An open note to camera makers, marketing departments and agencies

Dear Brand,

Please give your prototypes to people who a) are photographers and b) know how to make interesting photographs. This way, all of the operational bugs and issues can be ironed out before bringing to market a flawed product that will backfire and harm your reputation later*. Your eager early adopters are your most loyal customers and are not beta testers. It will cost you more to rectify retroactively, too.

*In the last couple of years alone: D600 oil spots, D800/D800E/D4 left focus, D750 dark band/shading, E-M1 shutter vibration, A7R shutter vibration, A7/7R/7S raw compression, M9/S2 sensor cracking, M9 card corruption, M240 lugs falling off, X-trans and Merrill/Quattro workflow…the list is endless…

Furthermore, you do yourself no favours by publishing mediocre images that do not show what your products can do nor excite any strong feelings of ‘want’ in your potential customers. This will become increasingly important to taking over market share and growing sales in the face of an increasingly saturated market. I would be happy to help out.

Sincerely
Ming Thein

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Comments

  1. godlygleanings says:

    Indeed, sample photos must, must, must be pleasing and at the same time demonstrate the quality of the camera and lens. This means that arty compositions must be avoided at all costs. These tend to be pretentious, trite, snooty, cold, ostentatious, unfriendly, vain, and repulsive.

    • godlygleanings says:

      Let me add that there is a certain photographic review website, whose identity will remain undisclosed, whose sample photos are inexpugnably unhelpful. The equipment manufacturers really should get after these people and apply some leverage.

  2. Pedro Santos says:

    I´m with you Ming.
    I´ts very sad what as apen in this last years, the brands are shoting her foot´s.
    Cheers,

  3. Since I just bought one (used for $2000) I could not help but noticing the much criticized Df doesn’t seem to have any of these quality control issues. I know you don’t like the Df but I love mine – using MF Nikkors it handles much like my FE.

  4. Tristan L. says:

    While I totally agree with you that providing camera for review to pseudo photographer producing mediocre (at best…) photographies to illustrate their reviews should stop. I am not sure about the part regarding flushing out the bugs before putting the product onto the market.
    I will not reiterate the functional or dysfunctional aspect of big business today but focus more on the difference between beta and production. The fact of the matter is beta are often very different than production on two important factors. The beta products are more often than not hand built by very skilled technicians and some of the parts are not necessarily made of the material used in production. Why is that? Cost for one and mass production equipment constraints for second. While the former is obvious, it is often forgotten that product get a lot of their perceived appearances and/or features from limitations introduce by the manufacturing process, like tolerance or accessibility during the assembly of the final product.
    In other word the R might have dreamed it and designed it but D had to amend it to be able to produce it in the cost of envelop define by the M & F departments.

    While I am not privy of untold information on the following two case you mentioned I will venture the following guesses:

    Nikon oily sensor is pretty much guaranty to be a mass production defect that was unseen at the Beta phase, probably coming from the final assembly of the sensor with the whole mirror and shutter part.
    Olympus O-M1 shutter shock might have come from a different material or assembly technic used in production that was not heavy enough or dampening enough compared to the prototype.

    So to flush out the bugs what you really want are pre-sampling items from the early production runs. Unfortunately by then launch date have been committed marketing campaign launched and customer are already lining up to buy this new and already utterly obsolete high tech product…

    • Agreed. However the testing is done, the end aim is to make a product that works properly once it reaches consumers’ hands – so there’s no point in being able to make a perfect one-off, but not being able to replicate that en masse. Whenever I’ve been involved in testing, it’s always been with final production prototypes – which are early production run samples as you say. Sadly, that’s pretty rare…and usually by that point if a serious flaw is discovered (which has happened) it’s either been ignored or swept under the carpet only to backfire later.

  5. Don’t forget the Pentax K-3 mirror flopping problems and lockup problems. It is a good DSLR but the problems scared me and some who wants to buy into Pentax. I hope Pentax can do a recall like a lot car companies do and replace or repair them.

  6. For all the talk of Canon’s lack of innovation, they keep cranking out extremely robust bodies and incredible lenses. The 100-400 that just came out, for example, was tested in the field extensively before release. When the 7DII came out a short while back, it had been tested by sports photographers for months prior to release, including use during the world cup this past summer. Perhaps this is why Canon is perceived as being slow to innovate – because they choose to release mature products rather than let prosumers perform beta testing. Given their ubiquitousness amongst consumers and professionals, it’s ironic there isn’t a single problem in your list above citing a Canon flaw. I’d argue that this is why they’re successful. Time to give Canon a try? :p

  7. Martin Fritter says:

    I would say that the longer term failures – such as Leica’s with the sensors – would be hard to detect in beta testing. They are also the most fatal. No work-arounds and can’t be corrected via a firmware upgrade. OTOH, given the frankly astounding level of the technologies involved, it’s kind of amazing that any of this stuff works at all. Of course, my 1961 M2 works fine.

    • Also true. But I’m similarly amazed that those old cameras with mechanical shutters can continue to deliver accurate 1/2000s (in some cases) exposures with minimal servicing and a very varied range of environmental conditions…at those speeds, even a slight temperature difference will result in significant rate deviation in a mechanical watch, which doesn’t run anywhere near as fast.

