11.03.2015

A popular blogger has written a blog in which he implores camera makers to let him consult. For free. Hmmmm. Not sure I want that.

Jules. The on site photographer at the Graffiti Park.

Note: if you are coming here because someone posted the link on DPReview and you disagree with what I've written,  please be advised that: 1. I have read the blog article in question quite thoroughly --- and more than once. 2. I have used "hyperbole" (exaggeration) to make a point. 3. You are welcome to comment but if you just came here to act poorly I will, of course, delete any comment you make...this is NOT a DPReview forum...

Hubris is a cool word that basically means you think you've got more superpowers that you really do, and it's just a matter of time before you try to fly and hit the sidewalk. At least that's my translation. Blogger Ming Thein wrote a piece that he posted last night cataloging many of the failures of the mirrorless cameras on the market. In his estimation either the manufacturers are stupid, out of touch, reticent to admit failure or....they just don't understand photography. Or cameras. He provided a list of all the things every camera maker should include on their products in order to pass muster. It was a long and detailed list along the lines of..."My perfect car would get 100 miles to the gallon and go 150 miles per hour, it would seat eight comfortably but still fit in the compact spaces..., the interior would be as cleanly designed as an Apple phone but would have 30 cup holders. etc. etc.

Some of the points he makes are obvious. We all wish every camera had as good an image stabilization system as the Olympus. But what if the trade off for IS performance is sensor size? The smaller sensor with smaller mass is easier to control. Full frame cameras will always be a few steps behind. Instant start up is desirable, of course, and as soon as the entire supply pipeline is filled with faster micro controllers all the cameras will start up quicker. Most people want weatherproofing which adds to the cost and complexity of the product. But doesn't everyone also want prices to fall?

I hate to burst his bubble but the reason there isn't a "perfect" mirrorless camera on the market is precisely because everyone seems to want their version to be customized to their wants and needs rather than being a universal design with all the compromises that entails. I want my m4:3 cameras be bigger. Most people I know love that they are small. I love the EVFs in all the cameras but
you can keep the LCD screen and give me a discount for the subtraction.

I live in fear (not really) that one of my favorite camera makers might actually listen to Ming and incorporate his vision for cameras into the cameras I already like just fine, and in doing so create a monster camera from hell at a price that very few would be able to afford. Otus lens on the front, bloated battery grip on the body and lots of zany stuff in between.

I get where he's coming from...kinda. There's always one or two little things I'd like to change in most cameras I've owned. It's tempting to think that I could make Olympus change the menus that I find problematic, but in truth, even with my brilliant mind, I am not sure I could do any better a job balancing the market's desire for customization of the camera with menu simplicity. It's titillating to think that I could get Panasonic to relent, just a little bit, and add a standard headphone jack to their new GX8 (what a great package that would be) but the reality is that the absence of that feature isn't a design consideration as much as a marketing consideration. A desire not to cannabalize sales of the upcoming GH5 or existing sales of the GH4.

And what if one pundit could worm his way into the process and bend it? Would he have changed the size of the D750 to match his hand size instead of leaving it alone so it would match my hand size? Would he insist that all raw files be uncompressed 16 bit and in so doing doom all of us pros to either using Jpeg or filling countless hard drives with big, fat images that, visibly, are no better than files half their size? Does instant start up trump power conservation?

At the end of the day most of us tend to find cameras that work pretty well for us. I may have camera ADHD but I enjoy using almost all of them. I adapt to the different features and "shortcomings" because I think that in actuality having the "perfect tool" would be limiting. Creativity works best when there is some friction involved, and not only the intellectual level but also the tool level.

