Why Don't All Cameras Have These Five Features?

Why Don't All Cameras Have These Five Features?

Modern cameras are much more than light-tight boxes for capturing images; they are small but powerful computers that offer an array of capabilities for photographers. Here are five features that every modern camera should have. 

1. Built-in Calculations

Depending on the genre you shoot, photography can be a very technical pursuit that involves crunching different numbers to make decisions. Imagine if your camera could do that and update them in real-time on the rear screen or in the electronic viewfinder. For example:

  • Your camera already knows the aperture and focal length you have set, and it gets an approximate focus distance from its autofocus algorithms and the position of the lens elements. With this information, it could dynamically display depth of field, including the near and far limits. This would be a huge boon for landscape, macro, or even portrait photographers.
  • Similarly, hyperfocal distance could be displayed, and your camera could even automatically focus the lens to that distance. Imagine being a landscape photographer and being able to instantly focus straight to the hyperfocal distance. 
  • Diffraction warnings could pop up as you cross the threshold when using narrower apertures.
  • Manufacturers could even build in sharpness ratings based on MTF measurements at different apertures. For example, if f/8 is your lens' sharpest aperture, that viewfinder could display that as 100% sharpness, with f/2 offering 85% sharpness, for example.
  • Current magnification could be displayed, a tremendously useful quantity for macro photographers.

Given that all these suggestions (aside from the sharpness percentage) could easily be displayed by performing a few simple calculations using data already available to the camera's processor, it surprises (and frankly, somewhat annoys) me that we have not seen these yet.

2. Working Lights

Clack. Click clack. Screeeeech. Scratch scratch. That's the sound of me trying to quickly and quietly change lenses in the back of a dark concert hall, unable to see what I was doing. When I reviewed the Pentax K-1 a few years ago, one of the things I absolutely loved were the small working LEDs. For example, there is a small LED above the lens mount that provides just enough illumination to see what you are doing without ruining your night vision. This is a fantastic feature for wedding photographers in dark reception halls, astrophotographers in the middle of a field at 2 am, or classical music photographers trying to just change their lens in the back of the hall without interrupting the performance. As long as we are talking about better illumination, let's add in backlit buttons like the Canon 1D X Mark III has as well.

3. Adjustable Continuous Drive Rates

Even a decade ago, a continuous burst rate of 5 or 6 fps in anything but a high-level flagship body was considered quite respectable. And when it comes to capturing action, in most genres, 5-6 fps is the bare minimum. But now, 10 fps is pretty standard in a mid-level full frame body. Flagship DSLRs reach as high as 16 fps. Newer mirrorless bodies frequently touch 20 fps. And these climbing rates show no sign of stopping. On one hand, that is absolutely fantastic for capturing action. I mean, burst rates for stills are literally approaching the lower end of video frame rates, except you get full-resolution stills. 

5 fps is plenty for this.

On the other hand, it can be really annoying if you do not need the absolute maximum speed. For example, when I am shooting baseball, absolutely, give me that insane burst speed. When I need to capture a violinist's bow in the right position, 5-6 fps is enough. Anymore just leaves me with a bunch of duplicates I have to weed out when I cull the set and unnecessary wear and tear on my shutter. Most cameras give you options along the line of a low, medium, and high burst rate, but I often find that the speed I want is somewhere in between. Being able to dial in a custom speed would be fantastic. Even better would be being able to save it as part of a settings preset — my horse-jumping preset, for example.

4. Sunrise and Sunset Times, Golden Hour, Etc. 

A lot of genres base their shooting times entirely around the time of day, waiting for golden hour, sunrise, sunset etc. Many modern cameras have GPS built in, and using this to get latitude information would make it easy to calculate sunrise and sunset times. Imagine if you could just scroll over to a screen on your camera, and it had a "light status" display that showed the current time, sunrise time, sunset time, golden hour, blue hour, length of shadows, moonrise and moonset times, moon phase, etc. Sure, there are apps that do this, but having it right there on your camera would be a fantastic tool. 

