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

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Steven Magner's picture

...and apparently talent

I would say for Sony to catch up to Nikon they need the bigger 3.2" lcd screen with twice the resolution, a better EVF, a top screen, and slightly more comfortable body to grip. They'll also need to upgrade that IBIS. It's kind of a weird thing to say but man, Sony has fallen behind, they need new bodies asap.

Having a top lcd very handy. Being able to see your metering mode, shutter, aperture as well ISO at a glance without being the camera to eye level or flipping up your screen just seems practical. I'm really impressed what Canon, Nikon and Fuji have done in improving this feature the extra information they've added as well function. Definitely saves on battery life and on the eyes in certain situations.

I love my Sony, and I don't miss anything (coming from Canon). A top-display would be nice to have, but I don't miss or need it, since I can see all information on the always-on-back display. Image quality is just amazing, handling is fine for me. The only thing I miss (I wish it would have) is integrated focus-stacking like in phase one cameras, and a spirit level that works also upside down.

Yavor Kapitanov's picture

I would prefer to add-on a nice slim L-bracket cage that is going to be customizable than have a bulky and uncomfortable to carry body just for the sake of a better grip.

Michael Comeau's picture

Funny - I switched from Canon to Sony and I never missed the top LCD screen.

Not a single time.

What I do miss is the overall feel.

I find Sony ergonomics to be fine since you can customize virtually all the buttons. And customizing the buttons more-or-less takes care of the menu issue.

But I wish my Sony cameras felt tougher.

Honestly, I think the top display works like the dashboard of a car. You have the main information about your system right next to you ready to go. Then if you need to set-up something, you access the big fancy LCD. It's a matter of preference, and I do feel a difference in battery life if I'm constantly turning on the back screen.

Top mounted LCD is completely useless and stupid. It's something DinoSLR fans making the transition may enjoy but is just a waste of space that can be used for anything else.
Stop the nostalgia nonsense

So many words, so little said. Blah blah blah...

Of all the things to ask for, that is literally at the bottom of my list. It's an outdated way of working and we need to let it go. The rear LCD is just so much better at displaying camera settings.

Eric Peterson's picture

I never used the top display on my Canons. I would much rather have the A9 additional Control dial and back lit button's.

I have not used Nikon since F4 days but when I picked up a Z6 at my local shop I said wow I wish Sony had this layout...they don't. Never will.

Eh, I'm on the fence about this one. it's nice to have but I switched from Nikon last fall and I really can't say I've missed the top deck display. If not having it means they can keep the size and cost down, I'm good without it.

Curtis Noir's picture

I’ve honestly never wanted a display like that. I’ve been shooting Sony for 7+ years now. I’m sure it would benefit other people that need that information. Interesting idea and article. Cheers

Damian Bereza's picture

You're right but I would ask Sony to add flexible viewfinder similar to nikon - which is better to look through..

James Parker's picture

I just want them to make AF point light up when you move it. I can't find the damn thing until I half press the shutter to focus.

Keith Meinhold's picture

I'm trying to figure out when I would use the top LCD if there was one.

Gordon Cahill's picture

If they're only going to change one thing can it be the weather sealing?

Gordon

This is nothing more than another example of DSLR users not being willing to let go of their old muscle memory. Useless carry over from mirror days.

Adam Palmer's picture

Don't miss the top plate much. I could list a few other things that drive me crazy. I wish you could change the drive mode before all the photos are written to the card. I wish the eye piece wouldn't pop off so easily. I wish they had a normal metal hot shoe like for their flashes like every other brand.. . .

Andy Day's picture

Thanks Adam! I think I feel another article coming on: "Everything that Sony needs to do in order to improve the a7iii." 😊

Andy Day's picture

By the way, my eye piece hasn't popped off. Is this a known problem? Only had mine 6 months.
And what are you doing to need to change the drive mode while the camera is writing to the card? Trying to figure out what this means. Ta! 😊

Adam Palmer's picture

Never did figure out why sony locks changing certain settings while the card is writing. Came from canon where you can change anything anytime. Does any other camera maker have this issue.

Ludwig Heinrich's picture

I had a top-plate LCD on my Canon; never used it. I don't have a top-plate LCD on my Sony a6500; never missed it.

Philip Chavez's picture

Are you kidding me that's why I love my Sony a7riii no top deck display just another thing to go out. That's all reviewers complained about with the Canon R was its top deck display. Among other things... Sorry I think you got this wrong. But nice story...

Andy Day's picture

Ha! I think I'm pretty much on my own with this one! Never mind 😂 Glad you enjoyed the read.

Danny Boyd's picture

If Sony copied the Panasonic G9 body and menu system in their a7iv I would make to move over to Sony from Pana and Nikon.

When on Canon, feeling my 6D, less comfortable in my hand than my 5D II, better, anyway, for its smaller size, I hated Sony's form factor, even smaller. But, disappointed by Canon's mirrorless answer, the R, I at last switched to Sony, largely to have a single camera for all uses, including street photography.

At once, not merely handling a Sony in a store, I loved the form of Sony's latest generation—my most comfortable experience so far. The Sony body vanishes in my right hand, while my left hand, supporting the lens, does the major work. With a sizable lens, the body still looks professional, where such perception may matter.

Canon R and Nikon Z, with deep grips, may be more comfortable, strictly speaking, but are a bit too showy for street photography. Canon RP, on the other hand, is excessively miniature. Sony strikes the best balance, only optionally resembling a consumer camera. Except to deepen the grip a bit, I fear a Sony enlargement. Never missing the top display, I'll take more custom buttons up there.

David Stephen Kalonick's picture

Oh, I thought it was the color science.

There are more things to change. The greatest dealbreaker is changing lenses. Between the grip and lens where your finger just fits between. You have to use the right hand for it and then try to rotate the lens with your left hand in direction of your finger and right hand. I feel I break my hands using the left hand. Then I need to take the lens to my right hand, put it somewhere and take the next lens and rotate it unnaturally counterclockwise if you have found the mark where to put the lens. Try this in a dark pit and you'll be lost.

The menu system is just a joke so to say. The buttons are placed unnatural and are deeper in the body so you have to press hard. You can program every uninportant sh... but the really important things you can't.

You have two memory card slots but using it is a nightmare. You have to set three different menupoints in different locations to get it to work. And don't think that if you remove one card that automatically the other is used or you could watch what's on the card. You have to work through the menus. Despite this using both slots slows the camera signifcantly down. So the second slot is more or less useless.

Without a grip the body is just like a toy in my hands (I have the RRS quick release plate for that). And so on...
You see, it's more a hate/love relationship and to be honest I don't understand the hype about the A7...

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