To be charitable I think Ming just hasn't come to grips with the ever changing nature of the camera market right now and the fact that in older days we worked with cameras not just for months but for years and years, and that's why they felt so perfect and well rationalized to us. We knew exactly how to turn the focusing ring or the aperture ring because we had done so tens of thousands of times before. The muscle memory made everything seem familiar and correct. Of course the new Leica SL seems odd in one's hands --- it's only been around for short while. Throw away all other cameras and use an SL for five years straight, everyday. I guarantee you that at the end you'll love the feel of the camera and the size and everything else will seem "off" to you. The kids in our business didn't just miss the trials and tribulations of shooting and printing film, they also missed out on the stability of camera systems over time, and how easily one adapted (every ten years or so) to a new body in the same family because of the similarities. A professional body got launched once every ten years or so. The Leica M bodies (with the exception of the M5) have held onto their basic design aesthetic for over sixty years. That gave photographers a lot of time to get used to the camera and the way it operates.  How silly people are these days, with the expectation that every camera should be able to be mastered in a week. What happened to those "ten thousand hours?"

But it's not just Ming among the bloggers who feels as though he possesses more knowledge of camera design and operation than companies who've been actively engaged for decades and decades. I constantly read that Thom Hogan thinks the major makers are in a slump because they only do tiny iterations instead of monumental changes to their products. Being a Nikon shooter he takes Nikon to task on a regular basis for just making incremental improvements and adjustments to their cameras and expecting us to keep buying them. But I will tell you that I can't discount that Nikon has the market figured out as well as anyone else. I shot with Nikon F cameras back in the day and really, the D810 isn't that different, ergonomically, than the F100 or F5. And those cameras weren't altogether different from the F4 and F3, and so on.

Perhaps the camera designers got a lot of things right back in the day and are loathe to jump onto the latest shrinkage bandwagon precisely because they know they got it right. They know that making cameras smaller carries the risk that they will cross over a line into an area where the smaller profiles and lack of real estate actually impedes the smooth and effective use of the camera. They are trying to balance fads with proven handling and design.

I personally would love to see EVFs in the top line Nikon cameras but I know a huge number of shooters would not like it. At least they don't think they'd like it. But I am smart enough to know that just because I think something is an important feature or control doesn't mean my taste is shared by everyone, or even a majority of camera buyers. I would like for Olympus to make their cameras bigger so my pinkie finger doesn't hang off the edge. Many friends choose the Olympus cameras just because of their small size.

Why are camera sales falling like crazy? It's not the phones and it's not the unwanted size or features of the traditional cameras. The market for cameras and photographers has been in an artificial and intertwined bubble since about 2002. The market is returning to the historic stasis that sits between earth shattering changes ( auto exposure -- auto focus --- digital)  in the consumer market for cameras, which is driven by "something new." We're settling back into a market of sane acquisitions and that looks a lot like flat-lining if you've always been riding a tidal wave. 

If I were to give out advice (which I am loathe to do) I would advise people to buy cameras based on image quality and handling and then learn over time to overlook, modifier or create workarounds for the few things in every camera that aren't designed exactly for you. If the makers start making "one off" cameras just for you I can imagine that the stock Leica SL and a bag of lenses will start looking dirt cheap pretty quickly.

The one feature I want? Real leather coverings and all metal dials. See? Crazy!

Added a day later: https://luminous-landscape.com/is-good-good-enough/


30 comments:

amolitor said...

Spot on.

Most of the pundits out there are (seemingly) unaware that the process of product development is one of tradeoffs. If you spend effort on this feature, however small, you're taking effort away from another feature. It's not like Nikon et al are struggling to fill the lonely hours, they have their teams working flat out, all the time, working on new products and new features.

Andre said...

Come on Kirk: you are usually much better than this. How about giving the guy the benefit of the doubt instead of immediately assuming the most absurd interpretations of his suggestions?

Unlike your hypothetical 100 MPG, 150MPH minivan, almost nothing in Ming's lists are physically difficult, because most of them have to do with software design choices that can be implemented today in existing hardware. Perhaps the only physical thing that might be difficult is robust weathersealing with an articulated touchscreen, but Olympus seems to have done that, so probably not. The handgrip suggestion was as a modular system which is not a new concept as several commenters have pointed out, and companies like Fuji, Sony, RRS, and Franiec sell such things today.