5. More Robust Wi-Fi Transfer and Control

There is so much potential here that it drives me crazy that it is not leveraged more often or effectively. For example, one reason I am always in the back of the hall at classical music concerts is because of the strict rules on noise and movement during a performance. This can be frustrating as a photographer, as it limits me to just a few perspectives. However, for a few concerts, I have set up a camera on a tripod somewhere else in the hall and controlled it entirely from my phone while standing in my normal spot out of sight. Combined with the electronic shutter, it is a completely silent solution. And I love it! When it works. If you have ever tried to use the Wi-Fi controls or transfer capabilities of your camera, I am sure you have found it is like trying to nail Jell-O to a tree, with unintuitive instructions, random connection losses, and a range of other issues. For example, Canon's Camera Connect app has a 2.5-star (out of 5) average rating in the iOS app store. Nikon's app? 1.9 stars. Sony's app? 1.6 stars. 

As resolutions and burst rates continue to rise, there are definitely issues with data transfer speeds over Wi-Fi, but at the very least, better, more intuitive controls for remote shooting would be fantastic. It is frustrating that there are so many create applications for this sort of capability, and it is always given minimal treatment by manufacturers. 

What Would You Add?

Of course, these are just my wants. What would you add to this list? 

Lead image sun overlay provided by Textures4Photoshop.

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William Faucher's picture

More overlays, or dynamic crop preview. Most of my work is 2.35:1, an aspect ratio commonly used in film. When I'm framing my shots, I have to eyeball how the framing will look in post, and it's not always easy. 16:9 is close, but not close enough. I would love to have full control over guides/overlays in my viewfinder, or liveview. This shouldn't be complicated. I never, ever use the full 2:3 aspect ratio of my sensor.

Ben Deckert's picture

This should be so easy to do in firmware...I just don't get it. Being able to see a 4:5 crop etc. would help a lot with framing. The camera would still take full sized images, but you would have confidence that your eventual crop will be perfect.

Jonas von Hofsten's picture

On my Nikons I can set the burst rate for "Continuos High (CH)" and "CL" to whatever value I think fits,

Isn´t this feature widely available in other brands?

Keith Meinhold's picture

It is available on Sony. Even my old a6000 has low, medium and high settings

Karim Hosein's picture

1 aside from defraction and MTF, old lenses always did that, and without a CPU.

2 & 3 have both been in Pentax systems for years.

4 is on point, [aside] both latitude and longitude are required, (and altitude, also, when one lives at 600-900m above sea level), but GPS gives that as well. [/aside]


Paul Parkinson's picture

Could I have the buttons with little lights in please? Doesn't need to be bright - just enough for when my camera is on the tripod in the pitch black, I can see which button is which.

Wilder Berry's picture

It can't be long before we get multi-eye focus modes on cameras that automatically set the aperture to ensure every eye in the group is sharp but still maximise bokeh ;-)

Also, adaptive shutter control based on the speed of the subject, to freeze the action.

I never understood why we could only have 3 custom shooting modes too. And why dial / button configuration is limited.

Give me a custom menu mode, that allows me to add specific settings to it and then allow me to name it accordingly - and don't limit my choices of what can be saved. So in custom menu mode on Canon for example, I have a tab for Portrait, Landscape, Indoor Sport, Outdoor sport, Sport under floodlights, etc. Within those I have the settings that I have registered and want to configure for that custom shooting mode. Then when I switch to that mode, I can go in to the relevant custom menu quickly to validate how everything is set up. And allow me to set those independently for video / stills.

And honestly.... it's almost 2021 so address the way the phone and camera integrates to make it seamless to transfer selected images. Better still, let me send stuff directly to the cloud from the camera, so that it's on the phone when I use it.

Give us better shooting modes e.g. proper anamorphic options.

Francis Drake's picture

Basically we need an open software platform running in the guts of our camera.

Andrew Broekhuijsen's picture

Yeah, in some ways the article author seems to be describing a computer that happens to have a fairly nice camera attached to it. If there were high quality camera sensors available on the mass market and they weren't all proprietary, I suspect someone would make an open-source camera system that ran on Android before too long. Could even have an adjustable flange distance and hot-swappable lens mounts so you could be 100% brand-agnostic in your lens choice.

The tradeoff would likely be a lack of professionally-designed ergonomics, and slow performance for things like write speed, which translates to small buffers, low burst shooting speeds, and likely problems with recording video. The kind of processor that works well for doing something like reading GPS coordinates and providing sunset timing is a fundamentally different kind of processor than the ones that are really good at reading, parsing, and writing sensor data quickly.