  8. Great letter to Dear Brand, Ming. How about giving us a list of more fails and flaws on other digital cameras of our times. It would be enlightening.

  9. Kristian Wannebo says:

    “.. before bringing to market a flawed product that will backfire and harm your reputation later*. ”

    There is one management problem I’ve been told about a couple of times, and it has a tendency to damage or even wreck ongoing new projects.

    It is when reports in a company are only filed upwards one level at a time, and the next level writes their own reports.
    Then the CEO never learns the truth about what is really going on in development and production.
    The Top Floor (and it must not consist of yea-sayers) has to visit and study the Ground floor regularly to guard against this – but all to often it doesn’t. And with growing company sizes…

    • Absolutely. The person ultimately making decisions really has to have the right information to make the right decisions…but there’s a lot of CYA and self-protection going on, to the point that ultimately nobody wins. It’s not just a camera-company thing – it’s increasingly pervasive in corporate and results in organisations that are very change-resistant and slow to respond to crises. Even worse, they repeat the same mistakes because there is no collective memory or a fear of admitting being wrong in case you get punished for it.

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        Swedish military pilot training has a long (and internationally recognized) tradition of everybody admitting any mistake they make for the good of everybody’s improvement.

        Swedish hospitals have the tradition of penalising whoever doctor or nurse is responsible for a mistake that harms a patient.

        As of late, inspired by the air force, our hospitals have started to try to implement a more collective responsibility allowing everybody to learn from others admitting their mistakes.

        But how can the corporate world find ways to promote careers so that individuals will want to work that way…
        Especially as bosses who (manage to) avoid yea-sayers are not the rule.

        ( Though many small companies, where everybody knows each other, seem to manage it – so long as they have the right head.)

  10. I am considering the D750 as it seems like the camera on the market with least compromises so regarding the banding/shading I am wondering if it is going to be a problem for me or not.

    Is it only under extreme situations or is it happening even under normal circumstances? How often have you had a problem with it?

    • One may see it as many times as one *wants*, but would require you provoke the band to appear. At typical shooting it is very rare, but might be a worse problem for video users?
      I have 3 lenses. Two Nikons lenses, 50 1.8G and 85 1.8G which shows the problem with or witout lens hoods mounted. But my Sigma 35mm ART lens with the lens hood mounted will in no circumstances be able to let the band appear. Without the lens hood it’s all the same.
      My conclusion is one should try to find longer lens hoods shadowing the problem away. That’s what I am going to do for now and continue to be a very happy D750 shooter.

    • Jorge Balarin says:

      Man, wait a bit. Perhaps Nikon will offer a solution or is going to come a fast “update”.

      • Who know Jorge … while I am disappointed the camera shows this flaw in certain circumstances and I think Nikon should have ‘caught’ the flaw before release, it does not take away the fact that the camera is nice to hold, nice to shoot and pays back a very nice tonal rendering not surpassed by any other but the outstanding D810.

      • D760 😛

    • I’ve not seen it in 3000 frames of my usual type of shooting, but I can make it happen predictably with a point source if I try. Hard question to answer: I suppose it depends on how you shoot. A lens hood of the correct length (many are too short) appears to help substantially though.

      • Hi Ming,

        how serious /bad is the shading/dark band/flare issue on the D750 in your opinion? Game breaker/no go for recommending the d750???

        • I haven’t seen it in normal shooting but can deliberately provoke it. It’s like saying you can lose control of a car if you drive like an idiot in the wet, but probably won’t in reality.

  11. Meeting of Minds
    Win, Win, Win situation
    Merry Christmas
    Happy New Year.

  12. I am sure all serious camera models are beta tested. May be not enough. I am always behind one generation with my camera purchases. Still there are problems. I recommend everybody to wait at least until models are getting on the sales lists and the problems come up and gets settled somehow. Sometimes I can see “bubble problems” with the early issue reports, which are overhyped. Sometimes camera models are overhyped (a7 models or Fujis).or overtly panned like the Df.

    • They are, but to what extent? The fact that it takes only a few weeks or even days to find some serious issues suggests that this testing is perhaps not extensive enough.

    • Interesting you bring up the Df.

      The one full frame camera Nikon has introduced in recent memory that has had no widespread universal design or production flaw associated with it.

  13. Amen again…
    if only someone would listen…

  14. I think the fault lies for the most part with consumers, particularly those in the consumer hungry rich western world. There is constant pressure to develop new models, more features and more megapixels. The forums are full of people who can barely photograph a brick will demanding a new model or they will leave Nikon and go to Canon and vice-versa. Incremental improvements are not good enough, it is regarded as too slow or lacking innovation. A solid camera is not enough. Take Canon – they make good, solid reliable cameras, but that is not good enough. If Apple doesn’t create some grand new product every few months they are a failed company that died when Steve Jobs did. It’s just consumer insanity that forces companies to rush out to market in order to survive; to not be perceived as dinosaurs. And rushing to market is exactly what causes issues.

