The One Killer Feature Manufacturers Need to Add to Their Cameras

The One Killer Feature Manufacturers Need to Add to Their Cameras

When Canon and Olympus were experimenting with live view on their cameras in the mid-2000s, it seems almost comical now that they didn’t think to record video with the feature that already existed on their cameras. History is repeating itself, but this time with the lowly pop-up flash.

It’s a humble feature on many cameras that can do so much more.

In the rush to eliminate built-in flashes on many bodies for seemingly no reason (come on, the Nikon D700 was a full frame camera that seemed to handle this just fine, but most newer cameras can't?), it seems like many manufacturers are forgetting why they are there in the first place. It’s not to light your subject, at least in most cases. Instead, the pop-up flash exists to trigger other flashes, be it through proprietary technology such as Nikon’s Creative Lighting System or through simple optical triggering on an external flash, either way requiring a direct line of site rather than more flexible radio signals. I can appreciate that this might be news to some.

But despite the sporadic appearance of pop-up flashes on new camera models, none of the major manufacturers have taken this to the next logical level: The inclusion of built-in radio flash capabilities. It seems like many took initial steps to include optical triggering options into their cameras, but radio flash still seems to be MIA within a camera body.

Certainly, manufacturers have built out robust flash systems, such as Canon’s RT series of Speedlites or Nikon’s SB-5000. However, to use each of these systems requires a trigger of some sort (such as the Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter, which sits in the hot shoe) to attach to your camera. How awesome would it be to save the batteries (and the extra point of failure) to have to use a separate unit? This would also lead to less confusion about whether to use the menus on the camera or the unit as well.

It’s possible that to build this feature in could cause compliance headaches with different communications regulations in different countries, but that doesn’t necessarily make sense, since this is already an issue with wireless and GPS functionality in cameras. In the case of Canon, for instance, the manufacturer handles this by shipping Wi-Fi and non Wi-Fi versions based on region, and the same approach could be applied with this technology. It’s also possible that it’s a money maker for companies to sell triggers as separate units rather than building it into the camera, but I know that I’d certainly pay a little extra if it meant I didn’t have to lug around something extra. If nothing else, building in this kind of support would be an even more compelling reason to purchase first-party flash units instead of exploring third party radio systems. I’ve ended up using Pocket Wizards, Yongnuos and Cactus to accomplish the same thing that could easily be built into the camera by the manufacturer to keep me from straying.

Having built-in radio flash triggers means one less thing to carry on a location shoot to be able to achieve off-camera flash, as in this photo here where the Speedlight was placed in a softbox to the right of the camera.

Having built-in radio flash triggers means one less thing to carry on a location shoot to be able to achieve off-camera flash, as in this photo here where the Speedlight was placed in a softbox to the right of the camera.

If not built-in radio flash, how about at least a flash that can flip up to bounce of a ceiling? Panasonic seems to have unintentionally done this in some cameras like the Lumix GX85, where you can hold the flash upwards with a finger, but it’s something that’s still left out of the DSLR world. Anything to make the pop-up flash a little more useful, right?

It seems like manufacturers are not really interested in showing the pop-up flash any love, as it has remained neglected as radio technology moves on.

Do you shoot with wireless flash? Is this something you’d like to see in a camera?

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64 Comments

Nick Viton's picture

I've used the pop-up flash to trigger my off-camera flash via CLS on-the-fly. It's handy in a pinch, but I wouldn't rely on it, as it requires line-of-sight.
One time while using it, a Canon user was making fun of me; she thought I was using the pop-up to light my subject (despite me holding the external flash off-camera with my free hand). Explaining CLS to her, she still didn't get it - she was too hung up that I was apparently a noob for using a pop-up flash.
In any event, I would love a more robust built-in solution!

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Yeah I'm really surprised - whenever I used CLS many people thought I was lighting with the pop-up flash. CLS (and Canon's equivalent) was good for its day, but it's time to just put radio into the body. Then people would not judge us for using the pop-up flash because you probably wouldn't need to pop it up to use radio.

I really wish the industry would just standardize the entire hot shoe so we didn't have to have Canon, Nikon, Sony, ETC, triggers. we could just have one trigger and it works. I don't even need a radio trigger built into the body because they will all want their own system and some people will use godox/flashpoint, profoto, bowens, alien bees, etc. Just give me a standard port that works.lenses and bodies are expensive enough I don't want to change systems.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I'm sure they'll get on that after they work on a universal lens mount (Which I wish was a thing as well).

C Fisher's picture

It's funny how world govts dog piled on phone manufacturers and made them all have non proprietary connectors, but every other industry slipped through the cracks. Not enough politicians using cameras I guess.