Ed C's picture

A simple set of voice commands. Aperture f8, Shutter 1/150th, ISO 400, Under 2 over 1/2, etc. Aperture mode, Manual mode, Bracket 3, Bracket 5

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

To go with #1, I wouldn’t mind an Auto-Aperture option. Just set the desired DoF and the camera would adjust the aperture based off distance and focal length. I normally like the subject in focus front to back and the focus falloff from there. This would save me from guesstimating and keep it consistent as I (or subject) moves around.

Tim van der Leeuw's picture

I think Fujifilm cameras display an approximation of the DoF and focal distance.

What would be great is if in your camera AF you could select not a single but multiple points and then say, I want a focus and aperture that gives maximum sharpness in these 2 (or 3) subjects. The camera can then out the focus point somewhere between them and adjust aperture to get them all sharp.

It requires a bit of work on the UI and requires that you have the time but I think that in many situations, you will have that time.

Mike Shwarts's picture

Bring back Canon's DEP mode. They had it on some of their last film SLRs and on one or two of their DSLRs. Then they dropped it for the useless A-DEP.

Ken James's picture

Used to leave my camera set on 125th second at f16 with 100 ASA (now ISO) film which was about right for midday sun! Aah, those were simple times.

Jim Woltjen's picture

I would like a feature where you could setup one camera exactly how you wanted it...ISO, shutter, aperture, focusing, etc.; and hit a button to instantly transfer those settings to a 2nd camera you were using, or how about a 2nd shooter's camera? Bluetooth should be able to handle the transfer of information from camera to camera.

Les Sucettes's picture

None of these things I care about. Just more features and it looks like you’re running out of ideas. What the camera tells me the sunrise time ... omg. Another setting I need to go through. Just look at your phone man!

I want every camera to just have those 4 features and there’s only two makers that have them all Leica and Fuji:

1. Aperture ring on Lens (analogue, ie it actually changes aperture when lens isn’t attached)

2. Shutter dial, dedicated

3. ISO dial, dedicated

4. Exposure compensation dial, dedicated

That’s it. Canon, Nikon and Sony should at least have one pro body that does this. Why is it so hard to do?

Mike Shwarts's picture

Describes my Olympus OM. However the ISO and and exposure compensation were the same dial. A simple twist changed the EC. To change ISO, you pulled up on the dial then twisted. Release the dial and ISO is set.

Stephen Novakovich's picture

Great article!

Steven Blutter's picture

How about less automation, more creative visualization? An M240 in manual mode is a joy to work with in all conditions

Amilcar de Oliveira's picture

I would like complete choice over what is displayed in the viewfinder. The best shooting experience I ever had was with Leica M3. Nothing on the viewfinder but frame and focus. Second best was Nikon F2s. F-stop, shutter speed and just 2 LEDs for exposure, with arrows showing the way to turn dials and rings. The excess data shown today is distracting.

Martin Peterdamm's picture

an 6,5 " oled touchscreen with 1080p like you already get in 250 euro china smartphones.
and massive huge oled viewfinders usable with glasses, also minimun fullHD and 144hz.
Modern minimalistic UI like on phones.
Faster in Camera X sync.
As rugged as possible body. lightweight.
A smartphone soc inside for all the compute ai stuff.
Flash remote for all systems

S Lake's picture

Agree with the smartphone comparison, it's insane how slow those stupid cameras are, while you can see 200usd smartphones with massive oled touchscreens and 8 core processors! (and camera makes have much more physical space to work with in a DSLR than smartphone makers)

Loren Pechtel's picture

HDR exposures in the camera. This would **not** stack the images, just take them. Put the camera on a tripod, set HDR mode, push the button. It takes a picture and examines the histogram. If there's clipping on the dark side it shoots again with the time extended by one stop (or whatever interval you set). If there's clipping on the top it shoots again with the time reduced by one stop. It keeps going both ways until it gets one that isn't clipped.

Teake van Popta's picture

Very much so.. Yet the hdr function on lr mobile does an excellent job at capturing the whole dynamic range of a scene in 3 exposures which proves it's perfectly possible

Loren Pechtel's picture

3 shots isn't enough in all cases. It should keep taking until it has a shot that isn't losing detail in the dark and one that isn't losing detail on the light and shots in between at whatever interval you set. Between dark indoors and bright sky (say, indoors and looking out, or outdoors and looking in) that can be quite a few shots.