    I wouldn’t mind so much if many of the so called photographers that bought these cameras were able to make full use of them. But we long ago reached the point of sufficiency. However, the photographers are not sufficient, and keep wanting that magic bullet that will, by means of a bigger and better camera, transform them into light artists. Quite honestly, I’d hate to be in the camera business. Nothing has any reasonable lifespan, there is no time to take stock. It’s the constant hamster on the wheel.

    In the film days, very little went into a camera. A simple shutter. basic light metering with a needle, lenses and a film wind on mechanism. Today’s cameras are miracles of high technology, really they are. Frankly, I’m surprised that they work as well as they do, and with as little trouble as they give, considering that they are packed with technology optic and complexity. The reality is that given the number of models out there, there are surprisingly few major issues. Take Nikon – since I started using the digital Nikons, there was a shutter issue with the D2H, the blinking green light of death with the D70, the oil issue with the D600, some focus alignment issues with the D800 and the new issue with the D750. That is actually quite small given that I started with a D100 in 1992 – in 12 years and millions of cameras. Canon have had even fewer issues. In the meantime, these cameras have taken literally millions of images, covered war zones and weddings and been extraordinarily reliable in general.

    The gear obsession is just ridiculous. In my experience, the better the photographer, the less the obsession with gear. One of my favourite photographers, Ed Kashi – whose images resound deeply with the human spirit, carries just 2 5DMark3 bodies and two simple lenses, one of which is the very ubiquitous 24-105 – and a basic flash. No more. Salgado also uses the simplest of gear. As does Martin Parr.

    It’s all insanity. I think instead of shooting the manufacturers, we should look deeply within ourselves and ask what we are on this endless search for. Because whatever that search is in the photographers heart and mind, the answer doesn’t lie in yet another feature, or a newer sensor.

    • I truly get your point Peter. I am a consumer of the stuff and I have just basic needs to my cameras. It cannot, may not flaw when I paid the manufactureres R&D and filled the pockets of the shareholders. It’s not supposed to flaw while they all rips our wallets emty. I am though not feeling guilty for powering up the demands as you describe pretty well. I feel it’s the other way around. I.e. when we saw the first IBIS camera and learned how it helped us, it wasn’t a consumer demand in the first place, but rather an evelutionary progress driven by R&D.
      It is just one example out of many.
      It is a natural consumer behaviour to ask for more based on the results the industry has achieved so far. It is the business invironment companies of today have to live with or leave.

      There’s another oustanding name within photography at it’s best. Ming Thein. He has extraorinary but well argumented demands to camera performance that goes beyond those Canon may offer at the moment to help him acheiving his goals. I might be wrong, but I think neither he writes direct mails or adresses the industry in any other direct form to speed up development to fulfil his dream cameras. I can’t know, so my assumation might be misplaced here.

      There are new signs that indicates the Nikon D750 is not alone showing shadow banding. Other mirror based cameras seems to show the same flaw and due to the phenomenon has to be provoked to show it’s ugly face.., if these reports are true I rest my case, but just notify nothing seems perfect. The point is rather that consumer reponse back to to the indutry is rapid and immediate.

      • Gerner, the problem is the shareholders aren’t profiting either – look at the latest financials for any of these companies. Makes you wonder where all the money is going. Perhaps it’s just a vicious cycle: not enough money means not enough R&D or QC and a mediocre product, which results in falling sales…rinse and repeat.

        I do have direct contacts in the industry, whom I talk to informally. Very few listen, and most don’t. But hey, that explains why we have things like Otuses and D750s 🙂

    • Jorge Balarin says:

      Peter, you are perfectly wrong.

    • It’s a terrible business to be in. Margins are razor thin, devices are complex, and the R&D budgets must be huge. You need scale but at the same time don’t enjoy the ROI from the number of dollars that are being thrown around. You only survive because it takes so many dollars to enter that nobody else wants to (or can) play. Look at the fate of Hasselblad in the hands of the various incompetent PE firms – it probably doesn’t help they understand nothing about photography or the market either.

      “It’s all insanity. I think instead of shooting the manufacturers, we should look deeply within ourselves and ask what we are on this endless search for. Because whatever that search is in the photographers heart and mind, the answer doesn’t lie in yet another feature, or a newer sensor.”

      Very well said, Peter. I’ve always advocated only going out and searching if you know what you’re looking for. Personally, it’s print size and resolution. That’s all. Otherwise, I’m happy. But if I can get a little bit more, I’ll try it. Right now, the Zeiss Otuses are firing on all cylinders and about as close to perfect as you can get. The D810 is not bad, but not so easy to use off a tripod with those things. Can I make it work? Sure. I’ve been making it work with far lesser gear. But if a bit of an improvement is going to make my job easier and let me focus more on the seeing instead of the gear-wrangling, why not?

