Significant new developments in digital cameras seem to be popping up by the minute lately. I’m looking forward to the day when all of the following features will be incorporated into one rock-solid but easy-tote-digicam. Actually, I’d like two versions: one a very compact-looking APS-C size sensor rangefinder-type “street camera,” the other a super-high resolution electronic viewfinder “DSLR” type camera…preferably full-screen. So here’s the list:
1. High def electronic live viewfinder–SLR is dead.
The Panasonic G1 and itís offspring introduced an electronic viewfinder with very high resolution. The definition is so fine that even the smallest details are clearly delineated. There are several benefits: (a) You see the preview of the exposure and depth of field before you shoot (b) The camera can be much smaller because you don’t need a mirror and pentaprism (c) The lens can be much smaller for the same reason–and it can be much closer to the sensor plane. (d) You always shoot in live view, so you see 100% of what youíre going to get and thereís no ìblackoutî at the precious moment. (d) You can put such a viewfinder into a very small housing that can be attached to the cameraís hot-shoe. You can then tilt and swivel it so that you can see perfectly if you have to shoot in a direction other than the one youíre facing in order to distract attention or to bend way down if you have to shoot a close-up. Yes, it takes some getting used to, but there are no read advantages to the ìold fashioned way.
2. Tilt & Swivel high definition live view LCD monitor.
All the advantages of the above, except you can clearly see what’s on the camera when you’re face is away from the camera. Then you can study the live scene at the same time youíre composing. With a 3″ screen and more than half a million pixels and a protective overlay that kills glare, you can even see what you’re doing in fairly bright light. You can even “hood it” if need be–ask Hoodman. One of the really big benefits that few realize is that you can turn the monitor inward when you’re not using it, thus protecting it from cheek grease and shirt button scratches.
3. Universal Hot shoe.
That was SOP for ALL 35mm cameras and their offspring until Minolta tried to “improve” on the security of contacts for the hot shoe by re-designing it to be totally proprietary. Sony carried on that tradition when it bought Minolta. You can’t use any of the flash equipment made by competitors…and you probably already own several, right? Other manufacturers have been very good about adding “privatized” contacts that will support extra features to a hot shoe that will let you attach and synchronize most anyone else’s flash gun, so you have your choice of which way to go and if you don’t need those special features you can use a generic flash that costs half as much. There are also plenty of adapters that will allow you to plug a studio flashís pc connector into these hot shoes so that you can fire them as well. If you donít really appreciate how important this can be, read Joe McNally’s Hot Shoe Diaries.
4. Interchangeable lenses w/ large choice to grow with.
Look for ways to work around having to use proprietary lenses. Why? Their extra cost doesn’t often bring extra benefits. In fact, most “proprietary” lenses are actually made by the big name independent lens makers because they have more expertise and more specialize and efficient production. So it’s cheaper for the camera makers (and most all do it) to buy a better lens from Tamron, Sigma, or Tokina and have them put their label and mount on it than to build it themselves.
Some big name manufacturers are even getting a bad rep for buying “kit” lenses that are so cheap they start falling apart in a few months. Also some camera makers don’t even make their cameras compatible with all their own lenses.
5. Interchangeable Sensors:
The day when you had to go buy a whole new camera every time you want to take advantage of a new sensor upgrade should have passed. It’s time for Panasonic, Pentax, Olympus, Sigma, and/or Sony to make a big inroad into the market by providing a camera that can change sensor size, resolution, and type. It’s going to become more and more true that different types of sensors will be better for different types of photography. Don’t worry, sensors will still be versatile, but a camera that can change sensors would let you choose between resolution and noise, for instance. Or switch to dedicated infrared or choose a sensor that’s especially designed for HDR.
6. 4/3d or larger sensor…bigger is better, even in smaller cameras.
That idea has been taken for granted for DSLRs, but now there are a growing number of “rangefinder” or “street” cameras that have larger sensors (including the new Leica M9, which has a full frame sensor.) Imagine what it would be like to have a Panasonic GH1 or GF1 with a full frame sensor. Even the 4/3ds sensors that those cameras have can easily produce and exhibition quality 20″ X 30″ print as long as the ISO is kept below 400. The Leica M9, with its full frame sensor, is said to be able to produce exhibition size quality prints at ISO 1600, so shooting nighttime city streets and nightclubs hand held with no flash shouldn’t be much of a problem. Maybe somebody else will make one that doesn’t cost $8,000?
7. 2-stop per step bracketing.
HDR is here, folks. The layer matching capabilities of Photoshop and Photomatix and some others has gotten good enough that (especially with image stabilization), it’s pretty easy to hand-hold an HDR shoot. You can do it if your camera brackets enough shots a half-stop or so apart, but why waste all that space on your card? Besides, the whole sequence happens faster if you’ve only three frames to shoot and that much less of the stuff in the picture is likely to move, too. Believe me, once you’ve done it, you’re addicted.
8. Fast sequence shooting (4+ fps).
It’s no news that the faster you can shoot sequences, the better your chances of capturing “the moment” in a sport or other hi-speed situation…such as water splashes. The good news is that double and quadruple processors and faster circuitry is making it faster and cheaper. So you can expect to see more and more of it at more affordable prices.
9. Spot, centered, many segment matrix metering thru lens.
This is pretty much de-rigueur these days amongst all but the cheapest DSLRs. But the matrix metering is getting progressively better with more cells in the matrix to be able to help determine the best overall exposure for very complex scenes with lots of hotspots and shadows.
