Close, but no cigar: how to design mirrorless right

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Too large/expensive; too slow and unresponsive, power hungry; no finder or IS

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Limited sensor resolution; overambitious image quality and fragile feel; too many steps to get shooting

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Fixed lens; great UI with terrible ergonomics; classical controls don’t work for digital, sensor limits

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Ergonomic and workflow challenges; IQ limitations from sensor size; needed two years to fix FW

And this is barely half of the mirrorless cameras I’ve used and reviewed on this site in the last couple of years. I still have not found a complete replacement for the DSLR, and I suspect there are many other photographers in the same situation. It isn’t for want of trying or stubbornness; it’s because the product simply does not exist. We’re not asking for the unicorn here, either: there are ergonomic/UI/UX/engineering solutions that have already been implemented and received well in other cameras – just not in the same one. And to clarify (since judging by email and comments, many are missing the point): this post is not to complain mirrorless isn’t a DSLR. It’s recognising that mirrorless is the future for so many reasons – but we are still suffering from stupid design that has already been solved. All of these problems beg the question: just how difficult is it to get it right?

Important: Read this first.

Evidently very much so, because not one of the cameras above is free from at least one massive glaring flaw – even ignoring system completeness – that forces you to look elsewhere for a complete solution. It is a shame since if these models had been seeded to photographers and that advice actually listened to, a lot of these things could have been avoided by small firmware fixes. Worse still is that a lot of the behaviour could still be fixed by firmware if the camera manufacturers cared enough to listen: few do, and even then, it seems to take a long time to fix – after a long period of denial. (Olympus’ E-M1 shutter shock issue, and Sony’s compressed raw format are both very good examples). Worse still, some problems appear to be baked in by lazy design choices – the A7II/A7RII/A7SII’s poor battery life, for instance could have been fixed by a slightly larger grip and physically larger battery – but that would have meant extra work.

Sometimes the problems are because there’s been too much creativity and desire to change things for the sake of changing them: the Leica T’s UI was a great idea, but the ergonomics are a disaster and a good example of form over function. The Sigma Quattro is just uncomfortable to hold and pack, period. The Leica SL should just have been  Q with a lens mount – but no, they started from scratch with the firmware and design and missed some fundamental things like the fact that the grip wasn’t really the right shape for 1+kg lenses, and exposure compensation is a critical photographic control.

If I’m coming across as cynical and critical, well, that’s because right now, I am. We have collectively spent a lot of money on product that a) doesn’t really work properly, and b) been vocal (at least I know I have) about simple fixes that would make life a lot easier – many of which are just a few lines of code to add extra button assignments or change default behaviours. I don’t know about you, but if I’m handing over a lot of hard-earned cash for something, I at least expect it to do what it says on the box.

So let’s do something positive, once and for all. Here is a list of all the really good things that every mirrorless camera should have, and where it’s been done before and not necessarily to the exclusion of other functions. Do the entire photographic community a favour and social-media share and forward this article to whichever camera company reps you might happen to know. Hopefully, something good will come out of it and we will all collectively benefit. They need to understand that building a good product doesn’t mean the death of obsolescence: it means more people will buy it, and there’ll be more R&D budget for the next generation.

For ease of reference, I’ve broken things up into a few sections. Some things have not been done, but are feasible (in italics)

Haptics/ergonomics/ responsiveness

  • No delay in operations for exposure setting or menu navigation – the Q, SL and M4/3 cameras win here.
  • Customizable menus and shortcuts – with no arbitrary limitation on assignable functions. Olympus gets this right, Sony is close.
  • Direct exposure adjustments (user selectable) on wheels with adjustable directions – not hard settings because you cannot change rotation direction. Again, Olympus and Sony get this right.
  • Fully customisable auto-ISO with minimum and maximum sensitivity and shutter speed thresholds, including 1/FL or 1/2FL for zooms etc.  (Nikon gets this right)
  • Weather sealing. The SL has the beefiest seals I’ve seen, with thicker/more solid gaskets than even my Sony ‘underwater’ compact.
  • A body/grip that is the right size to balance with the lenses it is intended to use; FF bodies need to be larger than M4/3 and have more substantial grips – which helps with packing larger batteries, too
  • A ‘small’ and a ‘large’ configuration: the small configuration for compact lenses, and the large configuration (e.g. adding a vertical and front grips) for larger lenses – the E-M5 II’s two part grip gets this right, but really doesn’t need to be in two parts.
  • Instant (or near instant) power on: 1 second is acceptable, 4+ seconds is not.
  • Power switch around the shutter button for quick access and single action to be ready to shoot: Q, Sony.
  • Deliberate action (either right friction or interlocks) required to move controls. Nothing to catch on coats/bags/etc.
  • Frame rates don’t have to be high, but there should be as little lag and blackout/shot-to-shot delay as possible; the Q and SL are the fastest for this with the Olympus cameras close behind
  • Touch screens are good – but make them useful. Panasonic allows for a touch-pad like operation to select AF point – keep this ability when using the finder. Leica’s menu implementation is well done.
  • Top panel status LCDs (a la SL) are welcome too. Especially if we can turn off the rear LCD to save power and not make a bright beacon that is very un-stealthy in the dark and ruins our night vision.
  • Why not built in Arca-compatible rails?
  • Interchangeable grips to suit different hand sizes might be a good idea, too.

Autofocus

  • The speed of the Q, SL or current generation Olympus M4/3 cameras
  • (Reader suggestions): The tracking ability of the Nikon 1 series, or Samsung NX1
  • Direct focus point selection with quick reset-to-centre or preselected point; the SL’s joystick is perfect here
  • Ability to decouple focus and shutter release
  • PDAF is nice to have but not necessary if CDAF is fast enough

Live view/ EVF

  • The high resolution, low-distortion view from the SL
  • Don’t clutter the live view area with icons and information; keep things minimal and the view clear – the Q and SL get this right, and the Olympus cameras in some modes. The Sonys are the worst: I don’t need every single logo you have on your box in my finder, too.
  • Peaking and exposure zebras are a must.
  • An ETTR metering option that exposes until a certain percentage area of the frame clips (settable by the user).
  • At least a tilting rear LCD, if not fully articulated.
  • A large LCD magnifier if you’re not going to provide an EVF, like the Sigma Quattro.
  • The ability to turn off the rear LCD completely for night use, or to set playback in LCD and live view in EVF (with LCD off). I’m surprised nobody really gets this right. I stand corrected: Fujis can do it, but why do they need a menu and two separate buttons to get there?
  • Instant review with one press to 100% at focus point, and the ability to skip through images at the same point with one of the dials – like the pro Nikons, SL and Olympuses. The Sonys also behave the same, but take a very long time to magnify and page through images.
  • DOF scale in the finder. Fuji gets this right.
  • One-press shortcut to magnify live view, preferably to 100% or a selectable magnification, with peaking. The Q has the best MF implementation of any mirrorless camera, bar none – it does all three when you turn the ring out of the AF mode.
  • Instant preview of exposure even when magnified, and EVF brightness that either represents the scene or represents the exposure – the SL, Q and Olympus cameras get this right. Sony does not, and the lag in previewing exposure can cost you the shot.

Sensor and image quality

  • Whatever the format, no compression or cooking of raw files – or at least a choice.
  • The ability to zoom a raw image without having to also write a JPEG.

System

  • Both fast/large and small/slower lenses. No compromises in optical quality.
  • Lenses with hard infinity stops, or a focus clutch like the Olympus pro lenses. Better still, an ‘AF’ position and an instant override ‘MF’ position like the Q. We recognise that AF isn’t always perfect, but with such precise MF possible, there is no excuse not to make this possible with all lenses – that would also encourage buyers to keep purchasing within the system.

Power and power management

  • An adequately large battery that you could shoot heavily for a day on one, or at worst, two, batteries.
  • The option to charge or run over USB power like the A7II series.

Other neat features

  • Sensor-based IS like the M4/3 or A7II series cameras
  • The ultrasonic cleaner of the Olympus cameras
  • If the camera claims to be video-centric, then we need audio input/output jacks, log gamma, uncompressed HDMI out, variable frame rates and a high bitrate
  • Selectable mechanical and electronic shutter options. Leaf shutters are great (and combined with an electronic shutter like the Q to hit higher speeds). Electronic first curtain should be standard.
  • Do away with the battery door entirely, like the SL and T; put the grip contacts inside the battery compartment to eliminate the little rubber grommets we all lose (and can compromise sealing) and avoid having removable doors (ahem, Sony)
  • UHSIII support, preferably with dual slots. Big files are fine; we have big cards. But choking them down slow interfaces is not.

If any of the camera makers wants to make a really serious go of it – and not just send me a camera before embargo with the expectation that I’ll write a positive review – then I’m more than happy to be involved in the design process from an early point where things can still be changed. I really hope this is the reason Nikon and Canon are late to the game: better last and pick up where the operationally and ergonomically mature 5D/D810 series leave off than make something all-new with all-new issues. Hell, at this point, I’m frustrated enough that I’d even work for free. MT

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Comments

  1. Ming you have hit a nerve, just the sheer number of responses attests to that. Well done, keep up the good work!

    • I think so. Either that or people much prefer to complain about gear (and complain about people complaining about gear) than making images. I don’t think I’ve ever had a post that was actually about photography get this kind of response.

  2. They are calling you, MING THE MIRRORLESS

  3. Peter Kelly says:

    I can appreciate what you say in your blog, but I think you, like so many others, are missing the point.

    We have been spoilt over the years by the unbelievably clever tricks all of these cameras can do, so our expectations become skewed. To take a picture all you need is to get the exposure and focus right; no more, no less. As long as you can set aperture, shutter speed, iso, and adjust the focus properly, EVERYTHING else is a bonus.

    As others have pointed out, how these bonus items are regarded will vary from person to person, use to use.

    Until we get to the stage where we have a camera like the one in ‘The man who fell to Earth’, where all you had to do was point it and press the button (every single aspect of what you wanted to photograph and how was taken care of) then there will be something to suggest could be better.

    With regard to your current criticisms, many are rather silly, or of no consequence. For instance, you want a big camera but for it to be small also…perhaps they should make an inflatable one! You need a camera to turn on instantly as 4 seconds is too much of your life to waste…I think you need to plan more or be more aware of your surroundings! The battery is too small…you take pictures constantly, all day every day, so can never stop to change one?

    If you think I’m being a little harsh, I’m sorry, but I’m merely flipping around your opinion to reflect how silly some of it may well sound to others.

    I get that manufacturers make ‘mistakes’, or more exactly implement things we don’t care for (why did Sony add a lock button to the mode dial of the A7Rii), I get that manufacturers should do more with firmware to correct what we see as limitations (why didn’t Sony update the A7 with the new AF algorithms?), but without being fully aware of every single aspect I don’t think it entirely reasonabe to be too critical.

    • So the release delay is a bonus? Writing speeds are a bonus? Things which worked fine in the film days – exposure compensation – are now a bonus? Please re-read the article. We are not asking for things that don’t exist, we’re asking them to sort out the details that have already been sorted out, not reinvent the wheel.

      I never once asked for a big camera to be small. I said the size has to be appropriate for the system: lenses, sensor etc.

      Instant power on is important when you can’t leave it on for more than an hour with the battery draining. And when every other one of the competition can manage, there is no excuse. And for your information, there are situations in which I do shoot constantly for pretty much ten hours straight – that’s eight to ten batteries on the Sony. I have three chargers and now twelve batteries. Just because a situation exists that a working pro encounters that you don’t doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

      I don’t think you’re being harsh, I think you’re displaying both an expectation that everybody shoots the way you do and misinterpretation of what I wrote.

      • Peter Kelly says:

        “I think you’re displaying both an expectation that everybody shoots the way you do and misinterpretation of what I wrote”

        This is rather too ironic. Indeed, I specifically stated that needs will vary from photographer to photographer, which is why I think your list is a little unfair. To then criticise me as taking your position is the very definition of irony, made more so by the fact that you have entirely misinterpreted my post!

        To answer just on of your other points, regarding the size, you want a camera size to be ‘appropriate’, so how does that work if your first put on a small lens and then put on a large one? Either you have two cameras or one that is first small and then becomes large…

    • Frans Richard says:

      I’m sorry, but I think YOU are missing the point. The camera makers are churning out vast amounts of half baked products with serious usability issues that can easlily be fixed if a little more attention is given to the way a camera is used in real life. To add to frustration, they don’t seem to be learning from past mistakes.
      Skewed expectations are not caused by all the ‘clever tricks’ cameras can do (they’re not all that clever in my opinion). Skewed expectation are caused by marketing hype, especially of the type that suggest you wil effortlessly become a great photograper by buying their latest and greatest.
      Ming is trying to help the camera makers here. If they are wise, they should listen and think carefully about what is being said.

      • aardvark7 says:

        “Half baked products with serious usability issues”? I was merely suggesting that not all of Ming’s criticisms were fully justified, but I think you are being rather melodramatic and very unfair.

        If you are having so much trouble using today’s cameras then I respectfully suggest that you look a little closer to home in trying to remedy the situation. The manufacturers are not perfect, by any means, but to call most ‘half baked’ is just silly.

    • Sean Quigley says:

      Oh dear it’s a shame that some just can’t see constructive criticism for being just that. Constructive.

      • aardvark7 says:

        I can see it’s constructive. However, it’s a little too optimistic, personal to the way he works, and dismissive of the work behind the scenes when designing these pieces of towering engineering.

        • Have you consulted for any of the major camera companies? Because I have, I can assure you, I know exactly what goes into the engineering.

          • Peter Kelly says:

            So it would seem, from the results, that they completely ignored you!

            One minute you’re asking for them to consult because their products are flawed and the next you’re telling us you are involved. Which is it, as I’m now totally confused?

            By the way, I thought my initial post was fair and well measured as I see things, to balance your view in your blog, but your answers have been completely supercilious. So you think these superb pieces of engineering have many major flaws and stop you from doing the job in a perfect uninterrupted manner. A little news for you, I and others disagree.

            • There is a simple explanation here. I have consulted on DSLRs, not mirrorless. Might I suggest a little logic before random conclusions?

              Yes. The flaws cost me shots. Waiting for a camera to turn on only to find it misfocuses – but tells you otherwise – will not result in an image a client will sign off on.

              You’ve made your point and continue to deliberately try to misinterpret me. You think what we have is good enough – so spend your money and make your choices.

  4. Unfortunately, it seems to me like like the camera companies took their eye off the ball and forgot about the core photographic elements in the search for the next big thing. Perhaps not surprisingly with all the yelling on the internet from people who expect every camera to do everything and more, not yet having realized what their niche actually is (it delights me to see you pointing out how there is a limit to the fps most people need). If they could only get the core stuff right; finder, af, exposure controls, ergonomics, and in the digital age, power consumption, and stop filling their cameras up with clutter. Does every camera need filters, wifi, gps, and dare I say it, video? Personally, I don’t even need jpg, and I know the number of menu entries would be halved or more without all of the above.

    I think the manufacturers should get better at communicating what each product is meant for: This is our sports camera, this is our video camera, this our back-to-basics camera, etc. Then every once in a while release an all-in behemoth just to say, “Told you so, it wasn’t what you wanted after all”.

    I’m rambling, though…

    • I am sorry but where did you get this? IU think Samsung NX1, GH4 and GX8 ar examples of cams that can do it all. Panasonic really come a long wayu getting CDAF so good that it is actually pretty good at actionshooting. Who would have thought? When I look at Fuji and Olympus but especially Olympus what they have added to the EM5 MArkII in the way of live composition, image stacking and not in the least HiRes mode (which is rumourded to be handheld very soon and the rumoru is simply because they stated so in an interview so not so far fetched) how are they holding back. How are Olympus and Fuji and even Panasonic (V-log) holding back after sales? I think the opposite is true: they seem to have stepped up and are far more aware of what their customers want.

      Your question..”does every camera need..” What you mean is: does every user need that. Of course not. But every camera probably needs them in order to be succesfull. Yes.

      When we look at the well-to-do on this planet there is so much the/we have, want but do not need. That includes a camera. No one needs a camera unless it is your work. Other than that it is simply not needed to have a life, to have fun. But we want one. And from there on we want more wand more. And we want video and we want WIFi. Etc. It is how we seem to function. We simply need, water, food, clothes and a roof. Basically. The rest can be seen as luxury.

      • Fair enough, this is steam let off from from a guy who don’t shoot action and never plug a cable into his camera. And you are right that specs and added functions probably drives sales and are good for marketing. I sort of made that point too. Just be aware that all these extra bells and whistles adds weight, cost, complexity and the chance of failure. Some of these functions are rushed to market before being implemented properly, and we see time and again how the core functions gets buried deep in menus just to give room for this new fluff.

        I shoot my camera pretty much the way would shoot an 80’s slr. In other words, I use about 50% of my cameras fuctionality, but pay for 100%. You’re needs might be different and you seem happy with the choices available. Good for you. But getting existential about it is not necessary.

    • You’re certainly not rambling. What you’ve outlined is exactly what the problem is. Basics first, fancy nonsense (perhaps) after.

    • That’s the thing: we don’t need more features. We need them to get the details right – little behaviours like metering, auto-ISO, exposure compensation, moving AF points etc. These are not rocket science.

      And niche cameras with very specific purposes (and obviously very specific purposes) like the X100, GR, Q etc. do well – extremely well. Surely somebody must have noticed?

  5. ETTR metering jumped out at me from the whole list, and not just for mirroirless. How is it that ETTR metering isn’t the standard? Almost all of the time i spend in full manual is specifically because the sophisticated metering system built into my expensive, single-purpose slice of technological photo wizardry somehow doesn’t know that blown highlights are irrecoverable, or that it’s easier for me to darken a bright photo than lighten a dark one in post. We’re a solid 20 years on in knowing that ETTR is ideal for digital sensors and files, and it seems algorithmically much easier than the current system, even if you had to compensate for bright lights in the frame, i imagine sun detection is simpler than near-eye detection or whatever insanity they’ve cooked up now, so why does no camera do it at all, let alone well?

    • Hi Allan, Nikon has it on the D810 and D750, it’s called highlight-weighted metering. Works very well, although in most stage situations I still prefer manual but that’s because I trust myself more than an algorithm. It’ll be on the (semi-)pro mirrorless Nikon one day. Much easier to implement on a mirrorless camera also. But the reason most cameras don’t have it, is that only a small minority of the consumers want it, because most buyers don’t know much about photography. This explains also Ming’s laments: customers get the products they deserve. Consumers get marketing bla bla and thousands of features they will never use, pros – at least at Nikon – get important features but they have to pay for it (and until now only Nikon and Canon make real pro camera’s in this aspect) and prosumers get a mix that is sometimes hard to understand, but is influenced heavily by the need to push consumers to more expensive models. But I don’t mind because all in all the free market has given us excellent camera’s – but I agree with Ming, not yet a mirrorless camera as practical as let’s say a D810. But it will be there as soon as on sensor PDAF and EVF quality is good enough (which is soon) *and* a large group of pro customers is able to look at new technology with an open mind (which might take some time). Personally I’m looking forward to it and I am using Nikon 1 models already often because they are completely silent.

      • The reviews of a camera with ETTR would all have a sentence like “in our testing, we saw almost no clipped highlights and were able to get totally workable files in post, even from the full-auto mode thanks to the new Digital Optimized Metering system, and Sun-Detection works very well to get a brighter foreground without washing out the sky even with the sun in the frame.” They could then launch into a paragraph about why ETTR is ideal. Call me crazy but the knowledge that you could use your camera in aperture priority without EC and end up with not just a good file, but there best possible one would be very easy to sell. ETTR is not that advanced of a concept, i think i first leaned about it when i searched online for how to shoot aperture priority instead of auto.
        I use a mirrorless for stage photos and its mostly great, but what the meter is reading often has little to do with what the rest of the evf is showing. It’d be nice if they were more intertwined

    • DSLRs cannot know because the meter cell isn’t the sensor.

      I agree, it should be on the list for mirrorless, but usually isn’t much of an issue because the cameras come very close to getting it right most of the time – I’ve not had a mirrorless camera yet that really messed things up badly. And highlight clipping warnings help with that.

      Caveat: there is one BIG catch, though: the cameras generate histograms, determine metering, clipping etc. in LV not necessarily based off the RAW file information – and quite frequently from the JPEG settings – so there is almost always a bit more left in the raw file…

      • I completely forgot about the raw histogram issue, that’s definitely something I’d love to see, even a more raw preview would be nice (not much point in a wysiwyg viewfinder if what you see isn’t really what you get). As for ETTR, do you really feel that cameras do this well? I’ve only extensively used Fuji and Panasonic, and briefly playing with a Sony in the wild i felt it behaved roughly the same; i never feel like i could trust any kind of automated mode without constantly fiddling with EC because whatever they’re using to determine exposure seems to be nothing like ettr.

        • Metering is one of the few things my A7RII gets VERY right – the EVF doesn’t show it well, but adding exposure compensation almost always results in overexposure. The D810 and 5DSR are bad and an inconsistent disaster respectively. Surprisingly, this D5500 I’m using at the moment is not far off the Sony…but isn’t mirrorless.

  6. When in a comparison between two systems A and B, we only look at those things A provides and B doesn’t, ignoring the advantages of B, the conclusion will always be: “It is not yet the time for B”, so your approach is wrong in my opinion to reach a valid conclusion on which system suits me best. CD’s will never be better than vinile records in every single aspect, but they offered new advantages that lead to the (almost) death of vinile records.

