Digital (Camera) Dreams

While looking through my Nikon P610 manual for a certain bit of information I discovered it can do all sorts of things I never bothered with before. Perhaps I read this when I first got it and had forgotten (it is certain the functions hadn’t been added afterwards), as it would be easy to forget. There simply is no way I could memorize all those options, much less the ‘control acrobatics’ needed to employ them. Nifty stuff, but basically useless to me. Other digital cameras are likewise equipped.

I started out as a film photographer more years ago than most of you have been alive for. I still have my first camera, handed down from my Dad (it was his first as well); a 1930s Kodak Petite in green art deco design. It takes 127 size roll film and has an amazing variety of settings like I/B shutter and 1-2-3-4 (US) stops. As far as in-camera features go, there’s a window you can open in the back and a stylus you can use to scratch the paper backing and then expose it to light thus allowing you to write a little note on the negative itself (it’s called “autographic” function). Beyond that simple start I went through quite a few cameras of various types and features. Over 450 as a matter of fact. I learned cameras. I learned photography.

Then came the digital age. I still have my first digital camera too, and the last time I checked it amazingly still worked although the storage unit no longer is compatible with anything. I moved on to more complex digital and found more and more that the various features they offered were not things I actually use in my kind of photographic endeavors. A lot of what can be done in-camera now I’d say would be better off done post-processing on a computer, rather than alter the one-and-only original forever. Taking a basic picture and then making several variations on it whether to present the best one or the set is something you should explore some time if you haven’t already.

So here I am looking at cameras even fancier and more expensive than the one I’ve got and wondering why they feel things that are included in the software are deemed worthwhile. I suspect a lot of it is “we do this because we can” rather than because they should or that there’s any great demand for it. How many of your cameras functions do you regularly make use of?

Which leads me to musing over what I would include in a DSLR and how I would arrange it. My approach would be quite different from the current ‘little boxes’ designs prevalent on the market. First of all, ergonomics is not what they think it is. Most cameras are too small for my hands and pretty fiddly to operate. They don’t ‘hold’ well. I’d like to see a body style like the old trapazoidal Exacta SLR. That would solve quite a few problems right there.

The eye-level viewfinder is an absolute must. Have any of these designers tried to use those big LCD screens in broad daylight? You know; the lighting conditions most pictures are take in and the screens can’t be seen in. They could make the finder a bit better too, as I have trouble getting my eye up to it and seeing the edges, never mind all the info. So instead of a bigger flat panel give me a bigger finder. They use to have accessories for SLRs like eye cups and ‘chimney finders’ to aid with this problem.

Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty fun bits. I want a focusing ring for manual focus. I want a zoom ring for zooming. I want an aperture ring. All on the lens barrel. I want a shutter speed dial. I want a film speed dial. You know: controls like a real camera has. Sure you can give me a metering control dial with choices of manual, aperture, shutter, or programmed exposure control. How about with two programmed settings: one for average metering and one for spot metering? I like the press-to-lock-settings shutter release, it just needs to be on the front so you can squeeze off the shots gently. Maybe with a manual cable release socket as well for those long exposure times. Burst firing? Sure! Just put it on the shutter dial, please. And if you’re going to have a movie mode, put that there as well (with press to start, release to stop filming).

Now let’s talk about the separate special effect control. You won’t be using it often, but there could be some in-camera functions that would be helpful. Like film type. Mine already has ‘sepia’ and ‘high contrast B&W’ settings. I would go further. People who know about film photography know that different manufacturer’s films have different colour characteristics. Why not have them pre-set? You may have a little trouble with using actual brand names so you have to have coded settings like “gives a saturated, bright colour response similar to Kodachrome”. Otherwise yes, Kodachrome, Kodacolour, Ektachrome, Agfachrome, Fujichrome – hey maybe even some variations for B&W film types like Plus-X, Tri-X, Ilford, and perhaps lithography? These are the functions that should be in-camera by my reckoning.

What else should we include? Panoramic setting? Well the P600 has it and it is amusing but how much do you need it? Could this not be had with multi-frame burst and a bit of computer stitching? Or shall we put it on the shutter speed dial? If we include movie mode there needs to be some variety of frame rate setting as well, allowing in-camera slo-motion or fast motion. Imagine slipping into sepia tone and shooting at 12 fps to look like an old-time silent film.

It’s debatable whether I’d want interchangeable lenses or not. I manage fine with the Nikon’s remarkably good quality 60X zoom, and they now have even higher levels than that built-in (Coolpix 1000 has 125X zoom). Individual lenses give you even better sharpness, and we might as well go with the 24 MP sensor while we’re at it. Could be quite some discussion here as the higher zoom fixed lenses are coupled to a 16 MP sensor. Some in-camera lens tricks can be had too, including fisheye function and slight diffusion.

Mainly I want less of the gimmickry and more of what I’d use – and in the way I’d use it.

A man can dream, can’t he?

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