I had a brief conversation with an acquaintance yesterday about cameras, their complexity, and why we can’t have nice things. Let’s face it: the manufacturers have decided what we’ll get and insist we’ll like it even if we don’t. We must adapt, because they won’t and they are the source of the technology. It’s not like anyone is going to build their own digital camera. Okay, I might have decades ago but I no longer have the eyesight or dexterity to take apart a camera and put it back together the way I want.
So the future is ‘mirrorless cell phones’ (so to speak), like it or lump it. This is because none of the people designing the equipment are photographers. From what I’ve seen they don’t listen to input from the profession either. I mean, having the controls you use most right at your fingertips when in “shooting position”? Nah, bury it in some menu sub-directory nineteen button-pushes deep. Oh but make sure it has blue tooth, wifi, and digital ‘filters’ that will be used only once when trying out the camera and then never again.
What the fellow I was talking to wants is quite sensible, really. Leave out all the battery-wasting features and make a simple, carry-it-anywhere camera for getting those shots you might not get if you don’t have a camera with you. Or even if you do. If we’re going to be honest about it, cell phones are not the easiest things to shoot with. Too complex, too much to do to even get the camera active. He wanted a “one-touch-on” device, and it’s a great idea.
Other features would include dumping autofocus. GASP! How can you do that? Well you go back to the ol’ days of fixed-focus. It’s easier to do now with small sensors: semi-wide angle lens (about 35mm equivalent) with a fixed aperture that gives depth of field from a reasonable distance to infinity. No, you do not need to focus to 1mm. Nor do you really need that limited D-O-F (I will not use the ‘B’ word) provided by a large aperture. You need a quality ‘piece of glass’ that does the job under most circumstances.
Zoom? Zoom is a crutch. And that’s from someone who uses it consistently (because getting closer to subjects is not that easy for me and I need a crutch). There is something of a paradox in the insistence of an “XX” zoom included with the DSLR and then selling “prime” lenses because they are sharper. (Hey, Canon: I need a 32mm EF-S lens that doesn’t cost 5 times what the camera did, okay?) The fact is we can put a 20MP sensor in our theoretical camera design and have 4X digital zoom capacity right there because you do not need that super-high resolution. Saves on lens bulk and expense and battery consumption from yet more drive motors.
Okay so now we place some more limits on this camera like no ultra-high speed ISO ratings. Why are you trying to shoot in the dark anyway? It all gets too ‘noisy’ above 800 I find. But a selection of ‘normal’ speeds is okay, and with the permanent aperture (f8 probably) we just give a reasonable range of shutter speeds (remember we can have image stabilization here) and all is good. This would probably cover 90% of the shots taken by 90% of people. Really. Even more if they are better versed in photography.
While I’m at it, can I complain about SD cards that are only of huge capacity now and slow down noticeably the more content you have on them even if they are “class 10”? Seriously even the 16GB cards turn into unresponsive slugs before they are half full of photos. I’d hate to have to rely on any larger capacity one. But back to the camera.
Do we really need an LCD screen at all? On something so simple, surely an optical-only viewfinder would suffice. They used to make them like that. It would be nice if it could do waist-level/eye-level finding too. Okay, I suppose a basic screen for reviewing pictures wouldn’t be too much. But none of that touch-screen nonsense. We’re after simple and effective picture taking.
Most of us in fact probably do have some camera that gets assigned this take-along task. Some inexpensive point-and-shoot bought for a few dollars that does the grunt work when we’re out and about. Maybe spots things we want to go back to with the expensive equipment and reshoot in different ways. I know I do. And so far there are still some cameras like this available, although they are still more complex than what we’ve just described. The manufacturers will tell us “no one wants such a thing”. Well maybe they would if we could teach proper photography and not this technological kiddies’ art that is everywhere these days.
Or maybe I’m just a grumpy old ex-film photographer than no one should listen to.
This picture? This is what you see when the alien spaceship lands in the desert. If I hadn’t had my point-and-shoot we’d never get this evidence of visitors from outer space!
(Okay; it’s agriculture lights in the next valley being diffused and coloured by heavy mist, as seen through pine trees with the zoom on the Nikon P610. Just about the opposite of what I’ve been talking about here.)