5 Easy Upgrades DSLR Makers Need To Make Right Away

5 Easy Upgrades DSLR Makers Need To Make Right Away

Beyond the most obvious upgrades such as more pixels, bigger ISO numbers, and auto focus, has anyone noticed that the general feature set of DSLRs really doesn't change very often? I certainly have! There have been, in my opinion, obvious things missing from DSLRs for years that would make me a very happy camper if added. DSLR makers pull out your notepads!

1. Viewfinder Crop Preview

Most of the time I'm shooting for 16:9 or even 21:9 aspect ratio. I'd love the ability to set the camera to preview that crop for me right in the viewfinder, even if that crop isn't actually retained in the RAW file when the photo is taken. Sure, I could visualize the crop, that is exactly what I do, but having the ability to see it as I shoot would be brilliant! I'm not sure exactly how it would be done but perhaps some sort of rectangle aperture in the viewfinder that allows it to letterbox?

2. A Locking Tether Port

Have you ever used the Ten-pin remote terminal on the front of your DSLR? You know the one, it works so well, you push the connector in then screw it tight so the cable can't budge. How wonderful! That brings us to tethering where we have to depend on friction to hold an unstable USB or HDMI style cable into a port as we move around shooting. The cable is never going to fall out... right? Sure companies like Tether Tools provide products to help diminish this problem but none of the solutions are really solutions. DSLR makers I challenge you to use that Ten-pin remote terminal as inspiration and create a tethering port that actually reliably stays connected. If that is too hard, an ethernet cable could also provide some wonderful inspiration on how to make a self securing cable.

3. An Auto Focus Assist Lamp That Actually Does Something Useful

This one is mostly going to be pointed at Nikon as I don't think Canon or Sony actually have any cameras with an auto focus assist lights built in. On any Nikon body I've ever used, the auto focus assist light is just to the right of the lens mount. It is a tiny LED that only goes on when using the middle focus point. Not to be snide or anything but did they even test the light with anything other than a small kit lens? With almost every lens I own the light is partially blocked by the lens itself preventing any light from hitting the middle of my frame. Yup, that's right, an auto focus lamp that only works with the central focus point doesn't shine light on the central focus point with the majority of lenses. Wonderful. 

My suggestion may be a bit radical, but how many pro users actually use the pop up flash? What if, in pro bodies, the pop up flash was replaced with a powerful, popup, auto focus assist that could be used with any focus point and had enough power to actually work well? Madness, I tell you!

4. A Convenient ISO Button

This one is something Canon gets right. Certain other camera makers, you have failed me. ISO is a critical part of the modern exposure triangle. It is something that photographers want to adjust on the fly as they shoot. With this in mind, why would the ISO button be placed in a spot where I can't reach it from a standard camera grip? A quick tip, hardly anyone uses the depth of field preview button. Swap it's place with the ISO button and merriment will ensue.

5. Normal, Run Of The Mill, AA Batteries

I'm tired of proprietary batteries, I'm sure most everyone is. There may be some technical limitation, or it may just be a ploy to sell batteries but from where I am sitting it seems reasonable that if a battery grip can power a DSLR with AA batteries there really is no reason not to be able to use them when the battery grip is not being used. Everything I use runs on AA batteries. My flashes, my triggers, etc. Except my camera. I would be gleeful if I could toss away proprietary batteries for each camera body and just use my AA batteries from here on out.


Research and development is expensive, I get it. Building the most technologically advanced DSLRs costs untold millions to unlock even the smallest upgrades in sensor technology. Simple usability upgrades, however, are much cheaper, and ultimately have a bigger impact on the lives of photographers. Be the camera maker who optimizes its equipment for more than just the most cutting edge performance. Instead make it the most comfortable and easy to use in a variety of situations. That manufacturer will be the one who gets my money.


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Osman Merdan's picture

what about tilt screen ?

Ryan Cooper's picture

Personally, that feature isn't something I would care about but I can certainly see it being a gigantic one for some photographers. Many DSLRs offer than now though. :)

Spy Black's picture

Once you use a camera with a tilt screen, you wonder how you ever did without it.

Ryan Cooper's picture

ha, I can't imagine it any making any difference whatsoever in my workflow haha, I turn on live view like once a year. ;)

Spy Black's picture

I guess, as they say, you had to be there...