    We could reverse your argument looking at the good things mirrorless systems offer (size and weight, legacy lens adaption, EVF,…) and look for them in any DSLR. The answer will forever be: “Not yet the time for DSLR”.

    Regards!

    • I’m not trying to determine what suits YOU best. The point of the article was to say a) yes, mirrorless offers advantages, and b) there are things it could do better that are already being done to make that advantage compelling in more, if not most, situations.

  7. Hate to beat a dead horse, other’s have already said all this, but one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure. Different strokes different folks.

    I have an Epson RD-1, if that had a high resolution sensor I would have the perfect digital mirrorless camera. I hate function buttons, hate the idea of the on/off button around the shutter release (I like the way the OMD EM5 did it).

    You also have sensor size listed as a critique under the last trilogy of pictures, but you don’t mention it as a point in your list? I thought you were already on the “sensor size doesn’t matter” train?

    • Sensor size matters if you print, and large. Individual pixels can get better, but you can always have more of them. Even if you don’t, there are plenty of benefits to oversampling.

    • Me also, I hate the on/off switch placed around the shutter button, really hate that annoying pin scratching my sensitive index finger and, on some cameras, as Sony A series, it happens to rotate it unintentionally while attempting to reach and press another button that is near or also just the shutter release, especially during uncomfortable positions or difficult conditions, usually outdoor.

  8. Linked by dpreview. Awesome!

  9. I went on my own search for The One in the past several years. Bought and sold Canon and Nikon FF, several Micro 4/3 systems, several Fuji X systems, Sony E and FE systems, and wasted too much money. I am no professional so my actual needs are much lower than many here, but somehow I convinced myself I needed certain specs and my system wasn’t good enough. Eventually buying cameras and lenses became more of a source of stress for me than joy, especially after learning the strengths and weaknesses of each system and becoming very critical about QC and decentering in particular. Exchanging decentered lenses was not a pleasant experience since I live in an area where online shopping is really the only option. At one point I remembered how much fun I had with my old Canon 5D and primes, and bought that camera again, but I did not enjoy it much because my expectations had changed so much, so I sold it shortly thereafter.

    Eventually I found myself back to an Olympus Micro 4/3 system and a set of decent glass. I’ve had it for 9 months which doesn’t seem that long, but is long relative to other systems I’ve owned. There are still things I lament about the system – Olympus’ cutting corners on QC and service, the noise at base ISO and some ergonomic issues, but ultimately I keep it because I have fun shooting with it. I think it’s a combination of fast enough performance, good enough IQ, IBIS that removes concerns about shutter speed, small size, system cost, and workflow.

    Ultimately it’s about fun and enjoyment for me, so I have to convince myself I don’t need a system with better IQ (for now), otherwise I’ll be sucked into that same cycle of chasing an ideal system that’s not out there. I don’t envy the position of a professional photographer who has to make that decision for tools s/he uses for hours every day. I guess that’s why I think DSLR is still the tried and true default choice for now.

    • The decision is fine, my mistake was publicising the logic behind it in thinking that there might be others who understand why I’m doing it 🙂

      Shooting for yourself: fun/enjoyment/inspiration is definitely the order of the day, not frustration.

    • Michiel953 says:

      You may have noticed none of Ming’s observations concerned image quality. Immage quality is abundantly available.

  10. Very useful the function that show on the black monitor only the countdown, from the exposure start to the end, when in T position, or the 00:00:00 timer when in B (Bulb)
    [Fujifilm X].
    I do not know if it has already been said.

  11. RX10 Shooter says:

    Sitting near a Canon employee during a long flight US-Asia, I learned that
    most models & variations are not introduced to market. Your near-perfect
    camera probably was created, & many times. The problem is that most
    better models are going to be too expensive to bring to market. The models
    that do come to market are those that can be offered at a low enough price
    to reach the number of sales required to make companies a satisfactory profit .
    Your perfect cameras are stored in the TEPC (too expesive prototype closet)
    that all companies are regularly filling up…

    • You’re probably right on the hardware front.

      However…if getting much closer means just recoding a few buttons and dials? Hmm…that makes no sense.

  12. Seb Fornpost says:

    you wrote: “The ability to turn off the rear LCD completely for night use, or to set playback in LCD and live view in EVF (with LCD off). I’m surprised nobody really gets this right.”

    Whats wrong with the Fuji X-E1 for instance? I can turn off the rear LCD completely for night use, I can set playback or live view in LCD and in EVF (with LCD off/always on or LCD on/off with eye sensor). Enough for me.

  13. NX1 or NX500 is the answer to your search. I used Canon for 40 years, and even the old NX210 with the pancake gave me much better photos than my 7D. I hope that Samsung is not leaving the NX Serie. After starting with long lenses or having an automatic adapter (similar to the Sony adapter for e.g. Canon lenses) the Pros may start buying the NX1 for sport photos or 4K video.
    LG
    Bernd

    • In theory, yes. They were suggested by another commenter, but in practice a) they’re not available here because no camera dealer will stock them, which b) makes for a lot of other support issues later. The lens selection is limited, and size is no smaller than a D810 – but image quality isn’t even close.

  14. I haven’t had time to read all the comments so forgive me if my comment has been made before – as an older user (please note no claim to be a photographer !!) I find touch screens about as much use as a chocolate fire guard – I can’t see them without stopping to put my glasses on and I find them very inconsistent over the amount of pressure require to have an effect. I enjoyed the article and while some of the comments were over my head a lot had me nodding in agreement. Thanks for bringing it up & I’ll finish by saying what a guy told me many years ago – NIH – “Not Invented Here” – is most industries biggest problem, if we didn’t think of it first it can’t be any use – rubbish I say !!

    • You’re wise not to wade through all of them!

      Touch screens: Apple gets it right in responsiveness and feel. Leica isn’t bad with the Q and SL (the T is a disaster though) and the Nikon D5500 is very good also. Panasonic is a little bit too light/easily activated.

  15. Dear Camera Manufacturers: When you have finished implementing Ming’s suggestions, please consider these two:

    1) Will you please finally offer a decent image file format such as WebP, Jpeg-XR (HD Photo) or BPG?? Jpeg is a 25 year old anachronism that should have been burried at the turn of last century. Photographers NEED a proper 48-bit format that offers smooth, detailed, efficient compression without artifacts. Isn’t that kind of CENTRAL to machines that produce professional images??

    2) Please let me define my own exposure modes. A simple screen with three horizontal sliders for my desired ranges of aperture, exposure time and ISO would do, especially if it would also let me define a priority (e.g. large aperture or short exposure). That’s all. You can remove that big mode dial now. Thank you.

    • The second one is a great idea.

      • Thanks Ming, but I like the first one better. Really, after almost 30 years in computer imaging I think it’s ludicrous that cameras still don’t output usable 16b/channel images that offer editing leeway. The current alternative to JPG, raw files, are literally semi-finished (dare I say: half-baked) products that require endless fiddling with (usually) 3d party tools. Today’s cameras are like a pizza restaurant where you can either get a tiny pizza from the freezer, or a ball of dough, a cup of tomato sauce and a bowl of cheese. I want a pizza! How hard can it be..?

        • Ahh, but everybody’s expectations of what constitutes a pizza are different…

          I don’t disagree on the software side at all – I would just be concerned about view ability across platforms and the entrenched nature of JPEG as a format today…

        • “The current alternative to JPG, raw files, are literally semi-finished (dare I say: half-baked) products that require endless fiddling with (usually) 3d party tools.”

          When was the last time you looked at using RAW? The RAW workflow in almost all products is now quite simple, fast, and more effective than a JPEG workflow. The only reason I can see to not use RAW in 2015 is having incorrect preconceptions about the complexity or fiddlyness of the process.

          • I think he was referring to output?

          • ‘Meanwhile’, thanks for commenting. I’m aware of that but you can’t upload raw images to Facebook, to a printing service or elsewhere. You can’t mail a raw file to a client and trust (or even expect) him to develop it neutrally or to your taste and requirements. Heck, you can’t even edit/save them. If you want images of the same quality and fidelity as those from your camera’s imaging engine, and benefit from optimisations based on their proprietary EXIF data (for things like lens corrections and noise reduction), you have to use manufacturer-supplied software which more often than not is slow, buggy and/or lacking in file management features. There are a hundred more bad things that I could say about raw, but the major point is that raw files are simply not images. Which is kind of strange, considering that they were created by an imaging machine. The only reason why raw files exist today is that back around 2000, professional photographers were (rightly) demanding 48-bit, losslessly compressed ‘originals’, which manufacturers could not provide by lack of a suitable image format (TIFF being too large and too slow). The best they could do was hand them uncooked sensor data along with shooting details and the proprietary software to ‘develop’ them. And so the raw chaos that continues to this day ensued.

            Ming: Correct, it’s true that a new format would start out with limited platform and software support, but we can’t keep dragging JPG along for decades more. When camera manufacturers add a 21st century format (48 bit, near-lossless compression, etc), at least we’ll have a choice and, of course, we will still be able to convert the files to JPG when needed.

            • you really should check out this new program called adobe photoshop lightroom. Handles raw files nicely and lets you upload finished files to pretty much any website you like, really great stuff

              • No need for sarcasm. I think his point is even if you edit and save in a 16-bit format like TIFF or DNG, you still can’t export it without some data loss – which can be visible.

            • meanwhile says:

              “Heck, you can’t even edit/save them. If you want images of the same quality and fidelity as those from your camera’s imaging engine, and benefit from optimisations based on their proprietary EXIF data (for things like lens corrections and noise reduction), you have to use manufacturer-supplied software which more often than not is slow, buggy and/or lacking in file management features. There are a hundred more bad things that I could say about raw, but the major point is that raw files are simply not images.”

              Sorry, but that pretty much shows that you really haven’t looked at this for years. Which is fine, each has their own workflow that works for them, but please don’t describe and unjustly criticize a process with which you have no experience.

              • Danielvr is right in a way (manufacturer software is a disaster in workflow compared to PS especially if you need any sort of local adjustments), but I also don’t see how you could ever have a camera that outputs to your vision – it simply isn’t possible.

                • OK, sure, but manufacturer software is not needed is any way shape or form in 2015, for pretty much all of the cameras talked about in this post. In terms of ” benefit from optimisations based on their proprietary EXIF data (for things like lens corrections and noise reduction” …
                  Lightroom supports all those things from RAW for most cameras.
                  Capture One Pro supports all those things from RAW for most cameras.
                  DXO Optics Pro supports all those things from RAW for most cameras.
                  Adobe Camera Raw supports all those things from RAW for most cameras.
                  The late Apple Aperture & Photos (to a far lesser extent) supports all those things from RAW for most cameras.
                  Heck, even Corel Aftershot Pro (nee-Bibble) supports all those things from RAW for most cameras.

                  To say you need to use subpar manufacturer-provided software to get the best results out of a camera is not just slightly off, it’s completely incorrect.

                  • Not entirely true. You still get better results in specific areas – color, lenses that are unsupported by third parties, resolving power (EM5II HR mode is a very good example) and there are some files that are completely not supported – Sigma, for instance.

  16. You nailed it!

  17. Thank you for the patient, detailed, thought provoking analysis!
    But please, do NOT work for free for these swine who cannot EVER get it right- they are unworthy of the benefit you offer!
    They (miserable salarymen!!!) lose any ability to produce the best as they kowtow to their supervisors w/in the corporate structure, but cravenly exercise no wisdom and take no risks in producing a new product that has benefited from the mistakes of the previous generation(s).
    And so we get yet another “foreplay-but-no-orgasm” camera, or camera system, that glitters but requires numerous work-arounds.
    Rinse, lather, repeat…moebius strip…

    • Don’t worry James, nobody will take me up on it anyway – except the trolls, because they need something to criticise since they aren’t shooting… 🙂

  18. The camera business is just that “a business”. The manufactures make more than one “camera” as all photographers have different needs and budgets (and desires). No camera company would never make a perfect camera as it would have a negative impact on future sales, period! This is why a Canon 7Dii out guns a 5Ds (at a fraction the price) – they were both designed to a specific group of photographers. Also, technology in cameras come at a cost and we will never know the real cost! What this means is most features found in cameras have to be paid on to the inventor of said technology. EVERY camera manufacture that uses AF in an SLR (film and digital) has had to pay another company (that doesn’t even make an SLR camera) to use such technology in their cameras. This is the case for nearly every “bell and whistle” we enjoy today – that’s business! I love cameras as much as I love photography and I would love to be in charge of designing a camera but the reality is that perfect camera will never happen. Always looking forward to the next generation of cameras.

    • We’re not talking about a perfect camera. We’re talking about fixing little things that can easily be fixed (or have been done correctly in other cameras) via firmware or moving a button or reprofiling a grip before release – there are many ways to the same solution, yes. And most of the time, they’re nearly there – which is all the more frustrating…

      • My comment was about the other things you referenced (listed below from your post). Many of the positives (best of) are coming in on the Leica SL, Q cameras which are also the latest models to hit the scene – i’m sure we’ll see many improvements in the next generation of High End MLC’s from Oly, Pany, Sony, etc. That is IF they can justify the added cost/selling point. Another point about camera design and options is many camera companies also have an IDENTITY they wish to maintain and that isn’t just in their logo, that identity rolls all through their camera designs and feature set – i.e.. the Nikon D810 has a very similar look and feel to the Nikon F5 (a 1990’s film camera).
        I agree that many aspects of cameras function/form can be improved, I just wouldn’t hold my breath.

        At least a tilting rear LCD, if not fully articulated.
        Both fast/large and small/slower lenses. No compromises in optical quality.
        Lenses with hard infinity stops, or a focus clutch like the Olympus pro lenses. Better still, an ‘AF’ position and an instant override ‘MF’ position like the Q. We recognise that AF isn’t always perfect, but with such precise MF possible, there is no excuse not to make this possible with all lenses – that would also encourage buyers to keep purchasing within the system.
        Power and power management
        An adequately large battery that you could shoot heavily for a day on one, or at worst, two, batteries.
        The option to charge or run over USB power like the A7II series.
        Other neat features
        Sensor-based IS like the M4/3 or A7II series cameras
        The ultrasonic cleaner of the Olympus cameras
        If the camera claims to be video-centric, then we need audio input/output jacks, log gamma, uncompressed HDMI out, variable frame rates and a high bitrate
        Selectable mechanical and electronic shutter options. Leaf shutters are great (and combined with an electronic shutter like the Q to hit higher speeds). Electronic first curtain should be standard.
        Do away with the battery door entirely, like the SL and T; put the grip contacts inside the battery compartment to eliminate the little rubber grommets we all lose (and can compromise sealing) and avoid having removable doors (ahem, Sony)
        UHSIII support. Big files are fine; we have big cards. But choking them down slow interfaces is not.

  19. It’s a lot easier to define. The begin point can be a Canon xxxD or Nikon Dxxxx without mirror.
    (Fast to boot. Good ergonomy on the hands. Fast to shoot. Fast AF. At least aps-c sensor size (good image quality). A lot of shots with same battery. A lot of lents). That’s all.
    Only need to remove the mirror and add an EVF. That’s a must.

    • D810 without a mirror, IBIS from Olympus or Sony. Done.

      • Frans Richard says:

        Hmmm, I think you’re forgetting you’ll also need to replace the OVF with an EVF. That, and the sensior needing to be on a larger part of the time, will probably kill battery life, requiring a larger battery. And that will probably require a body redesign.
        But yeah, nearly there. 😉
        Actually wondering why they just don’t do it…

        • For all we know, they are…and waiting for us to buy another generation first.

          • Well… Canon has an overpriced M3 without an integrated EVF (?!), Nikon has a J1 with a minimal sensor size (?!)… It seems that they prefer to maintain their business as before, with high overpriced DSLR’s.
            Olympus has a lot of problems and it seems that they don’t understand that people want a mirrorless camera (only without a mirror), not a small camera with a lot of problems to take photos with it because the camera is so small or it have ony a few buttons.
            Fuji only used aps-c sensors, and seems that it doesn’t worried Canon or Nikon.
            But, hey! Now Sony has put on the table a full-frame mirrorless camera!! So… It’s time for Canon or Nikon to move. They can’t wait more time. The business now is on mirrorless cameras. (Yes, there are a lot of people lost, as at the move from film to digital, but now it’s clear that the move is from DSLR to mirrorless).

  20. Besides improving thumb pad design, I think all the camera makers need to provide a way to save user states, esp during upgrading firmware. It’s a royal PIA for not doing it. But this issue, together with auto-focus-tracking, reflects the fact most makers don’t have strong computer/software engineering background. Saving states, improving algorithms seem not part of their DNA. It’s my view that’s why Samsung can easily make its way to top the others makers in creating the best AF-tracking algorithms.

    • Nikon does a pretty good job saving and transferring states via cards, and Canon implements the custom memory very well – you can even choose to have it update as you change settings or not.

      Samsung: I think part of that may have to do with underlying sensor tech, too. Just as the camera companies aren’t software-centric, they’re also not really sensor designers, either.

  21. Frans Richard says:

    Wow Ming, you really stirred up the photography community this time. 330+ comments and counting. You even got mentioned on THE gearhead place to be: http://www.dpreview.com/articles/5170314750/what-s-missing-ming-thein-on-the-state-of-mirrorless
    Surely the camera companies will pay attention now! 😉
    Great article by the way (yours, not dpreviews).

  22. As someone else said, this is a timely post. Refreshing. I feel like over the last few years, and especially with the A7 series, there has been a downright fetishization of gear and specs, to the point that we forgot what the purpose of cameras is. I recently bought an A7 with some MF legacy glass, hoping I could cheat the system and get FF on the cheap. No dice. I do like the A7’s IQ and ergonomics…. and it is just a good looking camera compared to DSLRs IMO. But I just couldn’t get reliable focus. And the battery life was abysmal- ~150 shots, which was surprising as I have an old NEX-C3 that is good for 300-500 on a charge.

    So now, ironically, after 4 or so years of shooting MILC I’m coming back to a DSLR. A Pentax K-S2 with the Sigma 17-50 2.8 and 30 1.4; a setup that seems as basic as basic gets, but is essentially unavailable on E mount and overpriced on the rest of the MILC systems. In all the frenzy of tech and specs the basics- camera life, lens selection, value- seem to have fallen by the way side. The K-S2 is pretty much the opposite of sexy and exciting, but if it’s anything like the D40 that got me into photography it will get the job done.

    • I agree, and sadly I see it everywhere – forums, comments, etc. Photographs – supposedly the real purpose of all of this – have gone by the wayside and are completely uninteresting. Just look at this thread: 350+ comments, vs no more than 50 for anything to do with photographs, photography, the process of creativity, discussions about art etc.

      I feel exactly how you’ve gone around in a circle: I’ve done the same thing of late, but with a D5500 because I have the lenses for it.

  23. “set playback in LCD and live view in EVF (with LCD off). I’m surprised nobody really gets this right.” Well, Fuji X cameras do this. Although you respond to comments about Fuji, the article itself reads as though Fuji did not exist. The X cameras have their shortcomings, but for the money – especially if you do not buy at full list price as soon as the camera or lens comes out – they are marvelous instruments.

    • I stand corrected. I couldn’t find the setting as it was probably hidden in one of the two display button options (hint: why are there two to begin with?)

  24. Don’t know if any mirrorless camera has this (Olympus doesn’t), but would consider this a basic feature: cameras are computers, so why can’t we do the configuration via a real computer/laptop connected to the camera, thus avoiding doing the work on – comparatively – small screens? Also, this should enable to save the camera settings on the computer (and use it for the 2nd body) instead of starting again after a reset or with the 2nd body.

    • Completely agreed. We could do this with the film Canons and Nikons back in the day!

      Saving and transferring settings via memory card – it’s there on every pro Nikon body…

  25. good stuff ming. do a kickstarter campaign. first cam…a fixed lens?

  26. Excellent, excellent, list, I would add a few things:

    1) Exposure compensation available in all modes including manual, and with auto ISO enabled. (*See Nikon implementation)

    2) Auto ISO enabled when shooting with the flash. (*X100t work fine this way)

    3) A good compact flash system; with Small pocket flashes to larger event flashes. (I like the design of the Fuji EX-EF20, or the Leica CF22, but also larger flash should be available)

    4) Less delay (as instantaneous as possible) in the EVF proximity sensor (between when the camera is raised to the eye and the EVF activates). (*No company does a good job with this)

    5) The ability to cycle between LCD on, EVF on (permanently – not activated with the proximity sensor), LCD off / EVF on, LCD/EVF autoswitch – in a single button. (*Olympus, Fuji, Panasonic, do this correctly.)

    6) Accurate DOF scale, preferably on the lens, with hard stops (*see Leica Q). If in an exchangeable lens camera, the series of unified prime lenses, with accurate DOF scales (see Olympus 17mm for design although not accurate).

    7) Configurable user mode settings, that retain all not some of the settings (*see Ricoh GR)

    8) Snap Mode – if focus is going to be fly by wire, with no hard stops, and No depth of field scale (*see Ricoh GR)

    • But 6, nx1 does all of these.

