Camera Design Is Horrible

When you really think about it, current camera design doesn't really make much sense.

Mirrorless cameras are quickly taking over, but their design has remained similar to single-lens reflex cameras of the past. Why do I still have to smash my nose up against the back of a camera to see through the viewfinder? Why is ISO still hidden under buttons or menus? Why do I have to remove my camera from a tripod to replace the battery?  In the video above, we talk about each of these issues and much more. 

We released this video on YouTube last week, and since then, the reaction has been mixed. The top comment on YouTube is that the Canon EOS R has "the majority" of features that I requested. Although the EOS R has a very well thought-out design, it certainly does not have "the majority" of my requests. In this video, we speak specifically about five different current cameras. If your camera isn't in our hands, let us know which specific features we might be overlooking. 

My hope for this video is to get photographers and camera designers to begin to think outside of the box. If you could forget everything you know about camera design and start from scratch, what would a camera look like? What features and design elements would make using the camera easier and faster? Let me know what you think of my ideas, and feel free to throw out some of your own. 

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58 Comments

craig salmon's picture

Absolutely spot on! Why are there any doors on the bottom of a camera at all, the one place that should be waterproof and somewhat robust. That said for me the biggest improvement will be a seemless connection with my phone app allowing the app to have 100% of the menu options.

As for other photo equipment, why aren’t tripod legs etched so I can quickly put sections at about an equal level especially when I want to repeat heights and when am I going to find the perfect French flag

Joseph Ting's picture

Use a black marker on one section to mark inch increments on each leg, with aluminum legs. Use a silver marker with black anodised legs or carbon fiber. Mark each leg section with the height increment it gives when extended the full amount.

Alec Kinnear's picture

Doors on the bottom: the answer is obvious if you think about it. When cameras had add-on vertical battery grips (looking at you, Nikon: Z6, Z7, D780), the doors had to be on the bottom to connect the grip.

Lee Morris's picture

Most new cameras don’t use the battery door to attach the grip, they have connectors on the bottom of the camera.

Being forced to unscrew the grip to get to the battery in the camera is even more of a reason to move it to the side.

David Kawchak's picture

Even though it was released a few years ago the Pentax K1 and the K1 MkII have a lot of the common sense button features you are talking about. I love my K1MkII. Take a look at one especially with the battery grip attached.

Deleted Account's picture

I’m trying to picture a better design and I can’t. Can you think of, or better yet draw a better design? It needs to be able to be held with your right hand and easily operated, with the ability to brace with your left. That means much of the left and right shoulders and sides can’t be used, unless you want to give up a solid quality feel and exchange that for doors.

There were plenty of weird full size point and shoot designs in the 2000s and none took off.

In fact DSLR design is part of why I’ve not upgraded to mirrorless permanently. Those I’ve bought I quickly sold or returned, but I still really enjoy my traditional Canons. They just feel right and are easy to operate. If Canon would make a full sized DSLR style mirrorless with EVF that takes EF lenses I’d buy one.

Ryszard Błogowski's picture

1. Flip out screen isn't the best solution. It's horrible when you have an L-bracket on!
2. There is a reason to put the battery door on the bottom of the camera: it would be much bigger if placed on the side. It's not an issue in cameras with built-in vertical grip because of different battery orientation.

Lee: have you ever designed anything? It's pretty obvious that you're no engineer and I bet you have no practical experience in product design.

Chris Sampson's picture

I have extensive experience in design and to assume that users don't understand design is to miss half the effort needed to attain a quality product. The users give us the feedback we may overlook when building our designs. Your feedback isn't a waste, in my opinion, but "you're no engineer" isn't a reasonable argument.

Ryszard Błogowski's picture

You're right. It wasn't a reasonable argument. It wasn't an argument at all. It was a comment.

I'd agree that it wasn't nice, but it wasn't meant to be. Maybe I was a little to harsh, but I'd rather not beat around the bush.

Joseph Ting's picture

Chris. A lot of what Lee is griping about is available in my Canon RP. As a casual photographer, that is one steep learning curve for me. I might spend one hour per week going through the manual to learn how to customise the buttons, screen layout and the lens rings to my liking. It's quite challenging. I only recently learned that you can set any quadrant or whole of the live view screen as a touch screen while using the viewfinder. This enables moving the focus point around the screen, as an example.

I also had to laugh at the all right sided requirements Lee needs. As someone who is naturally left handed, I had to adapt by force to the right handed world. It's not unlike typing, where you learn to use all or at least most fingers on both hands.

I appreciated that the RP could still be picked up and used, if you have already used a Canon EOS. Everything is still in mostly the same positions. Simply discarding settings that were on previous models is offputting to say the least.

Lee Morris's picture

Yes I have designed products that are currently for sale. Why would you design a camera based on a third-party accessory that 99% of photographers don't use. Everyone would use a flip screen. Plus, even if you used an L bracket, the flip screen would simply become a normal stationary screen.

Ryszard Błogowski's picture

Interesting. Are you talking about Fstoppers Flash Disc or something else?

Not everyone uses flip screen. I know a lot of photographers that almost never shoot themselves and I'm one of them. I prefer normal, articulating screen and the one on X-T3 is my favorite type.
I'm not saying flip out screen is obsolete, but not all of cameras should have this design because it's not for everyone and not for every situation.
You said that every camera should have it because it's the best and I'm saying that's not always the case.

Tom Reichner's picture

I would not use a flip screen.

timgallo's picture

lol. "i think a lot of things does a seems like a big deal to you.." and all of us. Lee is just a neat-picking premadonna :) and it seems even he realizes that half of what he says is not a big deal.

what you are talking about guys are preferences... half of them has nothing to do with usability or design. and funny things Lee explains this... if I get used to one camera design than other thing makes no sense, lol. re-learn. adapt. be flexible. makes your brain more alive.

but lol at Nikon iso button. I am also always surprised why is it always changes places.
btw, I have a friend who is actually responsible for Nikon design (since D810? i think), if you have some questions I can send it to him and maybe some will be answered.

Renan Coelho's picture

That is cool! I would like to get in touch with your friend because I am doing a camera design exercise (maybe you saw other comments I made on this topic). Would be interesting to know what kind of design approach/methods they use at Nikon.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

'Ya know, I like Patrick's idea about the shutter button. The harder you press the higher the frame rate.

Joseph Ting's picture

I for one, certainly am not capable of doing that fine bit of adjustment of pressing at multiple degrees of pressure when the degree of travel is one millimeter. I am comfortable with the two settings I can choose- slow and not too fast with my RP Canon. I am not a pro, but I can see where 20 FPS may be needed just to choose one shot. Sometime I wish for it, but I am not yet ready to pony up $5000 for a new faster R body, which is not yet available. Even if I had the frame speed, would I want to use 200+ Mb on 30-40 shots, which I would then have to review. That would be less than 2 seconds worth of shots.

Paolo Bugnone's picture

That would be terrible when wearing gloves, also usually you want to minimize the pressure on the shutter button to avoid shake.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Then, you'll just have to cut the tip of the glove. :) On a serious note, this would be just an option where you can turn the feature on or off.

I'm not overly concerned about shakes because (1) if you were to engage this feature, I think you'll most likely have a fast enough shutter speed. I highly doubt you'll want to shoot 20 fps @ 1/15 sec; (2) image stabilization (body and/or lens).

Reginald Walton's picture

So these cameras makers have been designing these cameras for decades and someone writes an article that they are poorly designed and all of a sudden, they've been doing it wrong all these years? But when they do change the design and put a button where it wasn't on the previous model, article get written about why they moved this button or that toggle, etc. So first, the camera manufactures weren't adding enough megapixels, then there was only one card slot, and then the cameras are too big, the screen is too small, the screen doesn't flip up, the screen doesn't flip out, yada, yada, yada - sigh! I say, make your own perfect camera and put all the other manufactures out of business. LOL

Keith Meinhold's picture

Until someone comes along and revolutionizes things - like the camera's biggest competitor, the iPhone. It changed not only the mobile phone industry but many others. It was designed with the end users in mind - not always an engineers perspective.

Tom Reichner's picture

Mobile phone cameras are an ergonomic nightmare to use. People use them because they already have them in their pocket at all times, not because the designs are intuitive or useful ... because they aren't.

Sam David's picture

I appreciate the article and video -- whether one agrees with anything or everything in it, it starts you thinking about this device on which our livelihood or fun depends.

Andy Day's picture

Literally threw my fists in the air at 5:17. Thank you. It's not just me. 😂

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Haha. Yeah, you would. :D

Dorin Andreescu's picture

Good video, very good ideas!

Andy Day's picture

"If we started playing guitar with two hands or something..."
Um. Patrick Hall, I need to let you in on a secret...

Deleted Account's picture

Fujifilm X100 series, not perfect by any means, but pretty damn close.

Deleted Account's picture

With camera to your eye and shooting can you change all three exposure parameters easily?

Deleted Account's picture

Relatively easily, yes. Aperture and shutter speed are external dials, and ISO is on same dial as shutter and is changed by lifting the dial and turning it. All can be done with eye to the viewfinder. Granted, with the way I have the camera preset, I almost never need to do this. And the button to switch to manual focus is easy as well.

Andrew Johnson's picture

I'd love to eventually see a screen that not only articulates but also detaches and automatically turns on WIFI and you can remote trigger your camera while using the detached touch screen. Obviously there are a ton of design challenges with that and I'm not diving into all of that I'm just saying it would be really neat to see something like this in the future. Also a better 3d menu system for customizing buttons instead of the very aged menus that cameras use now would be great.

Mark Bohrer's picture

This makes no sense (especially not for 38 minutes). I like a manual shutter speed dial, dedicated ISO dial, and an aperture ring on each lens. I’m also used to a manual focus ring on each lens with engraved depth of field scale so I can pre-focus for a range of distance. Yes, I’m describing the 1954-era design of any Leica-M camera. The only thing I don’t like is the need to remove the entire baseplate to change the battery.

I have ISO tied to my EOS R’s Touch Bar, control rings set up for aperture, and I’m usually shooting aperture priority Av. With the thumb dial controlling exposure comp, I can change settings quickly. The only thing I have trouble with is choice of AF point. No one has come up with a good way to do that, so I end up using a joy-nub, control pad, or top dials to choose it. I never use the touch screen for it - I’m a viewfinder shooter for best handheld stability, and don’t want nose-selected AF anyway. The articulated screen works well for night sky/starfields and low-angle shots, both on tripods.

Why anyone would want to shoot a picture with the camera held in their outstretched arms is beyond me. Yes, I’ll hold the thing over my head in a crowded room, but those pictures are usually s41#.

Ryan Ringstad's picture

All you guys did was design a camera that already exists... the EOS R.

Michael Newsom's picture

Thanks. I appreciate user input to camera design. I like the idea of a wheel for iso but see my screen comment below. I think a simple way to change white balance is problematic. Videographers still need to physically measure white balance. Flip out screens - yes! Larger screens - yes! I agree that programmable buttons with generic names like C1 are not helpful. Let's get rid of wheels and buttons altogether and cover the back with a large swivel screen. The Zeiss camera is a model. Let me assign tens of programmable shooting situations with real names on the touch screen menu. One could select still or video as two major categories. Under each category the larger touch screen monitor could list subcategories of still or video settings. Under each subcategory the screen display could show multiple settings that could include aperture, shutter, iso white balance, flash settings, etc.

Keith Meinhold's picture

Camera manufactures need to think like Steve Jobs. I believe the ZX1 is ahead of its time in some ways - but plenty can not wrap their minds around it and imagine a new workflow. A few have tried some interesting and revolutionary things - but it often has not been accepted.

Bruce norton's picture

X-T3 has ISO dial as well. And most (but not all) lenses have f-stop adjustment. I agree with the battery door. Strongly disagree with shooting with your right eye if you are left-eye dominant. https://www.allaboutvision.com/resources/dominant-eye-test.htm

Michael Phelan's picture

People won't buy a digital camera unless it looks like their old film camera so they are stuck with random spots to put the controls.

Ralph Hightower's picture

Lee, I like your idea for dials for shutter speed, aperture, and ISO; my film cameras have those dials. I frequently use exposure compensation and sometimes forget about it. With my Canon A-1 and F-1, I can just look down at the cameras see where it is. On my Canon 5D III, it is accessed by a menu button and displayed on the screen.

Hans J. Nielsen's picture

Just as you can have a dominating hand or foot, you can also have a dominating eye.
Saying its stupid to be using that eye, is stretching it a bit, I think.
It like if I told you to only use your left hand to write from now on. It is durable and you could learn, but what would be the purpose, as you can already use you right hand for that.

Could you learn to use your less dominating eye to focus a camera? Yes - but it would be a pane in the butt, as its actually harder to train you non dominating eye to be dominating, than to train you less dominating hand to be more useful than before.

In archery, if you get a new shooter and that person is right-handed but also left-eyed, it actually quicker to let him shoot with a left-handed bow, as it only takes a couple of training sessions for him to get use to it.
Forcing him to use his right eye, you are talking months to a year of training, before his visual abilities will equal that of his left eye.

BTW. Right-sided people are being controlled by the left side of their brain, which is called the digital side. The one standing for analytical, mathematics, logic thinking.
The left-sided people use the right side of the brain, called the analog side. That is controlling creativity, imagination, visualization.

So Lee; maybe you should try shooting left-eyed, and build a camera around that.

TYLER YATES's picture

Back in 2011 Ikonoskop had a pretty unique design for their A-Cam dll.

Sophie Charlotte's picture

Agree with almost everything. Except: when shooting mirrorless with a digital viewfinder I use the zoom in button allllll the time to check focus. Absolutely couldn't live without that button.

Ryan Davis's picture

One of the things I really dug abut my Fuji X-E1 was that the rangefinder style EVF meant my substantial Schnozz was no longer in contact with the camera. Why all EVFs aren't on the left side of the camera (or right, for our lefty eyed friends) I do not know. There's no real need for a mirrorless camera to look like it has a prism.

Alec Kinnear's picture

For left-eyed shooters (I'm one of them), center viewfinder is much, much better than than left side. I was never able to use the viewfinder on my Sony A6300. May as well not have had one. Even with centred viewfinder, the Sony A7III was terrible as the space between the controls was so tight under my nose, I couldn't adjust them with my eye to the viewfinder. The Nikon Z6 has a deeper viewfinder and better spacing of the controls.

I would have liked the A6xx series much better with a viewfinder on the right.

PS. Answering some other questions higher in the thread, and no it's not possible for many of us left-eyed shooters to switch eyes. Not without a considerable disadvantage in perception any way. I perceive completely differently (and not as well) with my right eye.

Ryan Davis's picture

You might as well ask someone to "simply" switch hands while writing- it's not that easy. I wouldn't think it would be too hard to mirror image the design of something like the X-E3 and put the viewfinder on the right side. But I'm not an industrial engineer, so maybe I'm wrong.

Mike Ditz's picture

I can get into any car and drive it all over town. But give me a camera other than Canon or Sony and I will need 20 minutes or so to figure what to do. Don't get me started with trying to watch tv at someone else's house !

Jan Holler's picture

What we see here are the different demands of still and video shooting. I like the idea of the square touch sensitive pad though. And please keep the viewfinder in the middle, I shoot with the left eye. The video is a bit on the long side.

Daniele Amisano's picture

I think that many of the request you have are already in the Olympus OMD E-M1X....give it a try

Andrew Broekhuijsen's picture

Why do I still have to smash my nose up against the back of a camera to see through the viewfinder? I don't find that to be a problem personally. YMMV.

Why is ISO still hidden under buttons or menus? My 5D2 lets me push one button and then click the same wheel as my shutter speed. Easy to do without taking my eye off the viewfinder.

Why do I have to remove my camera from a tripod to replace the battery.
This might say more about your tripod than your camera. My 5D2 battery door opens readily while on either one of my tripods.

I dunno, I don't seem to be having the same experience as you. I find my Canon cameras to be ergonomic, easy to use, and with controls in intuitive places.

Deleted Account's picture

Canon shooter myself with a Rebel and a 5D. Yep, my immediate reaction was “Lee obviously isn’t using Canons.”

Fuji people love their Fuji X systems, but for me it’s not nearly as easy changing the three exposure parameters on a Fuji as a canon. Or a Lumix for that matter. It’s also telling that the EOS R system started out with ergonomic innovations but their latest announced flagship model is going with the traditional 5D controls layout. It might not be sexy, but you can shoot and adjust parameters with one hand without looking. Even the GFX went with thumb wheels.

Renan Coelho's picture

Andrew, (and everyone) the point is that we just have our own point of view, and our point of view is biased because we have used a certain camera for enough time to be "proficient" in using it.

- If I create a camera design it may be perfect (for me) because as I would be the designer, I would be very well familiarized with it, and know (blindfolded) where which command is placed. But what works for me may not works so well for everyone else.

We aren't designers so we don't know some stuff (which I've just started to study about). Some things that designers know about users and products:

- Someone, who is already used to a product, usually thinks that such product has high efficiency, ergonomics, etc, even when the conditions are far from perfect, BECAUSE users deal with the problems/design flaws by taking enough TIME and PRACTICE to overcome it.
For example, someone who drives manual transmission cars may tell to those who drives only automatic cars "come one it's so easy and it's a lot better than automatic cars. There is no secret". But to be "easy" it takes everyone some (or lots of) practice. But even this driver would be lost if he tries to drive a Ford model T.

- Also, when we (users) make a mistake we (most often) blame ourselves, not the product design. (ex.: "I am so stupid, I always push the XXX button by accident when..." Or " pro photographers know how to use this camera so fast and easily, I am an idiot").
So products are usually more well evaluated than they really should.

- A good design aims to make it EASY/FAST TO LEARN and USE a product with LESS ERROS as possible. A good design is also INTUITIVE (which is basically: "don't need to read a 100 pg manual or take a course to learn how to use it") regardless your previous experiences.

- A good design must take into account differences between users such as right-handed, left-handed, which eye is dominant, different hand and finger sizes, color blindness, people with sight issues etc
But about cameras it seems that the market pushed the left-handed people to adapt to cameras (Left-hand cameras as so rare). So People should be able to chose to use right or left eye on the viewfinder ;-)

p.s. There are other factors like being pleasant, enjoyable and such feelings.. like Apple have given to its users.
(even I prefer Android phones for the cost/benefit ratio and being more customizable etc... I admit that Apple gives a great experience, that is why lots of people buy iphones, not only because they are beautiful).

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