Well, let’s open this huge can of worms and see what happens.
Over the last few years, Sony has done something incredible. They managed to make people care about the most boring thing in a camera: the menu. The first few mirrorless cameras that Sony produced were terrible. I hated so much about them that the menu was too far down the list for it to ever be anything I discussed.
Since then of course, Sony has made some huge changes and updates to almost all its cameras. The current mirrorless cameras from Sony are so good, that we now argue about the minutest, tweezer plucking points ever.
Does it Matter?
Yes, it does. Although I am poking fun at this discussion, I do think it’s important for camera manufacturers to offer a well-designed user interface. Cameras with a bad menu system, or a convoluted interface, end up frustrating people away. This is something that Sony has been working hard on and in my view, its cameras have come a long way. The abundance of custom buttons make for a pleasing overall experience.
For a long time, cameras only had the ability to take pictures. Designing an interface for that was pretty straight forward. Now, we have cameras that require multiple settings for just the viewfinders, let alone anything else. Due to this, menus from most camera manufacturers have become bloated and difficult to manage.
It’s more important now for manufacturers to figure out a simple and easy to use interface. Cameras now, offer a great number of features and I have a feeling this number is yet to increase. It’s not enough to simply add another page in the menu, a complete overhaul is probably required in order to keep things manageable.
What Do I Think?
I’ve now shot with most of the current major manufacturers on the market. Based on my experience, I have drawn a few conclusions on what I think is the best menu system.
In 2015, Hasselblad hired Perry Oosting as its CEO. Oosting was previously the CEO of a cell phone company called Vertu and this I think, has had the biggest influence on current generation Hasselblad cameras.
The menu systems used in Hasseblad cameras are without a doubt the best on the market. There is a familiarity to it because it’s been influenced by smartphone operating systems. The whole menu has been optimized for touch screen use, making it incredibly easy to understand. Simple swipe gestures allow you to move from one section to another. Couple that with the dials and buttons that Hasselblad cameras have, and you have the best menu system on the market.
Nothing else comes close.
Almost anyone who has shot with a Canon camera, probably agrees that Canon have a very intuitive and easy to use menu system. Everything seems logical and easy to understand. The easy to use menu system is one of the reasons, I still prefer to shoot with Canon for any meaningful projects.
Canon is one of the few manufacturers that offers a proper and fully useable touch screen. Most other manufacturers only allow you to use the touch screen for swiping through images or selecting AF points. Although this is useful, it’s frustrating to have a limited touch screen.
Pentax is about as good as Canon except that it lacks a touch screen. I loved shooting with Pentax cameras because I got the impression, they were designed by people who clearly understood what photographers need. My experience is limited mostly to the Pentax 645z and I loved shooting with it.
It’s the little things that really caught my attention. For example, the camera screen will flash if you leave the lens cap on. Yes, I’ve left the lens cap on a fair few times. This is more to do with the camera warning you about exposure, as opposed to it being about the lens cap, but still, very useful.
Everything about the camera, like the buttons and the fact that it had two tripod mounts, just made me enjoy shooting with it.
Sony is somewhat of a mixed bag. The a7 series of cameras started off with having the worst menu and user interface. Since then, Sony has worked hard to improve the overall experience. The menu system remains relatively unchanged; however, Sony has added a whole bunch of customizable buttons. It’s these buttons that have made the overall experience significantly better. I almost never need to go into the menu, because the custom buttons offer me almost every feature I need, for most shoots.
Also, the favorites menu is extremely helpful for quick access to my most used features.
If Sony can improve its actual menu and offer a proper touch screen, it could potentially take Canons spot.
When it comes to Leica, it seems to depend on the camera you shoot with. I would rate the M series of cameras much higher than Sony; but then, those cameras are far simpler with far fewer features.
Cameras like the SL2, however, tend to be a little frustrating to use. It’s not the menu because the menu in the SL2 is fantastic and incredibly easy to use. The problem is the lack of buttons on the camera body, which in my view, detracts from the overall experience.