So maybe his suggestion of being appointed design consultant rubbed you the wrong way, but why not address his ideas directly instead of the personality behind it or the last measley paragraph in his whole essay? He's not the only one whose found aggravating limitations in today's cameras that go beyond one design preferences, and I'd love to see many of his improvements implemented.

Cpt Kent said...

The best thing about my iPhone is the leather (apple made) case. So, no, your not crazy!

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Andre, I'll stand by this one. Every reviewer, hell, every camera purchaser might think they have the secret sauce for making the ultimate camera but it's pure hubris to act as though one is so gifted as to be the savant/panacea for all mirrorless camera companies. While my examples were exaggerated all of them were quite apt. I think reviewers in general fail to understand the calculus required to bring products to market at various price points. I also think some reviewers have such personalized visions of what constitutes "good" cameras as to put them way outside the main stream markets. Finally, as I explained, some things like start up times are at the mercy of chip tech and purchasing of chip tech and newer designs get faster. Soon all cameras will be instantaneous. There will always be another reproach.

In the future, don't start your comments with "You are usually much better than this." I make no attacks on Ming as a human or a photographer but his assumption that he knows best where mirrorless camera design is involved is laughable and should be called out.

"You are usually much better than this." usually causes me to reflexively hit the delete button on comments but I wanted to use this one to comment right back...

Anonymous said...

I'll take the leather covers and the metal buttons. Had not thought of those before. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I'm so tired of hearing how every camera that comes along has some fatal flaw. And yet, so many people are able to use them so well. Makes you stop and think.

Willie said...

Totally agree, Kirk.

Those of us around decades ago somehow or other managed to use the equipment and the placement of this button or that switch was accommodated quite easily.

It sometimes amuses me when I read columns by Ming, Thom et al., about what manufacturers should(could) do.

Here's an idea - why don't those companies open up a 'custom shop' where anyone can order the camera of their own choice and design? Of course, then Ming, Thom et al., will no doubt complain about the exorbitant cost of said gear!

In the meantime, perhaps the gear oriented reviewers could, just for a change, show some decent images, rather than endless prattle about gear and complaints about stuff which quite frankly doesn't prevent working pros or die-hard enthusiasts actually producing fine work.

Same goes for Lloyd - enough of the boring, emotionless images of sierra trees, old mines, snow covered rocks. Sure the latest Zeiss lens is sharp and has this property and that ability - WE KNOW - how about an interesting image for a change?

Rant over.

Rusty said...

One thing is true when buying anything: consider three things: price, service and quality;
pick any 2

Andy deBruyn said...

I purchased an OM-1 in 1976 and last used it in 2007 in Italy with black gaffer tape holding the back on. For 31 years all I had to do was slap some Kodachrome 25 or Fuji in there and I made some pretty stunning images. I switched to digital in 2008 but boy am I tired of the constant deluge of marketing hype and everybody spouting specs. Take pictures, people! Thanks, for a great post, Kirk.

Hugh said...

Perfect mirrorless camera... The Nikon D810 or Canon 5D3 replacement, just mirrorless. Change my lenses... Not a chance.
Size, ergonomics.. All pretty much worked out already thanks.

Noons said...

"I would like for Olympus to make their cameras bigger so my pinkie finger doesn't hang off the edge"...
Had the same problem. Solved it by adding a reasonably cheap aftermarket handle that is *just* the right size for my pinkie to find a resting place.
See? The system works! ;)

All jokes aside: I can somewhat see Ming's points. In a nutshell, the guy is tired of waiting for "his perfect camera".
Problem is precisely that: the "his" before "perfect"!

Having been in the same boat many, many times since the Nikon F days, I've now taken the direction of finding a base camera that has all the stuff I can't fix sorted out right and add-on where needed for the little leftovers. And learn to live with anything that is still not quite right at the end.