Yes, it depends heavily on personal preferences. In my case I won't buy another camera without tilt screen. Canon had the best articulated screen but Pentax offer seems to be even better. In the meantime another Sony with tilt will be in my camera bag. (fourth one). Now, why not offer two models? One with fixed screen and another one with tilt. I'd gladly pay an extra 10% for this feature

Stephen Fretz's picture

For street photography I used to take the prism off my Nikon F and used the focusing screen as a waist-level finder. A title screen can serve a similar function.

Stephen Fretz's picture

title=tilt. There's no edit function in these comments.

"4. A Convenient ISO Button" Yes! Every pro camera should have a dedicated ISO knob just like we have for SS and Fstop. There is no reason to make cameras look/work like they used to when old cameras could only change ISO by swapping film.

Like the third control wheel on Pentax K-1? ;)

Scott Mosley's picture

The d750 can use the record button on top as ISO button, best thing i ever learned when running through the menus.

Curtis Mason's picture

Yep that's what I use as well on my D750 and D810! Works great!

You sir, are awesome - works on D7200 & D600, no idea that was available all this time.

Korey Napier's picture

Ahhh. Like the X-T1 and X-T2 has. :)

Justin Berrington's picture

On my Canon 6D I've set it up so that when you hold down the "Set" button and jog the main wheel it changes the ISO.

Tomash Masojc's picture

so ISO button like on not pro d600/d610 that have two function is not comfortable? oh please stop :))) when i first time got d800 with dedicated button it was not in intuitive place for me :D so i thought it's not good also :D it's just a thing to that you are used.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

AA would be nice....I need a box for all the different chargers and batteries I take on a gig. The 5DII had a AA pack that while I never used, it was nice to know that it was there.

Spy Black's picture

The problem with AA is they don't last long, even if you're using Eneloops. Cameras need power. My first semi serious digital camera years ago was a Fuji S9000, which ran off AAs. I had three sets with me all the time.

I used to use AA-power speedlights until I discovered Li-on units. No comparison. Long duration and instant recycle right to the end of the battery's charge, no slowing down of recycle times. Will never go back to AA-powered speedlights.

So that's why you don't want AAs powering your camera

Mr Hogwallop's picture

I would not want todays AAs as the main power supply but in an emergency I do...when you are out of LP-E6 power for whatever reason and there is still work to do I don;t care what makes the camera go as long as it goes.

Spy Black's picture

As Alan mentioned, you can get handgrips, either expensive OEM or third-party, that will take AAs. You can just keep one in your bag.

Or you can just have one or two extra Li-ons. ;-)

Scott Mosley's picture

Agree. AAs don't last that long, and i think it's convenient to have compact quality batteries that have the ability to store much larger amounts of energy than AAs. Also, the quality of different brands of AA vary wildly; how could the camera get accurate measure of remaining battery life with these? Buy bodies that all use the same type of battery and buy some extras. I even think Nikon flagship flashes and pro bodies should use 2 of the en-el15 batteries, so they are the same.

Alan Klughammer's picture

I thought most battery grips had an AA adaptor? Again, the batteries do not last long, but they might work as a backup...

Rob Mynard's picture

I think the big downfalls of using AA's would be
1 - the extra time it takes to change the batteries, I can swap out a flat battery very quickly but if I found myself flat at the wrong time during a wedding and had to deal with 4 AA's and which way the +/- had to go in, I can see some stress (I already have that on my flash.
2 - AA's don't tend to deal with extremes of temperature as well as li-ions do.
3 - If you're moving to a battery that wont last as long then you'll need to change batteries more frequently so you'll need more batteries and a system to determine which ones are charged vs flat.