    • Pieter Molenaar says:

      DOF-scale on the lens is good (like in the ‘old’ days), but would it not be better displayed in the evf. Or a kind of DOF-‘peaking’. Or does that exist already.
      On another note, Ming doesn’t mention the Nikon 1, but that is a classic case for reinventing the for the sake of it. And doing a bad job of it… I love my V2 better than my V1, but the UI still feels sluggish and the quickmenu doesn’t work very well. It just takes too long with the slippery, not ‘grippy’ enough wheel on the back. Learn from from Canon how to make a wheel that works…

    • Agreed, some small notes:
      4) The Olympus EM5II, Leica Q and Leica SL do a very good job with this. They’re pretty much instantaneous.
      6) The Olympus pro zooms are much better than their primes (12, 17mm) and do actually reflect distance properly – the 7-14/2.8, 12-40/2.8 and 40-150/2.8 all have the focus clutch thingy.
      7) Sony cameras have this, but it isn’t always clear what they retain and the retention choices aren’t the best. I like the Canon implementation as you have the choice to let the camera remember changes to the C positions, or not.

  27. It’s not a perfect camera, but, you are making me feel better about dropping some money on the Pentax K3-II and using a mix of manual focus primes and 1 18-135 (about 24-200 equivalent) zoom.

    • From bitter experience, you made the right choice. Just enjoy shooting and forget about gear now.

    • That thing actually looked pretty intriguing, especially with the very compact Limited prime lenses. But much like the Samsung NX1 that Marco is suggesting in another comment, I can’t get one here – nobody sells them because nobody is buying or requesting them. I’m headed to Japan this morning, and undoubtedly will find one or two to play with at one of the camera stores there.

  28. Hear hear. Well put.

  29. Ming – Great mention of this thread on the Digital Photography Review landing page. Nicely done and great insight. Thanks and thanks for the Instagram follow. –Scott Woodhall

    • Thanks Scott, but not so great at all. Anything that hits DPR tends to also bring out the abusive troll element who worship their cameras and defend them religiously instead of photographing with them…

  30. I find so many of your articles timely. It seems such a crying shame that veteran camera manufacturers ignore the desires of their most educated consumers, including the professional users. Of course, the generic cameras are for the mass market and their development should follow a different production dynamic. However, the flagship cameras are where the manufacturers are suppose to be able to strut their engineering, ergonomic, and functional expertise. How can they consistently miss key features when they have a world body of serious users, many of whom are ready with salient suggestions?

    At the moment I am seeking a three system solution: a high end DSLR system, a compact mirrorless system, and a take-anywhere camera body with lens. If I can get a compact high quality, high resolution mirrorless system I can drop the take-anywhere camera body with lens altogether. If I can get a high quality, high resolution mirrorless system that can replace a high end DSLR system, that would be incredible.

    • I think it’s because they’re too busy listening to the noisy pigeons in the DPR forums…or not listing at all.

      Your problem/solution is the same as what most of us are looking for – I can’t help come to the conclusion after a lot of experimentation that we’re better off with smaller, slower lenses for the DSLR to fill the compact role – e.g. a couple of f1.8 primes instead of the f2.8 pro zooms. In the end, the weight is going to be not far off ‘good’ mirrorless anyway; what we save on the body is going to bite us in other ways. M4/3 pro zooms are pretty large/heavy; Sony lenses are not much smaller than their DSLR counterparts (and you’re going to require a lot of weight in batteries); Leica is expensive and also heavy. My solution at the moment is now a D5500…

  31. I agree with your wish list but for me as an amateur shooter most things are nice to have (non-essential) or very personal (ergonomics/haptics/menu structure).
    you are also asking for things that a lot of DSLR’s also still lack.

    For me it’s still not either/or. EVF mirrorless shine in some areas while OVF DSLR’s in other. There is still not one camera that can do it all (or both). That’s why I own and use both

    • That was the point: I’m asking for mirrorless to pick up the things that DSLRs got right, because DSLRs are not the solution to so many things for so many reasons (focus precision, for starters).

  32. I think the cameras that come closest to your specs are the Sony SLT models A77II and A99. Although they have a mirror, this is only used to feed the AF module; the rest of the camera works like a mirrorless. Ken Rockwell ‘s statement of SLT being “a mirrorless camera with a beamsplitter for the AF” is spot on.

  33. I feel somewhat conflicted by this article. I too have spent the past decade and more in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction with my cameras for one reason or another but I think this can, to some extent, be attributed to the fact that we are living in a period of very rapid teachnological development coupled with the efforts of hugely creative and innovative engineering teams working for camera companies not traditionally associated with camera production.

    Nikon and Canon have largely sat on their hands for the past thirty years. The Canon EOS 1 I owned in the early 1990’s is basically the same camera as the full frame Canon DSLR’s of today barring the replacement of a film compartment with a digital sensor. Pentax have made no significant innovations. Minolta has basically disappeared and lives on only as a side line in the Sony arsenal. The real innovator in the last days of film cameras was Contax and that’s gone too.

    So who has been at the core of all this fantastic innovation? Olympus and Panasonic and Sony and, to a lesser extent, Fuji. Of these, only Olympus has a proper heritage as a major player in the 35mm camera industry but not really since the mid 1980’s. Four thirds was poo-pooed by many when it was introduced but it has survived, flourished even and driven the industry in a direction that it may well have followed eventually but nothing like as quickly as it has if we’d been reliant on the big players to take the lead. So I forgive the inadequacies of all of the cameras you list.

    All of the cameras I have owned in the past three years have been vastly better than the cameras I owned six years ago, and those were better than the preceding ones. Three years ago, I owned an Olympus EM5, but sold it because of the shutter shock problems. Two years ago I owned a Ricoh GR, but I sold it because, as a middle aged man I need a viewfinder (this in spite of it being the very best carry anywhere camera I’ve ever used). And this year I sold my Fuji X100T because of the chronic field curvature of the pancake lens. I loved all of these cameras, enjoyed using them and took some decent photos. I am currently weighing up the possibility of buying a Sony RX1R II or Leica Q. Both of these camera have flaws. But if I wait for the perfect camera, I may well be dead before it arrives.

    Martin

    • I feel your frustration and hope, Martin. We are close enough that there are really no excuses – the only thing to do now is either manufacture a camera (working on it, but for the sensor challenge) or be as vocal as possible about what’s missing.

      • raphael lombardo says:

        Today I have landed my 4×5′ to one of my friends and had the felling that I was missing something… The beauty of composing, thinking and waiting for the right moment before shooting!!! I had a friend who told m yesterday that she did not choose her wedding photos yet because… she has to go thru 2500 shots!!!!! I own a 5dm3 and would like to buy an A7 series to go back to all my prime “manual” lenses from Minolta Rokkor (such as 28 f2 – 35 f1,7 – 58 f1,2 etc) so to have the feeling of controlling my image, take the time to focus, compose and think before the “click”…

        • But we have that – not with all cameras, because it feels like we are operating checklists with some, but many of them still give that feeling.

          That said, a lot of clients are expecting 2500 shots…

  34. Real Product Designer says:

    Ming, I think you may have lost me with this post. Aren’t you the guy who has been preaching for years that the photographer is what matters, and the camera is just a tool? Didn’t you just run a series about how a cheap, old point & shoot allowed you to take spectacular photos? Also, have you ever tried to design a product? Do you have any idea of how hard it is, how many challenging tradeoffs these teams have to make, the time & budget pressures they are under? Are you so arrogant that you think that you could design a better camera than the teams at these companies? I’m sorry, but as a creative person you should know better.

    • Do you use any of these products under the manufactures’ claimed performance envelopes to make a living and then find they let you down? Do you or have you consulted for any camera companies? For your information: yes, I actually have designed products and had to work with realities of time and budget. And I’m offering advice from a target market/ user standpoint, not telling them how to do the engineering. I’m not even asking for anything that hasn’t already been done. I’m not dependent on the tool but it also doesn’t mean I can’t do more with better tools.

      Are you so arrogant as to hide behind an anonymous ‘real product designer’ handle and then think that your experience in the field is dictates the entirety of your customers’ needs? Do you even talk to your end users? Do you think the current products are the best that can be made, knowing that preferable solutions already exist and weren’t included? Do you even care about making something that fulfils the objectives, or do you think that ‘time and budget’ are adequate excuses? It’s ironic since pushing that time and budget is going to result in something that doesn’t sell as well as it should, meaning even less time and budget to recover from a bigger gap next time. Judging by the number of people who agree with me in this post, I’d say as a designer, you should know better. And it’s no wonder we’re stuck with the poor compromises we have now.

      • He sounds more like an engineer or product manager, than a product designer. Obviously budgets are often constraints on what goes into final products. Availability of components is something I ran up against working with a start-up for the first half of this year, and I’m not so sure that camera will ever make it to final production. At the lower end, somehow GoPro found an entire market niche, despite not having the corporate culture that so many established players have worked under for decades. Using any argument along the lines of “that’s how corporate culture works”, simply highlights how vast the problems are at the entrenched camera makers.

        We can work with any tools, and still want better tools. Sometimes limitations take away distractions, but other times they cause frustration. We can also see what amateurs and enthusiasts use, and know those purchases make limited production professional tools possible, which means we care about the industry as a whole. Instead of brushing aside the criticisms of professionals, companies could learn a few things from us.

        • In this situation, you can even forget about components: many of the things on the list are also simple firmware behaviours, and they are my number one complaint in any review. Silly options or lack of customisation or illogical software behaviour doesn’t require components; it requires the engineers to listen to the people using them. Coding a button to do something else (that another button can already be set to do) is not rocket science!

          • Definitely agree with you there. It’s almost like the engineers never use smartphones, and only use computers loaded with Windows 98. Cascading menus are a complete cluster____. I’ve now seen three pros, who are friends of mine with years of experience, have their new Sony cameras lock up due to some conflicting menu settings. In other manufacturers, when we see firmware improve autofocus, it suggests products that were rushed to market. There are also quality control issues, which definitely cost manufacturers dearly to fix later.

            • But everybody knows the Sony cameras are perfect! It must be the people using them. :p

              Mine doesn’t lock up due to conflicts, but it can sometimes make inexplicably long pauses in operation. Usually when you least expect or desire it…

    • Being a good photographer that can make a good photo from any old camera is a separate issue than designing a camera that is good to use: the existence of one does not preclude the need for the other. Just because Ayrton Senna could drive the wheels off a Honda Civic doesn’t mean a BMW has no reason to exist.

    • Sean Quigley says:

      As a former real product designer (Hi end HI FI) myself and Pro photographer, you RPD should know better, freedom to complain is what drives products forward and market choice and market choice is the reason you exist at all, or we would all still be using box brownies.

    • I am with Real Product Designer on this one. This post is just pure fantasy. Design is littered with compromise. Some functions may be exclusive of another, at least at this current stage of its development. Take IBIS for example on the Olympus cameras, its probably the best available, but it cannot support 4K video at this time, because it doesn’t allow heat from the sensor to disperse efficiently. I’m sorry but this post sounds like one of those TV shows about teenagers with really rich parents, throwing a tantrum about why Beyonce can’t perform at their Birthday party. What Ming wants is a no compromise camera. Sure it’s “possible”, but not everyone needs all of those functions and not everyone can afford them.

      • No, I want a camera that’s actually been tested by people who use them. If you read anything else I’ve written, you’ll find that most of the shortcomings are small and almost always fixable via firmware: enabling behaviour of one button or adding a menu option or exposure compensation to a dial does not require a redesign!

      • If it is truly beyond the realm of product cycles to make current issues less of a problem, then the camera manufacturers need to severly downsize. Camera sales have fallen off a cliff this year. That cycle will not change by doing more of the same things.

        • Not just cameras. It boggles the mind how many people expect a different outcome from the same actions; I saw this all the time in corporate and sadly amongst my clients these days too.

    • This sounds too much like a whine. You may be a small cog in a large machine of compromised camera design, and under pressure, but that does not mean that more effort to get fundamentally basic things right should not be encouraged. We as users are constantly frustrated by bad and compromised design where simple and necessary adjustments are poorly conceived and thought out. Most of it, I suggest, is because you are too arrogant to ask the advice of photographers and too arrogant to implement what you do hear. If you are not a comitted photographer with a great deal of field experience, then get and listen to the advice of those that are. If you can’t be bothered to do that simple thing then you will keep on designing half-assed cameras.

  35. Frank Murphy says:

    In addition to better AF tracking, I wish that when I adapt an old lens onto my Olympus, that it would note the focal length that I put into the IBIS setting. I like to look at this kind of info to understand what I’ve done, and I’ve entered it even!

    • The camera has no way of knowing that with a non-electronic lenses unless you enter it yourself.

      • Frank Murphy says:

        Right. But I DO enter it. When you go into the IS section with a non-native lens mounted, you scroll and set the focal length. (If you don’t, the IS effect can be kind of trippy.)

  36. Built-in L bracket? YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Sadly…we just have to deal with generic brackets for now (i.e. rotation with heavy lenses) or have a drawer full of camera-specific brackets that become useless pretty quickly…

  37. “Sorry, no intention to. 35mm is of no use to me, reviews of Sony products generate nothing but trolls and fanboy hate mail. They waste otherwise productive time, and I have to buy every Sony product I review – which effectively means paying to be abused. Unlike other ‘reviewers’, I’m not on anybody’s payroll and make a living through selling images, not ‘reviews’.”

    This is very sad to read. Is there something about Sony fans that makes some of them hypersensitive and defensive? How can anyone get abusively defensive about their camera product, whatever the brand?

    • I have no idea. Dr. PL’s theory is that it’s because they have no output to defend perhaps?

      • Patric Gordon says:

        Perhaps, Just Perhaps, Misery loves company and if Sony doesn’t listen to them, Let’s argue with Ming.
        And as was said about the month of March, “In like a lion, out like a lamb”.
        Sony folks seem so fired up about their new whatever camera and limp back to the traditional dslr’s
        for reasons they’ll never admit to.

    • Sean Quigley says:

      Fanboys is a modern disease sadly, but it is in everything in life these days and worse is accusing a balanced argument that that person is a Fanboy, which today is a pretty derogatory remark, aimed at deflecting in some cases good positive views.

  38. I still think that a well placed Canikon is going to sweep the floor with all these others when they decide to make a full-frame move, provided they remember the word ‘small’.

    • I agree – though there’s a limit to size that begins to impact ergonomics though. The Sony cameras are at the very lower limit of that; physics dictates FF lenses will have to be FF-sized still.

  39. “If I’m coming across as cynical and critical, well, that’s because right now, I am. We have collectively spent a lot of money on product that a) doesn’t really work properly, and b) been vocal (at least I know I have) about simple fixes that would make life a lot easier – many of which are just a few lines of code to add extra button assignments or change default behaviours. I don’t know about you, but if I’m handing over a lot of hard-earned cash for something, I at least expect it to do what it says on the box.”

    YES! Exactly. The main problem seems to be camera designers who are not photographers and do not even recognize the 4 controls that need to be adjustable in an ergonomically effective way – aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation and ISO control. It is not rocket science, and these will remain the 4 basic controls, at least for the foreseeable future, if maximum user control is to be supported. Just to take two examples from the typically ergonomically effective Leica stable. The early Ms had no way to easily adjust ISO. Thousands complained that they needed this, but no, of course, Leica designers knew better – at least until they didn’t and fixed it. Now with the SL, a camera designed from the ground up, they have not provided an intuitive and fast way to make exposure compensation, and as for that design-over-function Bauhaus grip!. Why are the designers just so stubborn and stupid? And as for Sony …

    • …let’s not get started 🙂

    • I like how you start by griping about how cameras need to have direct controls for Aperture, Shutter, Exp Comp and ISO, rant about Leica for a while then end on ‘And as for Sony…’

      You know the Sony’s in question have dials for each of those things right?

  40. Sean Quigley says:

    I feel the key thing here is, yes the technology is all available right now,
    but 2 things come to mind.

    1. Sony as clear leader has been completely caught out with the demand and did not really understand the full implication of their concept to the point that mark 2 has some drawbacks, having said that Sony’s response in truth has been excellent and fast, this brings positives and negatives (High depreciation of previous model).

    2. The opposite from too rapid evolvement, if it was close to perfect, where would Sony go with M3 let alone M4?
    MP is not really going to go much higher as lens will reach max resolution as some already have.

    Excepting 2 potential problems depending on your use as already established, 1 = buffer bottleneck = M3 and 2 = maybe new compression (Lossless, full14 bit) this may also mean M3. I hope not, I am surprised at the amount of artifacts showing up in my old raw files.
    Some minor areas can be improved, we can say that about every camera ever made period.
    Overall, we are mirrorless wise, in pretty good shape in truth.

    • #2: if it was close to perfect with current technology, they’d buy themselves breathing room of two or even three of their current product cycles to develop a genuine leap forward.

      • Sean Quigley says:

        I know yours is faulty but the camera is still a big leap forward, but as we know can be improved as we have stated.
        Sony if they sort through firmware updates the items we have listed would secure a huge second body market that I am sure is just waaiting to see Sony’s ongoing actions, re supporting the camera, it seems we have enough everyday lenses, still need shift lenses native that is.
        Hopefully Sony notices this blog and sorts your camera and the updates to this one.

        • I’m not even sure mine is faulty anymore – the other two I just handled at different stores react the same way.

          Sony may notice, but does not care or respond to any communication. An example: I requested an original RX1 to review. No reply for a year. I then requested the RX1R – they told me at that point I was still on the list for the original one (not available) so they couldn’t lend me the new one. Apparently every magazine in Malaysia comes first because they are willing to just regurgitate the press release instead of actually review the thing.

          Oh, and there was the time they called me: ‘we’d like you to review, blog and use the A6000 and kit lens. We expect three posts, twenty images a week and for you to host three full workshops and speak at five events. In return, we’ll loan you the camera for a month’. That’s Sony.

          • Sean Quigley says:

            All I can say is somtimes companies get too big, that they have no idea what is going on, not to mention to many names in the photographic industry.
            As far as your copy goes it seems to be indicating quite a loose tolerance in the speed of operation, sadly.

            • I seriously wonder if there are some specific settings that are causing it – but the problem is there are so many and so many possible combinations, it’s impossible to nail down.

              • Sean Quigley says:

                I have thought the same, perhaps we can arrange a compare of settings perhaps a video exchange and we could test each others settings. you have my email in your system if you want to this private.

  41. Alex Dodis says:

    Classifying myself as a demanding leisure photographer, I find my need in a mirrorless camera is for it to either (1) adapt easily to my laziness and take control by simply “getting out of the way”, or (2) allow me to be obsessive with shooting control when I’m in the mood for really working hard on a shot, or (3) allow me to experiment and just have fun exploring new features and discovering if they are anything more than a gimmick for me. Accordingly, these are the priorities of high-volume camera manufacturers in order to maximize sales/profitability goals, unless they are smaller volume manufacturers that produce niche products and then they can trim down the features list and the controls and buttons accordingly. Its no wonder with all the features and parameters to play with that no product can cater to all needs, although some try; how can you cram all them into a small device before it becomes a Pandora’s box? Consider that for the consumer it takes great effort to appraise if a camera’s features/price value meets their actual personal needs and priorities and not somebody else’s conception of the perfect camera. Additionally, for the more seasoned users there is the dilemma of why must the design be so different from that “old” model I learned the basics on, and worked just fine back then. In my opinion, therefore, the list of features and specs of the “perfect” mirrorless camera can only exist in the eye of the beholder!

    • We’re not asking for something that doesn’t already exist: SLR products are mature and generally well thought out with few foibles. But mirrorless are not – even from the same manufacturer! There is NO excuse for this.

      • Maybe my logic is flawed, but how about sticking an EVF in an existing DSLR and removing the mirror? Or is it the EVF lag and on sensor focusing points that’s causing the sluggishness issues? Understanding the deeper technical aspects of this is well beyond my double digit IQ.

        • That was the idea. The sluggishness isn’t the EVF lag; that’s nonexistent in the Oly M4/3 cameras and Q.

          • It’s odd that Sony haven’t dumped the present A7-series design (‘orrible in my past year of experience with it) and made an alternative A77II in E-mount/EVF form, an E77II if you like, full or crop frame. That would be spot on. Handling and AF sorted, just needs a Pentax-like UI. They seem to be making work for themselves when the work is already done.

            • I agree.

              • It seems odd then that E-mount even exists. Sony have managed to really alienate their existing A-mount user base by pushing these little compromised A7 series things and not producing a new A-mount professional grade camera, which . . . could have been an A-mount DSLR, but without the mirror and an EVF instead whilst retaining all the other good stuff like superior AF and handling.

      • That surely depends on how you look at things. You state things as fact, but it is merely your subjective opinion. I shoot D800e and Gh4 and I find D800e really falls short on several points and increasingly so (and it is not solved in newer models).
        – Why is there no EVF. I don’t need second screen on top of my cam, I can see everything in the EVF
        – The EVF gives me a much better idea of how the final picture will look than any OVF will. Sure, I get that with experience we all figure it out but basically an EVF is more accurate (surely the latest EVFs)
        – Front back focussing issues are non existant on the GH4. I have seen them in the D7000, the D7100 and the D800e had them too.
        – Video is increasingly important and good video I mean. For parties, for weddings for birtdays etc. 4K video on a DSLR? Nope. Not there while more than a year already available on said GH4.
        – IBIS? I mean really good IBIS you would really like to have on a 36 MP FF sensor for instance? No, not in DLSR land.
        – Electronic shutters than can be used always, in any setting? No. D810 has first curtain shutter which can be used in some settings but not always. Unlike Oly for instance.

