Who Else Wants Sony to Change This One Thing?

Who Else Wants Sony to Change This One Thing?

Canon managed it. Nikon managed it. And, thinking about it, the new mirrorless cameras from Panasonic would feel weird if they didn’t have it. If I could change one thing about my otherwise awesome Sony a7 III, this would be it.

Sony has pioneered the development of full-frame mirrorless technology, slowly being caught by the likes of Canon, Nikon, and now, Panasonic. In its desire to create a body that was refreshingly small and compact, Sony ditched one feature that perhaps felt like a hangover from the DSLR era: the top deck display. I want it back.

I can understand the logic: with the EVF and rear display, a lot of changes can be made while staring at a live version of what will be the final image, allowing you to see numbers slide around and have those changes reflected instantaneously. Why would you any longer need a top deck readout, especially when it’s taking up precious real estate on a body that’s supposed to be as small as possible while still packing in a full-frame sensor along with some stabilization?

The Sony a7 III top deck

The Sony a7 III. Lost: One top deck display. Several million former owners. If found, please return as soon as possible.

In playing catch-up, Canon, Nikon and Panasonic have decided that, contrary to what Sony would have us believe, full-frame mirrorless cameras are not supposed to be significantly smaller than their DSLR predecessors. As Scott Kelby mentioned on one of his recent podcasts (YouTube link), “Sony suckered the world into thinking that mirrorless cameras were going to be light and small.” Clearly, Canon et al were not falling for it and chose not to try and make their cameras as small as possible, thereby maintaining the ergonomics that have kept their vast number of customers happy over the years. In doing so, the supposedly redundant top deck display has not been ditched, and I can’t lie and say that I’m not jealous of those Canon RF and Nikon Z shooters with their conveniently presented information.

The top deck display of the Nikon Z 6

The top deck display of the Nikon Z 6. Subtle, refined elegance?

The other factor that makes me wish that Sony hadn’t been so brutal in trimming the excess is that by having information on the top deck, you can declutter your EVF. Instead of having your exposure details, compensation, battery levels, and card info taking up lots of space, all of this information can be left on the top deck display and you can focus on the image itself without having to keep toggling through the display settings to bring it back each time you need to check something.

I’m interested to see whether Sony addresses this in the a7 IV when it appears in the next couple of years, though I suspect it will be sticking with its “smaller bodies are the future (even if the lenses are bigger)” mantra. Top deck displays seem to be undergoing something of a revolution at the moment, with the Canon R (though notably, not the smaller RP), the Nikon Z 6 and Z 7, and the Panasonic S1 and S1R all featuring a display. Panasonic’s top deck display maintains the clunky LCD watch stylings of yesteryear, while Canon and Nikon have made a conscious effort to improve this part of the camera, increasing the quality and inverting the colors to create something that actually looks quite smart.

Top deck display on the Canon EOS R

The top deck display on the Canon EOS R. I'm not saying it's pretty, but it's a significant improvement over what went before.

Fuji has never had to play this game, preferring its tactile dials and knobs full of numbers that are a pleasing throwback to analogue. However, this has just changed with the announcement of the rather incredible GFX 100. This camera is mind-boggling, but let’s be honest: like the rest of their medium format bodies, it’s not the prettiest. Functionality has clearly been a priority, but in order to try and keep some of their analogue tradition, Fuji has done something rather funky: the top deck display features virtual dials. I’m not quite sure why this pleases me so much, but it does.

Fuji GFX 100 dials

The sexy dials found on the top of the new Fuji GFX 100. Other camera manufacturers take note: this panel does not need to be an insult to aesthetics. Photo courtesy of Robert Baggs.

I really appreciate the tiny size of the Sony a7 III, but it came with a few compromises, and this is one of them. I can live with it, but Sony, if you’re reading, please consider adding this feature in the future. At the very least, make the rear display show something that is easy to read and not an assault on my sensibilities. As photographers, we’re quite visual folk, and weirdly enough, we tend to like things that look nice.

Sony a7 III rear display

The Sony a7 III. Fill your soul with beauty. Go forth into the world and capture the sublime. But try not to look at this readout while you're at it.

Perhaps then this is actually a sign of what I actually want Sony to do next. In my eyes, if it wants to continue snaffling an ever-growing share of the market, it should give a little thought to user experience. We like to think of ourselves as artists, not machine operators, and the finishing touches can make a real difference. Sony’s menu system is a bit of a car crash (and thank god that custom buttons mean that it can be largely avoided), but let’s be honest: most cameras have menus that look as though they were designed in the 1990s. Perhaps they were cobbled together by middle-aged men who long ago resigned themselves to the idea that functionality and beauty are irreconcilable, so there's no point in attempting either. Surely, it wouldn’t be much of an investment of time and money to abduct a couple of hipsters from Mountain View, lock them in a room in Minato for six months, and see what they come up with.

So, Sony. You made the full-frame MILC smaller and lighter, cramming in some groundbreaking features and cutting a few corners here and there in order to create something that I love to shoot with. I really hope that the next step is to make it refined, allowing us to feel like we're holding a machine that inspires creativity rather than expensive box built out of rainy days and spreadsheets.

But perhaps it's just me. Be sure to let me know whether you agree by leaving a comment below.

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99 Comments

Previous comments
Paul Lindqvist's picture

I think it's a matter of habit, I'm too see no point in having dedicated iso/exposure comp dials. Since we do as we always have done on DSLR using a button and a dial.

The main reason for me not jumping all over the A7riii instead of the A99ii (with pretty much the same sensor) was that the A99ii gave me the build, size and ergonomic I was used to.

Creature of habit. :-)

Martin Del Vecchio's picture

Deleted User said "I guess I I don't get the benefit of a dial dedicated to exposure compensation."

