Why Are Touchscreens Often Limited on Modern Cameras?

Why Are Touchscreens Often Limited on Modern Cameras?

Take a moment and look at your smartphone. The touchscreen is the only way to operate the device, except for a few buttons on the side, perhaps. Modern cameras also have touchscreens, but often, they are very limited. I wonder why that is.

I have been reviewing cameras for a couple of years now. In that time, I have photographed with almost every camera brand, except Olympus (don’t ask me why, because I don’t know). And I have seen touchscreen functionalities started to appear gradually.

At first, I didn’t find it to be necessary. Why use a touchscreen if you can operate the camera through an array of buttons? Every photographer managed to shoot for decades without the need for a touchscreen. So, why start now? On top of that, when looking through the viewfinder, your face could activate the touchscreen and perhaps change settings unintentionally. Or so I thought. Still, I had no need for a touchscreen. Until I bought my first Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, that is.

When photographing with a smartphone, it is inevitable to use the touch screen. There is no other way. I am using the iPhone XR with the Profoto C1plus flash unit here. (credit: Hetwie: www.hetwie.nl)

That's When I Learned How Great Touchscreens Are

For the first time, I got a camera with a very usable touchscreen. I could operate the camera completely by touchscreen if I wanted. And the beautiful thing about it, if I used the viewfinder, the touchscreen wasn’t functional at all. That’s when I changed my opinion, and I started to believe the touchscreen is a handy way of operating a camera. It is quick, it is easy, and no more fiddling about with small buttons or button combinations. But you still have the ability to use button operation, if you don’t want to use the touchscreen.

The best touchscreen on a modern camera can be found on the Panasonic DC-S1. Even the location of the histogram can be placed wherever you like, just by swiping. And every other function can be operated by touchscreen.

I discovered the nice possibilities of a touchscreen. Some cameras make it possible to place the autofocus point by touchscreen, just by swiping your thumb. Others can place a histogram anywhere on the screen or operate all the settings by a smart quick menu. These are just a few of the possibilities a touchscreen can offer. I think it's the next step in operating a camera.

But then it occurred to me. There are only a few cameras with a fully functional touchscreen. Most cameras only offer limited use of the touchscreen. Of course, I haven’t used every camera on the market, but I found a fully functional touchscreen only on the Hasselblad X1D, the Canon EOS M50, the Canon 5D Mark IV, the Nikon Z 7, and a few Panasonic cameras like the Panasonic DC-S1. I believe the Nikon D850 and Nikon Z 6 also have nearly full touchscreen capabilities.

Often, consumer-oriented cameras have more touchscreen functionalities compared to professional cameras. I wonder why. The Canon EOS M has a very functional touchscreen.

Why Are Touchscreens Often Crippled?

Most modern cameras I reviewed have touchscreens, but these are limited to just a few functions. I noticed this with the Sony a9, the Sony a7R III, the Nikon D500, the Fujifilm GFX50S, and Fujifilm GFX 100, to name a few. Sometimes, you can use the touchscreen, sometimes not. You not only have to remember which buttons to use, but also when you are able to use the touchscreen and when not.

On top of that, isn’t it strange the menu of these cameras cannot be operated by the touchscreen? If smartphones can have a very sophisticated menu that can be operated with your finger, why do modern cameras lack the ability? Is it so difficult to incorporate a fully functional touchscreen? Even car navigation systems have more touchscreen functionalities.

The strange thing is, if you are used to a touchscreen operational camera, like my Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, it becomes very frustrating when you get a camera that is limited to just a few functions. I noticed this again while photographing at Lofoten with the Fujifilm GFX 100. It has a touchscreen, but when I accessed the Q menu, which has a touchscreen-friendly layout, it wasn’t possible to operate it by touching the screen.

Perhaps the most advanced mirrorless camera by Fujifilm, the GFX 100. But it lacks a good touchscreen. Only a few functions can be used by touchscreen. Isn't that weird?