        There are many other things mirrorless cams have that DSLRs don’t (but could). I think a lot of this depends where yo come from, what is your basis. When you started out with DSLRs and are used to work with it, it is probably where you ar earguing from. If you are used to mirrorless however, DSLRs lack some things that make you scratch yoru head.

        Just my thoughts and experience.

        • I’m not disagreeing with your points on EVFs or focusing – that is precisely why this post exists; mirrorless represents the future for many reasons. The point is there are ergonomic solutions within the current crop of DSLRs that mirrorless would seriously be improved by – rather than reinventing the wheel…

          FYI, Pentax DSLRs have IBIS. The D810’s electronic curtain works all the time in live view, as does the 5DSR and several other models.

          • Hi,

            Thx for your reply. What ergonomicsdo you mean? I leave D800e and its lenses at home when I want to go for longer walks. Because of ergonomics. The thing becomes a drag and if you ant to get the most out of it, you need a tripod to my mind. The grip on the GH4 is great for a guy about 6Feet tall at least. The EVF is nice and comfy, no eyestrain. But Ithink you mena something different.

            Pentax has no FF with IBIS yet.

            What I read above was: here are a load of mirrorless cams and theu all have flaws. So they cannot replace my DSLRs yet and they could because technology is there,just not implemented for no good reasons”. I guess that summs it up well, if not I will hear from you.

            But we can do that with DSLRs simply as easy.

            – Canon DSLRs: lacking sensors which stood still when it comes to low ISO noise and Dynamic range, fallingback in the video department, many have small OVFs and none have an EVF so we don;t see what the sensor sees. Lots of lenses lack stabilsation and there is none on the cams either. Detrimental especially on the latest 50 MP sensor FF cams, you ‘ll need a tripod more than you bargained for. Back and front focussing issues due to the use PDAF exclusively through the OVF. Hampered Livemodes compared to mirrorless cams.

            Silent shooting is impossible at least through the EVF.

            Same is true for Nikon bar the sensors. Pentax DSLRs has the IBIS but sitlll much of the lacks FFs and lens lineup not as good as Nikon plus Canon.

            – Which DSLRs are suitable for drones? Very few: to big, too heavy, too cumbersome.

            – Silent shooting at gatherings that demand silence or silent moments (weddings, opera’s, funerals, theatre etc)…Through an OVF I think this is very rare if not impossible. That mirror will slam. You will not like to be noticed, but it will happen.

            – CDAF was a downside in 2009, okey for stills in 2012 and now either the combination OSPDAF+ CDAF or pure CDAF (Panasonic) has caught up. While delivering a clear advantage when it comes to video. You should visit one a video orientated mess. Canon al around in 2010 or so. Now….that has compeltely changed. Now you see GH4 and Sony A7S. They have completely taken over. And it is not only 4K.

            – And what kind of dslr are we going to use for drones? TYhat is strongly upcoming too. I know some professionals, like hte BBC, using Panasonic GH2 and later GH4. I remember a drone maker coming up with a m43 based, mirrorless cam too. If others have 4K video undoubtedly these will be a viable choice too. But DSLRs?

            It can be easily argued that DSLRs simply cannot deliver all we want in a good way. They fall short and progressively so as the needs of the users/customers are changing. A cam like a GH4, NX1 or A7II can do it all. Professional action is still outside the range of these but other than that….

            It simply depends what your needs are.

            • ‘Ergonomics’ refers to a balance of comfort, responsiveness and controls. That also depends on the size of lenses you’re using, and personal preferences/biases.

              The point was that mirrorless is the future for many reasons – I’m not disagreeing with this – but there are some really inexcusable handling and operational limitations that have already been solved – so why are we still getting half baked products?

              • Hai Ming,

                We agree things are not ideal and mirrorless are the future. We may say that mirrorless themselves are an answer to “problems” DSLRs posed and that would be mainly size and weight especially in the case of m43s vs 43s (in which Oly 43 cams simply did not deliver any substantial advantage over APS-c counterparts). They are also an answer to the limitations DSLRs posed when it came to upcoming needs of people. Live view, first intrdouced by Olly, was known to be much better with no mirror in the way. Live view was much needed for vieo especially. The EVF is another thing that does what no OVF can do.
                Especially Panasonic, Sony and Samsung now have systems that are geared to photo and video. Both are excecuted treated as equals and that is not an will never be so with DSLRs. The only downside the GH4 has to my mind (and that is what I miss in your arguments) is studio work. The lightingsystems are not there. You can do it, but not to the degree good DSLRs can. And GH4 misses firstcurtain electronic shutter. But other than that…I can’t find anything wrong with it. The IQ is very gpod, the grip is excellent, the batterylife is so much better than any other mirrorless I have ever used, the EVF is brilliant, the focussing speed is great and it is such a huge step up in the actionshooting department. It is no D4. No. But then most DSLRs are no D4s either. But it is simply really good at every thing you throw at it for focussing with the right lens. I noted the GH4 did not do it for you on a very subjective level which is fine. But objectively I wonder what its downsides are. Hmmm…may the body is large (but 4K needs space to cool) but some serious shooters will buy lenses and that easily makes a significant difference.

                When we look at Olympus. Now I have to tell you that I dislike the menusystem a lot. Really how bad can a design be. But when you look at the possibilities in it and loo at f.e EM5MarkII. HiRes mode shows somuch promise, that if it is true that next iteration in Em1 MarkII will be handheld at 1/80s we have a 50 MP image, not hampered by Bayer limitations that will rival a 645z (because that is what the current HiRes mode already does). if not surpass it. Not ethat Oly has sai it will be usable for action shooting too in the near future. How come no DSLR maufacturer has ever made this? This is not new techniology at all.
                Now that is the near future, but we can look at other things Olympus made available in the new firmware for this cam. I won’t get into details but it is so nice for a photographer it makes DSLRs look archaic. At least to my mind. I love the live composition mode. Do some lighting shooting, some aurora shooting or whatever that can take ling exposures (and cause the image to be overblown). You can see it develop every 0,5 s or every second etc. And excecute when the image is to your liking.

                Finally I feel by grouping DSLRs together and then take quite a number of mirrorless to the othert side and than compare is simply missing the specifics of DSLRs. These are not homogenous. I know quite a few that are no good fro AF tracking (PEntax), that suffer from shuttershock, that can’t do video anywhere decent, that stabilsation even with some of their best lenses on. Etc.

                Yes, I wish we could get the perfect cam but I realise perfection means something different per individual. To me mirrorless cams are not perfect, but they are far more perfect han any DSLR ever was.

                Finally: thanks for your response, the article which is a very nice start of a debate and still addresses some valid points.

                Gov

  42. Mirrorless or not, are we asking the right question? What we seek is light weight, comapactness, replaceable lenses, sensor resolution, ISO sensitivity, high quality glass at lowest possible cost, and so on, and on. The Leica range-finder offered replaceable lenses on a lightweight compact body. Nikon FM SLR offered in many ways the same, the only idifference, the SLR allowed you to see eactly the same as was captured. That is a good thing, but the range-finder solution was not that bad, for the types of shots you made with the light weight compact. In my opinion the functional requirement is not about a mirror or not? Its about user friendliness, pricetag, performance, versatility, … or???

    • The fundamental premise behind removing the mirror or RF is a) reducing complexity and b) showing more accurately what you’re going to get, especially with regards to critical focus and high resolution. Optical systems aren’t really going to cut it – certainly not at the price points dictated by the tolerances required to use them accurately. An EVF is cheaper – much cheaper – than a good optical finder. There’s no excuse for mirrorless to not be as responsive or mature as DSLRs – the technology already exists.

  43. Gerner Christensen says:

    Ming honestly congrats for your thoughts on mirrorless and our missing cigar. I can’t help thinking how much you ‘click’ with your readers perception of the status of development. A status that I think is very much needed, and in time, in a world that is technology driven. Have the darn manufacturers forgot about so many of us and our needs? Not completely I think. There are really many good examples here on the comments window that it’s not the case and unfortunately also some that proves they are not in a good grip with their users.
    I would wish some R&D people, marketing guys as well, CEO’s you are welcome, would read carefully on this article since this is where they will find tomorrow’s mirrorless spec’s for their next iteration. Industry: Please listen here !

  44. You’ve covered all the ground very well. Well done and hope the manufacturers pay attention to your list. I particularly concur on making EFCS standard–one reason for me not buying Panasonic cameras. I also think the dual-top-wheel control on Em10, Em5II are exceptionally well done examples for control ergonomics, esp for exposure compensation including highlight/shadow. And for reviewing.
    The only thing I’d like to add is that while good grip is important, for smaller cameras one way to create similar effect w/o the bulk is to have a more substantial thumb pad than all the current offering ( no need to protrude beyond often very thick eye pad for EVF). Beefy grips create a sense of “hold” instead of “pinch”, the former feels more secure psychologically. The sense “Hold” is from the wider gap between bent thumb and the other four fingers– wider gap can also be achieved when thumb rests on a thicker pad. Hope more manufacturers will explore this possibility.

    • Thank you.

    • Frank Murphy says:

      I really like the thumb pad on the Olympus EM-10. It makes it feel secure with a pinch. I often have a wrist strap and feel super secure with it in my hand, at least with the smaller lenses. (I don’t have any of the big 2.8 zooms.)

      • You’ll see from this ” http://camerasize.com/compact/#629,521,633,620,594,ha, ” that EM10 II and EM5 II have increasingly larger thumb pad, compared w EM10 while the other manufacturers haven’t realized its importance and just put a tiny thing there. Oly is moving in the right direction and leading the pack. Still it needs to be bigger AND has a better contour to let the thumb rest w better pressure, so there is a stronger counter force from the other fingers, which will help balancing heavier lenses.

  45. Since we are asking for useful features, how about programming interface. Ability to:
    – write my own auto ISO behavior. I may want different ISO ceiling for single shot or continuous mode. Or 1/fl for less than 90mm but 1/(2xfl) for more than 90mm. Low ISO ceiling in day time (by sensing light) vs high in night time. The possibilities are endless.
    – If MF lens attached then it should default to A priority mode.
    – Assign functions to generic buttons/scroll wheels. Write now it is done by menu but with a programming interface it will be easiest.
    – Scripting for timelapse, motion detect, auto exposure bracketing.
    – ….

    These can be programmed by writing scripts in a profile which can be activated by turning a dial (or through menu). We can also exchange these profiles between different cameras. In some form these already exist (see Canon CHDK hack) and it is just a matter of opening it up.

    It seems I am the only one asking for this !!

    • Martin Fritter says:

      Yes and how about publishing an emulator that could run on an actual computer (you know, with a keyboard). Such things exist for developing code for mobile devices and so on. You could develop your preferred configuration(s) and download them via usb or a card. Scripting would be great – in something open-source, like python.

      Alternately the camera developers could publish APIs for the development of plug-ins.

      FWIW, the UI on my Alpha 7 is stupid and annoying. I have the first generation and it’s auto ISO is brain dead. Manual focus is not nearly as good as it should be. Why not something simple, like a split screen focus patch? Even though the EVF is pretty good, I still feel like I’m looking at a (bad) video game.

    • I think because few of us have the programming skills…

      • Martin Fritter says:

        Sure, but done right people could either license them or share them, like LR or PS plug-ins. It would build loyalty and be fun.

        An aside: you can get Capture One for Sony for $50 in the US. Much more elegant than the Adobe stuff, although there are some rough edges and the ancillary training/video third party stuff is thin. Seems to do a nicer job with the Sony raw files than Adobe.

  46. Analogue Guy says:

    Another gear post, gets 200+ comments while the posts on the art of photography languish down in the ’30s if even that. I guess gear is far more interesting and far more important than what is actually done with it.

    I’m now starting year 3 without buying a single piece of gear and have never, ever been more pleased with my work. The incredible freedom one gets from stepping out of the rat race of incessant gear whining is truly a marvel. The very few whom I have met who have done the same thing report the same results: far better results, dramatically lower costs, much lower stress levels.

    • This is the point I’ve been trying to make in previous articles. However, the people want bread and circuses. What can you do?

    • D. Garlans says:

      You’re totally right, but in some ways that actually highlights exactly why Ming’s discussion is important. Camera technology has been so advanced and so high quality for so long, that it is absolutely baffling and unbelievable that new products are being released with problems and flaws that were resolved 2, 5, or 10 years ago or more.

      It’d be like Windows 10 suffering from y2k, or the next 2017 Ford using the Pinto deathtrap gas tank, or your next pair of glasses being made of actual glass just waiting to stab you in the face if you get hit. Or your new LCD big screen TV having a v-hold knob on it. Or the fdiv bug coming back on the next i7 cpu. These are all solved problems, so why on earth do camera manufacturers forget about how to make a decent camera?

    • I agree completely, “incessant gear whining”. I started year three a few months ago…

  47. Your article highlights rather well what I think of the camera industry in general : sometimes, excellent engineering (not always), but, always, invariably, very incompetent design. Just a few comments on some of the points you made :

    “Haptics/ergonomics/ responsiveness
    – Customizable menus and shortcuts – with no arbitrary limitation on assignable functions. Olympus gets this right, Sony is close.”
    In addition to this I’d like manufacturers to further develop the concept of what pressing a button means. Sometimes, settings are best set by toggling controls, others by pressing and turning an dial, etc. What I’d like to see is a camera that separates the behaviour of the button itself from the function it performs, and also allows to control several pre-recorded settings while pressing the same button. Canon’s button customisation has made great strides in that area in the last few years (and they say Canon doesn’t innovate…).

    “- Direct exposure adjustments (user selectable) on wheels with adjustable directions – not hard settings because you cannot change rotation direction. Again, Olympus and Sony get this right.
    – Fully customisable auto-ISO with minimum and maximum sensitivity and shutter speed thresholds, including 1/FL or 1/2FL for zooms etc. (Nikon gets this right)”
    I’d like camera manufacturers to completely rethink, from the ground up, what “exposure controls” mean in the digital age. It isn’t just about incompetently designed auto ISO implementations. For example, why is the minimum shutter speed option tucked away in the auto ISO settings and not an integral part of the exposure controls – for example, why can’t I assign this function to a dial ? Why is it that we still have to make two with only two programmable dials on most cameras ? Is the PASM dial still relevant today ? What is the conceptual meaning of ISO in the age of ISO-invariant sensors ? Etc… Phase One’s XF body seems to take some timid steps in that direction.

    “- Power switch around the shutter button for quick access and single action to be ready to shoot: Q, Sony.”
    I think any control around the shutter release is prime real estate as far as controls go, and since I have a very different vision about power management in cameras I’d like it to be used for something else. See below in power management.

    “- Deliberate action (either right friction or interlocks) required to move controls. Nothing to catch on coats/bags/etc.”
    I think that 99% of locks designs out there are very unimaginative solutions to problems that shouldn’t exist in the first place if dials and bodies are properly designed. In addition to having the right friction, I think dials also need to be properly located, and possibly partially sunk. Some lock designs are very clever (like the Leica R8’s metering lever lock, because the lock is operated by the same finger as the one that moves the lever, and yet still preserves what is the fundamental raison d’être of a lock, that is to say a necessary actuation in a perpendicular orientation relative to the main control that is to be locked), but they’re few and far between.

    I’ll also add in this category straps design. I mean, WHAT THE HELL ? Why is it still so hard to have proper hand straps on our cameras ? Why do I need to use an arca plate to be able to attach a strap on the bottom of the grip ? Why do we still have to make due with awful strap lug designs that were, maybe, just maybe, acceptable in the 80s, but certainly not today ?
    There’s been some good ideas lately. For example, Phase One has understood that it would be nice to have a strap lug on the bottom right of the grip. And I quite like Leica’s finger straps. But from main camera manufacturers ? Nope, still the same old tired, annoying, and completely inadequate straps designs.

    “Autofocus
    – Direct focus point selection with quick reset-to-centre or preselected point; the SL’s joystick is perfect here”
    I’ll go further than this : Canon’s 1DX, 7DII and 5DS(R)’s AF controls are much more potent than anything else out there. For example, you can use different AF settings when pressing different buttons assigned to AF-ON. So I’d like mirrorless manufacturers to have much more ambition than just having direct AF point selection.

    “Live view/ EVF
    – An ETTR metering option that exposes until a certain percentage area of the frame clips (settable by the user).”
    Agreed. I’ll add that I’d like the option to limit the quantity of potential negative bias (useful for cameras with a limited, non-linear dynamic range, or with dynamic range “steps”, like on the A7RII), that, of course, it should take into account the minimum shutter speed, and that I’d like it to take into account raw data, like on Phase One’s XF.
    Also, perhaps the algorithm allowing a certain percentage of pixels to clip would have to take into account the spatial distribution of the clipping. There is a difference between clipping a whole area of contiguous pixels and clipping specular highlights on the sea for example.

    “Sensor and image quality”
    Mirrorless cameras, at least with and APS-H sensor diagonal and below, can have a unique competitive advantage against DSLRs : multi-aspect ratios sensors that could take shot from 3:2 vertically to 2.4:1 horizontally (useful for video), finally getting us rid of a major ergonomical issue that we’ve been dealing with for decades : rotating a camera. At least for m43, cost and technical issues are, in fact, non-issues, since the overall area would be equivalent to an APS-C sensor and most m43 lenses don’t have rear baffles.

    “System
    – Lenses with hard infinity stops, or a focus clutch like the Olympus pro lenses. Better still, an ‘AF’ position and an instant override ‘MF’ position like the Q. We recognise that AF isn’t always perfect, but with such precise MF possible, there is no excuse not to make this possible with all lenses – that would also encourage buyers to keep purchasing within the system.”
    With modern lenses, why do we feel the need to have the depth of field scale on the lens ? Particularly when used with bodies with varying MP counts, the DOF indicators aren’t going to be precise at all. The camera’s top, low consumption LCD could be used instead (and is already used just for that in some cameras).
    I can understand, though, the desire for a hard stop at both ends. Perhaps the Leica Q’s approach, with minimum focus, infinity and in between markings, but without the DOF scale, could be used ? In which case I wouldn’t say no to a focus tab as well.
    I certainly do not want, though, to have an OLED screen on my lens (looking at you, Batis !)

    “Power and power management”
    The question I’m going to ask is : why do we still have to turn our camera on or off ? Do we have to turn our smartphone on or off every time we want to send a text message ? What I’d like to see is some really advanced, clever, power management, where there would still be, of course, the ability to turn on or off a camera (and “off” would truly mean “off”, as in “don’t keep the GPS module on”), but it would be the sort of thing you’d do at the beginning or end of the day. That’s essentially why I wouldn’t want the on/off switch around the shutter release, as I think it could be dedicated to something used more frequently.

    • See, this sort of every button is customizable UI is where I kind of vehemently disagree. My ideal is one control = one function. Call me a luddite but to me the simple obvious well labeled controls are the fastest to use: Shutter speed dials, aperture rings, ISO and exposure compensation dials, a mirror lock-up button (okay, we don’t need that for mirrorless). There’s a lot to be said for simplicity of controls on cameras like the Nikon F4, Pentax 645n series, and Leica M series. You can’t get too confused about how the camera is set, or what does this button or dial do, if it’s a one function control, and labeled well. Work with the camera for a couple days, and you know where everything is by heart.

      Customization can be overdone, in my opinion. I still can’t remember which way to turn the back dial on my D800E to increase speed of the shutter and I’ve been using it for over 3 years! Pathetic, eh? The fact that I can customize the dial to increase speed either with counterclockwise or clockwise rotation doesn’t seem to help me, because I actually have to twirl it to see what happens in the finder or on the top LCD. I just can’t remember, though I can switch directions very fast if I choose the wrong direction. A labeled shutter speed dial at least helps, if my isn’t glued to the finder following some active subject, which is rarely the case for me. I can only imagine my greater confusion if I could also choose for that rear dial to be exposure compensation in program mode, shutter speed in manual and shutter priority modes, etc. I’m sure some people can remember all that sort of stuff but not me, and I like to think I’m not senile yet.

      • “The fact that I can customize the dial to increase speed either with counterclockwise or clockwise rotation doesn’t seem to help me, because I actually have to twirl it to see what happens in the finder or on the top LCD. I just can’t remember, though I can switch directions very fast if I choose the wrong direction”

        Well, what you’re saying isn’t necessarily a consequence of programmable dials. It’s entirely feasible to use a low consumption top LCD to display the direction in which to turn the programmable dial (just like, for example, in the iOS’ clock app, you can see the selected value in the middle, and a range of values above and below it – heck, even a + or – either side of the displayed value could do, as long as it corresponds to your finger’s travel across the dial). Only that camera manufacturers don’t do it. Because they haven’t got a clue.

        Nearly all of the advantages I’ve read about concerning labelled dials aren’t, in fact, exclusive to labelled dials, and could very well be carried over to programmable dials with a bit of design thinking.

        • Frans Richard says:

          I’m looking through the viewfinder mostly when turning dials so labelling isn’t going to solve anything in my opinion. I do like the option to customize the dial direction so I can set it to what feels right to me. Programmable controls are great for setting a camera to your personal taste, this should help getting the camera ‘out of your way’ when you go out and use it for what is is meant to do: taking great pictures and having fun doing so!