It's critical for video, particularly in my use case. I record plays and concerts with two cameras, and the lighting changes can cause real problems for auto exposure. The mechanical dial is a life saver.

I just wish Sony would not limit this to +/- 2 stops. The dial is +/- 3 stops, and photo mode gets that full range. But for some reason, video mode is limited to +/- 2 stops.

Rk K's picture

I really appreciate the tiny size of the Sony a7 III. Sony, if you’re reading, please don't add a useless, redundant top lcd.

michaeljin's picture

This is where personal preference comes in, I guess. For some, the small size is a huge plus. For others, it's a deal breaker. There's no satisfying everyone.

Patrick Rosenbalm's picture

Especially when the current trend is to look for anything to gripe about.

Exactly. If you want to add more buttons/controls great but don't waste time on a useless LCD that only DSLR owners will miss for a bit.

I never felt that I was missing anything regarding the settings. The settings are displayed on the back display and in the EVF. I never used a camera with the top display so maybe I am missing something.

michaeljin's picture

I think it all comes down to how you use the camera.

It's like having a preview LCD on your tv to tell you what channel its on.

Yep just as useless

In certain situations is convenient and can save on battery life than. It's nice to have such information and being able to change your settings without placing the camera to your eye or having to flip up the rear screen. Definitely something I miss using on a DSLR and enjoyed using when I had the X-H1

Hans Rosemond's picture

AF points that blink red when they move.

C Fisher's picture

It's just you 😉

Andy Day's picture

Dammit! 😂

I'll have to say this is the very last thing I would seek to change. I prefer way less screens and things to have water creep into.

What we should be saying is why the hell hasn't Sony released a firmware for the A9 that had S-Log??

michaeljin's picture

Funny that despite the other companies having those screens that could be potential points of egress for water, Sony actually has some of the weakest weather sealing in their bodies out of the major manufacturers even though they don't have them...

Jonathan Brady's picture

There are so many other things I would change or tweak before adding a top plate. My two biggest complaints are the color of the AF box (Grey, Sony? Really?!) and it would be nice to have better weather sealing around the battery compartment so that I never have to worry about it.
Heck, I'd add eye control AF before a top plate.

Nop. useless feature and taking up space for buttons and dials, also consumes more power.
Top LCD is useful for DSLR, mirrorless is fine without and with compact body, better without it.
Why don't we move our attention to something really matter?
For "ergonomic and size" arguments, ergonomic is subjective, users with smaller hands would appreciate smaller body, and you can always go big by adding grips, but you can't do the opposite.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

I have no need for a top display. I don't see the point of it, to be honest. It seems the 3 main things on it are shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. How hard is it to remember these 3 settings, especially when they can be viewed on the EVF and LCD. During a shoot, I don't see an instance where I'd need to check the top display from time to time.

If anything, I wouldn't mind having that Canon feature (and probably others have it) where it remembers the horizontal and vertical focus point. This way, as I go back and forth between the two, I don't have to keep moving the focus point around. The awesome Eye-AF (on the Sonys) probably makes this moot, but, for where Eye-AF isn't or can't be used, it'd be handy for me. Me me me! :)

EDIT: Well, it appears I was so wrong. You know what the say, "RTFM". :)

Sony does have that horizontal/vertical focus point switching. It's under "Switch V/H AF Area".

I can't remember the last time I looked at the top of the camera. They need better ergonomics so my knuckles dont have impressions after using big glass.

Who Else Wants Fstoppers to Change This One Thing?: no more question marks at the end of every clickbait article?

JetCity Ninja's picture

i'm rarely looking topdown at my camera. all of the eyepoints are facing the rear.

maybe i'd care more if my cameras used waist level viewfinders.

The one thing I want Sony to
Fix is having the shutter down when it’s off to keep dust off the sensor.

The top display is super-useful. Canon and Nikon have got it right. Omitting the top display is a cost cutting measure befitting bargain-priced cameras, not $2,000+ cameras. It's like leaving out the battery charger for the A7III. Totally dumb and cheapskate. Sony is all about the profit, not the usability. They have a couple of killer features (eye-AF and IBIS), but skimp on everything else.

Eric Salas's picture

I’ve never felt the need for a top display. Seems redundant if I can flip the screen or use the viewfinder.
My only complaint is where some options are in the menu system but then again, I don’t ever use the menu system after the first day since all controls are customizable.

Bill Williams's picture

Top display is useless for me. I love
My A7RIII and coming from Nikon the learning curve was steep for the menu but onces i set up the custom buttons for my work flow and pre program setting on 1 2 3 I rarely ever need to dive into the menus.

If I could change anything :
a) weather sealing
b) shutter close to prevent dust when lens off
c) and most important colour of the focus point before lock on.

Rob Mitchell's picture

Wait, no top display? 😮
And to think, Nikon got slammed for not having 2 cards slots?

😉

I shoot with the Sony a6400.
I don't care at allfor a top-plate lcd. My Sony a77 has one and I hardly ever used it since it has a flippy tilty screen with much bigger letters.
My main wish is a fully working touchscreen. And by this I mean, menu touchable, pinch to zoom, browsing pictures etc.
Since my a6400 has a tap to focus possibility, I don't care about a joystick either. Without touch to focus, I would very much like to have one.

Mike Stern's picture

Sony. If you are reading this please do not change your design and add a top screen as the article suggests.
Article misses a very important point:
Optimum design for a photography machine is a box you look through as you forget you are holding and looking through anything. Needing to be looking at the box itself with such designs like top lcd defeats this point. We should forget the fact we are operating a camera as we photograph.

Only barrier I have between me and a great photograph is the camera itself.

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