10. Fast focusing and multiple focusing types — especially spot.
If your camera has spot focusing, you’re much more likely to get focused on what you want if you have to shoot through a busy foreground, such as tree branches and leaves or a chain-link fence. There’s a bit of a conflict here, as EVF cameras wil eventuallly replace DSLRs, but have to use contrast-detection focusing, which is slower. ..though Panasonic and more and more other makers will keep improving on that as there are and more EVF-only cameras. Oh, and BTW, though some DSLRs give you a choice of live-view through the viewfinder, the EVF alternative on most of those cameras is, so far, very slow to focus and of much too low resolution. It is, however, full of future potential for users to whom weight and size isnít a main concern and versatility is. Itís especially going to be more welcomed as making movies with a still camera becomes more and more practical.
11. In-body Image Stabilization (3-way).
Now, I say this with some warning. First, the good part is that it works with every lens you put on the camera. I’ve been using it on two different brands of cameras for the better part of two years. It only comes on three different brands of cameras so far: Olympus, Sony, and Pentax. I’ve had all three brands with the feature because I love live music and love shooting rock stars while they perform and they hate having flashguns going off in their eyes while they’re performing. Besides, it makes them ugly, more often than not, and most know that. Frankly, the first time I tried shooting hand-held at a 10th of a second, I was amazed at the quality of the stage lighting and the fact that at least a third of the images were sharp. I then combined it with sequence shooting and almost never “missed the moment.” That was because I could hold the camera much steadier if I didnít have to punch the shutter button. I’d always stayed away from IS before because it was more financially practical to spend $150 on a good tripod than $300-1,000 more for a lens. I did have some problems with an older Sony whose sensor shook loose on bumpy roads, but have never had anything like that happen with my Pentax’s. To Sony’s great credit, they did repair the camera under warranty and itís been great so far.
Canon and Nikon both have huge incomes from the sale of IS lenses, so I don’t think we’re likely to see in-body IS there any time RSN. It would be really desirable to have the choice of three-way (wiggle, pan, and tilt) stabilization, I suppose. I haven’t yet experienced it. Neither have I ever had a problem when I had the IS on and was panning or tilting to keep a subject sharp while wanting to blur the background. However, if I knew I had the option, it would be good to be able try it either way. Being a photographer really makes you appreciate flexibility.
12. Water/dust Proof (Weather Sealed) Body.
Now this is a really big deal. I travel a lot. You never know what’s going to happen next. Furthermore, if something does happen to your camera your chances of being able to replace it before you get home are “slim to none.” When are you ever going to be able to replace what you shot on that journey? Never. And, in fact, no matter who or where you are, you’re never going to be able to replace what you could have shot at any given moment. Of course, if you have to pay $3,000 to $8,000 more for a weather-sealed body, which has been the case up until Pentax started doing something about it, you’ll probably just buy a second body instead. I’d still rather be doing that just so I could have two different lenses mounted and ready to shoot at the same time.
13. PC connector for studio strobes.
All studio strobes and many external portable flash guns expect to connect to a PC connector on the camera body, rather than a hotshoe. The cost of including them is pretty minimal. Yet they seem to be showing up on fewer, rather than more cameras. True enough, you can put a hot-shoe adapter that has a pc-connector built into it onto everything. However, you end up with more “tangle” hanging off your camera and the danger that you could get voltage ‘kickback” from a flash that was more powerful than the camera was designed to handle.
14. Self timer.
A self timer lets you set a time delay (usually either 3 or 10 seconds) between pushing the shutter button and firing the camera. This is pretty commonplace. Ever since camera manufacturers gave up including a connection for a cable release, which costs them about 15 cents, in hopes that you’d pay for an electronic remote, it’s been difficult to fire the camera without wiggling it. Just a tiny wiggle can cause a “soft” enough image to make even the cheapest lens look good.
15. Cheap remote.
Electronic remotes have been made to be necessary because you can’t charge much more for a traditional cable release. Besides, they’re really great when you donít want to be near the camera when it fires.
16. Bulb setting.
The original (and still a good) reason for providing this setting was so that one could “light the night” from different positions without having to synchronize the flash. Itís still very handy for shooting photos in complete darkness using extremely long exposures. Won’t do you a bit of good if you don’t have a tripod or some other handy means of keeping the camera absolutely ìrock steady.
17. Grid on preview monitor.
My favorite is a “rule of thirds” grid, but any grid is better than none. Not only does it help remind you to use the rule of thirds when composing, it’s also a great way to make sure that the shot is level because one of the grid lines is parallel to a vertical or straight line.
18. Level indicator in viewfinder.
This is a very logical alternative to using a bubble level in your hot-shoe (which doesnít work at all if you’re using the hot shoe for connecting a flash. At least one of the new cameras that uses in-body IS will auto-level the image if it’s already almost level by tilting the sensor itself by a few degrees. Don’t know, though, if that would interfere with the image stabilization.
19. Great noise removal software for shooting at high ISO.
In camera noise removal is getting better and better. If you don’t have that, there’s also the noise removal in Lightroom/Camera Raw and some third-party noise removal programs. I hope to do a comparison of those here sometime in the near future.
20. High Definition Movies.
Now that processing is getting faster, definition higher, and memory is getting cheaper, it makes a lot more sense to shoot pro-quality movies with your pro-quality still camera. You never know when the motion in a scene will convey just the image that illustrates the point and makes a great web ad, QuickTime movie, podcast illustration, or hot-selling stock shot. But what good is it if you don’t have the right camera in your hands when that event happens?
Okay, now it’s your turn. How about giving me 5-20 more features you’d like to see widely adopted?