Is It Time to Ditch Dials and Buttons and Replace Them With a Huge LCD Screen?

Is It Time to Ditch Dials and Buttons and Replace Them With a Huge LCD Screen?

It’s been reported that Canon has just registered an intriguing patent in Japan: a camera where the rear LCD fills the back of the body, removing the scroll wheel and incorporating it as part of the screen itself. With advances in touchscreen technology, is this what we can expect to see on cameras in the very near future?

Canon News spotted the patent application, which appears to show a large rear screen where the control wheel is instead replicated digitally and then also shown when looking through the EVF. 

Manufacturers such as Canon register countless patents, many of which never go into production, but this is definitely an intriguing possibility and could affect camera design more broadly. Given smartphone technology and the evolution of touchscreens, it’s surprising that rear LCDs are not being used more by camera designers. Perhaps part of the difficulty is that photographers are used to and appreciate the tactility of chunky dials and buttons, allowing them to operate a camera without looking.

Cameras are starting to use touchscreens more often, as seen in the Leica SL2 and the Canon EOS R. Personally, I find it fiddly and appreciate the more analog experience of turning a dial rather than sliding a finger, but there’s probably a load of customers who would prefer something that is closer to the experience of using a smartphone.

The dial shown in Canon’s patent diagrams features Av and Tv, the aperture and shutter priority modes that are becoming increasingly out of date. Thanks to digital, I'd argue that these modes should be completely rethought given that ISO is one of three equally important variables for creating an exposure and is no longer fixed for 24 or 36 photographs. Interestingly, Canon seems to be aware of this, as suggested by the Fv mode seen in the EOS R.

What do you think? Do you want to ditch your dials and just use a screen, or is that going to interfere with how instinctively you use your camera? Leave a comment with your thoughts below.

[This article was updated in order to credit Canon News as the source.]

Andy Day's picture

Andy Day is a British photographer and writer living in France. He began photographing parkour in 2003 and has been doing weird things in the city and elsewhere ever since. He's addicted to climbing and owns a fairly useless dog. He has an MA in Sociology & Photography which often makes him ponder what all of this really means.

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I'm not at all interested in UIs that replace any of the main physical controls with a touchscreen. Whether it's operating a camera or driving a car, I don't want the tool to be a visual distraction from the job.

Nah, I wanna be able to use my camera blind with it to my face, not faffing with a shitty touch screen

They will have to pry my cold dead fingers from the dials first.

Nope. Touchscreens, in this case, would be very inefficient. I can see either having to enter a "menu" like interface; and/or having to pull my eyes off the viewfinder to make changes. That's just silly.

Hell no. I know screens look cool and have their place, but they are a far inferior technology when shooting through the viewfinder because they have no tactile response. When I'm looking through a viewfinder, I never have to pull it away from my eye to look at where my hands are in order to change basic shooting settings. I would not buy an intentionally crippled camera with only a screen, unless it didn't have a viewfinder, but then "no viewfinder" is also a deal breaker.

I miss that part of "dumb"phones, we could write messages without even looking at the screen. You won't see my buy this kind of camera.

I miss talking my phone out of my pocket, finding my wife's number and texting long messages without ever looking at the phone.

No! Further more, dumb idea, not ever. Also Not.

I'd love a larger display but want to make adjustments while looking through the viewfinder. How about letting us customize menus instead? I'm sure that I'm in the minority but I want minimal interface since I shoot manually 99.9% of the time.

nop.. being able to use a camera without looking at it with muscle memory is far too useful.
Far quicker too.. maybe some menu's can be used with touch screens.. but dials for ISO/aperture/shutter are pretty much a must..

I think the best controls are the ones within reach of your thumb. A navigation pad with a scroll ring around it and some buttons within reach seem to work the best.

Shorten battery life, no feedback, cant find button by finger touch, cant use the camera if no light is allowed....not sure why is this a good idea.

"Is It Time to Ditch Dials and Buttons and Replace Them With a Huge LCD Screen?"

In a word, no.

Yeah I dunno. Everytime I try working with touchscreen-controlled cameras my nose touches the screen and sends the focus point to the edge and the camera either focuses on the wrong spot or doesn't focus at all. I shut off touchscreen controls.

My Pana's however do allow to shut off only certain functions, so I kill focus and other settings but I still have access to functions that won't interfere with the shot, which is pretty smart on Pana's part I thought.




Definitely not a fan of this on any pro-grade camera. Perhaps for casual shooting. For real use there's no replacement for the muscle memory of knowing exactly where a dial or button is and how it will react.

No, my phone pisses me off enough as it is, I like buttons.

Sometimes patents are defensive patents so that some other company doesn't keep Canon from doing this if they ever have a need to.

True. Relatively little that Canon has ever patented has found its way to an actual camera model.

Great idea. I live in Canada, and I love having to take my gloves off in -30c.

Oh great, more chimping.

It works well for Blackmagic (cinema) cameras ... nowhere else.

Only read the title, but the obvious response is:


I initially thought touchscreens were anathema when I first heard of them. But when I got a 70D, I realized that touchscreens are dandy when I'm manipulating controls with the camera away from my face. OTOH, I still want tactile controls when operating the camera against my face. It's all a matter of whether I'm able to look at the screen and my fingertips at the same time.

So, no, I would not want to see all control capability relegated to touchscreens, but as long as all the controls I need with the camera to my eye are still tactile, I'll be happy.