      • I think the intention would be one control = one function, but you can choose that function. Or have I gokt this wrong?

        • Ming, you’ve used the 5DS R, so I think you’ll be familiar with button customisation functions such as “Switch to registered AF function” or “register/recall shooting function”. Fundamentally it’s quite a novel and unique way (no other manufacturer does this) to approach button customisation since by pressing one button, you can change several settings at will (for example, drive mode, AF point and shutter speed, all at once). In the same way, Canon proposes (like a lot of other manufacturers) several behaviours for the AE-lock button (toggle, AE lock while pressed, AE lock until the metering timer expires). What I’d like is to see both of these ideas combined in a unified UI “language” and expanded upon. When selecting which button to customise, you’d be given a choice of behaviour and then have to select the function you’d like this button to perform. Only that you’d be able to select several of them (if you want to). There are plenty of issues with this, such as finding a UI that keeps it simple to people who would want to only use one function (I think something a little like the world clock in iOS could do – Canon’s approach with the settings above, burying how they’re set behind the “info” button, is, IMO, confusing, and hardly accessible, possibly why so few of the people I’ve met actually use these extremely powerful functions), and, the big one, work out how to deal with illogical or mutually exclusive combinations, but I’m sure that with time these things can be ironed out.

          • That would be nice. Olympus has something similar – you can assign a point or group or specific location to a button – and other cameras remember relative orientation (some Nikons).

  48. Ming, great points on all counts. Hopefully the mirrorless market will continue to innovate and mature.

    I am impressed by how well thought out some of the features are on these cameras. For example, the Panasonic cameras have the ability to not only use the rule of thirds overlay — but to use the touchscreen to redefine the grid lines however you want. This is a feature that 99.9 percent of photographers might care nothing about — but as a painter turned photographer, being able to take control over a composition on a camera’s LCD with the same type of flexibility as if I was painting on canvas is a great thing.

    Similarly, the ability of the Olympus cameras to bracket art filters is amazing. Even if the filters are not one’s cup of tea, getting several interpretations of an image at 5 frames per second opens up all types of creative possibilities.

    By the way, an original (and my personal favorite in the series) Sony Nex 5 goes for about $99; an Olympus Pen PM-1 for $79; and a Panasonic GF2 for $59. Amsel Adams or Gordon Parks could have done great things with any of these.

    Thanks for another great article!

    • We can still do great things with these 🙂 an older model doesn’t stop making great images because a new one is available – it’s our expectations that change.

      • Yup. Agree with all that. But remember that the quirks and work arounds make us take very much more personal images than a unified design/feature set might. No matter how pedestrian it might currently be, I do hate the idea of F1 racing becoming homogenised with a single engine, tyres and other technology sharing.

        So, no matter how much I like your idea, I’m not going to wish too hard – I might get what I want and then regret getting what I asked for in the first place.

        No. Until I can see a reasonable solution, I’ll stick to the oddities my NEX-7 and X-Pro1, lens mount adaptors and shooting with a bevy of decades-old manual lenses. At least I know what I’m going to get and be happy that few other photographers will manage to capture anything similar.

        Best,

      • Which calls to mind the following quote, I think…

        “Photography has not changed since its origin except in its technical aspects, which for me are not important.”
        – Henri Cartier Bresson

        • Not quite true. There are concepts/ ideas we can execute now that would have been impossible even five years ago – surely done well that has some artistic value…

          • High resolution? Photo illustration? Hyper-realism was an art movement in the 1960s.

            I do think some of the lighting gear in the last decade has allowed images that were logistically nearly impossible. Accessibility has improved with smaller gear that is more capable, where in the film past much larger, slower, and heavier gear would’ve been needed. Commercial and some inkjet printing have improved slightly over last two decades, with some more accessible techniques expanding colour range beyond rarely used methods like four colour carbro.

            • And in the 1700s, too. But that wasn’t it necessarily. Focus stacking, for instance: how would you do that with film? View cameras aren’t the solution either if your subject extends irregularly in three dimensions…

              • Focus stacking is an interesting one, and can be used differently than swing and tilt. I thought of another one using lighting, which I’ve seen done in commercial shooting. Multiple images with lighting in slightly different areas, and the many images are merged into a final image. While there were multi-image combinations done in the past, they were rare and somewhat limited.

                • Also true. I dislike composite lighting because the reflections and shadows look unnatural and unfeasible – but there are clients and instances where it makes sense or isn’t so noticeable (or you simply do not have enough lights for the side of a building, for instance). It’s difficult to do the blending without digital fading tools…

        • Reportedly, Cartier-Bresson’s negatives are incredibly variable and often hard to print well, because he really wan’t a great technician. He was a master of timing and composition, but not what shutter speed and aperture to use. He didn’t use a light meter for most of his work. He didn’t do his own development and printing, but still was a master image maker.

  49. Clickbait!

  50. There are times limitations are within reason, despite that they take time to understand. The RF645 is probably the only camera that really gets out of my way, but as great as the ergonomics are on it, the layout is not adaptable to digital. There have been times I’ve wished there was no big LCD on the back of a camera, almost like the Leica M60, though that went just a bit too far. On the Coolpix A, I tend to use the optical finder, and make sure I see the green AF light in the corner of my eye … limited, but it works at times.

    I thought of a few things in this too. Fixed lens means no dust issues, and the lens can be designed more compact. A Leica Q50 would be nearly ideal, except I have a feeling they will bring out a Leica Q-Vario first. I don’t mind traditional controls either, because I can set the things I use the most quickly. Other settings could be in a menu. I’m not too crazy about buttons everywhere either, which is one aspect of some Fuji X Series I don’t much like. There is also the post processing issue, though maybe we will see a solution in the future. At least Fuji update firmware often. Maybe they could add TIFF to image file formats. APS-C for extra depth, which works well with lights, giving extra room over full frame. I wish there were more leaf shutter set-ups (Leica Q50 again 😉 ). Honestly, seeing the Leica SL made me think more that a used Leica S would work better, especially with leaf shutter choices, but that’s a DSLR.

    So at this point in camera evolution, I find myself looking more at portable lighting gear, and sticking with my current set-up. Maybe Nikon goes ahead with that Digital S2 rangefinder-style body, with a high resolution EVF, then I could think about a smaller and lighter overall set-up. Nikon have a habit of waiting and really getting things sorted, though they’ve had some glaringly bad cameras a few times too.

    I did decide to buy one camera this year, though it’s not yet been delivered. It’s mirrorless, has simple and easy to understand controls, great ergonomics, and looks quite stylish. It fits into a jacket pocket, and is incredibly frugal on batteries. Lasers and CNC machines are used during construction, so I know it’s a precision instrument. I’ve never owned, nor used, any camera like it, which is why I ordered one. It’s not without limitations, though I’m hoping it may spur some undiscovered creative ideas. That camera is the Ondu 6×6 Mark II 🙂

    • Good choice Gordon. I am partial to Reality So Subtle’s cameras, especially for the shift capabilities. They too have been partially formed by lasers. 🙂 I have the 6×17, but would like their new 6×6 too. The biggest problem I have is triggering the shutter without causing too much shake, which is a problem when there’s enough light that the exposure is in that danger zone of approximately 0.5 to 2 seconds.

      • Hmm, seems like these pinhole cameras could stand to put the “shutter” on a pivot and use an old-school remote cable release to actuate it. This problem might be just up my geeky industrial designer alley…

      • What about NDs and slowing the exposure time instead?

        • Yes, that is possible, but no threads, so I’d have to hold the filter and release the shutter at the same time. Using a pinhole camera is both very elemental and fiddly at the same time. My favorite part actually is framing up the scene with the sight lines engraved on the camera. There’s something very liberating about not having to look through a viewfinder.

          For a shake-free shutter release, there’s a technique of covering the hole with one hand, opening the shutter with the other, and then taking your hand away. It needs some practice, but works well.

    • A Q Vario might not be a bad thing, actually – especially if they retain the same IS effectiveness and say an f4 but limited range lens.

      Firmware: it shouldn’t need updating at all if they get it right in the first place!

      SL: a used S is definitely cheaper. Better image quality, too. But I think a completely different animal for a different kind of photography.

      • An f2 to f4 Vario may attract my interest, though f2,8 maximum open would not. Maybe a 50mm f2 to 90mm f2,8, then add a Q (wide) body to make the ideal two camera travel set-up.

        Those marketing people and executives making decisions on shorter product development cycles, means camera software is often not sorted. After looking through the latest Google Android Camera API, it really makes me wonder how camera companies are collectively getting this so wrong.

        http://camerasize.com/compact/#625,389.276,639.497,391.362,ga,t

        Hope that link works. Amazing how huge a Leica SL is when compared to a Leica S. Lens size, as we’ve seen with Sony, makes smaller and thin body sizes barely important.

        • Look at the size of the SL’s 24-90/2.8: it’s HUGE! A hypothetical Q Vario would be the same size, because the flange distance and sensor coverage are going to be pretty much the same; I think that would defeat the point entirely and require new ergonomics…back to primes.

    • Yes, the Bronica RF645 has a great ergonomic design, except for the exposure compensation dial moving too easily. I wound up taping mine at zero so it would not wind up getting pegged all the way to either extreme. It needed a lock button like the ISO dial had. But the Exposure comp and ISO controls’ placement could be on the top somewhere on a digital RF645 version (never going to happen). I too prefer traditional controls, and would like multifunctional controls only where they really make sense. So you could have a camera with one dial for both ISO and Exposure Compensation and perhaps other parameters), but with clearly labeled buttons that determine which parameter the dial is adjusting (like the Leica M’s rear dial, but better implemented).

      • I’ve never had that issue with my RF645. There have been some reports of quality control issues on RF645 bodies, so I may be lucky in getting a very solid example. A slight rework of the top deck could make a good layout on digital medium format, though the flange to focal length shortness may be another issue. Cannot imagine what it could cost. Shame that ergonomics rarely appear to influence camera design today.

  51. Helge Aarvik says:

    Ming, would you like to start a camera company with me?

  52. It sounds like from a software and ergonomics point of view, Panasonic does a lot of what you want really well. I noticed that their current high-end cameras tick almost all your boxes. The primary caveat is really granular Auto ISO settings. My GX7 unfortunately doesn’t even have Auto ISO in M, which is shameful, but they’ve improved that in future models…though foolishly they gave the GX8 an EV compensation dial but don’t allow it to work with Auto ISO in M to adjust overall exposure brightness.

    Other than that, though, they really are very nice cameras to use. Far more intuitive for me than the Olympus, and everything that you like about the Q’s manual focus aids were actually implemented first on Panasonic bodies. As you mention, they also allow you to adjust the focus point or magnified section (with picture-in-picture!) using the touch-screen with your eye to the EVF.

    Image quality-wise, it wouldn’t compare with your A7r II, and 4K video unfortunately doesn’t use the IBIS like the E-M5 II (only stabilized in 1080p), but with those exceptions, I suspect you might really like the GX8 from a usability point of view. From my little corner, the GX7 has the best UI of any camera I’ve used, which is why I chose it over the larger sensor competition.

    • Not quite. The GH3/4 had confusing menus, really poor viewfinder optics with edge CA etc. and a big size penalty; those things are the size of a D7200. The GX8 is supposedly a great handler, but for the sensor size – it’s also huge!

      • The GH4 is admittedly huge, though I imagine that’s why it has twice the battery life of any other mirrorless camera…

        The GX8, on the other hand, is near enough to identical in dimensions to the E-M1, only without the protruding EVF hump. I feel like its size is a bit unfairly maligned, at least in comparison to said E-M1.

        • Perhaps it’s the hump vs no hump thing: my impression on handling it was that it was definitely big, and packed big.

          What kind of battery life are we talking for the GH4? 1000+ was pretty normal for me with the E-M1/5/5II.

          • I have shot 4 hour events of almost continuous video on one battery on the GH4. I haven’t yet used it enough for stills to tell but would expect it to be very good based on the video life. I read your GH3 review where you criticized the EVF optics heavily – and I agree – but the GH4’s EVF is greatly improved. In many ways Andrew is right, Panasonic does tick many of your boxes.

  53. Matthew Stone says:

    Great article Ming. Thanks!

    I have 2 Fuji X-T1s. I had a Sony A7R, but didn’t like it. I have a Sony RX1 and love the images, but mine tends to back focus or not acquire focus in questionable lighting conditions. And I simply refuse to carry around the Nikon and Canon bricks of a camera, though I have had both.

    I like the Fuji controls on the top of the camera because they remind me to check all my settings every time I pick up the camera. Some things I don’t like – how the EC dial gets bumped too easily, how the shutter priority settings could have finer adjustments, and how Auto-ISO is not completely customizable. Having said that, overall I think I like the dials.

    My question for you is that you note that the dials force one to shoot using the “film paradigm” and that in a digital world this is limiting. I’m sure that this is true, but I was wondering if you could elaborate on what those limitations are? I’m just not aware on what the differences are since we are controlling essentially the same things – ISO, aperture, SS, and exposure comp. My guess is that you would like settings that are more quasi shutter priority and quasi aperture priority, where the step point changes are a mix between the two, and jumping between modes is faster? Just a guess…

    Thanks!

    • That’s bizzarre – how can a CDAF camera back focus at all? Yet I think you’re not the only one: my A7RII misses focus quite frequently, and usually by a small amount. You’d think this isn’t so hard for the companies to get right.

      I shoot either aperture priority or manual, with auto ISO. The ISO dial isn’t really necessary since 90% of the time it’s in A, and the rest of the time I’m not in a hurry. The shutter speed dial is also mostly redundant. Exposure compensation I’d prefer resets when cycling the power, since it’s both a fast way to reset and easy to know you’re at zero without surprise offsets. That makes all three dials redundant most of the time – that’s space that could be used for other controls like AF mode or LV zoom or auto ISO on/off or other things; it’s also three less controls to accidentally bump. The reality is in fast moving situations, I’d prefer not to be fiddling the dials and taking my eyes away from the finder or changing hand positions – that increases the chances of a missed shot.

      • Matthew Stone says:

        That makes sense. Shooting in manual would be easier without the dials because you have to take the camera away from your eye. I pretty much stick to aperture or shutter priority, and almost always auto-iso (probably 95% of the time). Thx

      • That’s actually quite simple to explain — at least for pure CDAF algorithms, i.e. those that do not know which direction to start focusing. If you notice the typical CDAF algorithm starts by racking focus towards infinity, and if it cannot find any good contrast during that search it will reverse direction and rack back towards minimum focusing distance.

        So if your lens is already focused at somewhere slightly past your subject, and the focusing square has even a tiny bit of background covered, it’s going to completely miss your subject and lock on the background instead. This can also apply for shallow DOF where the plane of focus is already past the nearest eye, then it locks on the further eye (or the sharp outline of the face/hair with the background) instead.

        • True, but I’m seeing it in situations where the camera has racked focus a few times from different directions and settles on often the least contrasty thing in the scene. Who knows, perhaps it’s using a different calculation for contrast to our eyes.

          • I think when it starts racking back and forth around a certain area it’s at its limits where it can’t really find something definite to lock on (common in backlit situations where the DR exceeds the sensor’s limit). And then when it finally shows a green box over an obviously out of focus feature, we know it has either given up or we hit a bug/mistake/error in the algorithm.

            Also some CDAF routines are sensitive towards only certain features (e.g. vertical lines or horizontal contrast).

            • I’ve noticed the latter behaviour too: sometimes tilting the camera helps to get a lock in situations where it previously failed. The other thing I’m now wondering about is if it’s a lack of precision or backlash/slop in the AF drive system itself: maybe the camera asked for the movement, but the motor couldn’t move in a small enough increment. I know this was definitely a problem with body driven lenses and looseness in the geartrain…

  54. david kure says:

    I hope you review the new Sony RX 1 II. The original was flawed with improper programing of the exposure automation system.
    Aways on f/4 @ 1/80 sec and just changed the ISO ! Not useful!

    Thanks for always honestly saying what you found, when reviewing/using a camera. Keep up the good work.

    • Sorry, no intention to. 35mm is of no use to me, reviews of Sony products generate nothing but trolls and fanboy hate mail. They waste otherwise productive time, and I have to buy every Sony product I review – which effectively means paying to be abused. Unlike other ‘reviewers’, I’m not on anybody’s payroll and make a living through selling images, not ‘reviews’.

      • LOL “paying to be abused”… That’s a good one!

        • If you saw some of the email I get, it probably wouldn’t be as funny. I know the pursuit of photography professionally is masochistic, but I’m not that masochistic.

          • I certainly did not mean to be sarcastic, and I apologize if it felt that way Ming. I totally believe that people, masked being their remote computer, can be nasty if, say, Youtube comments I come across sometimes are a good gauge of trolling…

            • No, it didn’t – looks like a comedy of errors as you misinterpret me possibly misinterpreting you :p Don’t worry about it – no apology required.
              I was serious about the trolling though. And the masochism…

  55. Thanks Ming. Spot-on as usual. Will anyone listen, though? I suspect that two fundamental problems stand in the way of any manufacturer and designer paying attention. First, listening hard and designing carefully don’t fit well with marketing schedules and product lifecycles, especially when the rise of mobile phones is striking fear into the camera companies and the pressure is on to ship new kit into the marketplace without due preparation. Second, there’s a deep-seated fear of coming up with a camera that met your specification – because who would then need to buy another one?
    My wishes are simple and will probably never be met. The operational design of the Epson RD1 hasn’t been bettered in the decade since it appeared, and I just want it back, but fitted this time around with a Sigma Merrill or Quattro sensor and a fixed Sigma 40mm-equivalent lens with an aperture ring and DOF scale – plus a long-life battery. Failing that, I’ll settle for the Fuji X100T with a Sigma sensor.
    In 1973 I bought a cheap Ricoh film compact, the 500G. It had a rangefinder, a nice clear OVF, auto exposure with full manual override, a shutter dial, an aperture dial and a self-timer. If the Ricoh GR of 2015 looked and handled like that, I’d buy one….

    • I’d argue the opposite: making something that works would actually be a good thing for business because you’d kill the competition, be able to have longer product cycles and offer some real improvements between generations – again, making them meaningful and attractive upgrades. Look at the D800/D810 series: they’re now 3.5 years old and still the benchmark for image quality and ergonomics in many ways. I’m fine with long cycle times, so long as nothing gets broken or unnecessarily changed in the process.

  56. Samuel Jessop says:

    Reading through all of these points, and for my needs what I have in my head is essentially an E-M5 II but with the A7R II sensor. I’d buy that, particularly if Olympus were to create some nice F1.8 primes to go with it.

    • I suspect that was what the A7RII was supposed to be – except the concept doesn’t seem to work when scaled, and your 45(90) and 75(150) f1.8s become massive.

      • Samuel Jessop says:

        Indeed the teles would be a size issue, but a 24 and 50 could be reasonable. I guess in reality the nearest that works size wise are the Zeiss Loxia line. The 21 and 50 looks really nice as a pair to travel with.

        The more I think about this post and the recent Luminous Landscape update “Good Enough”, I think there are two diverging thoughts in my head. One is that I want the very best that is available or that I can afford. For my uses this would be the A7R II and the right primes, and that is the idealised view. I want this system to work with me or against me and what puts me off of buying into it is that I’m not convinced that all the parts work together enough of the time despite absolutely convincing image quality when it does work right.

        The other extreme of this train of thought is that actually the limitations I experience with my Fuji just don’t get in the way. I would like more pixels and the opportunity to print larger, but since making the XF 35/1.4 my everyday lens I have been otherwise completely satisfied with both the shooting experience and the general quality of the output through Lightroom. In a few months I should be able to afford to buy more lenses or even a Sony system, and I am genuinely concerned about what I may be giving up in satisfaction by doing so. There isn’t a clear answer and I am just as anxious in investing in a couple more XF lenses only to wish that I’d gone with a potentially more capable system.

        For now it’s time to slow down and work better with what I have, but these circular thoughts only serve to remind me that the ideal camera just doesn’t exist. At least I do know that I will never buy another SLR, as I have no interest in giving up sensor based AF and a more travel friendly form.

  57. Sean Quigley says:

    Ok My thoughts.
    The Sony IS fundementally right for me BUT
    1. Why do I have to hit the focus magnifier 3 times to use the only view you need 12.5x it’s crazy and very slow.
    2. The file transfer rate in 2015 is too slow for 40meg let alone 80meg files and slows down the camera during action situations (not sport) a 10 shot buffer is not enough.
    3. Extend the customizable aspect to where possible, every menu item is assignable
    4. Move all movie/cine related items to its own menu and make it possible to hide it.
    5. Make all programable items saved under a memory stay just under that memory not half and half.
    6. Make Eye AF on or off I hate holding down buttons to achieve an action and switchable with Smile/face detect I am sure it gets confused at times.
    7. Move effects to it’s own menu.
    8. AF focus release piority must be available on a single button for fast switching.
    Apart from these items the Sony A7rM2 does the job.

    • 1. It should be single button press, customisable magnification level. That really isn’t so hard.
      2. Internal bus is limited to USB 2.0…unlike every other camera. It should really have UHSII support, too.
      3. Yes.
      4. Yes.
      5. Yes!! Trying to figure out what it remembers and what it doesn’t is infuriating at times.
      6. Yes.
      7. Or better yet, disable/hide.
      8. Yes.

      And all of these things except the file transfer rate are fixable in firmware. Sigh.