I found the same thing with the different Sony cameras. These very sophisticated cameras also have very limited touchscreen abilities. Why not offer the possibility to use the touchscreen for everything? If a smartphone manufacturer can do this, swhy can’t Sony and Fujifilm? After all, the screen is already touch-sensitive. Just write the software. I have to admit I don't know about the touchscreen functionality on the newer Sony a7R IV. Perhaps it is better already.

Once You Are Used to Something, It Is Hard to Let Go

I have grown used to operating the camera by touchscreen. That is why I am bothered by all this. It's a personal thing, I know. Most photographers only use one type of camera, and probably don’t know what difference a fully operational touchscreen can offer. I also know most manufacturers don’t build a camera with every functionality and modern techniques available, because they want to make the next model just a little bit better, perhaps even with some extra touchscreen functions. Or they want to offer extras with a firmware update, something that will extend the possibilities of the camera. After all, we all like to get extras after we have bought something.

The touchscreen functionalities of the Sony a7R III are very limited. You would almost forget they exist.

Although I understand the reason why we aren’t offered cameras with every functionality available, I also know it is ridiculous why fully functional touchscreens aren’t more common, just like on our smartphones. It is easy to incorporate, I think. Panasonic, Canon, Nikon, and Hasselblad have shown us it is possible. So, I ask all camera builders and designers, especially Fujifilm and Sony, two brands that are often called very innovative, take note of the aforementioned brands with full touchscreen functionalities. Who will be first?

Before I end this article, I think it is good to mention that I don’t think a camera is bad when a touchscreen is not present or not fully functional. I just think it foolish if a touchscreen is so limited.

What do you think of touchscreen functionalities? Do you feel it is an overrated thing, or do you feel it is the best way to operate a camera? Please let me know your thought on this in the comments below. I am looking forward to your opinion.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Nando Harmsen is a Dutch photographer that is specialized in wedding and landscape photography. With his roots in the analog photo age he gained an extensive knowledge about photography techniques and equipment, and shares this through his personal blog and many workshops.

Log in or register to post comments

After using our 5D Mark IV at work, it drives me absolutely bonkers that my personal 7D Mark II doesn't have a touchscreen at all. It's like going from my personal Chromebook to my work Macbook: I'm just so used to reaching forward and touching an icon on the Chromebook that it always takes me a second to realize why nothing's happening on the Mac.

Using a touchscreen means I have to fish out the reading glasses. And it's useless outdoors in the sun anyway. My Z6 has a great touchscreen and I hardly ever use it. I keep it turned off for better battery life.

I really don't get all the drum-beating about touchscreens on cameras.

I don’t get all the fuss either. Once I’m out shooting, I rarely go near the screen. I have enough buttons to access vital features anyway. Navigating menus to set up the camera to your liking really doesn’t need a touchscreen. Saves on all those greasy fingermarks too.

I mostly use it when working on tripod and liveview. It works great and those greasy fingermarks fit nicely next to the greasy nose mark ;)

If you set the brightnes of your screen to the right setting, it can be seen without problems in full sunlight. At least, my EOS 5D4 has no problems with it. I presume the Nikon will be similar.
If you never used it, you don't know what you're missing ;)

Ok I'm out in the sun and want to use the touchscreen... just need to bump up the brightness... good thing I have the EVF so I can find the menu setting... of course by the time I do, I forgot what I wanted the touchscreen for. Oh wait the shot is gone anyway...

If you have to do these things at the moment you want to photograph, you didn't prepare yourself well enough. ;)

I never do. :-)

Auto brightness control works fine for me on Nikon Z7 in sunlight. No need to dive into menus. I never change it and it gets it right in bright light. If anything I turn off the display shooting in dark events to avoid distracting people.

Also the EVF can be very bright. For nightsky photography I find the EVF even on lowest brightness too bright. It blinds me.
But for normal situations I think it will do fine.

By the way, I don't think touch screen will drain you rbattery a lot. Using a Z 6 already has the LCD screen activated, something that will cost more energy than the touch screen.