Hence why I am totally, firmly hooked by m4/3 and the Oly version of it.
And the rest is after-market stuff!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kirk, I was staying at the Hampton, in Tulsa, and they would not allow me to connect with the VSL. Something about the site being inappropiate.

1. I hate tool friction. For me, the best camera, stays completely out-of-my-way.

2. I held a Nikon F with my middle finger and thumb, the first finger pushes the button. The third finger and pinkie tucked under the camera. I hold a Sony mirrorless the same way as an F. When using a Nikon F100 or Canon 5D3, I use the thumb and middle finger grip, with the third finger and pinkie pointed straight ahead (never touching the camera). I treat the right hand as if it was steering a car. The left hand does the heavy lifting (like gripping handle on a wheelbarrow).

3. I was waiting for the Panasonic GX8. Then I saw it was larger and heavier than my FFFilm Leica LTM. Sorry no sale.

$ For me, an iPhone with a computational camera will be perfect. Maybe the iPhone 8 (here hoping).

Mark Davidson said...

And I remember what heresy the M5 was but people were too shocked/ confused/polite to say too much about it and quietly tried to pretend it hadn't happened.

Marshall said...

Keeping discussions like this up is valuable. It *can* help development. But Ming positions his list as representing all of us, and thus claims that we'd be doing "the entire photographic community a favour ..." to share his list. Sorry, I don't even agree with all of the list and some of the features have so little value to me that I'd be perfectly happy not to have companies investing product development effort in them. So, I'm not sharing it and I doubt anything in there would surprise the people at the camera makers, but I wholly support his efforts to generate ideas, consider features, and get people thinking.

atmtx said...

My problems is, I like almost every camera. Though, of course, each has its pluses and minuses, for me. I found that I take satisfactory photos with most cameras. One learns to adapt and as you said Kirk, "Creativity works best when there is some friction involved". That's one of the reason I like playing with a bunch of different cameras.

Robert said...

Great post, Kirk.

Truth be told, we've never had more choices than we do now; never had more advanced technology than we see today; and cameras do more and are far more ergonomic than what many of us grew up shooting with in the '60s, '70s, or '80s.

And I firmly agree that what we're seeing is a settling down of the market, particularly for camera manufacturers and sales. They rode the high of the digital tidal tsunami right through till about 2012, but now that the tsunami has abated, they're recognizing that they're going to have to shrink their overinflated state to accommodate. Wouldn't surprise me to see Nikon forced to shrink to the size they were in the early 1980s, frankly. No company wants to do this, but it's actually started already.

"We're settling back into a market of sane acquisitions and that looks a lot like flat-lining if you've always been riding a tidal wave."

Great quote. To the end of that sentence I would only add: "…and have a short frame of reference."

Paul said...

Perfect house, perfect car, perfect camera doesn't exist and never will - even if you build it yourself. All are a compromise usually limited by price and even if price is no barrier you are bound to want something different 2 seconds after you take delivery.

I agree that film bodies had a much longer half life before we succumbed to GAS and bought something new.

ODL Designs said...

Ming has a bit of a know it all attitude. The last time I visited his site and one of the first times I commented was to take note of him dating M43rds "isn't printable". He took huge offense even claiming that graphic designers would " print anything ".

While I did enjoy a number if his images I could take any more of his behavior so I stopped reading there.

Your point is well taken, I have stuck with m43 despite any niggles or Sony temptations but an aware that my need to buy new gear is all but noon-existent.

Thanks for a great read.

John Ricard said...

Back in the day, the Nikon F3 was tremendously popular. It stayed in production even after the introduction of the F5. The F4 (my personal all time favorite camera) came and went, but the F3 hung around for about 20 years. Oddly, it had 2 major design flaws. First, the flash sync was only 1/80. Second, the on camera flash was dramatically off center. It was placed above the rewind crank instead of on the hot shoe. You could install spot flash pictures taken with the F3 because there was ALWAYS a shadow on the right side of the photograph.

But, as Kirk writes, people adapted to these shortcomings. They focused on what they liked about the camera.