  15. Thanks Ming. I agree 100%. Sigma is a case in point. I am a huge fan of the Merrills and can even live with SPP. But the way Sigma launched the Quattro makes you wonder about the company’s thought processes. Instead of producing excellent special websites and great sample portfolios as they did for the Merrill range, they put out a system with unusable software and the worst sample photos I have ever seen for a supposedly professional-grade camera. Take a look at the DP2 Quattro special gallery on the Sigma site to see what I mean. The brief for the first portfolio photographer must have run like this: ‘Take pictures as if you know nothing about composition, focus and camera shake. Then process the photos with our most bug-ridden version of SPP. Good luck.’ The UK Sigma website still tells us that their official sample gallery for the DP2Q is ‘coming soon’.

    • Sadly, I agree with you. Let’s not talk about the ergonomics. I’ve wanted to dip my toe in for some time, but the workflow is cripplingly bad. A shame, because the sensor is really quite special…

  16. Jorge Balarin says:

    Well, goodby D750. It seems I must buy the D810, or wait for a very fast D750 “upgrade” : )

  17. Nikon is a good example. I was just thinkink about buying a D750 – even if i knew about the 600 and 800 problems.
    I really thought they learned something. No i am happy i did not buy…very sad…

    Also Fuji has some flaws, but they are working on them with firmware updates. Better than nothing and sometimes great new features.
    But there are also things which should have been there with firmware 1.0.
    I just think you can’t blame them for postprocessing issues…that is just an Adobe problem…it works in other software.

    The pressure to deliver new and advanced models might be to high. Perhapes it is also us wanting always more…more speed, more ressolution, more dynamic range etc.

    Hopefully Nikon will fix the problem to full satisfaction of their customers!

    Regards
    Michael

    • Well, back in the film days – either cameras were less sophisticated and we didn’t see problems, or we were happy to get a new one that worked and offered some additional features every ten years – instead of every year. People who used to buy one or two cameras in their entire lifetimes are now buying a new camera every year – that’s an incredibly large market, but surely some of those dollars must go into QC…

      Here’s the shift with digital, though: software and hardware cannot be separated. You need one to make the other work, and if one doesn’t do its job, then the whole system is flawed.

      • Ming, you are right. But i can’t believe e.g. Fuji has a big influence on Adobe. Others do it right…but it seems that Adobe did not have any interest in processing X-Trans files. That may change in the future – i hope…
        But another point are the firmware updates. Yes – it is great to have an electronic shutter now on th X-T1.
        But it has been there…so why not deliver it from start?
        Do they just hold the features back? Or is the preassure so hard to show up a new ca,era so that they really are not finished with some of the features.
        But like i said…i am happy the do updates…

        • Well, if the market for Fuji users is really that big, then it surely would be in Adobe’s interests to support those users to get them to buy their software, right? Either Adobe is wrong, Fuji is wrong, or both are wrong. Who knows 🙂

          Some features may be problem solving (E-M1 firmware and electronic shutter) and some are genuine evolutionary improvements (e.g. extra menu functionality/ customisation suggested by users). Hard to say…

      • I can think of a serious film issue with a Nikon professional camera: The F2 Photomic. The meter would die without notice and at any time at all- not just after wearing out- because of a simple poorly sourced $10 ring resistor. Nikon stopped stocking this part within a very short time.

        The F2 Photomics would die within a year, a couple years, whatever. Maybe you could get it replaced; reports of a few repair shops hoarding parts, or hand-fabbing parts were rampant.

        Nikon didn’t care. They’d sooner sell you an F2A meter head, or F2As, or F2Asb. Win-win for them.

        The reason things like this pop up more now is likely because of the ease of reporting in the internet. There was no widespread forum then. OK, you could write a letter to a magazine, but magazines were also supported by lush multi-page ads from the same culprit manufacturers…

  18. Amen.

  19. Amen!!

  20. Here are two vids that show the D750 problem:


    How is Canon doing on the quality front?

    • I honestly don’t know since I don’t shoot Canon, but they don’t really seem to be taking any risks of innovation, either…

    • The top of the image is actually the bottom of the camera, because the lens inverts the image before it hits the sensor. So the shading is something internally on the floor of the mirror box minimizing reflection. Flare has been an issue in many cameras, and sometimes it’s possible to make it more pronounced. What we do know is slightly different is that the diffusion layer over the sensor is unidirectional, compared to the prior bi-directional (two axis) design. A change in this sensor cover suggests that a repair or replacement would be quite difficult to do, because it would involve a major change.

      Hasselblad on one of the early H models had a similar problem. If you shoot into a light source, then there was a reflectance that created a red/green/blue flare in some parts of the frame. That would also appear during longer time exposures. Hasselblad did nothing, because it was very tough to duplicate the conditions that caused the problem. In that case, it appears to have been the anti-reflective coating over the sensor. Later Hasselblad H models appeared to have somewhat different coating, but the company never made any statement about a change in that area.

      I would think it would be possible to create a similar “problem” result in many newer DSLRs. Obviously this would take more testing. A big rental company like BorrowLenses may be able to do some of this. Obviously any issue will be too much for some photographers, while others may not notice it at all. If it is a major issue that interferes with the way you shoot, then I would suggest returning the camera for a refund, and then buy something else. I have a feeling that we will not see any changes coming from Nikon for the D750.