Brett Martin's picture

1. Other cameras do this, my Canon M3 did this. You can also remove the focusing screen and add your own crop.
2. Locking tether port sounds like a great idea until you get the bill for repairing a broken port on a camera. I would much rather have(and do) the tether tools leash. Pro tip, you can get a 6-12" version for your camera and that part stays tethered to the body using their leash and then plug a USB extension cable to the other side that allows it to break away still if desired, no dropped cameras, no broken ports.
3. As a former Canon shooter I always wanted this. When I got the Yongnuo's version of the Canon 600EX transmitter it came with a built in IR light that created a laser like grid out of the low profile transmitter. I used it all the time even when I wasn't shooting flash. I want to say others make an IR assist hot-shoe device for this reason.
4. I shoot with an X-T1 now so I am spoiled with my dedicated ISO button. Also the Fuji has nearly every button able to be reprogrammed to any other function. More manufactures should do this.
5. AA batteries are not ideal for storage of a large amount of energy in a small space. They are also limited to very specific voltage configurations, shape, and huge variety of types and specs. Most electronics need 3.3,5,7,or 9 volts *exactly* to operate. Since AA batteries produce a standard 1.5 (ish) volts that means you are waisting energy and throwing it away as heat to convert 4xAA batteries (6v) down to 5v. Each AA battery can vary in it's amperage and voltage. Different chemistries have different discharge curves etc. Now imagine trying to predict how much battery life is left in the camera when any random set of multiple AA batteries can be installed? As a side note, many aftermarket grips have an AA battery tray though I have never seen anyone use it except for an extreme backup. (Tether tools now offers an external 5vUSB adapter for most cameras to allow you to use any 5v source, such as a huge USB battery.)
If anything we need smarter batteries that can more intelligently charge, discharge, and monitor heat and discharge cycles like laptop batteries do. This is evident when shooting Fuji which has "dumb" batteries relative to Canon/Nikon.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Interesting thoughts. My 2¢

1. That would be way too much work from shot to shot if I wanted to change.
2. Personally I'd take the low odd chance of a damaged port than having my clients wonder if I even know what I'm doing because the camera loses connection to the computer every 5min.
3. Personally I've never found those IR things all that useful, they sorta work in some situations but don't have much spread so you can't ever really use them with the AF points nearer to camera edges. (which is the ones I'm using 95% of the time)

Brett Martin's picture

I agree that it appears like their is not much innovation in certain areas of Camera features by Canon/Nikon, many of which can be fixed in software or with minor hardware tweaks. Unfortunately I dont see this changing soon as their is no incentive to do so.

Lee Christiansen's picture

Why can't we have a shot's colour balance displayed along with the F stop / shutter speed etc in the info on the LCD. Would be very useful when matching ambient with flash gels.

And could we have a simple lock facility to our ETTL flashes, so that after getting a perfect exposure with ETTL, we could simply lock that power setting for the next set of flashes. (Or have the flash display the power output after each ETTL flash so we could set it manually.) Very useful for shooting groups or multiple versions of the same shot. (A bit like the facility Profoto offers on its B1's.)

Certainly yes please to the guide crop lines for 10x8 / 7x5 / 1x1 etc.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Oh! Thats a good one! And reminds me of another thing I wish I could do which is setting the tint in camera. One trick I like to use is to shoot my subject with green light then fix the white balance in post to make the background go magenta. However, its main downside is that clients don't like the "green skin" look on the back of the camera very much. I'd love to be able to make the tint adjustment in camera so the image in camera looks as it will when I'm done. (and yes, I know I could get a magenta filter for my lens to achieve this but that isn't ideal)

Rob Mynard's picture

I don't know if this would work but, if you're shooting in RAW with your tint set to slightly green, could you create an in-camera profile with the corrected tint that would only effect the Jpeg's on your back screen. This might not be possible with different WB modes...
I shoot in RAW but have my jpeg preview set to vibrant so if a client looks at my back screen the images are contrasty and punchy like they expect to see.


Speaking of Sony A7xx bodies only...
1. Grid overlays help in stills shooting, I leave mine in squares that closely resemble 2.35:1 crop. In video you have all the overlays for crops, guide frames, safety zones, etc. you'd ever want.
4. Customizable in several ways to one of the tree dials. Yet, nowadays I leave mine in Auto most of the time, it's incredibly accurate so long as I choose the right metering.

My personal gripe is with internal memory... there are virtually no reasons to not have enough memory slots for every single programmable setting. Given that most of our cameras now serve as multi-purpose tools for various stills and video it's feels so ridiculous that I can't save every custom setting onto an internal memory. Example... A7Rii allows for S35 crop mode - it's the preferred setting for shooting 4K. However, you can't save it to one of the customer memory slots and need to manually navigate through the stupid menu to turn it off or on (yes, it's programmable to a button/function menu) but I need to remember to do that. Would make a whole lot more sense to just save it in the movie setting.

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