Even though my 5D IV got great touch capabilities, I still use the buttons for most interactions. It really depends on the speed and precision. If it takes more time moving my hands to do something on the screen than to just use the buttons close to my fingers, then I'll use the latter.

Using touch to focus in live view is great though!

I wouldn't want to miss the buttons neither. But when working on tripod for landscape photography, with liveview, it;s great

A touch screen is actually cheaper in manufacturing cost compared to buttons and knobs. And it makes some upgrades possible that was once impossible. With that said, I bought a Canon camera without an EVF and regretted it ever since. A touch screen is difficult to see in blaring sun, too bright at night and not discreet. I love having both a touch screen and EVF. And perhaps a few knobs... heck, I want everything"

You can change the brightness of the screen anytime. I have no problems with the screen in full sunlight. But at night, every screen is a problem, even with the brightness turned very low.
hahaha - I agree with you, we want everything ;)

"If a smartphone manufacturer can do this, swhy can’t Sony and Fujifilm?"

Sad part about this statement is that Sony is a smart phone manufacturer, and they used to make tablets, they are no stranger to touchscreen technology.

Personally I don't care much, I've got a mix of cameras and the menu and setting a focus point are really the only things I use the touch screen for and when I use a camera that lacks a touch screen I don't miss it much.

Excluding a 3.2mp digital point and shoot camera I used in 2005 my first experience with a dedicated camera was Samsungs Galaxy camera and excluding the shutter and zoom everything was touch screen controlled. Also took a bunch of photos with my phone. Once I began using Nikon DSLRs I quickly realized how inefficient and slow it was to use a touch only interface for anything beyond auto mode. I need my buttons and dials to shoot efficiently and quickly.

I don't care if Sony makes smartphones. It is a difference division of the company, probably not communicating with the camera department.
And if they do, why not use the touch screen on more than a couple of functions?

I love panasonic touch screens, they are incredibly convenient.

Multiple faces detected? Tap the face you want.
Reviewing pics? Pinch zoom in and out.
Menus? Touch the item.

I don't think those are patented features.
No reason for others not to implement it the same way - it's just software.


When I got my last camera, this past January and noted for its touchscreen capabilities, I tested to see how it worked and never used it again. Of course, I can't use my phone to take photos, either! ;-)

I wonder how much functionalities your cameras touch screen has.

I'm not sure. It's a D500 and I know I can zoom around and touch to focus and take a picture but, again, I have no use for such things so didn't go beyond that. And it's worth repeating, I don't use my phone to take pictures and, really, only have one as a necessity, not liking it at all.

As I remember from the review I did, the D500 does have not much possibilites concerning touch screen (I accidentally wrote down live view and corrected this).

Is that what this is all about? I almost never use live view and don't like it when I have to. And that's NOT because of any limitations of a touch screen. :-)

hahaha - no of course not. I corrected the comment. I meant touch screen, but I do have to admit, live view is something where a touch screen is very convenient.
I agree, if you use the D500 for its strengths, and that is action photography, than live view is not a function that will be used often.

I think some people, for whatever reason, like touch screens and others, again, for whatever reason, just don't. In this subject, along with pretty much every "this vs that" discussion, and not limited to photography, I don't understand why people can't just do what works for them and let others do what works for *them*.
Even in your reply to Black Z Eddie (below) your response, "That is possible. :)" seemed ever so slightly patronizing.
The obvious question then is, why did I even read this article? Well...I'm bored! ;-)

I have the experience some people tend to keep everything the the old fashion way, and just don't try new things. But that is okay.
As a photography teacher I encourage people to try the new things. The old things may work for them, but perhaps a new method may work even better.

As a victim of the Sony menu system, I have often wondered the same. There is so much that could be offloaded to a well designed touch screen UI. Not everything should be on a touch screen. Last thing I want is to look at is a touch screen to adjust the volume on my car radio, nor do I wan't to tap a touch screen to fire the shutter.

I wouldn't want to rely on touch screen alone either. Sometimes buttons are better, sometimes a screen is more convienent.