      • The D750 has an AF sensor shade/baffle at the bottom of the mirror box that doesn’t exist on the earlier bodies. I suspect that has at least something to do with it.

  21. “This will become increasingly important to taking over market share and growing sales in the face of an increasingly saturated market” I’d like to illustrate the flip side of that coin: Pragmatic thinkers like yourself are persona non grata at companies like Sony. Dare say you’d be drawn and quartered at their sales meetings. They’ve worked very hard to get me and millions of others like me, on a 6 month purchasing cycle of their new cameras. They certainly wouldn’t throw a cog in the wheel by introducing a beta test program of their prototypes which would most certainly slow the machine way down if they did it right…never happen. It took them three iterations of the Alpha 7 to figure out that more DSLR stalwarts will convert if they make the cameras more DSLR-like e.g. heavier, chunkier and with better ergonomics ipso facto much better haptics. The point is I bought all three Alphas plus the Mark II and I’ll buy the new A9 and even the MF RX2, if it happens. And I’m not alone and Sony knows it. They have us exactly where they want us. I don’t believe for one second that their current policies regarding new product roll-outs aren’t completely deliberate. They could however greatly benefit the process by putting a half a dozen or so pros like yourself on their payroll, no matter the cost.

    • You’re probably right. But doing it repeatedly, time and time again, is rather obvious, isn’t it? I can’t imagine that’s good in the long run – as opposed to making multiple products that you have to have because they do something innovative and well, not because they might fix something that shouldn’t have been broken in the first place.

    • You’re on a 6 month purchasing cycle? Get a grip.

    • Quarterly financial results often drive product cycles. The internet review system means new models get greater coverage, regardless of which company puts them on the market. Many purchases are driven by instant gratification, rather than rational thought. So the pressure is more on shorter product cycles, which suggests even shorter development cycles. Companies may be aware of problems, but there will be pressure to meet preset deadlines, and get products shipping.

      I’ve had friends at Sony for many years. What I have seen is a sometimes directionless company not entirely aware of what they are doing, and often compromises appear to have been made to push products out the door. It amazes me that some really well designed products came out, because the environment at Sony usually appeared to be rushed and frantic. Quantity overtook quality. Workers who complained about deadlines were reminded that “many people want to work for Sony”, so they persisted with long hours and taking work home to meet deadlines. Management expectations were often unrealistic. I’m not so sure this new CEO will turn around Sony, or whether he will just accomplish cost cutting. Those who still work at Sony must be wondering if they are next on the chopping block, which is never an environment to get the best out of people.

      Absolutely Sony makes some great products, but often it seems they miss things. I’m not sure where Sony will land in all this. It seems that some products are successful due to luck or accident. Internal secrecy suggests that outside testers will not be part of future product cycles. Professional photographers on the Sony program are chosen for their ability to market cameras, and the focus is on sales and not product development. Personally I like some of the Sony design direction ideas, but they all seem a bit rough at the edges. The Sony A7II is what should’ve happened in the original launch.

      • Isn’t that always the start of the downward spiral? Unprofitability leads to cost cutting and shortened product cycles and more half-baked untested things going out because the cash-flow is needed. It’s counterintuitive, but at this point, the company either needs to pause and really revaluate what’s going on – and cut the things that don’t work – or double down and put out something perfect. Of course swinging from one org culture to the other is usually impossible; the larger the org, the harder it becomes.

        • I hope Sony come out of all this stronger than ever. Unfortunately I’m not convinced that will be the end result. They should be providing solid competition to Nikon and Canon, but without better focus (pun intended 😉 ) they may find the way forward quite difficult.

          • Neither am I. I don’t understand for starters why they can sell the same sensor to another camera maker, but produce worse results…surely you’d expect benefits to in house supply?

  22. david mantripp says:

    So, who is missing from this list? Yep, Pentax/Ricoh (or more accurately Ricoh/Pentax). And how does Ricoh excellence in UI, documentation and engineering translate into market share ? And there’s your answer….

    • To be fair, their electronic UI – one massive scrolling list – is a bit of a disaster to navigate for setting up the physical controls. And they’re rather a niche product, so it isn’t really a fair comparison. In the large sensor compact market, the GR does have a pretty big share of the pie.

  23. But Ming, you’d probably give useful/critical feedback to the manufacturers and they can’t have that – they wouldn’t then be able to release the ‘upgrade’ a year later…..

    • That’s also true. But release too many duds, and nobody is going to believe you when you say it works this time…

      • Given the duds/issues you’ve listed in your article, you’d hope so – yet I don’t see it.

        It sadly seems a massive gamble buying a camera when released – unless you really need it for probably professional needs, its just not worth it.

        • Actually, that’s probably the worst reason to buy it: if you haven’t had a chance to comprehensively test it before depending on it for a critical job, then there’s always the risk of some unexpected behavior. Unfortunately it would seem that risk would be higher given the track record for a lot of these companies…

          I almost never use new/ untested equipment – especially bodies – on a job for this reason. Most of the time I’m still using my first D800E from 2012 that now has nearly 100k on the shutter and a three digit serial number. Better the devil you know than the one you don’t; left-focusing issues and all.

