Friday, November 12, 2010

Are Today's Digital SLRs Too Complicated & Too Fully Featured - For You?

I don't know about you, but I only use a few of the features on my digital SLRs - Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 7D.

In fact, the settings/features I use for most of my still pictures are:
• Aperture or shutter priority mode.
• Exposure compensation.
• Center AF focus point or other AF focus spot.
• Evaluative metering mode.
• One shot.
• Highlight alert on.
• RGB histogram displayed.
• White balance set to the lighting conditions.
• ISO 100 - 400.

I rarely go into the Custom Functions – although I am glad they are there when I need them.

So I was thinking: Do you think digital SLRs are too complicated and too fully featured for most photographers - and that includes you? Would you like to see a more basic digital SLR?

Let me know by posting a comment here. Share your ideas.

Explore the light,

P.S. Thank you Canon for supplying the menu shots for this post.


Deborah said...

Good topic! Like Rick, I don't use all of the menu settings and rarely use the custom settings. But the features I use may be different from the features others use. I don't want to see a more basic digital SLR because that would likely be a 'dumbed down' version. Who's favorite features would they choose to eliminate? As long as the menu is user friendly (and I think Canon's is), why not leave all of the features intact and let each photographer choose the ones that work best for him/her?

Craig Colvin said...

There are a lot of features I use on my Canon 5DmkII on a daily basis and a lot more that are used maybe once or twice a year.

There are others which I never change but like having the option, like auto-rotate, file numbering, etc. I'm guessing there are people where those functions are very important to them and they don't care about some of the functions I think are very important. So by having a lot of options it accommodates more users.

Debbie Cunningham said...

Funny you mention that. I ordered a book about my Nikon D700 not long ago. It is about 700 pages long, LOL!! I haven't started it yet. :-\

Sheylynne said...

They are very advanced and I don't use all of the options either but I am glad that they are there. I've at least tried most of them. The way I see it, if you are getting serious about digital SLR's you'll learn what you need to about your camera and probably have fun doing it. I don't think I would want a more basic camera. That's what the point and shoot digital cameras are for.

Ed T. said...

Actually, a more "basic" DSLR/EVIL camera would be nice. However, even better yet would be to translate all that techno-speak into something that lay people could understand. How about taking the "scenic modes" or "picture modes" or whatever they are called, add some additional options (such as the ART filters that Oly has, and maybe some "film personality" settings), and market them as "how to make use of all these settings for the rest of us"?

Seriously, as much as we put down these modes/filters, if implemented properly they can definitely prove useful for quick set-up of the camera to produce a certain type of image (or match certain lighting conditions.) As the processors in the digital cameras continue to improve, I would expect to see the manufacturers make better use of these.


Anonymous said...

At one time or another I have used most of the functions; certainly not every time I use my camera, but definitely at one time or another. It is a way to experiment and to get to know your camera better until you determine the functions that suit you and your photography. There is such diversity of photography out there, the camera has to suit them all even if not everyone uses every function or even tries it!

bobwyo said...

First, I'm old and have been working with computers for 40 years, so I'm not impressed by the 'let's add this function just because we can' mentality. I want to record images, so I use a few of the features that will help me do that.

Rick has often said we should get it right in camera, and that's what I try to do without using all the bells and whistles, etc. I do, however, carry my 5MkII book in my pack "just in case."

Rick Sammon said...

Oops! I deleted this comment by accident. Sorry Steve!! Here goes:

Two thoughts on this. First of all, while as an individual photographer you may use few of the features on the camera, collectively all photographers use all of them. For example, if you shoot HDR, then you might want to use auto bracketing, but otherwise it may be a feature you have no use for.

My other thought is that it seems like a little computer integration for these SLR's could really make them work better. Load up an application on your computer that lets you choose your shooting style, customize what features to have enabled/disabled, etc.

So rather than having a bunch of obscure settings on the camera and having to dig through a manual to figure them out, you could have an interactive app that would walk you through it. How awesome would it be to have the custom modes on your camera be programmable from your computer? So you could have a library of useful presets and then you could load the ones on there that were useful to the situation.

For example, I shot the roller derby championships last weekend. Most of the shooting I did was at 1/640, f/2.8, and whatever ISO made the exposure work. But I was also trying some panning shots at like 1/80. What I ended up doing was hijacking two of my custom functions on my camera with those presets so that I could jump back and forth quickly. Of course next time I need a preset for something else I end up wiping those out. Would be nice if I could just keep them on my computer and load them to my camera as needed.

To take that a step further, why have a knob with 10 different settings on it when I only ever use Tv, Av, and my custom presets? Seems like you could just have presets 1-10, and let the user define what they all do. Just have it show on the camera LCD what label you've given for the mode so you know what you're on.

Anonymous said...

I don't shoot digital, so I don't care. I shoot 4x5.

Rick Sammon said...

This came in from Ted Johonson:

When you get a chance, please comment on how quickly very expensive cameras become outdated in features and performance. How do you retire a $4,000 to $8,000 camera? I think you ought to be able to send them to the manufacturer and have them souped up at a fair price. Bring them up to new high performance levels just like with a car engine.


Rick Sammon said...

Ted.. New cameras are introduced every 18 months or so. Some photographers sell old stuff on eBay and get new stuff every 18 months or so.

The longer you hold onto a camera, the more it goes down in value.., until it becomes a collector's item!

I like the idea of souping up!!

Take care,

Anonymous said...

I feel you never know when you might want the flexibility that is offered in the 5DMK2. I don't think we should be lazy, but should learn all our cameras have to offer. After all, they are expensive, so we should take advantage of what we are paying for.

Robert said...