I remember the glorious days of proprietary cords. Having to order one directly from Samsung for $50 just to charge your phone was so fun.

It's difficult in a professional body like a D850/D5 or 5D Mark IV/1Dx to incorporate radio signals and wifi, etc, because of the robust magnesium alloy frame and how they are assembled and sealed. I know it's possible and at least the D850 has Wifi, but I can understand from a design and engineering perspective how it's been not an option.

Spy Black's picture

Non-professionals think owning a camera without a pop-up flash makes them professionals...

I don't shoot with wireless flash but I still can't understand why an onboard flash isn't included in cameras. I use mine in my 7D2 about once a year for something (personal, not professional) where flash was not anticipated, and it's a great lifesaver. If I have my 5DS on a personal project and don't have my flash, I'm out of luck.

Nikon's D800 and D810 were considered flash worthy, but the improvement leap to the D850 apparently made it a serious enough offering to require the flash be taken off. Sometimes I think it's as much for show as anything else.

It's not for show, it's for amateurs and Nikon and Canon knew that so they started adding Commander features. The D850 is a stronger and better sealed camera than the D810. Why do you think the D4s/D5 camera's do not and would never have a pop-up flash? It's a weak point, plain and simple.

Kawika Lopez's picture

Shut up and take my money!

Wasim Ahmad's picture

That is pretty much what I would say to whoever introduced this feature!

Wallace Ferguson's picture

YES!! & THANK YOU

Paul Lindqvist's picture

I rather use an external trigger than rely on in-camera proprietary radio with limited range and functionality. I'm glad my cameras do not have pop-up flash it's a waste and I never use it.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

This sounds a lot like when people were glad that cameras didn't have video at the dawn of the DSLR video era. Having a feature built-in, even if it's limited, doesn't take away functionality. Including radio wouldn't change the other functionality for you, but it would greatly help the rest of us.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

The notion that you can simply add built-in flash at a whim with no cost in design and production is flawed, to begin with.

As for functionality, having owned and used Nikon pro bodies with big and bright OVF which already have a huge prism on top, a built-in flash would not help in terms of design, plus it's another potential point of failure.

I would have no issue with a built-in radio trigger, but since it would be limited in function and performance it is obviously not worth it just yet. An external trigger, which will perform better as well as being optional is most likely the main reason why the manufacturer does not include this.

A manufacturer usually doesn't design cameras on a whim, they take their market research and target group dead seriously, for good reason.

So when designing a camera targeted at a certain group, they take into consideration how many will use this feature vs who will not. So will it be worth adding a built-in flash that the majority of users probably won't ever use? History tells us no.

Considering the lack of built n flash is not a new occurrence when it comes to camera bodies aimed at the professional market but has been there since the dawn of DSLR.

It's not really like video in cameras, that has become a standard feature in just about any camera. The lack of built-in flash has not changed at all, despite some people voicing their opinion, this you already know of course. :-)

Wasim Ahmad's picture

This is definitely true about the years of development behind the cameras - that said, I've seen the market research that these companies do, and what's in them is sometimes perplexingly inaccurate or wrong.

I have a 6D with no flash and had a 1-DX Mark II, and those prisms felt no better or worse than my D700 or D750, so I'm still convinced they could put something like a pop-up flash or radio trigger in there with all of the modern engineering available today.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

Again you seem to fail to understand the reasoning and what goes into designing a product for a specific target group. It's, of course, possible, the question is if it's worth it to their target group or not.

You also seem to confuse the subject/features a built-in flash and radio trigger. One doesn't give us the other. They are two very different features. A built-in flash is not desired by most people using pro grade bodies for the simple reason they do use it, for good reason I might add.

Radio trigger I have no issues with, but again its use and performance will be limited in performance and function.

The first (built-in flash) will be a weak point in terms of impact, weather sealing and mechanical failure.

The second (radio trigger) will not.

So instead of equalling the built-in flash with radio triggering, try to separate the arguments for the two, because right now you're all over the place.

Unlike you, the manufacturer sees the logic to offer an external trigger with better performance and making it optional for the people who would actually use it.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

My work background has given me a close look at how manufacturers target certain groups, and it's safe to say that most of that market research is a joke and it's very easy for a company to fall down a dark whole and the wrong path if that's what they're relying on to make hardware decisions.

In my article, I advocate for a pop-up flash that can be bounced, so I'm advocating for both radio triggering and/or a useful pop-up flash. In a pinch it's good to have, and if past designs have worked with one, it makes no sense to lose it.

Has your work background given you specific insight into how Canon Or Nikon have targeted certain groups? Do you assert that the market research they have done into the matter "has been a joke?"

And how has it compared to the market research you have done? How many professional photographers have you spoken too that have been demanding pop up flash?