  24. I can’t help but think you are an incurable optimist if you think these big corporations will take a wit of notice, but at least you tried.

  25. Good article, short, concise and it speaks the truth!.

  26. Mike Hobart says:

    It’s not just camera makers who have this problem, but many hardware and software manufacturers in a wide spectrum of businesses. Another aspect of the problem is that those involved in developing the product are often the only ones who construct the user interfaces and the manuals for the product. Of course these people need to be involved, as they know what the product can do. However, since they already (or usually) know it, they may not be the best to explain to others how best to use the product. These people may be making unknowing assumptions about what the end users will know, and want, or will try. The Olympus menus and super-cryptic manuals come to mind. Much versatility in the product (great), but hard to decipher how to best use it (not great).

    A number of years ago I was revising a program I had written and used and making it so that others could use it. I took one of the intended audience in front of the computer and had them try it out. They promptly used a key combination I would never have tried using and crashed the program and the computer 😦 I then sat down and worked at bullet-proofing both the input combinations available to the user and working to vastly increase the amount of on-screen help to step the end-users through the program. Another example arose when talking with the head of a product line at one of the divisions of HP. I remarked on how easy it was to find things in the extensive manuals which came with the product (including a manual on how to use all of other manuals). He remarked that they made a point of paying their technical writers as much as their lead engineers, rather than at the bottom of the pay scale. That up-front cost made using and servicing the products less labor-intensive over time and made it easy for other divisions of HP to use the product. It also greatly decreased their efforts in providing support to end-user customers.

    • HP’s approach makes lots of sense. Try looking for anything in a camera manual (if it even comes with one; I don’t think the Sony cameras do anymore, for instance…)

      • Gary Morris says:

        Sony… no manuals and no battery charger. Use it until the battery runs out and toss it out (to be fair, Sony does include a cable to connect the camera to a wall outlet for charging but that is a real hassle when traveling and you want a backup battery charging in your car). And to update Sony firmware, you’ve got to connect to their servers in the DPRK. No thanks.

        We were an Apple Reseller for many years (1995-2007) and at the end of our tenure, the break-fix rate was nearly 33% (hardware and OS). The Apple/Adobe/Microsoft model was (is?) to shove the stuff out the door (and let the customer hang on every upcoming update)… no reason the think the camera industry works any differently.

        • I’m beginning to think Apple deliberately bricks things with updates to make you buy new ones. iPhones are a case in point…mine work just fine until there’s a new OS, after which the problems are only magically ‘solved’ by buying the latest model.

          I never got the impression the camera industry was that way in the past, but the number of duds in the last year has been shocking.

    • Kristian Wannebo says:

      In the early days of personal computing coding had to be done saving bytes in order to fit the necessary features into what little memory there was, and programs too often were very kludgy to use.

      Then a Word Processing program showed up that everybody wanted.

      It turned out that the developer had FIRST written the MANUAL. Only when he was satisfied with that he started coding!

      • Which would suggest he started with the logic concept first, and then translated it – that makes a LOT of sense!

        • Kristian Wannebo says:

          Exactly.
          And also with the haptic concept.
          ( And he still managed to stay within the required small footprint << 64 Kb RAM.)

          Cameras ought to be like that too!

  27. I don’t think Sigma Photo Pro workflow qualifies as flawed in the way you describe it. It was slow and irritating from the start and, unless I’ve missed something in the interim, it still is now! It simply isn’t very good at what it does.

    Worth it to get those files, though. All we need is a camera which can do what the Merrill can do at ISO 3200….,hey, isn’t that the 645Z? 🙂

    • Pretty much 🙂

    • It is unbelievably buggy even in the 6.1.0 incarnation. Personally I have gone on a Sigma strike and will not buy anything from them until they fix the software. And I adore X3F-files and own 5 Sigma cameras and a few lenses so I am not exactly a Sigma hater.

      /Xpanded

      • With five cameras, I have three, there isn’t much left to strike from. What I have noticed about their software isn’t that it can’t work; it just doesn’t always work.

  28. Fully agree, Ming, but you are asking the manufacturers to SLOW DOWN AND THINK. Their modus right now is to madly iterate, and, especially if you’re Sony, throw everything possible against the wall to see if it sticks. Stated another way, they’ve lost the signal from the beacon guiding them and are casting about in the dark trying to find it. Or perhaps the metaphor should be, that beacon has been overcome by a brighter one, shining from an entirely different direction.

    In some ways Fuji understands this better than others, yet it still must follow the commands of the Red Queen or die. At least it’s trying to add a little style in the process. If manufacturers were to truly internalize what you advise, they would understand that they need to completely dismantle what they’ve built up over the years and embrace a new paradigm. Perhaps in the process letting go entirely.

    In a strange way Nikon seems to be farthest along this path. After all, they believe that their future is in medical imaging 😉

    • It’s so frustrating as a consumer: some products come so close to being the perfect tool for what they were designed for, but fall flat on their faces because of one little – but critical – flaw:

      E-M1: shutter vibration;
      D750: new sensor shading, though honestly in 3000+ frames for me this has been pretty much a non-issue;
      A7R: leave image quality on the table with raw compression, and again with shutter vibration;
      Fuji: aargh X trans workflow…

      Nikon did a great job with the D810. But they shouldn’t have had to release the D800 and D800E first.