I have no need for it.

That is possible. :)

Hopefully Canon will never ever ever goes to full Touchscreen. Cannot imagine setting up your camera in -15°C or even lower in winter. The beautiful view of Iceland in winter was never calm, and exposing your hands is a high risk. Touchscreen compatible gloves are actually very useless for a person who has a big thumb like me.

I hope Canon never goes to touch screen alone. Buttons are a must, but to have touch screen to the possibilies is perfect.
I used the touch screen of my 5D4 during my Winter at Lofoten trips without any problems.

It's odd to me that in the photography world how technical features filters up from camera phones into high end camera devices, typically it's the other way around, I find myself getting jealous of all sorts of things camera phones can do.

Anyway, the big plus of touchscreens from a software point of view is that you can also have as many configurable buttons as you like, rather than limited to hard buttons, zone focusing with range options on a touchscreen may become quite pleasant on a fly-by-wire manual focussing system; Fuji, are you listening?

What I'd hate though if the touchscreen on a camera was just as irritating as my phone, accidentally pressing other buttons, exactly what I'm doing as I write this on my phone, very meta. Tactile feedback is a problem too that hasn't been entirely solved yet, I want to know when my button has been pressed and quickly review what state I left it in.

I never have any problems with activating the touch screen by accident. But with smart phones it is a problem indeed.
I want a camera with buttons as well as touch screen. I use touch screen mostly when the camera is on tripod, not for action photography or weddings. Except to change a setting in the menu on occassion...

As someone who primarily shoots video I have wished that cameras would have similar UI's to those of smartphone apps for photo & video where you can easily change WB, Exposure elements, Frame size and Frame rate with the tap of a finger instead of a button and dial and setting up a favorites menu or custom key settings.

Touch screen with video is great. I never though about this until I started to make video's myself lately. It is a great addition to the article. Thanks.

Touchscreen is an overhyped function. It's not bad for focusing (in some cases) but mostly I use a joystick.

Perhaps you shoot only in situations when the touch screen has no real benefit. For me it is great and absolutely no hyped function.

Perhaps you should have summarized your use of a touchscreen, in the article, to give perspective to your comments.

Yes, that would have been a good thing. Perhaps that is something for another article. I will think about it,
Thanks for the suggestion.

Having tactile knobs and buttons are far superior to touch screens IMO. Your muscle memory can allow very quick navigation, as I'm sure we all know. I use fuji and the touch is perfectly adequate when I need it. Q menu, focus point, video settings, pinch zoom, swiping to review, etc. But I usually turn it off as most buttons are programable and I rarely need to navigate any menus.

With a touch screen like that, it is better to ignore it completely. It is not intuitive anymore. It was one of the downsides I experienced when photographing with the GFX 100 at Lofoten, earlier this year.

There is no mechanical element that can beat tapping on a face to select it. It's not meant as a replacement but supplement. And of course mechanical buttons work well for menus, because right now they are designed for mechanical buttons. Start optimizing them for touch and it's a whole different matter. Touch can also be muscle memory with a lot more options.

I couldn't agree more. I can touch to focus on my Sony camera, but I can't use touch when going through the menus. It is seriously stupid.

Exactly my point.

Nikon’s touchscreen implementation is very solid on Z6/7 in my own use. All UI can be interacted with. It supports swipe, pinch to zoom in and out, plus scrolling while zoomed in in live view. This is extremely helpful with manual focus lenses with shallow DoF. You can navigate all menus with just the touchscreen. It’s very impressive coming from previous generations of touchscreen cameras and competitors.

I do sometimes turn off the touchscreen features if my own usage results in taps. For example, some lenses or subjects I disable tap to auto focus to avoid accidentally moving the focus point, but that feature is very useful for some shoots.

It resembles my own experience. I reviewed the Nikon Z 7 and I found it to be the best Nikon I ever used. That doesn't count that much, since I only used three previous models. hahaha
Nevertheless. Nikon did an almost perfect job with the touch screen. :)