Peter Reali's picture

Being an amateur photographer and a retired electronics engineer I have read about the problems of Camera design. The processors in cameras are not up to the task of most of the desired features listed. You would need something like the processors in PC's and you can see the cooling requirements that they have. Keeping the camera small and avoiding overheating is one of the main issues. I starting investigating this when wondering why we still have mechanical shutters and they are not all electronic. With capable electronic shutter they would never wear out and you could have shutter speeds of 1/50,000 of a sec or perhaps 1/1,000,000 of a second. Everything is optimized for smaller size like mirrorless cameras even though they end up being not much smaller than DSLRs.

Tony Rican's picture

Almost all of these would be achieved by using android to run cameras. The first manufacturer to do this will have a huge boost in sales.

Teake van Popta's picture

Yes, may the announced zeiss zx1 prove you right and more affordable models follow

sam w's picture

of the 5 things listed, better wireless, specifically, photo transfer is needed. if I link a phone to my camera, I should have an option on the camera to push a photo to the phone, or push every photo to the phone. with the right apps, the phone could push them to the cloud storage solution I have configured. one less step to take.

Keith Meinhold's picture

The amazing things I can do almost instantly with a snap from my smartphone. I don't think we will ever get the capabilities of what we can do with a smartphone in a camera, but what camera manufacturers need is a fast, simple and reliable way to transfer the quality images that only a good lens and sensor can deliver to a smartphone, tablet or even a PC.

William Faucher's picture

Yeah, I wish we had the processors our phones had in our cameras. Boy would that be a game changer. Also a price changer :P

Karim Hosein's picture

Pentax can do all sorts of processing of raw in camera, after the fact. It has been that way for quite some time now.

No, one cannot load Darktable onto a K-3 II, but one can do pretty much everything shy of retouching, (blemish removal, etc).

Michael Harris's picture

tilt and shift sensor for architectural work.

Andrew Broekhuijsen's picture

I would pay for that.

Andrew Broekhuijsen's picture

The calculations for focus point, DoF, hyperfocal, sharpness, etc. resonated with me. Would be tremendously useful even if you assume some margin of error.

Photopills app integrated into the camera is a cool idea, but I wonder if you start running into processing speed issues? If I understand correctly, the image processors in cameras tend to be hardware encoders that are specialized to do one thing extremely quickly (in this case, taking sensor data and packing it into a RAW file, or sometimes converting to JPG, before storing to media). That means the same processor that can handle 20 frames per second at 30+ megapixels could very well not be up to the task of running what seems like a comparatively simple app like Photopills. The solution would be to add a second, more general-purpose CPU (maybe an ARM processor of some sort) to handle that functionality. This takes up space, creates additional heating problems, increases costs (and therefore MSRP), makes the firmware an order of magnitude more complex, etc. etc. All for the convenience of not needing to consult your phone, which you probably have with you anyway, to get sunset timing at your GPS coordinates. If none of my assumptions about the nature of camera internals are too far off base, it's easy for me to see why this hasn't been implemented.

I've never had much need for wifi connectivity personally. If I'm dumping a large CF card onto my computer, doing it over wifi would be slower than my USB-3 card reader anyway. I WOULD love to see better wifi control so that phones could natively control camera settings wirelessly. But apparently the limitation here is building a camera body that serves its primary purpose of protecting the internals from the elements, without also being basically a faraday cage. It's hard to get a wifi signal through a layer of magnesium. Maybe some kind of deployable wifi antenna that can be collapsed and covered with a weather-sealed rubber cover similar to the HDMI out, remote shutter cable port, mic ports, etc?

Some interesting ideas in this article.

Karim Hosein's picture

Nice to see someone thinking like a systems analyst, and not treating the camera processing engines like a general purpose CPU. Then, again, given all the data from a GPS, it may be trivial to calculate sunrise/sunset times, but leave it up to the photographer to figure out how soon he needs to be out for ‘golden hour,’ or ‘blue hour.’

As for the WiFi range issue, when necessary, I solve it with an old router with DD-WRT, connecting to the camera's WiFi from close, then I connect to the camera through that strong signal, (even using another router, if necessary). Not very practical for most situations, but, in a few very specific situations, it has worked out beautifully.