  58. Hello Ming. One of the issues I see with mirrorless cameras at the moment is the price. I put in my online store cart a Fuji X-T1, 35/1.4 and 90/2 to realize I was at almost $3K. Not to mention it is without and extra battery nor a almost necessary optional grip. Then I saw the Nikon D750 being under 2K now plus a 50/1.8 and 85/1.8… comes to $2600. And that’s full frame, plus tons of possibilities lens-wise in the future, quick AF and video… As much I got excited by the mirrorless stuff, it’s time to get back down earth and stick to a big black brick…

  59. I own a number of mirrorless bodies, DP3M, K-01, E-PL6 and I have basically the same frustrations with all of them.

    On a camera body, I want an these controls directly accessible via physical buttons or dials: AF, Shutter release, exposure comp, ISO, F/stop and Shutter speed adjustment controls and a way to move the selected AF point around while in shooting position. Having to hold a function button so a dial has two modes is totally fine as long as I can do it easily without looking at the body.

    Every mirrorless body I’ve used fails somewhere in that list.

    Decent battery life, short start up time, rapid file writes (or a deep enough buffer to ameliorate slower write speeds) and a body shape that isn’t physically painful should be so obvious that we shouldn’t need to talk about them yet all of the mirrorless cameras I own fails somewhere in this list too.

    AF speed, accuracy and tracking as good as my D750 is the last bit that I would want in my perfect mirrorless camera.

    • Martin Paling says:

      Agree with this. Of course, the removal of physical controls is a feature of many digital bodies although my KM Dynax 7D is an early and honourable exception following in the wake of the glorious Dynax 7. However, these are still big cameras with plenty of real estate available for mechanical wheels and, unlike their antecedents in the pre-AF days, still controlled aperture electronically. I have just dug out my old Minolta XD7, a glorious and class-leading camera in its day. Exposure compensation and ASA (remember that?) are controlled by a top dial on the left of the pentaprism, with shutter speed and a lever for A, S or M on a dial to the right. Now interestingly this little camera is about the same size as the A7R II, slightly wider and thinner, the body ex the pentaprism about the same height. Of course, the lack of LCD screen means the viewfinder and pentaprism are positioned lower in the body than the EVF on the A7R II, hence its overall smaller size. But it still has physical dials. At least the Sony is approaching this state with the advent of Loxia lenses which have aperture rings but it would surely be possible to bring back top mounted dials for ISO, shutter speed and exposure compensation instead of the fiddly electromechanical gear wheels we have to put up with now. Of course, this may be a limitation conferred less by cost than by the complex and bulky digital innards of modern cameras. But it would be nice.

    • I don’t even think we’re halfway there, sadly.

    • I have happily gone about shooting with the DP3M and K-01 for years, with no issues. Aside from manually setting the white balance, the rest is no different than a film camera; ISO, f stop, focus and press the shutter. With the RRS grip/tripod mount the DP3M ergonomics are a dream. If I need them; exposure compensation, etc…, it’s all dirt simple. This is way too obsessive. More a problem of owning too many camera bodies, rather than learning to use a single camera.

      • Less is more, simplicity is genius, I’m in total agreement.

      • Homo_erectus says:

        This is a really condescending comment. Especially considering that the whole point of Ming’s post and these comments is to talk about the things that need improvement in mirrorless bodies.

        • I think Kadi makes a good point though and it’s particularly applicable to Ming’s previous article “The emperor’s new clothes.” I’m keen to get away from all the complexity, most of which I find unnecessary, and back to the joy of core photographic skill, which having gone the mirrorless route, I’ve lost.

          • Simplicity is an admirable goal. I attempt to achieve it as well. But one mans simplicity is often another mans needless complexity especially when it comes to tools like cameras that are used so many different ways by people with wildly different goals and skill levels.

            I think that the primary reason for the issue in mirrorless land is that the manufacturers are trying to design for too many people whose needs are at odds with each other.

            My girl friend is a visual artist but she isn’t any sort of photographer even though she knows how to handle a camera well enough. She loves the E-PL6 because it’s small, light and works well enough in P mode that all she ever needs is the shutter and power button. She uses it quite often for reference shots. But I set it up for her. If she didn’t have me to do that she would never use this camera, or any camera other than her cell phone.

            The fact that she asks to borrow the E-PL6 when she’s going out and wants to take pictures speaks to the fact that she is comfortable using it and finds its quality to be enough better than her cell phone that it’s worth the effort to carry a dedicated camera.

            So she could be happy with a camera that literally only works in P mode and has like three buttons; shutter, power, and image review. She might use a zoom in and out button if they were available.

            My minimum number of controls is way more than three! I want shutter, aperture, iso, exposure comp, af button, power button, a way to move around a focus point around, a review button and a way to instantly zoom to 100%. A minimum control camera that I would be happy with would have around nine controls on the body. The gf would never touch that camera without me setting it up for her first.

            Have I made my point here? There are inherent contradictions in the needs of different users that make a tool schizophrenic if a designer tries to cater to them all simultaneously. What’s worse is that it also makes almost everyone unhappy with the end result.

            That, for me, sums up the current state of the mirrorless world.

            Man, that’s a novel.

            • One way camera makes could solve this problem would be to produce different versions of what’s internally the same camera, perhaps 2-3 body styles around the same sensor and logic board. You could have a body geared to the rank neophyte emphasizing simplicity via automation. Another could be aimed at the multifunction control loving camera geeks and videographers who want loads of custom functions and the ability to plug in all sorts of accessories. A third could be aimed at the traditional-control crowd with well-marked, single-function controls organized for simplicity, speed and surety of operation.

              • Steven, this is a great idea!

                I fear the marketing departments would never go for this approach because it’s basically too simple and easy to understand. Maybe once the consumer has reached terminal exhaustion from churning new bodies every few years something like this will be considered.

                Maybe one of the smaller camera companies will give this approach a try. I could see Sigma going this route.

      • david mantripp says:

        Agreed, the DP-Ms have an excellent user interface. On the level of the Ricoh GR.

  60. After trying lots of the options, and using especially m43 for several years, I’ve ended up as a very happy Samsung user. The NX1 + NX500 combo is great because they really make up for each other’s weaknesses (size of NX1, no evf on NX500, etc.). But great 28mp stills, great dynamic range, great 4K video – it’s an incredible package. Two biggest weaknesses from my standpoint: no in-body IS, and no long telephoto. Neither one limits me.

    • Sadly, I think a bigger limiting factor is that those cameras are the end of the line since it appears Samsung is exiting the business. No more new lenses, no more support. That’s a no-go for most of us, I think.

      • I’m curious: do you believe in rumors or do you have an direct source in Samsung about this?

        Imo the NX1 is – by far – the best apsc mirrorless on the market, possibly the best apsc camera overall. Hence, dropping it seems at least odd. Even if they didn’t develop a new model within 1-2 years, no other apsc mirrorless camera can get near NX1 for specs. So, where is the “limiting factor” in this?

        • I don’t believe in rumours, but I do believe in what I see at dealers: nobody wants to stock it because they can’t sell it. And a camera that won’t sell can’t survive…this is business, after all.

          • Ok, but you are writing about photography, not about business. Hence you should take into account the best tools for taking good pics. And the fact that the average ppl won’t buy a samsung simply means that they ignore how ridiculously good it is. Not mentioning it in your articles, you contribute in this general trend.

            • I’m writing about what I want to write about. Photography cannot exist without business – either the business of sustainably producing equipment or selling images. Looking at it otherwise makes no sense.

              There are many things that are very good that don’t sell, others that are very bad that do, and not much I can do about it. If I can’t even obtain one at retail – that doesn’t bode well, especially if you need support or lenses or some accessories in future and you’re making a living off it.

      • Jay Connor says:

        Samsung is NOT exiting the camera business. And will announce new cameras early next year.

        • I have no idea how you know that, but it’s reassuring if true. We need competition. They could really do much better with their PR though…actually, taking some hints from the phone team would probably not be a bad idea.

  61. Interchangeable grips – that is possible with Alpa 12 mirrorless camera system…

  62. I agree with all your suggestions Ming but I don’t think they go far enough.
    Part of the problem with digital cameras is that they’re still in thrall to the days of film. Cameras are the shape they are today because that’s what was needed for film. A modern camera should look much more like a hand held video cam, basically a can with a strap which goes around the back of your hand. This would necessitate a circular (or, for manufacturing purposes, hexagonal) sensor. At the moment the first crop is out of our hands, the camera makes the decision leaving us with a sensor which is throwing away much of the usable image provided by the lens. A circular sensor would deliver all the potential of the lens giving us much greater latitude with cropping and ensuring that no image information is lost due to horizon straightening.
    There are other benefits…
    Binocular users have known for a long time that you can get much better stability with a modified grip in which the thumb contacts the bones around the eye socket… http://www.strathspey.co.uk/hold.html The same stability benefits would apply to a camera.
    Such a layout would also give us a potential for a much larger EVF and the ability to mount a mobile phone on a fold out bracket as a viewer/touch screen.
    None of this is beyond current technology, it just requires some imagination from the manufacturers.

    • I figured there was no point in asking for the moon if they can’t even get the basics right 😉

    • D. Garlans says:

      How about those early Nikon Coolpix digital cameras with the two-part body that twisted in the middle? That was a really interesting design and potentially quite powerful with modern technology.

    • Eh, I think there is something to be said for composing to a specific framing at the time of capture. If the sensor is high enough resolution, correcting a horizon line or a slight crop doesn’t too badly damage image quality. Where high res sensors might really benefit would be some kind of stochastic matrix of RGB, rather than the Bayer or X-trans matrix. A random, yet even distribution of color photo sites exists in the retinas of birds, whose visual acuity and color perception us mere mammals cannot experience (birds also have 4 color sensitive pigments and micro-filters on their cone cells, which we don’t, so they see colors no human can perceive over a broader spectrum of light, and into near UV – birds would think our best cameras are crap at reproducing color). A random, even color photo site pattern in a high-res sensor would eliminate moire and reduce jagged edges. This would require a total redo on sensor manufacturing, and software for raw processing though. Not an easy business proposition.

      • See: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2813877/ for how color photoreceptor cells are organized in the chicken retina.

      • Steven,
        I agree about composing to a specific frame. I’d want a camera with a circular sensor to show a selectable rectangular frame in the EVF. For me that frame would rarely be the 3:2 we have with full frame. For portrait I’d default to something like 10:8, for landscape something like the golden ratio – 1:1.618
        Taking the 10:8 crop as an example, a full frame sensor allows the use of 720 mm/sq of image. A circular sensor allows the use of 913 mm/sq. The full frame area is effectively less than 80% of the circular. This is not a trivial difference. You get 25% higher resolution with the same noise and it can be accomplished without redesigning the lenses.

      • p.s. I’m working on the (I think reasonable) assumption that lenses will remain relatively expensive to produce while sensors will tend towards the very cheap. That’s the way it’s worked with other chip technology. At some point throwing sensor area at the problem will become an obvious and economic way of improving image quality.

        • Then it would be easier perhaps to use square sensor covering whole image circle and more. Something like Panasonic does with a compact camera that has am4/3 sensor inside, but only uses central part of it.

          • Sure, same thing. As long as the sensor covers the full 43.26mm circle thrown by the lens, any shape will work. The reason I suggested a hexagon is that it tessellates with less waste on a typical, circular wafer,

          • The LX100?

            The reason we don’t see square sensors (I’ve been looking for one for another project) is the manufacturing yields are apparently very low because the area of the wafer isn’t fully utilised; the cost goes up by a factor of two or three as a result. Given this is already the most expensive component of the camera, that’s not insignificant.

            • Here you go Ming, a quick sketch of how hexagonal sensors tessellate into a circular wafer… http://chordspace.com/images/jpegs/ccd%20wafers.jpg
              The area utilised is considerably better than both a square and any rectangle. Admittedly the same number of equivalent full frame sensors could fit on a smaller wafer as they’re intrinsically smaller, but the wastage is lower with the hexagons.
              And all the trends in electronics suggest sensors will become (relative to quality lenses) cheaper and cheaper.

              • I must be missing something here: we’d have to use a square area from a hexagonal sensor, or have hexagonal images? The former may be problematic because you can’t cut a chip and expect it to keep working, plus it’d take up a lot more room inside the camera body. The latter…er…hexagonal screens anybody?

                • I’m assuming that most people would still produce rectangular images. All the hexagonal sensor gives you is the ability to capture the entire, circular, image thrown by the lens. As in my 10:8 example earlier in the conversation shows this allows for considerably greater cropable area (versus full frame) in any shot with a ratio other than 3:2, where it would be the same. All using the same lenses that we have now.

                  • Gotcha. The question then remains one of the camera size to accommodate the larger sensor board. It also occurs to me that we’d need a much larger shutter too, which would have to lower the sync speed…

                    • Possibly, though we’re already entering the era of the fully electronic shutter. I don’t doubt that the current (no pun intended) limitations on these will be solved within the next few years.

                    • I hope so – a truly non-mechancial non-vibrational shutter is definitely useful, though not at the expense of sync speed and rolling shutter artefacts…

                  • 10:8 is a strange ratio, but it would get us much better results for square, too.

                    Remembering the AOV/FL relationship is going to be something else though 🙂

                • And here’s it shown true size relative to the smallest ff camera I know of… http://chordspace.com/images/jpegs/wafers3.jpg
                  Hardly an impossible squeeze for the camera manufacturers.

                  • Remember the ancillaries that have to go around it – the circuitry, the shutter (which would have to be square) too…

                    • True, but if there’s one thing you can bank on it’s Japanese manufacturing genius when it comes to miniaturisation.
                      Even without a hexagonal sensor I think that the camera market will settle down to phones and full frame (with a few larger format beasts). In the same way that cameras like the Contax T, Rollei 35 and particularly the Olympus XA range killed the market for smaller film sizes in the film era.

                    • Unless you have a leaf shutter.

                    • True – didn’t suggest it because it’s not feasible with fast lenses, and drives cost of the whole thing up quite a bit.

  63. I would think maybe the Samsung NX1 might come closest. Have you looked at it yet?

    • There was never much point seeing as a) Samsung didn’t offer much support and was hard to obtain in my country and b) they’ve now announced their exit of the photography business.

      • Samsung hasn’t announced any exit at all officially, and have in fact rebuked those rumors, but their rebukes have been somewhat half-hearted and vague sounding, which isn’t a good sign. A shame, really. They already have a more complete lens line-up than Sony and are almost at parity with Fuji. And many of their lenses are bargains compared to their mirrorless competition, all but the highest end ones.

        • That last point is a good one: their high end is really high end at least from a pricing standpoint. I’ve not been able to get a camera to try, because frankly none of the dealers even stock them here – they refuse to because there’s no demand and they don’t want to be stuck with dead inventory. Can’t blame them, really…

          • Pity for you, since the camera is so much better than all the other APS-C you mentioned in this article…

            • It’s also the size and cost of a FF DSLR, but image quality isn’t close, sorry.

              • Again, wrong.

                http://j.mp/1WF4Zkd

                Here the canon has a f4 lens, which puts it head to head with nx1 with its f2.8 lens. The longer relative fl of 50-150 (225mm) and the higher res sensor (28mp vs 20) give a big edge to nx1 in cropping. The 6d has less than 2/3 of a step advantage at high iso, totally lost (with interests…) with the 1 step slower lens. Despite all this, the canon combo is bigger and far heavier.

                The nikon has a f2.8 lens. About 1 stop better at high iso, at about 70% more weight and huge size.

                Both don’t even by far match the high speed burst and buffer of nx1 and don’t have 4k video.

                • I am still not convinced. The Canon is a poor comparison to even other FF competition. Let’s leave it at this. You like your Samsung, and I’m sure it’s a great camera, but it’s academic because I can’t even get one to try – and even if I could, it’s not practical as a professional tool because there is zero support and ecosystem here. We can agree to disagree – I have my needs, you have yours, and the NX1 does not fit.

                  • Of course you are right, if you reason as a customer and user. But when you write a public article on the state of mirrorless advancements, you should at least mention (one of) the best product in that sector. Imho.

  64. What do you mean by “overambitious image quality”. The RX100 family shouldn’t try to keep up with larger sensors? I’m confused.

  65. What you are essentially saying is when mirrorless will get it right, it will be time to say goodbye to DSLR. Tremble Nikon!

  66. David Griffen says:

    Hello Ming,

    Excellent article. I hope some manufacturer has you design a camera line.

    Despite all the shortcomings, you sure produce some incredible photographs with a lot of different equipment. Perhaps I am looking at it as a glass half full but it seems like there are still some wonderful tools out there.

    – David

  67. I’m under no illusions about what the limiting factor on the standard of my images is (clue, it’s not my camera :)) – but even as a strictly amateur / hobby photographer, it’s still about what Pekka Potka refers to as “the golden compromise”. I found I was barely using my Canon 40D because of its weight and size, and the fact that the better lenses were mostly designed for full frame and hence big and heavy.

    In the summar of 2013, a friend at our photography club showed me his E-M5; seeing how good the results could be from such a comparatively tiny camera, along with the near miraculous IBIS system, it set me thinking about moving to m43 – if only they could improve the viewfinder resolution! When the E-M1 was announced I thought “that looks like my ideal camera, shame it’s a bit out of reach on price”. Then I lucked into a second hand body / 12-40 f/2.8 kit at a price I couldn’t turn down. So I sold my Canon outfit, thought carefully about the kind of pictures I actually take and bought a selection of lenses to support those types of photography.

    A young family means I don’t have the time I’d like to spend on any of my hobbies, but on the occasions I do get the opportunity, the combination of small size, robust build (environmental hazard = small children!) and fast lenses mean I get much more use out of the Olympus than I was out of the Canon, and nearly two years on nothing is close to offering me the same level of “golden compromise”:
    – 16MP is enough for me – I do print, but only up to A3.
    – I usually stick to single exposures so the shutter shock issue was manageable as I could use the EFC work around
    – The viewfinder still lets me forget it’s a tiny screen, even with all the helpful image overlays (histogram etc)
    – The IBIS continues to flatter my less-than-perfect hand-holding technique
    – The video is perhaps not up to professional standards but does well enough for “home movies”
    – The 75mm f/1.8 – it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing, both physically and optically 😀
    – Finally the killer fact – I can fit the whole kit (body and half a dozen lenses) into the size and weight of my Canon and its standard zoom + one prime

    Now with the new v4.0 firmware about to be released, we will get a new set of capabilities to experiment with – and although it’s taken a fair while to get there (and get full electronic shutter), since I envisage keeping this camera a long time, I’m trying to take the longer term view! Now, if they could just do something about the awful menu…two years with the camera and whilst I’ve got the controls set up how I want, any time I need to go into the menu it’s an exercise in frustration. Something like the Leica T touchscreen would be perfect…

    All this said, I can see how for a working pro like you Ming, the situation must be utterly maddening. I hope one of the manufacturers takes you up on the offer, but I’m not holding my breath until then!

    • I admit sometimes I wish I didn’t do this for a living. It would be much easier to choose what I want to use instead of what I need to use!

      That said, I do enjoy printing – and there’s a tangible difference between M4/3 and FF…so we continue to be maddened for now.

  68. I don’t have to read the whole article, just sentences under pictures to tell you you are absolutely right. The reason is more than simple, we need more competition. As long as camera makers stay in Japan and south Korea, nothing will change. When I grew up almost every country was making cameras. Let’s hope one day some bored billionaire will be fed up and…:)

    • They are making them, just not the sort of cameras photogs use. Action cameras like the GoPro are probably the big growth market.

    • Whilst that would be a nice situation, I don’t think there’s enough profitability in it to justify the kinds of investments required especially if Sony aren’t really interested in selling sensors to small volume players…(I know, I’ve tried).

  69. Why don’t Nikon make a mirrorless range starting with a scaled down d5500 with weather sealing, 24mp no AA filter, cut out all the rubbish and tacky scene filters, make sure it’s quick to focus with a simple menu, u1/u2 settings, twin dials for manual control, 3 programmable buttons or even 1 button that can be pressed up to 3 times, fold-out touch screen, full custom abilities and option to have ‘stealth mode button’ that switches all lights and shutter sound off, and small optimised lenses like the Coolpix A had. Heck, even remove video capability, flash and gimmicks like GPS if it helps reduce cost. Have wifi and possibly wireless charge my in future? (Not essential). Market as a Nikon P for purist or T for traveller something similar.

  70. Said AZIZI says:

    “I really hope this is the reason Nikon and Canon are late to the game: better last and pick up where the operationally and ergonomically mature 5D/D810 series leave off than make something all-new with all-new issues.”

    Nikon and Canon are already in the game. Nikon with the 1″ Type and Canon with their EOS-M for a reminder.

    I personally think that it’s not fair from you not to include Nikon and Canon in your comparisons and critisims when there’s a talk about mirorrless… It’s not because they excel in the DSRL domain or that maybe you think that both companies aren’t serious in their mirorrless offering yet, that you should “spare” them ! Actually, everyone knows that Canon Mirorrless is poor in about everything and Nikon’s one isn’t that far after all.

    Thank you

    • Have you actually tried to use either? Neither are what you’d call serious cameras. The Nikon’s sensor is completely out of the game, even if it can AF better than everything else (and I’m sure part of that has to do with extended DOF and small formats). There is almost zero control customisation and default choices are terrible. The EOS-M is glacially slow and has almost no native lenses, and what it does have are mostly slow consumer zooms.