I definitely don't use many of the features on my camera, I don't even use auto focus, or anything related. I also believe that most people don't use many of the features, but collectively we use them all so I say leave them. or add a feature that lets us put the features that we use most on one menu on the top.

I also like the idea of having our cameras upgraded. even if its ala carte. If my camera had a low noise sensor at high ISO like the new models, I would keep the rest, I am happy with it.

About said...

There's no doubt in my mind, Rick, that many of the DSLR cameras on the market today include too many settings and features for probably about 95% of their market. It's similar to the situation with the full version of Photoshop - great to have all those tools available but when does the tool become so complex that it actually detracts from that which from what it is about photography that we love in the first place. Adobe and Apple adapted with Lightroom and Aperture. I teach entry level workshops where so many attendees are thoroughly confused with DSLR features and settings before learning the basics of exposure. These cameras are more and more affordable yet the expert behind the counter at the local camera store is a thing of the past.

CGarison said...

For me, the newest breed of DSLR cameras are not too full featured, but I think it is funny that I use my original 5D (classic) as much as I use my 5D Mark II.

Exposure bracketing is much easier on the Mark II when compared to the method used on the 5D Classic and my 40D. The information that is seen through the view finder is better with the MKII than the Classic as well. But as far as the metering modes, autofocus style, and white balance, those are the same between the generations.

I guess the two features that I love about the Mark II that the 5D does not have is the ability to leverage the RC-1 remote to trigger the shutter and the ability to focus while using live view. These are wonderful features to leverage when shooting HDR.

Oh, there is this video thing on the MK II and 7D. But until someone shows me how to shoot video without all that gear that I saw for sell at PhotoPlus Expo, then I consider this a feature that is out of my range.

Jeff Kane said...

Rick - interesting topic and some thoughtful responses.

I might suggest that there are not too many settings - it's been brought up that someone uses them all (but, does anyone use direct print?)...

But what would be really cool would be the ability to customize the settings precisely for each user - Nikon's "My Menu" gets a bit there, I see Canon and Nikon are adopting "user defined" settings on the mode dials, etc.

I would love a way to have "Sports / Landscape / HDR / Macro / Video" with the way I want it done (e.g. Auto ISO for sports, not for landscape...) - that would allow me to best leverage the camera setting which are available.

All the best.

Carolyn Fox said...

I agree that most people, including myself, don't use most of the features available on their DSLRs. As already stated, though, some photographers may use settings that I don't use and visa versa. I like having the different options available for those times when I do need them. If a simpler DSLR is introduced, it should probably be directed to those photographers who want interchangeable lenses, but not so many features. I'm not sure it would be a competitive product, though.

Susan Carroll-Seger said...

Hi Rick, very good topic. First I have to say that I love the Canon menu. Some of the custom functions I set and rarely change other I don't use at all. I think the ability to have user presets ( combinations of any custom function) on a separate menu tab would work well for me. If it was setup on a computer then downloaded to my camera that would work too. ---Love your blog tips!!

Steve said...

You know what would be great is to have a button on the camera to flag a photo. It would be nice if I could just mark the few that I'm pretty sure are going to be keepers in the field so that when I get back home to dump them I can quickly jump to the best ones. If you're in a situation where quick turnaround on your edits is important this would be a hugely valuable feature.

Levent said...

As for me personally, the only electronic function I regularly use is the live Histogram for exposure and a live view with a B&W image for visualization of B&W and on some occasions I will use the autofocus. But I prefer to manually set the Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO myself.

That said, everyone is different and over time these cameras are trying to be all things to all people and as such they have become (in terms of UI) an overly complicated mess.

I don't know if this exists, but I think we really need a way to make a custom menu system, so that the user could have two buttons on the back, one for a custom menu and the other for the general menu. The custom menu would be one page of just the things that the user would set-up to be needed for a specific kind of photo job. The general menu would access everything else. The general menu would allow you to set up a series of custom menus for different uses. For instance you could have a preset custom menu for street photography, sports, landscape, etc…

Anonymous said...


I understand the reasoning why the manufacturers load everything into their DSLRs. However, given the market, I am surprised that they do not keep on offer a quality basic model that does not have every bell and whistle. For example, I have no interest in shooting video. Must every new camera come with this capability?

There are always new things to learn in photography. While the technology can be helpful for creating certain types of images (HDR for example), we do need to be careful not to let the tool be the driving force.

Richard said...

I have a Nikon D5000 which is supposed to be an entry level DSLR, and I'm overwhelmed with different types of metering modes, AF modes, Active D Lighting, ADL Bracketing, Exposure Bracketing, as well as in-camera picture control and loads of other things that simply make the process of taking pictures complicated as heck. Quite frankly I miss the days of 35mm film when all I had to think about was which ISO of film I wanted to shoot with and then setting the appropriate shutter speed and aperture. I do like digital because I don't have to bother with the costly and/or complicated process of developing, but all these in-camera processing options are just way too confusing.

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent question. I grew up with film cameras. My first slr was an Olympus OM-1. I also have a Nikon FA. I bought my first dslr last December - a Canon 60D. I hate it. I absolutely, positively hate it, to the point where I'm seriously thinking about selling it. Nothing against Canon - they make a fine camera and the issues would be the same with any other brand. The experience is no longer about the photograph, it's about the camera. The damn thing has more control inputs than a 747. And it's not that it has controls I don't use - it's that doing basic things is so damn complicated and it really annoys me because it doesn't have to be that way. All I really need is the digital equivalent of my OM-1. And, no, don't tell me I should just stick with point and shoot - I want to be able to swap out lenses. And even the p&s cameras have a bunch of features I never use. What is wrong with simplicity? I have no issue with the manufacturers providing full featured cameras for those who want them but they should also provide basic models.