If the F3 were released today, we'd be reading countless posts about what a disaster it is and what a sad day it is for Nikon...

Gary said...

I bought too many cameras and slowly came to this realization, too (adapting myself to the idosyncrasies of the camera)

Robin said...

I agree with your analysis Kirk. I too thought Ming's post was way too precious. Many pundits seem to give the impression that it is impossible to take a decent photo unless one has the perfect setup - whatever that is. I think it is more an excuse either to buy more kit or to continue testing ad absurdam.

James Weekes said...

As with cameras, it is the same with cars. There is no perfect car. Every new car I have had has new things that are different than my last car. It takes about 6 months for these changes to become instinctive and not irritating. If you read car reviews in car magazines they are currently cheesed off about the infotainment interfaces on a lot of new cars. I believe Ford and GM take a lot of hits. I have talked to the owners of a number of these cars and, sure enough, six months later they are comfortable with the system. Time in and on the job training are valuable. I can still pick up my old Rolleiflex SL66 and feel totally comfortable.

Ming's column is great fun to read. He is a bit picky but his photos are usually lovely. He sets high standards for himself and sometimes projects them a bit too much onto the camera makers.

He's not as much fun as you are to read either.

theaterculture said...

I always figure Thom is just sort of trolling the world - saying provocative things that seem logical if you don't notice that the premises of his arguments are massive assumptions based on no apparent data and his supposed "tech insider" background. Shame to see Ming kind of heading in the same direction. His reviews are often really thorough and (mostly) grounded in practical use and good sense - he's one of the few people you can find on the web, present Tuck accepted, who will sing the praises of kit lenses - but this article does smack of pointless technophile pot-stirring.

I dunno, that kind of thing probably drives reader traffic. I imagine the present article, and Thom's techno-babbleous market-nomic discussification, probably appeal very strongly to the sort of online personalities who respond to every question about what computer a person might consider buying by berating them for not doing their own build to save $75 and get an extra dose of performance so incredibly special it can't even be detected in the real world (sorry - currently in the market for a new computer and made the mistake of asking techie friends to help me choose between 4 possible Mac and Windows systems, only to learn that all 4 will do everything I want them to but the fact that I don't want to socket my own motherboard makes me a vastly inferior being).

And, well Kirk, you've sort of got the "slightly curmudgeonly and thoroughly commonsensical working professional" persona wrapped up, so the others have got to do something different...

Robert Hudyma said...

Kirk and especially Ming: Too much techno-babble. TL;DR.

I unplugged the Internet, left the Smartphone at home, loaded my Leica IIIf with film and walked to work taking pictures all the way. Best decision I made in a long time.

I think that Henri Cartier Bresson did that too. You can learn a lot by looking at his images.

Colin B said...

Good post, Kirk. The constant demand that camera makers put out newer, 'better' models every 6 months in the search for perfection has now reached absurd proportions. And it's particularly annoying when Internet 'experts' purport to speak for all of us when they tell camera companies what 'we' want. Well here's a newsflash - some of us don't want or need radical changes every year in order to take the kind of photos we want.

Prompted by your comments about the design similarities between Nikons from film days up to the present, I thought about my own history with the brand. I started with an 801 (8008 in the U.S. I believe) which I bought in 1992 because it had a revolutionary thing called autofocus. I then progressed to a F100 followed by a D100 (first affordable digital model) then a D2x (needed a more rugged body) then a used D700 (needed better low light performance) and finally D750 (needed a second body and, because I shoot a lot of low light sports, good high ISO and greater MP for cropping purposes were useful). So that's 6 cameras in 23 years and the last 2 are the ones I currently use.

My point? I bought a new body only when there was a major technological change that met a real need for the type of photography I did. Not because a button had moved half a millimetre to the left on the new model or because of a new gimmick in the menu. And the fact that my D750 bears a lot of similarities to the previous models in terms of looks and handling - right the way back to the body I bought in 1992 - is a GOOD thing as far as I'm concerned, not a sign of laziness on the part of the camera companies.