      • Said AZIZI says:

        Actually I agree with you fully and I think I didn’t make myself clear in the first place.

        I was asking why you exclude Canon and Nikon (AFAIK) from such articles, comparisons and criticism whenever there’s a discussion about mirorrless even though they have mirorrless products on the market ?

        Thus, i don’t understand why you wrote that… and I quote again : “I really hope this is the reason Nikon and Canon are late to the game: better last and pick up where the operationally and ergonomically mature 5D/D810 series leave off than make something all-new with all-new issues.”

        Hope I am clear this time 🙂

        Thank you !

        Said

        • You wrote:
          “I personally think that it’s not fair from you not to include Nikon and Canon in your comparisons and critisims when there’s a talk about mirorrless… It’s not because they excel in the DSRL domain or that maybe you think that both companies aren’t serious in their mirorrless offering yet, that you should “spare” them ! Actually, everyone knows that Canon Mirorrless is poor in about everything and Nikon’s one isn’t that far after all.”

          That sure sounds like disagreement to me.

          “Thus, i don’t understand why you wrote that… and I quote again : “I really hope this is the reason Nikon and Canon are late to the game: better last and pick up where the operationally and ergonomically mature 5D/D810 series leave off than make something all-new with all-new issues.””

          I’ve already explained this in other comments. Their current mirrorless offerings are not mature or mainstream. if “everybody knows”, why are they selling so poorly? Why have I never seen more than one or two serious photographers carry them – and even then, only the Nikon 1 after buying it at clearout prices? Would you buy a 1V3 or a D7200 – because they’re the same price. I’m pretty sure that kills any potential market immediately. Take out the optical finder in the D810/5DSR. Add an EVF and some of the other nice features like touch/tilt screens. And that’s enough. They don’t even have to be smaller because balance and ergonomics mostly go out the window otherwise.

          • Said AZIZI says:

            I have to work on my english then :p

            My point was that, since Nikon and Canon are already in the mirorrless market (btw i’m not defending them), I don’t see why you exclude them (AFAIK) in your comparisons when discussing mirorrless since they both need a lot of advice, in the same way you do with other mirorrless manufacturers such as Sony, Fuji… Thus why I don’t understand the point of this part in your article and not the meaning of it : “I really hope this is the reason Nikon and Canon are late to the game: better last and pick up where the operationally and ergonomically mature 5D/D810 series leave off than make something all-new with all-new issues.”… i mean, they are already in the mirorrless market… why the expression of hope for them to pick up where the operationally and ergonomically mature 5D/D810 series is right now ? Didn’t they show us what they are capable of already ?

            And concerning your opinion here “Take out the optical finder in the D810/5DSR. Add an EVF and some of the other nice features like touch/tilt screens. And that’s enough. They don’t even have to be smaller because balance and ergonomics mostly go out the window otherwise.” That’s what the A-mount is about (if Sony will keep supporting it)… Mirorrless FF as E-mount offers you the ability to go even more compact with small lenses (Loxias for instance) when needed… which the form factor of the DSLR/SLT bodies can’t provide.

            Hope you understand me this time.

            Thank you very much !

            Said

      • Frank Murphy says:

        I think that the Nikon CX cameras do deserve a shoutout for their reported excellence in Continuous AF, even if it is partly due to the depth of field of the smaller sensor. Tom Hogan has been talking about how good their C-AF is for a while, and I do think that this is a key shortcoming of mirrorless cameras. It does seem that the on-sensor PDAF is pretty good in the Olympus E-M1 and Canon’s dual pixel AF in the 70D (though not in the EOS Ms, oddly).

        • I agree, but it’s just too bad they’re not very good for anything else.

        • Images useful up to full page sizes, or for internet usage. A couple things really hinder the Nikon 1 System, predominantly a lack of lenses, especially fast prime lenses, but also the lack of effective flash choices. The very small pixel sizes on the chips means lenses hit diffraction limits at f5,6 and low light performance is poor. Once I get to ISO800, I switch my V1 to B/W mode, and only shoot RAW. Limited uses and somewhat high prices mean few will even try these cameras. Nikon’s updated versions just throw more megapixels onto an already small sensor, which just makes image quality issues worse. We really need to see more lens choices, and not more bodies, but Nikon doesn’t seem to understand where to take this sytem. The idea is elegant, but they’ve drifted from the launch concepts. I will squarely blame the internet enthusiasts for this one, because so many asked for more megapixels, and more buttons and switches, which really ruined this system.

          • Well, there are some fast primes – but have you seen the price of that 32/1.2? That is definitely not the kind of budget the target market of these cameras has, and makes no sense when you look at the price of much larger sensored DSLRs and f1.8 primes, either.

            • Nice lens, but way too high priced. I have the 18.5mm f1,8 and would really like a fast wide choice (10mm f2.8 not that good). So we have four or five kit zoom lenses already, but no macro that was shown at launch. The longer zoom is nice, but only useful for sports and wildlife, and even then outside the market for most. The DX/FX lens adapter is way overpriced. There is no flash adapter for regular Speedlights, though a guy in Europe is making some to order. Small and not too small body, mostly small lenses, fast accurate autofocus, extremely quick shutter release, but so many holes in the system. It almost seems like the original development team got transferred somewhere else.

              • It’s not even that good optically, either. Physically and haptically quite a little gem though.

                Why they went to a new speedlight system boggles the mind, too.

  71. “If I’m coming across as cynical and critical, well, that’s because right now, I am.” You don’t sound cynical at all! I’m at my third mirrorless camera (Fuji X-T1) and agree completely with you. I think mirrorless cameras need at least 1-2 more generations before the camera manufacturers strike one out of the park. We would get there faster if they spent half a day listening to people who use their cameras.

    • Sadly they have no interest in doing so, because that would mean not being able to sell us 1-2 intermediate generations of product and actually having to innovate after that…

      • Well, I’m under a strict NDA not to discuss specifics, but I CAN tell you that the Fujifilm X-Pro 2 definitely addresses a number of the specific points you made in your article. Also, Fuji isn’t getting into the game of issuing a new high-end camera every nine months the way Sony is … but they are providing useful and regular firmware updates that enhance usability.

        That aside, I’m not sure there is, ever was, or ever will be a complete solution (aka the “perfect” camera). What I will say is that I strongly believe mirrorless will usurp DSLRs eventually, if for no other reason than manufacturing cost and parts complexity—both of which can be reduced.

        For me, mirrorless now gets used for most of my shooting — both professional and personal — with my Nikon DSLRs only coming out when the mirrorless envelope is breached, e.g. truly inclement conditions, high speed action shooting situations (doubly so if they’re happening in low light), and if I want to take advantage of CLS.

    • D. Garlans says:

      Why do they keep needing more generations? They had dozens of generations of compact cameras to get design cues from, tens of generations of 35mm cameras to get size and weight cues from, hundreds of consumer devices (not just cameras) to learn how to do menuing systems and responsiveness from, and most of the manufacturers have whole product lines of successful DSLR’s to show how to handle digital features.

      The only new magic is getting the lcd and evf’s to work smoothly, and to add the kind of advanced contrast or phase AF that. And honestly most mirrorless product lines are already 3-5 generations deep so it’s not like that stuff is really new either.

      They should by now, you’d have thought, have an idea how to make a camera that is mostly free of annoying BS and missing features.

  72. There will always be optical compromises in this world.
    1- Fast lenses uncompromisely sharp on corners, usually made for consumers or specialties, will often fail at rendering a 3d object past their initial aperture and perform worse on landscape/scenic images because of their lack of depth separation between objects in focus. Thus, their shooting envelope is limited to max aperture.
    2- Lenses who perform average to poor at max aperture are amazing at 3d pop when closed down, so their shooting envelope is wider.

    There are lenses for those who know how to use them properly and foolproof limited lenses.

    • Not always true; there are lenses that are uncompromising all round. The Otuses, for starters…

      • Lack of AF and their enormous size and cost aren’t compromises in the pursuit of IQ?

        • Sure, but you must also realise that AF isn’t precise enough most of the time anyway – I’m discovering this is more and more true the higher the resolution you get. On top of that, any moving parts involving stabilisation also decenter optics enough that together with high resolution, degradation becomes visible. Just try shooting any VR or IS lens in portrait vs. landscape mode. And the A7RII isn’t exactly what you’d call cheap, either. On top of that, if you’ve got to replace the camera every year or two, how is that not a more significant cost than lenses that will last ten or more years and still retain most of their value? I don’t think you can say the same about a Sony body even after a year.

      • True dat. Just came back from shooting the OTUS and the Milvus lenses at a photoshow, I’d say the results are way too similar to tell them appart on a d750 (kinda glad for the wallet), probably thx to some new designs and new T* coatings.

        I’d say the zeisses have a definite advantage over older nikkor AF-D prime lenses on wide-open aperture corner detail (from max to f2.8-4 easily) and sheer colors/microcontrast but the 3d-pop beyond f4 (where most image quality defects are corrected) is better on the vintages primes. Most could overlook this in this bokeh trendy era.

  73. Michael Reichmann wrote an article a while back on the photography industry’s incessant false starts and foibles – “Nobody Knows Anything”. But his point is that every other industry or institution is pretty well the same. Nobody really knows, from the President or CEO on down to the office cleaners, so don’t expect miracles (sceptics might say instead, expect foobars and mayhem). I think all one can do is buy what best fits one’s needs, see whether one can put up with the bits that don’t, and then get on with it sure in the knowledge that in future things aren’t likely to by very different. Yes, next time they might improve that pesky AF tracking only for one to discover that they’ve halved the battery life and changed the position of buttons to places one can no longer reach. It never ends.

    If Ming wrote the same article in five years’ time, I’m sure the list of fails and misses would be different but the conclusion would be the same.

    • How on earth do they manage to keep their jobs, or get there in the first place? You would think some understanding of photography would be beneficial to running a successful camera company…

      • Answer: …too many lawyers, too little engineers… explains almost everything.

        • Lots of marketing people too. Look at the local markets for starters: there are no actual enthusiast or hobby photographers in the top management of most of the companies here. Hell, Canon is now run by the guy who used to be head of printer and copier sales…

    • This is correct. Find what you’re comfortable with and stick with it. This has been a financially painful lesson for me. Didn’t realise how painful until I added it up recently. Both of Ming’s latest articles hit the bullseye and helped me decided once and for all what to keep and what to sell off . . . and to stop wasting money!

  74. I think on the hardware side you are spot on, but on the software side of things I missed some mention of auto-iso settings. At least on my Panasonic GX7 there’s simply no setting to it other than max ISO and I seem fight a lot with the camera, which makes the function not very usable. At least a minimum shutter speed setting is a must.

    Actually I agree with somethings Thom Hogan says that with today’s technology high-level cameras should be mostly user programmable, or at least offer an open and documented sdk for developers to expand functions. They could even get in the “app store” business and retain part of the profit, like Google and Apple do. Depending on the hardware-level acess he sdk had I bet we would have focus stacking, high-res mode and many other software functions a long time ago.

    • UI design is a much more personal thing, in my experience. Many cameras do get the auto-ISO thing right already; but yes, I will include it.

      Can you imagine the support nightmares and strange errors if we are left to program our own cameras? I for one would prefer it stays working 🙂

      • I posted a comment about programming then read your reply here. I can add my two cents. Letting one program his/her camera doesn’t mean there will not be a default profile from manufacturer. Now also there are profiles in terms of scene/portrait/sport modes etc. I can have my own profile where I can change anything I want (even behavior of “auto” algorithms) and as long as I am using my own profile, I can’t complain to support.

        I would agree though that it is not for masses but then high end camera (mirrorless or not) is not for masses. They have iPhones.

        • Frans Richard says:

          Funny thing, these iPhones for the masses are programmable. If you’re not skilled enough to do it yourself you can probably find an app that does what you want. That said, finding anything in the App Store is the hard part.

  75. Back in the 50’s and 60’s here in the US, auto makers always built a race care that could compete on the NASCAR circuit first BEFORE introducing the model to the public. The idea being that if professional drivers bought in and endorsed the product, then the average joe would be frothing at the mouth to have the same vehicle in the showroom at their local dealer for purchase. It worked very well an still does today.

    • Sadly not in the photography world – we are now all test drivers! 😛

      • Which is EXACTLY why Canikon had better get if right the first time…ALL of the R&D and Beta testing has been sufficiently completed. Any deficiencies in their mirrorless answer to the A7RMKII or SL should be unacceptable.

        • Agreed – and they’re so late in the game that they cannot afford to compete with a presumably successive (and improved) generation of products from existing mirrorless players. They’re just lucky that they’ve gotten some breathing room while the competition still fumbles…

    • Except that NASCARs have not one thing in common with what’s available in show rooms now. Thank God.

      • That’s not exactly accurate. Much of today’s high horsepower fuel efficient engine tech comes from racing. As teams strive for better fuel economy from the power plants in the race cars, they invariably stumble upon derivatives for the showroom cars. In fact, a 2016 Corvette Z06 get’s better fuel economy out of a 600+ HP engine than a ’70’s Ford Pinto.

        • Racing? Sure. Racing as a sport has been amazing. I like me some GT2 and GT3 action, and the European versions of NASCAR are great. Too bad NASCAR’s a relic for the last 20+ years. Intentionally so. Between cast-iron block V8s, and they finally switched to electronic fuel injection in 2012 (!!!) they’re hilariously outdated.

          • But still 5-bolt wheels, and the biggest dude on the team on the car jack. Even worse is that the cars are all tube spaceframes with a cover designed to kind of look like a street car, but it’s such a thin facade that I don’t even know why they try or whether anyone even thinks it’s a street car.

            The first Ford GT40s that won Le Mans borrowed V8s from their NASCAR effort. How times have changed.

  76. Martin Paling says:

    Reverting to the Leica Q, it’s clearly extremely competent in most ways and I have my order in for one. I’m perfectly happy with a fixed, fast 28mm lens and it’s quality, and that of the sensor, are clearly both good enough to allow cropping down to 10mp or whatever it is for 50mm equivalent as this will print up to A3 size easily. People forget that modern Epson printers are optimised for 180 or 360 dpi so 8-10mp is quite good enough for most purposes. If the Q is as good as reported it could well be a long term keeper.

    • It’s as good as reported. And I’m pretty demanding 😛

      • Martin Paling says:

        Excellent. It was your review and photographs which prompted me to investigate it. My first thoughts had been “not another expensive, behind-the-curve Leica. I’m really pleased that they are back on form be caused I loved the M6 and MP. Pity about the SL, athough the body would be OK if it wasn’t such a silly price.

        • I was surprised too, believe me. I’d be the last person to buy something with no ROI – photography as a business means there has to be a good reason to add hardware…

          The SL body still has ergonomic issues that don’t even exist in the Q, regardless of price.

  77. John Nicholson says:

    For me the much maligned X-Vario is really right – even in low light, though so many people carp about aperture. But it’s the lens-sensor combination which gets things right and delivers such high image quality. It’s a beautifully simple camera to set up and use. And now it can be found new at lower than list price, the Leica premium becomes less of a deterrent. But I found your article really valuable and won’t buy another camera without consulting it again! Thanks.

    • It just needs a built in EVF (and preferably a proper stabiliser). Arms’ length or tripod at f6.3 and 80mm isn’t so easy to manage…but I do like the concept.

  78. Great summary Ming! I have posted an hyperlink to the community of Italian photographer where we discuss these things every other day! Thank you!

  79. So Ming, am I the only one to notice the contradiction between this and your recent post on the emperors new clothes (https://blog.mingthein.com/2015/10/30/the-emperors-new-clothes/)? Here you state: “the majority of people who buy these things are just whining about the small things that only make a difference if you actually have the skill to get to that level”. Now however you are telling us no (mirrorless) cameras are actually good enough; the implication being we must keep buying until every last flaw is eradicated and behold the ultimate camera is at last in our hands. Hallelujah!!!

    I’m beginning to suspect you are actually a secret employee of one or more camera firms with a mission to spread a little fear, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of the poor gullible camera buying public. Nice bit of camera porn by the way 🙂

    • No, there’s no conflict in position at all, and sadly, nobody at any camera company pays me anything. Let me explain:

      1. The emperor’s new clothes is a reference to the fact that we are constantly being convinced into believing the next thing is better and will make us all heroes.
      2. Today’s post is saying we’re still not there.
      3. There are definitely people who complain but do not shoot, but there are also people who shoot but get frustrated by silly things that are easily fixed. I see no conflict in that, just as I see very few images compared to the number of complaints on photo forums.

      • So when we do finally get “there” we’ll have nothing more to complain about and will have no excuse but to focus on shooting and creating great images? Looking forward to that day… a lot.

        • We’re never going to get there. Part of that is human nature, part of that is the corporate need to build in obsolescence.

          I already believe there is no excuse to not focus on shooting and making images, but it seems not many people are interested in reading about photography or producing cameras that are designed for just getting a shot and getting out of your way…so this seems like a necessary pair of articles. The emperor to remind people it’s about the pictures, and the missing cigar to kick the lazy manufacturers.

  80. Martin Paling says:

    I’m very happy with the Sony A7R II. BTW you can assign a custom button to switch off the rear LCD. 12bit RAW compression has not been an issue for me but at least they’ve listened and added a firmware update for those who desire it. The only real issues have been the lack of fast lenses (and the Batis pair have still not surfaced) but this is changing; and the inadequate LA-EA4 adapter for the alpha lenses I use in their stead. I have had to use lens compensation for all of them and still don’t fully trust their AF on this camera.

    And Leica! They must have different silos for their development teams! What a missed opportunity with the SL which, like the S, is probably going to be an expensive flop. Of course they probably are worried that an interchangeable lens Q would kill off the M if they use an M mount so I can’t see it happening. As for Nikon and Canon, they are beginning to look like Kodak!

    • Out of curiosity, could you time your turn on to first shot time? I seem to not be able to get better than about three seconds, and frequently as high as 7-8. That’s an eternity.

      The Batis pair does exist and delivers what we expect – production issues notwithstanding. I’ll still take my Q over the 7R2/25 combination for responsiveness and low light shooting envelope and silent shutter, but the 85 makes it very difficult to justify carrying an Otus around.

      Leica: oddly, I was told the Q guys also developed the SL…

      • Martin Paling says:

        Around 1 second from cold, possibly less – too fast to time even with a stop watch app; it might take longer to wake up from sleep but I always turn the camera off (something I have done from the NEX days) and then switch on again rather than wake it with the shutter button. This also helps battery life enormously, even when using continuous shooting, which is the real killer.

        I forgot to mention one serious shortcoming, which is the convoluted way of moving focus point. This requires pressing a custom button then using the dial – if you are not careful you find yourself calling up one of the dial functions like ISO rather than moving the cursor box. This is a major irritant which could have been avoided with a joystick.

        • Martin Paling says:

          To clarify on start up its about a second to activate the screen but maybe two to get a focused image on either screen or EVF.

        • I cycle power too, and my battery life is still extremely poor. I wonder if there is something non-obvious I’ve set that’s affecting it. Problem with Sony is there really is no way to know…

          A good example is actually the moving focusing point: if you set the centre button to the rather cryptic ‘default’, you can just press that and use the joystick to move things around. But why on earth didn’t they just call it ‘direct AF’ or something? Or better yet, give the option to use the d-pad for AF point by default? It’s not like we have a shortage of custom buttons…

          • Martin Paling says:

            Interesting comment about the “default” position on the centre button. I’ll try that. On start up have you tried turning wireless off (ie airplane mode on). Steady shot on may be affecting it too.

            • Airplane mode on. Why on earth would you disable steady shot though? That is at least 50% of the reason for having the camera in the first place. Without it, I’d rather have the rigid-mounted sensor in the D810 – not to mention the 1500+ shot battery life.

    • “BTW you can assign a custom button to switch off the rear LCD”

      The assignable “Deactivate Monitor” function merely stops the imaging process, but does not turn off LCD back lighting – don’t know why. Try going into a dark room after deactivating LCD. You can see the LCD glowing rather visibly. Something like this should be easily fixable with a firmware.

  81. Morning Ming!

    Thanks for another article.

    Does a Fuji X-T1 not tick a lot of those boxes?

    OK, perhaps the lack of FF or even a conventional sensor is a “mistake” and again the battery life could be better, and there’s no touch screen..

    But devil’s advocate…

    Power switch around shutter – check
    External controls for ISO/shutter/aperture/metering/burst modes – check
    External controls allow user to see ISO/shutter/aperture/metering/burst mode without turning on the camera – check
    External controls protected from accidental movement – partial check! (ISO & Shutter have locks, the rest are stiff but can catch)
    Customisable EVF, show as many or as little icons as you want – check
    Customisable user menu – check
    Lots of Fn buttons – check
    2 sizes of accessory grip available (with built in arca) – check
    MS + ES (with the ability to use in tandem or separately) – check
    Accessory battery grip – check
    Choice of 3 MF aids
    UHS II – check
    Able to disable LCD, when using EVF, but still have image playback on the LCD – check
    Able to assign EVF only + eye sensor activation
    Weather sealing – probably could be better implemented….
    14 bit RAW – check
    1 click 100% magnification to focus point and image scroll at 100% – check

    That’s not to say that everything on your list is present on the Fuji, but forgive me for saying, it seems to be a omission from your camera list above?

