Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wednesday Commentary: Camera Features

With all the new cameras that have been announced in the last week at Photokina, there has been a lot of talk about new features that modern cameras should have. Some people are even not buying new cameras because they don't have optional features built in. A common list of features that are requested are, built in GPS, WIFI and bluetooth.

Some have even begun to question why Canon, or Nikon for that matter, do not have WIFI and GPS built into all DSLRs. Statements like, "it's 2012, these should simply be standard features in cameras" are common place. From my point of view there are a few reasons why camera makers have been holding back some of the requested features.

The first reason to not include some features is that doing so will reduced battery life. As it is there are many complaints about how short modern cameras battery life is, and adding battery sucking features such as GPS and WIFI wouldn't help matters any. To see the effect, just look at what such features do to cell phone battery life when they are left on, vs not. The difference can be reducing battery life by half or more! While features like WIFI and GPS can be turned on and off to save battery life, these items need to become more power efficient before they are truly practical in a camera.

The second reason comes from a Canon Europe rep; if you want a fully weather sealed, tough full magnesium alloy camera body (think D4, D800, 1Dx or 5D MKIII), those features simply cannot work. Why? The magnesium alloy shells for the bodies interfere with radio signals (which is what GPS and WIFI are). Thus a reliable, or even usable, signal strength is just not possible at this time. I think we'll see these features integrated into the next generation of consumer grade DSLRs and compact system cameras, since they have plastic bodies.

From my point of view the camera makers have bigger issues than not including GPS or WIFI in all cameras. What needs to be focused on is making cameras that are simply good for taking photos with. Considering that a great deal of research and development has been put into making cameras better for video, wireless connectivity and slowly adding social networking feature, one has to wonder how much time is being put into making cameras better for still image photographers? Yes sensors are improving, but that isn't exactly what I'm getting at here. Camera makers need to stop taking away basic features that make a camera easier to use, just to try and up-sell people to a higher end camera.

Look at Nikon or Canon entry level DSLRs for example, why do they only have one control dial? Why are they crippled in this way? To make advanced users step up to a 60D or D7000? Are budget camera users less likely to use manual controls? In many cases yes, but does that mean the entry level cameras should be crippled? I'm willing to bet many photographers would buy an entry level body for vacations if they were not so crippled. There are simple ways of correcting this problem.

If the manufactures want to keep only one command dial, why not implement a system like Panasonic, where you push the dial in to change between aperture control and shutter speed control? That makes a lot more sense than than having to push a button and turn a dial! This is a simple feature to introduce, and it makes manual shooting on a single dial camera so much easier. Unless Panasonic has a patient on this usage, I see no reason why the other brands cannot do this.