelligent auto" is the only feature I'd want. Maybe a button that says "Closeup. Really."

Good point. The trouble is you don't know what it will do. I just discovered that in iA mode, my camera (the otherwise excellent Lumix GH2) reduces the resolution of the image from 16MP to 8MP!

I mostly use "P" for Programmed mode. It works almost all the time. The few exceptions are mostly when I want full aperture for a very blurred background, then I use "A" for Aperture Priority. 

In the seventies cameras where either fully manual or had only Aperture priority or Shutter Speed priority. It was a revolution when the first cameras came in the eighties which had both modes as well as the new Programmed mode, where the camera selects both and balances them. 

For very critical use, where ultimate image quality is more important than speed, Programmed mode is not ideal of course.

Update: Adam Engst pointed to this article.
I'm feeling snappish because my wife Daphne's point-and-shoot camera died after only three years of infrequent use, and because I cannot find a sensible replacement. Each "simple" point-and-shoot that I have looked at is more complicated than the next.
[...]  In principle it is possible to ignore many of these "features," but in practice menus often get changed accidentally, either when you try to change some other setting or when you hold the camera in your lap and touch some buttons accidentally, buttons like the "Fn" button on the EX1, which has no evident function save to facilitate destroying images by throwing away resolution.


Frangipan said...

I really think we should all go back to manual and it would be a lot more fun!

dave_at_efi said...

Since I have no interest in studying photography. "Intelligent auto" is the only feature I'd want. Maybe a button that says "Closeup. Really."

I started using Word 2004 about 4 years ago(!), when relatively simple Word 98 would no longer open files people sent me. Word 2004 has 33 little icons on display, of which I have used exactly 6 (Show formatting, Bold, Italic, Underline, Left-justify, and Center, Right justify) and 5 pulldowns, of which I have used 4 (Font, Size, Magnify, and Change Color). I probably should go Pogue the useless ones away. But that takes time...

Bruce said...

Part of the problem is that taking good pictures is hard for a machine to do. So making a good automatic camera or mode is not easy.

Another part of the problem is that camera manufacturers like planned obsolescence. They like having something new to sell each year, even if the new thing doesn't make the camera better. All of the extra buttons and choices are from last year's new feature, and the year before that, etc.

One more problem is that there is a gentleman's agreement among camera manufacturers not to make the other company look embarrassingly bad. So truly disruptive change from the major companies is very unlikely.

As an Apple fan, it's interesting to ask the question, "What would Apple do if they made cameras?"

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

"there is a gentleman's agreement among camera manufacturers not to make the other company look embarrassingly bad."

Are you sure??

"What would Apple do if they made cameras?"

A camera with a single button, I'm sure.
Definitely something very different. I'm not sure it would be *good* though, at least from an enthusiast viewpoint.

Anonymous said...

I've read a few things about the gentleman's agreement. What one company comes up as an innovation with they end up sharing with the others after a year or so.

I agree, Apple would make a real simple camera for everyone to use with iPhoto. But if they made an advanced model to use with Aperture, that's the one that I wonder about.

Miserere said...

Speaking of the Fuji X100, allow me to shamelessly plug the #1 article on this camera.

I, too, long for a simpler camera. I strongly believe a simpler camera would, in the long run, prove to be more camera than a complex one (if you catch my drift).

The problem with a simple camera is that it will take a lot longer to become obsolete, especially if it has a pretty good sensor.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Well said, Miserere.

Anon, Apple has just cancelled their X-Serve machines. They never backed up the server division well, I hear. So I think with their monumental success in the consumer market they are highly unlikely to make a pro camera in the foreseeable future, if at all.

"What one company comes up as an innovation with they end up sharing with the others after a year or so."

This surprises me much. The Nipponese especially live for competition. And it seems Canon has not yet gotten hold of the low-light tech which Nikon has had since 1997.

Bruce said...

Eolake, I agree with you about Apple not making a Pro or Prosumer camera. (that was me as anon, forgot to put my name, sorry about that.) I still think that it's interesting to think about what Apple would do. As you said, there is so much room for improvement in the controls and user interface. And controls and user interface is what Apple does very well.

Steve Jobs is known for learning about typography when he was in his college years. He is not known for learning about photography at that time. So Apple was at the forefront of digital typography in a way that they were not in digital photography (yes, they did make an early digital camera).

The Palm Pilot was created by some employees who left Apple. Then those same employees had to leave Palm in order to create the Treo smartphone. Palm eventually bought Handspring, the company that made the Treo. The Treo might be very loosely described as an OS 9 version of the iPhone.

Perhaps a better way to phrase what I was getting at is to think about a group of employees at Apple who are passionate about photography, leave Apple and start a camera company. What would they produce?

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

That would be Kool.

RED seems to be hibernating.

Anonymous said...

Steve Sasson got it right first time: a single button with a two stage press. Halfway down for ON and all the way down for SHOOT. All serious camera collectors should have one of these (and a pixel chair):

"What would Apple do if they made cameras?"

They would call them QuickTake. Oh right, that was back in 1994 and very close to the two decades lead time that Sasson had forecast in 1975: