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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48 Comments

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

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.

Jason Flynn'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.

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.

Tim Gallo'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.

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.

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.

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...

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

Jason Flynn's picture

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

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.

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.

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