So my plea to Nikon and all the rest - please don't let these self appointed internet experts within a thousand miles of your design departments, You're doing just fine on your own.

David Schultz said...

I think they should match every request in Ming's list. I also think that my favorite quarterback should stop throwing interceptions- in fact, he should just throw touchdowns. And my favorite bands should only record amazing songs that are all number 1 hits. And while we're at it, Hollywood should stop making anything other than Oscar-winning blockbusters. Why is that so hard?

Jon M said...

I saw that video you mentioned (https://luminous-landscape.com/is-good-good-enough/) and it's always refreshing to hear that point of view. At some point, you just have to go out and actually make some photos and stop obsessing over the gear. :-)

Anonymous said...

"The smaller sensor with smaller mass is easier to control. Full frame cameras will always be a few steps behind."
- It isn't easier. Smaller sensor that has densier pixels requires far more accuratehigher accuracy for the IS than bigger sensor with less dense pixels.
After all still 16Mpix 4/3" sensor is same as 64Mpix 35mm sensor.

"Most people I know love that they are small. I love the EVFs in all the cameras but you can keep the LCD screen and give me a discount for the subtraction."
- Yes please! Remove the LCD from back and just offer good EVF. You get thinner camera that can have more buttons at the place of LCD!
Mirrorless cameras don't need LCD anymore as EVF allows us to review the images and adjust settings in bright sunlight. DSLR need that LCD to be digital!

"Would he insist that all raw files be uncompressed 16 bit and in so doing doom all of us pros to either using Jpeg or filling countless hard drives with big, fat images that, visibly, are no better than files half their size?"
- No thank you! Yes, offer us a possibility! Like DNG with 16bit (even if sensor is 12/14bit) so the pixel peepers can have their joy. But offer us mere mortals the tools that does the job!

"Many friends choose the Olympus cameras just because of their small size."
- I did too. But I like that pinkie under camera. That is one of that "10 000 hours" thing ;) Just keep it there and it becomes far more stable camera than using D800 or 5D. You get better grip that way too. The pinkie is hand strongest finger and there only to hold on the grip.
But it gets tired easily as well. Under the camera it holds better the grip and gives stronger stability to keep camera steady. I was annoyed it at first, until I learned.

"that looks a lot like flat-lining if you've always been riding a tidal wave."
- Exactly! Marketing propaganda people with statics like to show us the last year or two and doom us all!
Instead if they would show us the statics from last 20 years they would see that DSLR cameras peaked and people bought those a lot as they transferred from SLR.
And those people don't upgrade their cameras as 5-8Mpix is good enough. And they upgrade only rarely instead every year like Sony want us to believe.
At the time phones didn't have cameras or they were crappy. Lots of people bought pocket cameras and then switched to digital ones and just holded on those. Of course sales drop when mobile phones replace the pocket camera!
But system cameras will just return back to the old decades old sales rate!

Marty4650 said...

Kirk, I really have to agree with you. Smartphone excuse can be used to explain the dramatic decline of low end camera sales, but it cannot explain why mid level and high end camera sales have fallen a bit.

My theory is that camera makers have become victims of their own success. Their products are so good today, that most people have no real need to upgrade as frequently. The market for these cameras might be over-saturated by too many great cameras that stubbornly refuse to break down.

And the very same thing happened to the personal computer a few years ago. Most users went from annual to bi-annual upgrades to five year or more upgrade cycles. The law of diminishing returns really sets in once everything on the market is good enough.

Douglas Brown said...

Ming's article so over-complicates the process of taking a photograph it gives me a headache just to read his laundry list of 'absolute needs'
I'm betting Ming has been shooting high quality imagery for years and is somehow doing just fine without all these technical add-on's.
Creativity trumps technology. Creativity distinguishes you from your competition. Lazy dependence on technology doesn't necessarily boost creativity.