The camera doesn’t have a front dial which is something I always miss. Although the SL2 does have a top dial, it’s less than comfortable to use. The camera also doesn't have a D-pad, which does make quick access to features a bit of a pain. The minimal design looks beautiful but, from a practical standpoint it can be a little slower and less effective to shoot with. A fully useable touch screen would go a long way with the SL2.
6. Phase One
The menu system in Phase One cameras are about as good as Hasselblad, potentially even better. They both offer similar swipe gestures and a fully useable touch screen. The menu has also been optimized for touch and I absolutely love it. You may be wondering why I’ve ranked this camera so low then. Well, there are a few issues that I experience with Phase One that pushes it down the ranks for me.
Phase One tends to over complicate its menu system. There are settings within settings, within settings. I prefer something a little straight forward. I can appreciate that some people would describe this as a benefit, and I wouldn’t disagree with them either. I just personally prefer a simpler design. Also, the time it takes for Phase One backs to load images in the playback screen is ridiculous. I appreciate the files are huge, but a Hasselblad camera with the same sensor has never had a problem.
Finally, the number of crashes and shutdowns I have to go through just to use the camera, is too much for me. Admittedly, this is mostly because I shoot with a technical camera, so it’s an unfair point against Phase One. The technical camera is essentially a huge adapter. I appreciate the back would work better on a Phase One camera, but this is based on my experience and what I think.
I hate Fujifilm’s menu system. Fuji's menu system is kind of like Argos here in the UK. Every retailer decided on one way of running a shop and Argos thought, no, we want to be different.
I hate the fact that Fuji made Auto ISO more complicated than it needs to be. I also hate using top dials because you can’t use them while holding the camera with both hands, ready to take a shot. The top dials are a terrible idea; I mean sure they look great but, there's a reason why every other manufacturer moved away from that design. Honestly, it's the most impractical camera I've ever used in a professional setting. It's a beautiful camera and I love the results it produces, but I hate the menu system and overall interface.
The Q menu feature is ok, but I never use it because you can’t actually go into the settings from that page. Instead you have a few surface level settings available for you to control. Why couldn’t it just be a shortcut? Also, the user settings are so long and so over the top, that I’ve never been able to find anything I wanted the first time around. Finally, the camera doesn’t have a fully useable touch screen.
So many photographers keep talking about how great the Fuji menu system is, but honestly, it’s by far the worst I’ve ever used. Despite this, Fuji cameras produce such wonderful results that I completely overlook these “quirks”.
Immediate disqualification for having the lens attach the wrong way.
Panasonic and Olympus (Nikon)
I simply haven’t built enough experience with Panasonic and Olympus cameras yet, so, I can’t really comment extensively on them. What I will say is that my impression of their interface was mostly positive.
The same is true for Nikon, they’re just an easy target.
What Do You Think?
If you conduct a poll online asking people which camera menu system is the best, more than likely, Canon will win. This happens pretty much every time but, I don’t think we can conclude that Canon is the best just yet. The reason I say this is because it could be down to the fact that more people shoot with Canon; which essentially means that more people can vote for Canon.
Even though Sony has been generating a lot of sales, more people own Canon cameras than any other current manufacturer. What we generally see, is people tend to vote for the brand they shoot with. Due to this, It’s difficult to make any objective conclusions about which camera has the best menu system.
Nevertheless, here is a poll to see what you all think.
Final Thoughts and Suggestions
There are a couple of things that camera manufacturers need to change. Firstly, stop limiting touch screens. Dear god, this is such a punchable offense. I don’t care what the nonsense excuse is… stop it. If you’re going to put in a touch screen, then let it be useable across the whole menu and not just to select focus points. Sony and Fujifilm, I’m looking at you.
Almost every camera on the market right now needs a larger screen. The tiny, low resolution screens need to go. Sony is the worst for this. The screens in every a7 series camera is garbage level bad. What’s even worse is that Sony has no excuse. I’m pretty such they have more experience in screens than almost any other camera manufacturer.
Ultimately, it comes down to your own personal preferences. I’m sure many of you will vehemently disagree with me about my preferences, but that’s what they are. Whatever camera you’re most comfortable with, is probably going to be the one with the best menu system.