    I DON’T want to come across as Fuji fanboy, and I understand their predilection for centre left sensors and not quite being there with AF limits their appeal, but in terms of user interface, they get a lot of things right in my view….

    But what’s your view?

    • Yes and no. I thought so too, and so I bought one. In practice, again: close, but no cigar. The number of hard controls is actually limiting because they don’t allow enough customisation and lock you into shooting the old film paradigm; not taking the most advantage of digital. On top of that, the buttons are tiny and recessed – almost impossible to press with gloves. Odd, don’t you think, given that the camera works around EVF/LV?

      • I agree re the buttons! I have a gen1 X-T1 (which in full disclosure, I often leave in the camera cupboard and take out the Pro1 instead as it suits my style better) but my understanding is that the buttons are tactilely better in the later models. Also IMO the biggest limitation of the physical controls is the lack of in-between selectable stops on the shutter dial, which Fuji have addressed in a FW update (iirc place shutter dial in T, use the click wheel to select any shutter speed)

        Anyways!

        I guess that ultimately my point is… if “you” had to take an existent model of camera, and address its short comings, rather than start over, Fuji is getting a lot of things right straight out of the box compared to the others… Bigger buttons and a touch screen pretty much fixes it! (Give or take one’s own need for blazing AF and acceptance of the X-Trans sensor or course)

        • I didn’t think AF on the Fujis was bad, actually. Faster than my A7RII at any rate – but then again, shorter FL lenses (a consequence of crop factor) don’t have to move elements as far to cover the same range of subject distance, so they can focus faster. On top of that, the elements are also physically smaller, which of course helps further.

          X Trans is usable, but not ideal – and has a lot of shortcomings compared to Bayer sensors (partially due to less software development attention, partially due to the inherent nature of the architecture) – but I feel does’t give back enough in return to justify it. So there we have yet another compromise…and I haven’t even started on the really strange UI issues within the camera itself, like the confusing view/display/info modes that have different buttons…

          • Luke Johnston says:

            I find your comments regarding Fujis quite comforting because I have no huge issue with the user interface. This is unsurprising though. I feel I only reached a point of technical competency as an amateur photographer in the last couple of years and I have had an X-E2 for 19 months. I guess I just accept the system’s quirks as given because I have kind of grown up using it. Ignorance is bliss and I am not convinced any improvements I would see from a system change are worth making a loss reselling three or four thousand dollars worth of lenses.

            I do wonder what you mean when you say “8.5/10 with the right workflow, 6/10 without” of the X-T1 though. I know this is probably covered in your workshop video but I am a Lightroom user and can’t see how the expense of buying it could be justified given I don’t use ACR or Photoshop.

            Could you elaborate on what you think the core difference between an X-Trans and Bayer workflow are? I know it’s asking a bit but I would be interested to read.

            Relatively recently I purchased to HTS 1 & 2. I really liked them both (particularly the 2nd). I really need to rewatch them, go out, and do the exercises actually. But you probably don’t want to hear about how lazy I am. Hahaha.

            Cheers.

            • A lot of fine detail and edge acuity is lost with the wrong sharpening settings, and shadow detail with the wrong curves. Even if you get both right, the files still don’t look quite as good as conventional Bayer output.

  82. With just about everything in life, there is no perfect one for everyone. We just have to decide what shortcomings we can live with along with what features are important to us. I did a lot of research before getting my first “real” camera and decided on going mirrorless over dslr. I liked the small size of mirrorless (especially on long backpacking trips where every ounce counts) because it just felt better in my hands. I liked the live view of and evf because I knew exactly what my picture was gonna look like before taking the shot although I will say ovf is more pleasant to look through. When I don’t need a fast shot I like to manual focus and mirrorless is better because of focus magnifier.

    Besides what I already mentioned and I don’t mean to nitpick, but a few things from you list stand out. “Peaking and exposure zebras are a must. At least a tilting rear LCD, if not fully articulated. One-press shortcut to magnify live view, preferably to 100% or a selectable magnification, with peaking. Instant preview of exposure even when magnified, and EVF brightness that either represents the scene or represents the exposure . “. The D810 and 5DSR can’t even do these things and most of the dslrs don’t even have tilting or articulating screens.

    Yes I know mirrorless has a lot of shortcomings, but for me the advantages they have are more important to me.

    • I was not referring specifically to features only found in DSLRs. However, you’re wrong, there are DSLRs that can do some or most of those things – I know, because I use them all the time:
      – Peaking is on Pentax DSLRs
      – Exposure zebras are on the D810 (and I think D750)
      – Tilting rear LCD (D750), articulated (D5500)
      – One press shortcut to magnify with instant exposure preview and customizable level – D810, D750, D5500, 5DSR, 645Z…
      – EVF brightness that represents scene or exposure: Sony, Olympus. Obviously not possible in a DSLR.

      • Hybrid OVF/EVF would be a good idea if possible.

        • I’m not sure it’s a good idea because of the extra complexity, and performance in low light. You can still use an optical finder in low light, but electronic finders don’t do so well with minimal brightness – leading to a whole host of other problems. Ruining night vision with EVFs is something unexpected that I encountered recently on one very low light shoot. Personally, I’d rather have all optical or all EVF – and the latest generation of EVFs (the Leica SL in particular) is so good that I think we’re about there.

          • Having owned both now, OVF is my preference too. DSLR is a formula that works for me. That said, having focus peaking projected into the OVF would be like a modern day split prism focusing screen.

            • There was nothing wrong with the old split prism screens – so long as the finders had the optics and alignment to match!

              • Is there a way for an individual to check, and if need be correct, alignment, or is this something beyond what a hobbyist can achieve? Besides the shot discipline and thought process, the main reason I shoot film these days is because of the pure joy of using the split-screen.

                • Not easily. You can certainly check it – if a lens has asymmetric performance on one body and not another, then there’s something wrong with the bodies – but there’s nothing you can do to easily shim mounts or AF submirrors or sensors etc.

              • How difficult is the 645z to focus on screen? Excluding weight it tics a lot of boxes….

                • In LV, easy. In the finder…not so much. The focusing screen is very similar in coarseness/snap to a modern DSLR.

                  • I heard a claim that the AF is more precise (albeit slower) than that of other DSLRs (possibly due to the larger comparable f-stops of medium format lenses). Is this true? Is AF reasonably precise?

                    • Not really, and I’m not sure we can compare it in that way because it depends also on the speed of processing algorithms and the motors inside the lenses…

  83. The interchangeable grips have been done before (the original Olympus Pens and the Canon G1X mark II come to mind), so you can drop the italics there. On a more serious note, I’ve found myself agreeing vigorously with some of your points, while some left me cold and a few even drew a “hell no!”, which is the crux of the problem: we don’t want the same things from our cameras. I’m quite pleased with the current mirrorless offerings as dSLR complements. Improved EVFs (in high contrast situations mostly) and an autofocus that can actually track a subject might even tempt me to give up dSLRs altogether but the main problem I see in current cameras, regardless of the finder technology used, is the long, tedious, complicated workflow. Some of it is software, sure, but cameras need to evolve too. Where are explicit file names and folder structures? When will we get automatic in-camera keywording based on presets/GPS location/date? Why not use face recognition to tag images? And don’t get me started on file transfer…

    • I do remember those grips but don’t consider those to be a real ergonomic solution; in handling none of them are comfortable and sadly they feel more like a fashion accessory.

      I’m curious: what were the strong objections?

      • “Strong” might have been too strong a word, but I found myself disagreeing to some degree with three of your comments. I don’t like the power switch around the shutter release. I’m all for one handed operation, but I think this is a good spot for a control wheel (eg E-M1), and I prefer soft power buttons to switches, so you can start the camera in playback mode by hitting the play button, for example. I also disagree with the remark on CDAF being sufficient as long as it’s fast enough. It’s been more than fast enough on static subjects for years now, but it really can’t track a moving subject. My (limited) understanding of how AF works leads me to believe that CDAF can’t track by design. So until something new comes along PDAF is a must. Last, I used to wish Arca plates would be built in the cameras, but I now prefer to have the choice between L-bracket, fore-aft or left-right orientation, or no quick release at all for maximum compacity.

        • That works too – though it’s too easy to accidentally power on in a bag. I like the physical indication of power on or not especially if the rest of the camera can run dark (i.e. no screens/displays on like the Nikons).

          As for CDAF – there are sadly still plenty of instances in which it isn’t fast enough even for static subjects. Sony is a case in point.

  84. Sensor cleaning is very neat…but it does mean a thicker cover glass which will degrade the image quality a bit.

  85. Harry DeYong says:

    I have a Canon SL1 and the ‘kit’ 18-55 STM lens, more or less as a backup for the other SLR. It can take surprisingly good pictures, is cheap and very light. It’s been a really pleasant surprise.

    • Agreed – the entry level stuff these days is really very good. I’ve been shooting with a D5500 for the last week, and frankly am left questioning what else one needs (large print needs aside).

      • It’s why I’m dumping full frame mirrorless and going back to crop DSLR (thankfully kept hold of all the Pentax gear). Full frame lenses on crop sensor works well enough for me.

        • I’m increasingly starting to think that might be a good temporary house.

          • It’s reliable, tried and tested and user friendly, cost effective. Why keep emptying the wallet? What for?

            • Chasing the unicorn, tilting at windmills etc…. 🙂

              • Speaking of unicorns, Pentax full frame is supposedly coming in the spring. Must say I’m rather excited. The price of the (unstabilised!) 70-200/2.8 is horrific mind, like way more than the cost of refitting the bathroom. Way more!

                • I wonder how those Limited lenses will perform. They all get IS though, thanks to sensor shift…too bad they didn’t go full EVF with that thing to make the most of it.

                  • I’ve got the 31/43/77 combo. The 31 was a dog out of the box until I got it fixed, now it’s as advertised. They are jewels, all with character. EVF hybrid was rumoured but who knows? Just so long as Pentax (Ricoh?) stick to the same K-series formula with pixel shift as a bonus will do me for years. Needs to be fast in all respects above all else.

      • Peter Greenwald says:

        Ming, I’ve been thinking the same about using a D5500 when I don’t want to bring a my larger D810, but what types of lenses have you been using with the D5500, FX or DX? Nikon FX lenses eliminate much of the size benefit of the D5500, but Nikon DX lenses genrally seem limited in focal length and/or IQ, and are not that much smaller than FX.

        • The f1.8Gs. Mainly the 35 DX since longer benefits from IS (i.e. use the A7RII/85 Batis/180 APO or D810/24-120) and for shorter I use the Q.

  86. Great article Ming! I hope a camera company takes you up on your offer. – Eric

  87. You don’t mention Fuji? My X-T1 and X100s and even my wife’s X-E2 seems to do most of what you want. Not full frame of course, but that would make the lenses larger

    • I don’t, because a) the X100’s lens is inadequate for the sensor; b) the hard controls do not offer customisation and are a paradigm of the old photographic variables – they are not really adaptable. When I owned the X-T1 I felt myself wanting to change things that had no hard controls, and not using any of the dials.

  88. Harry DeYong says:

    A great analysis, Ming.
    It’s interesting to note, that of all the examples you gave of things that had been done right, neither Canon or Nikon appeared one single time. And yet, they outsell everybody else, and have for quite a while. Your go-to camera is a Nikon, mine’s a Canon.
    Over the last several years, I’ve looked at just about everything else, and never did find anything that to me, was a better all-round camera, dollar for dollar.
    There’s been times when I have thought that my car would be better with such and such an engine, and this particular transmission, and those brakes, that handling, etc., but getting it all into one package is never going to happen, unless I literally assemble it myself.
    It seems each company has it’s strong and weak points, but none are good at everything, and I’m not sure that will ever change.
    I guess there’s always hope.

    • It could be a Canon too – I enjoyed the 5DSR and it did what I needed it to do, but in the end didn’t really offer me any more than the D810 on the balance of things so there wasn’t any sense in switching. Yet antiquated as these two behemoths are…no, there still isn’t a credible replacement.

  89. “The ability to turn off the rear LCD completely for night use, or to set playback in LCD and live view in EVF (with LCD off). I’m surprised nobody really gets this right.”

    Actually my Fuji x100T (or any x100 for that matter) can do just this. EVF only for live view, and switches to the LCD when I want to playback. It’s something I really miss on my a7RII.

  90. peterwgallagher says:

    Ming, this is great. You do us all a great favor by putting this where (if they’re at all responsive… open to doubt) the companies can take notice. It’s unfortunate that competitive conditions are such they don’t already feel the need to produce both mirror-less and compacts with these characteristics.

    Nothing on your list demands a high level of innovation. Nor is the list as a whole is terribly challenging. The price point may be a factor: but my observation of the market in the past two or three years suggests that, even if the absolute number of units sold at this level (“bridge”, mirrorless, “enthusiast” compacts) is falling, it is not because of some new, sharp price sensitivity on the part of consumers. Quite the opposite. I also agree with you that a camera that showed the sort of thought implied by your list would be a commercial ‘winner’.

    I recently shopped *hard* for a compact to take on long hikes. In the end I stuck with my Ricoh GR because (other than an EVF and to a lesser extent IS, as you note… Damnit! I hate frame a stable shot using the rear screen, especially in sunlight) it still ticks more of your boxes than anything I could find (incl. sensor size/IQ) in a compact camera.

    I hope your recent chat with Kazuto Yamaki produces some movement along these lines.

    Best,

    Peter

    • Thanks Peter. I don’t think anything I’ve asked for hasn’t been done before, or conflicts with anything else – and that’s what gets me. Price is no excuse; look at the Leica SL…

    • I’m also stuck with the GR for now. There’s simply nothing out there in similar size that comes close in IQ. If only Ricoh had added some sort of IS in the GRii, plus a touch screen interface. Heck, even software based stabilization could be enough, knowing it’s a fixed lens. That’s all they needed to do. Instead they basically added wifi and left it at that. Huge disappointment. Well, all is not bad, it’s still a superlative little camera. The only real downside is that I need to haul a tripod or at least a monopod in lower light. I can live with that.

      • It can be a little tripod too, since there’s little weight and vibration. The Manfrotto 345 tabletop works pretty well.

        • Thanks for the tip, will look into that! My current tripod is Sirui and looks like they also offer tabletop models. The 3T looks rather interesting. I’ve been happy with Sirui quality, so that’s my first choice.

      • peterwgallagher says:

        Hi Mikko,

        Stability is a problem at the edges of the envelope. But I have many more problems with stability on my DSLR beyond 50mm than I ever have with the GR. I use a monopod (a leg from my tripod that removes) with my GR for taking panoramas. I find it adds sufficient stability combined with tilt, yaw indicator to take sharp shots at base ISO (100) down to < 1/20s. I also use the monopod with a Ricoh CA-2 shutter cable to take shots well above head height e.g. over crowds or fences (but in that case, at 'ISO High' set to 3200). Oddly useful.

        I think I sometimes mistook diffraction at low apertures for shake (when shooting at f/13 and f/16). But now I rarely stop down below f/7.1, which seems to be the right aperture for the GR for anything beyond about 3 m.

        PS: Good to see Ming's ideas have won endorsement on e.g. DPReview.

  91. +1 for an integrated Arca compatible rail. Sony A7II series in particular still suffer from a weak body/lens flange configuration. Integrated rail with make the camera structurally stronger.

  92. John bresnen says:

    Hi Ming, I’m 80 and really know zilch about digital cameras. I’ve read 100 reviews on various cameras and finally bought
    a Panasonic GX7 with a lens you liked…A Olympus 12-40mm/2.8 pro…Thought I could learn and be happy with it. With this
    post Ming, you thru a damper on my choice. I respect you a great deal and I will continue to read your posts but, you sure
    make me wonder about my purchase. John

    • The lens has nothing to do with the camera body…and the GX7 wasn’t something I’ve even used, sorry.

    • John, you shouldn’t buy a camera/lens because other people like it, you should buy it because you like it.

      The GX7 is a superb camera, more than capable for most shooting scenarios. The fact is there is no perfect camera, and there is always a tradeoff between size/price/IQ.

    • Excellent body, great lens! I wouldn’t be “damped” using that combination for sure, just get out and shoot, you’ve already made a good choice. 🙂
      After years and thousands of dollars chasing the “right” camera, I have finally stopped…thanks in no small way to reading this blog, reassessing personal sufficiency, “growing” out of the fruitless chase and now own one decent..ish mirrorless with just the minimum in glass, and one compact. Until they give out on me I’m not upgrading any time soon, unless something really really special, along the lines drawn up in this post is produced. And truly, not even then. This blog has saved me a lot of money! 😉 🙂

  93. Lossless compression of raw files is fine. What Sony was using, lossy compression is not.

    I mostly use the Panasonic GH4, Olympus E-M1, and Panasonic GX8 but I also use a Nikon D7200. The D7200 has shown me that what I really need is the Panasonic GH4 with Olympus’ auto focus. I appreciate the D7200, as I do my Olympus dSLRs, but the GH4 is far more useful, especially in the dark.

    • Raw compression: agreed.

      Why is the GH4 more useful? Curious to hear.

      • Specifically, the GH4 works better in low light situations. It can capture photos when the D7200 refuses. What good is better image quality if the camera refuses to take an image at all?

        The articulated rear display is incredibly useful in architectural photography, as well as video, allowing me better angles more easily and far more flexibility.

        Also, the speed at which I can make adjustments is much faster than with the D7200. The Olympus E-5 is equally easy to be adjusted but has become poor technology.

        The D7200 is only more useful in the selection of lenses and the high ISO black & white modes. I like it very much, but when getting work done, it is more of a problem than an aid.

  94. I love my OMD-EM1 (and 12-40) for its ease of use. I love my D800 (esp w/ 85 ƒ1.8G) for its output quality. But I’d REALLY love a full-frame mirrorless that would give me the best of both worlds. Doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request these days.

  95. PaulHigley says:

    Excellent, as always. As I was reading, it occurred that the GH4 seems to check many of these boxes. Worth a look?

    • Thanks – it’s huge though with a small sensor, and expensive – which rather defeats the point of mirrorless, no?

      • Paul Higley says:

        Agree, I wish it was AP-C at least for IQ, but then the lenses are larger… I have the EM-5 II for the IS, tiny primes, & ability to be downsized to discreet-ness.. but generally grab the GH4 when I can because the somewhat larger form factor is nicer in the hand & the direct dials & function buttons are fantastic. What I love about M 4/3 is the small lenses, the body being a little larger is ok with me.. and the grip comes off. Plus the PanaLeica/Lumix lenses are fantastic. If it had the effective continuous AF of DSLRs, I’d be a really happy dude.

        • Small body, small lenses – that balances and works ergonomically. There’s a limit to how small, but some range of acceptable, too. Bigger body, small lenses works too – the GH4 isn’t much smaller than a D750 (!) and there are small, light, good f1.8 primes for that camera. The ergonomics of both work, but then again, the E-M1 and E-M5II balance well with M4/3 lenses and are much smaller too…

      • PaulHigley says:

        Agree, wish it was AP-C for IQ, but then lenses are larger…. I’d can accept the larger body with the smaller lenses, for me it’s the main benefit of m4/3. I have the EM5-II for the amazing IS, use with small Oly primes & ability to downsize into a discreet go-anywhere camera…. but I much prefer the ergonomics & size of the GH4. Direct control dials/button layout is fantastic, and the PanaLeica/Lumix lenses are so good! If the GH4 had great continuous AF, I’d be one happy dude.

        Love the site, Ming. I read a handful of blogs, but only yours gets my full attention.

  96. How about this innovative camera Ming? Would love to hear your thoughts on it: https://vimeo.com/143690545

  97. Well said. I have been looking for a camera smaller and lighter than a DSLR but with DSLR performance and controls for the last couple of years and found nothing that makes a purchase worthwhile.

    • Silly question, but a small DSLR may be the solution…

      • Grame, I had a Canon 100D once (before my brother lost in on a plane, of all things =_=). Great IQ (for my intended purposes), small, lightweight, and fast. Pair it with the 24mm pancake STM lens and it’s an amazing travel camera.

        Only problem with that was the tiny excuse of a grip, which is workable but not very comfortable (and my hands aren’t exactly large). Saw some third party accessory makers making a grip for this, but I never got to try it before the camera disappeared.

        Might be worth a look? Or wait and see if it’s successor fits the bill?

        p.s. almost forgot, it’s called the Rebel SL1 in some parts of the world.

        • I nearly bought one of those on so many occasions – but the file quality wasn’t that good, and the price rather high/premium for just the size. I’d suggest trying the D5500…they got the ergonomics very right on that one.

          • Hi Ming,
            Are the D5500’s 14-bit RAW files compressed? If so, what do you reckon that you lose?

            • They are compressed. I think there is a) some fine detail loss in extreme highlights and b) a little bit of noise in the shadows, but that’s about it. The compression isn’t that much – compared to say a D750’s lossless compressed files, perhaps 10-15%. This suggests there isn’t that much information lost at all.

        • I have a Canon 100D. It’s a nice little camera, and feels great with a pancake lens such as the EF 40mm. The 100D is an APS-C though.
          The biggest problem I have with this camera is the viewfinder. It is reasonably bright, but it is very small. It makes me feel like I am seating in the back row of a movie theatre where the screen is too small and far.

    • Graeme, what do you have at the moment?

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