How Would You Build Your Perfect Camera?

How Would You Build Your Perfect Camera?

Time for a completely non-scientific, wholly subjective, not even remotely precise, but undeniably fun thought experiment for all to participate in.

Ignorance is bliss. Whoever said that was a prophet. It’s not so much that knowledge could ever be a negative. It’s that when you don’t know what you don’t know, it’s impossible to miss something you didn’t know existed.

As a photographer, and especially one who writes for this site, I have access and reason to use a variety of awesome cameras depending on what the job demands. And while I myself am primarily a Nikon man, each different manufacturer and model has its strengths and weaknesses. As I’ve said before, picking the perfect camera is a completely subjective decision based on each individual’s needs and shooting style. Trying to pick just one as the absolute best is a complete waste of time.

So I’m going to try it.

Well, sort of. Actually, I thought it’d be fun, rather than pick an existing camera, to try and cherry pick the best attributes of some of the cameras currently on the market to build my dream camera. A "Frankencamera" of sorts. What attributes would I take from each camera? Why? And exactly how strange would the final product actually look?

Design

For sheer design and handling, I would look no further than Fuji. While, I don’t often use my Fuji cameras for professional work, they are always the first camera I reach for when shooting just for fun. There’s a reason for that. While other cameras may win the megapixel wars or score higher on standardized image quality tests, no other camera designer, in my humble opinion, has a better understanding of the joy of photography. Traditionally placed and easy-to-access dials are more than just a throwback to the film cameras of my long gone youth, they are also practical. I am a photographer. I am interacting with the real world. I don’t want to spend any more time than is absolutely necessary looking at a computer screen. If you bury the good stuff in menus, forcing me to constantly look at an LCD screen, you’ve already lost me. For the combination of ease of use plus sheer enjoyment of handling, I’ll chose my Fujifilm X-T2 as the starting design of my Frankencamera.

Size

This next attribute could go a couple different ways. On one hand, I like the decreased weight of mirrorless cameras. As I get older, I think I appreciate this even more. On the other hand, most of the mirrorless cameras I’ve shot with have ended up feeling so small that the benefits of lightness are somewhat reduced by a lack of ergonomics. My DSLR may be heavy as a brick, but it fits very comfortably in my hand. Obviously this opinion is based solely on the size of my own hand. So it’s entirely possible that the smaller frames may be perfect for you. But for my giant lobster claws I like to have a camera big enough to hold onto and really fill my grip. Maybe they can make a camera with a bit of size, still mirrorless, but more hollow so that it’s not too small to hold but still weighs roughly the same amount as the smaller mirrorless cameras?

Sensor

I am a commercial photographer and my work often needs to be printed very large while retaining detail. So, while the design of the Fuji wins the day, the crop-sized sensor does not. So, inside my Frankencamera, I’ll put the 45.7-megapixel full-frame sensor from my Nikon D850.  I wrote a few weeks ago about my love for the camera and that love only grows each time I get an image into Capture One and can marvel at the sheer technical quality of the image. True, I could have gone with one of the Phase One 100-megapixel sensors here. And I could make an argument for both. But specific to me, I like to shoot handheld and it’s very easy to lose sharpness on an image here or there when working with the largest sensor. So, instead, I’ll stick with the D850 sensor inside of the X-T2 body.

Autofocus and Video

Speaking of focus. My Nikon combined with my 24-70mm f/2.8 is incredibly fast when it comes to locking focus on a subject. But for the sake of mixing it up, let’s go with the Sony a7R III autofocusing system. As a Nikonian learning to shoot Sony, it may have taken me a moment to learn how to lock focus while testing the camera last year, but it didn’t take the camera any time at all. Even though I was a Sony novice that day, the images that I was able to capture of a constantly moving subject were all tack sharp and I found the focusing system to be thoroughly intuitive. Ditto to switching between still and video. I absolutely loved shooting video with the a7R III and would suck that entire system inside my Frankencamera for video recording as well. Or is it possible to fit an entire Arri Alexa Mini inside a DSLR? Asking too much? OK. I’ll stay with the Sony.

Image Stabilization

Further delving into the concept of motion, I’m going to take the in-body image stabilization from the Panasonic GH5 and put it into my camera. Full disclosure, I’ve never actually shot with a GH5. I usually mount my DSLR to a stabilizer when needing smooth camera movements in video. But I often need to shoot video run-and-gun and, from what I read from other reviewers, the added steadiness would be a major plus.

Lens

For this, I am going to merge two lenses. I want the 24-70mm focal range of my go-to lens with the weight and speed of my 50mm f/1.4. Is this even scientifically possible while maintaining focusing speed and image quality? Could you even make a sharp 24-70mm zoom without it weighing a ton? Probably not. But hey, I’m not designing the camera myself. I’m just making completely unreasonable demands and putting them out into the world for someone else to figure out.

So there you have it. I want a mirrorless camera designed like the Fuji, with the Nikon D850 sensor, with Sony’s video and autofocus, stabilized by the Panasonic GH5 IBIS, with a f/1.4 zoom lens with a range of 24-70mm that weights the same as a fast 50mm. Are my requests reasonable? I think so. Are they practical? Ummmmm.

Obviously, this thought experiment was not meant to be completely practical. It was meant to be fun. So what would you put into your dream camera? Why? Have fun in the comments below.

