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.
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.