      • I’m never going to agree with you on X Trans. The files process just fine. I’m producing files using the latest ACR that are good enough for any print or exhibition job, as good if not better than the Nikon files I worked with. And there are lots of high end pro’s producing great work on X trans. The days of it being unusable are long past; in any event I believe it was an Adobe issue and not a Fuji issue.

        • I was happy with ACR and. X-Trans Raw files until i saw some files developed with e.g. Iridient.
          Some times ACR does a good (not excellent) job…but sometimes i am shocked to see the difference when processing with Iridient.
          So much more detail, micro contrast an sharpness…
          It still is an Adobe Isuue…and it is a big issue.

          But in the end this is not what Mings post is about.

          • Question whether the X-Trans workflow is “an Adobe issue.”

            As a camera manufacturer, your product does not exist alone. Especially for a niche vendor, you need to ensure your product works well for the consumer with other third party products.

            Delivering a product that is non-compliant with the world’s leading raw image editors is a big miss. Leaving your customers twisting in the wind and pointing at the software vendor is not a way to increase sales.

            Whatever the follow-on sensor line is, Fuji needs to figure out how to overcome that if it wants to achieve mainstreamness. As does Sigma.

            • I may have to eat my hat on that. It appears the latest incarnation of ACR is a LOT better than previous ones with X trans; further testing is required especially with hard diagonals/ straight edges with abrupt color transitions though (which was the previous weakness of the conversion algorithm).

              • Yes – it is a lot better – but not good enough.
                If you compare it – it is so obvious.
                In response to Ronin:
                E.g. Aperture (discontinued), Photo Ninja, Capture One and Iridient are doing it. So why isn’t Adobe?
                If camera manufacturers start delivering only cameras which are compliant to Adobe software we will not see any progress in quality any more.
                In my world 3rd party software has to adopt to changing technologies. They want to sell their software to us.
                X-Trans is different – and that is why the other software companies changed their algorithms to support X-Trans properly.

                Adobe will be interested in Fuji X clients as soon as the market is big enough. It is all about money.
                I bet the next Version of Lightroom will have much better support.

                • But all the trendy pros are using it! It must be good enough 🙂

                  Seriously though, it seems the last version of ACR delivers much better results than what we were seeing in Venice. I was surprised myself. But again, more testing is needed…

        • Compare the results with Iridient, which is significantly better than ACR for X trans, and then compare either of those with a D810/Otus file. Not even close. Simple question: why compromise on quality or ease of workflow?

          • I remember being in an audio store years ago and customers came in at different times and listened to the same system, but each was interested in a different component in the system. For example, either the speakers, amplifier or CD player. Each faulted the sound from the system based on the component that they were interested in. Would we fault the lens based on the images it produced when, in fact, it could well be the processing software that is at issue? Certainly there are many things in the digital chain that contribute to the final image. It may not be the processing software but instead the user of the software. Are we assuming a level playing field when we make our judgements? For example, I haven’t met too many people who know about setting white balance or making color corrections in post processing.

          • You mean i have to buy a 810 and Otus glass 😉

  29. Definitely agree on the beta testing aspect. We’ve been use to that with software for a while, though never happy. Software bug fixes have become all too common. This was one of the issues for many of us with Adobe pushing through a subscription model for Creative Cloud. I use to do some beta testing of various creative software, yet I think that has become quite rare as the smaller companies disappeared.

    Hardware testing should reveal problems, especially with the long product development time many cameras appear to go through. While I imagine the engineers are dedicated, and have good intentions, it seems they are rarely too demanding of prototypes. Obvious issues with leaks, but strong and useful feedback from people outside a company should improve products. So to the camera manufacturers, please open your testing programs to carefully selected individuals for feedback. Because if you do not, then we will become more wary of buying new gear.

    • We still get issues with software – usually profiling etc., though in all fairness Adobe does warn us it’s a beta or release candidate and not a final version.

      Hardware is another matter entirely. How could you not find some of these issues? They’re pretty darn obvious if you just use the camera normally for a day. Perhaps they’re too reliant on automatic modes…

      There are some companies who *do* still do it right. When was the last time you heard of a Ricoh, Pentax or Zeiss recall, for instance?

      • I think Adobe slipped up a bit, which has happened at times in the past (i.e. InDesign 1.0), though lately seem much more responsive. However, I know there are many who are wary of jumping into the bleeding edge of creative software. In my opinion, some involved in workshops and education muddied the issues that appeared, and I think there was an over-reliance upon their feedback. At least in more recent time, those of us who are more regular end users have a chance to provide more input.

        Definitely agree with you on hardware. Makes me wonder who these prototypes are handed to during the development cycle. Despite the apparently long development cycles, it appears that some aspects are rushed during design.