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18 Comments

Sensor Nikon (or Sony), Body and Lenses from Nikon, Color processing from Canon, Autofocus from Sony ..

Pedro Pulido's picture

Sensor, Auto Focus and some perks like timelapse, 4k capability etc - D850
Design - Fuji Xt2
lenses - sigma art quality with olympus size (mega dreaming here)
viewfiender quality of A7RIII but with optical/eletronical like Fuji Xpro-2
FPS of Sony A9

funny i started with Canon and now i want nothing from them. They are amazing, but for a dream camera the only thing i would want from canon is the Canon 70-200mm F2.8 II quality in an olympus sized lens!

ahhh it's fun to dream.

Josh Leavitt's picture

I honestly just want a camera I'd enjoy shooting with and would take everywhere. For that, I'd like a digital rangefinder without a screen (Leica M-D design and body), which uses a larger optical viewfinder window for enhanced magnification (think x.92 from the M3).

Add a cloth-curtain mechanical shutter for more discrete shooting and a film-advance lever to cock it so you can save battery life while in single shot mode (i.e. Epson RD-1). But use the Sony A9 EXMOR 24MP sensor so you can capture 20FPS if desired in continuous shooting mode with the hyper fast e-shutter.

Use Fujifilm color science and include their film simulation modes for JPG. And allow it to use an optional EVF based on Sony's new 5-million dot 240FPS EXC339A for enhanced lag-free TTL focusing (when necessary). And finally include Sony's 5-axis IBIS to make it more usable for some of the slower M-mount primes.

I was talking about this just las week. My perfect camera came out just a bit different, but I loved the idea of a cloth-curtain shutter with a film-advance lever to save battery. Here's what I was thinking about:
- Full frame digital rangefinder with no LCD, like the Leica M-D;
- Wifi/bluetooth for occasional reviewing and setting adjustments via an app;
- Slim body, such as the M10, or even smaller;
- Big, bright 0.72x viewfinder just like the M10;
- Optional EVF;
- At least 40/50MP for those super-extra-large prints;
- Great low light performance (A7III-like or better);
- Monochrome version with even greater low light performance;
- New lens mount, with the amazing optics and size of the M lenses, but with a leaf shutter just like the Q.

Josh Leavitt's picture

That's a nice list. Yeah, a rangefinder with a 40-50MP sensor would be a welcome addition. Even the Sony a7R III has incredible light sensitivity for it's MP count, so it's certainly possible. The leaf shutter idea is one I've been hoping a manufacturer would incorporate into a consumer/prosumer level ILC system - the flash sync capabilities are amazing.

Jonathan Smith's picture

Am I in the minority by saying the way cameras a designed now are completely impractical? We are still using the "box" design dating back to the 1800s. Manufacturers need to rethink the way picture are taken. Image a joystick where the lens attaches; the actual lens/sensor is completely unconnected to the view finder. The viewfinder is glasses that you can wear without being distracted.

Pedro Pulido's picture

glasses? joystick? that's a bit far into the VR world for me. i enjoy seeing my surroundings!

I use glasses and see my environment just fine. ;)

Jorge Cevallos's picture

And I would like a <$ 5000.00 price for a such a system.

While I share your concerns about the res and IQ I think that the Fujis really are up to the task.
Bear in mind that until the recent high MP editions of Nikon and Canon they too were playing with moderate resolutions in the commercial world.
My wish would be a large battery.
Lenses are great, sensors are great, bodies are available to make anyone happy but battery anxiety is the rule of the day with mirrorless.

Michael Holst's picture

I still don't understand how everyone complains about it. Maybe I'm crazy but I don't see my batteries running out all of the time on my A7ii. I turn off steady shot and put it into airplane mode and when I'm not actively using it I keep the body turned off. I've only had to change batteries a few times. But I also don't take a billion photos at a time because I'm pretty calculated about what I take pictures of.

As a working pro I DO take hundreds of photos at a time and on some days thousands. Having used a variety of mirrorless cameras I can say that I have to carry a larger number of batteries for them if I plan on a longer shoot.
If I am on vacation I take a small Oly and one extra battery. I find that I can get by on one battery but I am not being very demanding in that scenario.

Anonymous's picture

It weighs almost nothing, say less than 10g, including all lenses. After all, it should have some substance.

It has a infinite resolution, infinite focal range, and perfect optical performance, with infinite dynamic range and bit depth, and has no signal degredation as sensitivity increases

It is also impossible to lose.

You said "perfect".

Moving on.

Michael Holst's picture

it would be a Mamiya 7ii that I stumble upon at a garage sale and only having to pay about $50 for it because it's someone's dad's old thing he never used and they can't find any film that fits it.

Jan Kruize's picture

Something like a canon eos 5d mkiv. :-)

David Pavlich's picture

There was a thread like this on DPR and I'll answer the same as I did there; my 5DIV w/grip with a base ISO of 64. For my kind of shooting, it would be wonderful.

Ryan Mense's picture

Sony a99 II but with a 1.6 crop sensor and Canon mount

I want a camera like my smartphone - with a touchscreen android interface, 3rd party applications, 4G data and web access. Sony/Nikon sensor and Fuji dials would be nice too :)