Noooooooo! I use my buttons by feel when the camera's pressed to my face.

Tactile buttons are good. It's a lesson that the automotive industry is slowly re-learning. It'd be grand to see an industry to learn from another and skip a bad idea instead of dragging their customers through a valley of sorrows for years.

NOOOOO!!!! Been using iPhones since the 3G version came out... and every single time I text, I'll hit the wrong key numerous times, in the span of 3 to 4 words. Can't imagine trying to change settings on the fly, and hitting the wrong button, over, and over again.

My ideal camera needs both.

On my 1DX2, I do like being able to disable my physical buttons and only change my exposure settings through the touchscreen. I do this when shooting indoor sport on manual because it stops me accidentally changing one of the settings and not noticing it for another 100 shots. Which sadly has happened. More than once.

But, as soon as you put me in an environment where my exposure settings are volatile, I need to be able to change my settings by touch alone. On my RP, my camera is on Fv mode 90% of the time and this is exactly how I use it.

But, if you told me that I could only have one of these options, I'd be choosing the second and just be more careful that I didn't accidentally change anything.

Those big screens don't leave enough room for a 3rd 4th or 5th card slot which all real photographers have been demanding.

Touchscreens are not a solution for pros who need dedicated dials and buttons. They also don't work well in tough shooting environments like when it's wet, cold, dirty, etc. I have these same issues with the EOS R and its lack of a joystick for moving focus points.

I can't even begin to describe how much I don't want an all-touch-screen camera. Haptic feedback barely works on phones, what makes anyone think that actual physical buttons and dials could be replaced by a touch screen? What are you gonna do when your eye is at the viewfinder and you're just sliding your finger over a touch screen? There are so many reasons an actual camera needs actual buttons and dials you could probably write an entire dissertation on it. Leave the all-touch-screen to cell phones.

I would say, ask a Tesla Model 3 driver how nice it is to have all of your environmental and media controls in a single large LCD touch screen, with no physical controls. My understanding, people tend to not like it.

Don't even need to go that far. Ask any 10th gen civic owner what they think of touch volume controls. Hint: Honda brought back the physical volume knob in the refresh.

True. Touch controls in a vehicle is one thing. You have to spend a bit more time fudging with them which isn't good while driving. But, on a camera, where attentiveness to your surroundings isn't critical to your survival, I don't think they'd be that bad.

Meh! I wouldn't hate the idea. But, there are other things I'd like Canon to do far more than this.

Not so good with gloves on.

It would be awful and I would not buy such camera. I would prefer it the other way around - electronic viewfinder only (or mono OLED screen with histogram), physical dials for exposure triangle and price considerably lower than Leica M-D.

As well as all the other comments, outside on a sunny day it would be hard to see everything on the screen without cranking up the backlight and using more battery. And cameras now screw up your low light vision for astrophotography so imagine how much worse this idea would make it.

With the frequency that we use our buttons, I think it's a long shot. On a Tesla where the screen is essentially it, you're not (hopefully) fiddling with stuff that much as you drive. In photography I'm using my hands all the time.

Slightly OT, Canon's superb interface which allows me to change 11 settings instantly without taking the camera from my face is one of the reasons I put up with its sometimes challenged IQ. I can't imagine any all-screen solution even coming close to replacing it.

I drive an Audi with the MMI interface, the dial and 4 buttons on that setup is far easier to navigate around than a touch screen interface ive found. Just had an F-Pace on hire this week and even changing the radio channel involved taking my eyes off the road and proved quite dangerous compared to turning a dial and clicking the right option.

I've been driving Tesla's with touchscreens for 6 years. While some things lend themselves well to it and are easier, many things are much more difficult. I can feel a hardware knob, I can't feel a UI knob. Something I can do easily in other cars are difficult in Tesla's. Something as simple as turning recirculate on is easy in other cars but requires careful attention and more time in a Tesla.

Touchscreens are great for some things but not all. Camera's need physical buttons.

The US Navy has just figured out that touch screens and having to go into menus to change control templates was a factor in their recent collisions at sea. They're making some changes.

The Navy issues were also rooted in other "capabilities" of their control surfaces, like having the speeds of two propellers controlled from completely different stations with no indication that someone was overriding half your input. I think those "some changes" effectively boil down to ripping out half the bridge though :-D

Well, the Navy has numerous issues, but one of them was the touch screens, and that was the subject of this particular thread, so that was the only one of the Navy's various issues that I mentioned here.

well i´m rather sure i wouldn´t like it... but then again - we photonerds are a bit putt off by modern inventions... back in the day (the seventies) zoom lenses were frown upon, digital cameras were considered to be a flick that would settle down and pass by, cameras in phones, mirrorless... i shoot sony mirrorless these days, have walked a mile or to in inventions - from pentax mx through mamiya 645, nikon f3, f80, d8700, d7000 (to mention a few) i can see the use of such a screen in consumer cameras, for those wanting ore than the iphone, and knows nothing about our world of knobs and dials, those shooters will probobly only shoot and view on the larger screen - never in the evf. conclusion - in certain segments of the market yes! for the enthusiast market... nope...

nah .. you need to be able to operate camera and access every important function without looking, going to menu, or taking eye of viewfinder .. also touch only control will be perfect for shooting in -27 celsius :)

I can see this being popular. Obviously, not with photographers, such as everybody who reads this site. I wouldn't buy one. But it would appeal to those who have only ever shot with their phone but want a larger sensor and better lens for "better image quality".

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