        Almost seems that the smaller companies try harder, but maybe that’s exactly the point. They don’t have the luxury of heavy sales and brand recognition to carry the products through the marketplace. Zeiss operates on ensuring the reputation remains in good standing, though licensing of the name (like on Sony products) seems like it could be a risk. We do pay for quality checks at times.

        Many of the problems that appear (I think) would not become as bad in the public view, if only the companies would quickly address them. How did Leica miss that sensor problem? Though on the other hand, Leica is showing how such a problem should be handled.

        • I agree: it’s not the fact that bad things or unforeseen things happen, but the complete denial (look at Sony, for instance) that makes it really bad. If you quickly acknowledge the problem and try to fix it – EFC on the E-M1 for instance – at least that’s confidence restored.

          I used to work in a senior position at a fast food chain: we always saw a problem as a gift, because it gives you a chance to interact with and build relationship with your customer. 🙂

  30. Short and sweet, Ming, although some of us may have Stockholm syndrome with Sigma Photo Pro … 🙂

  31. +100

    This seems like a no brainer…

  32. I’m of the mind that Ming thein needs to sit down with engineers to help design a great photographers camera.

    • Imagine a Ricoh Nikon or Leica “MT” line. Ming has final approval of every detail related to that camera’s image making performance… lens (for X type cameras), sensor, AA filter or the lack thereof, etc. I’m guessing the result would be epic.

  33. Jeff holdgate says:

    Ming, is this d750 banding thing a real issue ?

    • Yes. If light is incident on the lens at a very oblique angle, it appears there are some internal components that cause partial shading of the sensor. It only seems to happen if the light source is from the top in my camera, which suggests that it’s something at the bottom of the mirror box that’s either reflecting or partially obstructing the optical path from certain angles. It occurs with all lenses and larger apertures.

      • May I just confirm what Ming addresses here. Hold the camera horizontal or vertical it does the same. I am first time Nikon owner and my investment in the body and some lenses surely counts nothing. Local Nikon here gave me the F finger filing my complaints.
        But multiply me with 30.000, I am sure my cry out would be heard.

        I am very aware how R&D, Tech. Doc’s people, Marketing and Sales works together, and I do not know any consumer industries who incorporates users during development, stress trials and results of practical use. No, products are rushed through and companies cross fingers.

        Yes I bought Olympus EM1 and yes the body mechanisms broke before a year past. Service = > two months! Havn’t got it yet and they just have to change the whole top.
        Yes I bought a A7s and yes the files can’t be post processed much before channel saturation and posterizing shows up due to RAW compression. So in practice useless to me.
        Yes I have the DP Merrill cameras and they suck big time. (But I knew that before i bought them)
        Yes I have X100 12 MP Bayer cameras that took 3 or 4 FW updates to be able to AF and MF correctly.

        Dear Industry, I really don’t like you.

        • Why would you buy the DP Merrill cameras if you already knew that they “suck big time”? Why didn’t you stop at one? I have two myself and they have rewarded me with many outstanding pictures. I’m not in a hurry, so I find the software not to be a minor issue; especially compared to shooting film, with developing, scanning, darkroom.

          • Walter I didn’t say I am not using the cameras and produce wonderful looking images with them. I said it sucks.

            • Martin Fritter says:

              Ha! The Merrills. Consider the price. I too am basically a film shooter and don’t mind SPP and the cameras’ ergonomics that much. But, oh to have that IQ in a rudimentary ranger finder body with reliable manual-only focus. If Sigma could do that and keep the price down, I bet the photographic world would beat a path to their door.

              • I have to say that the DP3M’s AF is reliably accurate. I can’t say that about most of my other cameras, but I’m always impressed at how spot-on the DP3’s AF is. Ricoh GR is the other really accurate one. And by accurate, I mean it focuses on what I think it’s going to focus on.

              • I was told by a tech at Sigma that each of the Merrills are essentially custom made in that each lens is precisely fitted to its camera. The Merrills are nearly vibration free because of the near silent leaf shutter. Because of that its very easy to travel with a light tripod, I use a MePhoto. By contrast, with the same tripod and using more conventional cameras I can feel shutter vibration with my hand holding a tripod leg. The same sensor on a camera with changeable lenses, with more conventional shutters would probably result in poorer images. So, while the sensor is unique, there are other factors that contribute heavily to the quality of the images. If olympus were to mate a quality lens with a leaf shutter to their Pen series I think the images from those cameras would be improved. The one camera that I know of (I’m sure there are others) with an interchangeable lens that is relatively vibration free is the Olympus E-1. My point is that there is too much attention focused on the Merrill sensor and not enough credit to Sigma for considering more than the sensor with the design of their cameras. It reminds me of the design of the Hexar AF, ultra quiet and almost vibration free, also a fixed lens with a leaf shutter. While the Hexar AF isn’t a true rangefinder, it seems that the viewfinder design from the Hexar would have adapted nicely to the Merrill, along with the ergonomics of the Hexar AF.

  34. Kristian Wannebo says:

    As an amateur photographer who is looking for an upgrade
    and is regularly reading most serious reviews I find,

    I can not agree more with this wish !

  35. Bravo.

  36. Any takers ? :p

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