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Yes, I worked for Canon and saw the reports they commissioned firsthand. Obviously under NDA, so I can't share what they said, but I can tell you I would not place much faith in them.

The article isn't about wanting a pop-up flash, it's about making it more useful.

So you are making a specific accusation on the record about the quality of Canon's market research? You think their market research would be correctly characterized "as a joke?" You may be under an NDA but it is extremely poor form for you to be making these accusations publicly but be unwilling to back those accusations up.

As to the question that I posed to you before: do you actually have any market research to back up the opinions in your article? Do professional photographers actually want pop-up flash or internal built-in radio flash capabilities?

And you may have written the article, but I don't think you understood what you wrote. You can't claim the article is about "making pop-up flash more useful" when you spend a good deal of time lamenting the removal of pop-up flash for "seemingly no reason."

Paul Lindqvist's picture

Kind of big accusations claiming Nikon/Canon and the rest have market departments which work is a joke, and that you, of course, know better...

Wasim Ahmad's picture

The marketing departments aren't the ones doing the research. Almost every company hires very well-known outside firms and pay lots of money to commission the research. If you read the reports, yes, I'll say a lot of it reads like a joke. Have you ever seen one?

Paul Lindqvist's picture

Oh really? The CEO does not stand production line making the cameras either?

Yes, I have read one, but I haven't read Nikon and Canons like you...

But please do tell us about your own research because right now Wasim you sound more and more like Bagdad Bob, please share with us your own market research and data, since manufacturers are obviously clueless and have no idea who their target groups are or what they want.

Kawika Lopez's picture

I get what you're saying. In some situations though, limited functionality at the expense of additional gear is simply a nice option to have. Im not saying its the best option, but I almost feel like you're saying you'd rather have no option. (refereing to in camera wireless trigger, not pop-up flash)

Paul Lindqvist's picture

I plan my shoots, that's part of the job as a photographer. Anyone with any experience knows that radio is not an absolute performer as it heavily depends on the location your shooting in. So in every bag, I own there is a pc-sync cord in case any of my triggers won't work for whatever reason.

To date I never had to use one, still, have one in all my bags.

I'm never on a shoot having no options, and those of you how found your self there on a regular basis only have your self to blame.

I get that some people want to travel light for whatever reasons, but there seems to be a trend amongst some "photographers" that they simply are lazy and does not want to put in the leg work.

The attitude that you can't be bothered to have a trigger with batteries or even two in your bag falls into that category.

Even if your shooting with tiny speed lights off camera, you have light stands, modifiers, etc, so a couple of aa batteries and a trigger won't be the thing that breaks your back.

Most hobbyist and even some professional thinks I haul a lot of gear on my shoots, and while most of the gear is used because my lighting/shoots is always planned ahead, I also take into consideration different scenarios so extra gear is brought so that I do have an option if plan a does not work out. Again that's our job as photographers.

Now if you think an internal radio trigger would be nice, that's fine. But if it's for the reason that you can't be bothered using the current triggers because it's too much to haul, your simply too lazy to do the job.

Kawika Lopez's picture

I’m sorry but I can’t help but feel like your being a little narrow minded. And suggesting that I’m lazy because I “can’t be bothered” to haul gear is a bit much my friend.

You’re stating this all under the assumption that all photography is equal and that the type of work you do is the only type of photography that exists.

I live in Hawaii and wake up a few time a week several hours before dawn to hike to the top of a ridge in order to shoot sunrise portraits or just landscapes. Much of this is for local brands. Paid work, not just to mess around. In these situation it is COMPLETELY impractical to bring all of the equipment I would typically use in a studio. Every ounce of weight I can shed is extremely valuable.

Now if are in that situation and still believe that a built in trigger wouldn’t simply be a NICE option, even if it’s not the absolute most ideal option, then I’m sorry, but I feel like that’s just stubborn.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

No need to be sorry at all, I have an opinion you have an opinion that's how it goes.

The whole premise of this discussion is shoots where one use off camera flash, as we discuss the burden of carrying and using an external trigger.

In other words, not exactly studio equipment as we are talking about triggering speed lights. Unless you, of course, use speed lights in the studio.

But I do find the argument that having to carry an external trigger is too much of a burden is a lazy excuse for a problem that really does not exist for most professional photographers, regardless of what they are shooting.

But sure if you would like to have a proprietary radio trigger in camera for you speed lights that's fine, I just don't see the benefit, neither do the manufacturers apparently. :-)

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Or I'm not lazy and have had back injuries. That too. Glad you're able to carry everything, but not all of us can.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

If you can't carry two aa batteries and trigger because of your back I can't imagine you would be able to carry a camera let alone a light stand and other accessories.

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