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A Wish for Simplicity

Discussion in 'Open Gear Talk' started by Wouter Brandsma, Jan 29, 2009.

  1. Wouter Brandsma

    Wouter Brandsma  

    Jul 7, 2010
    This website is dedicated to the serious usage of compact cameras, including serious compact cameras. Now I am not going to redefine "serious compact" since many, including me, feel good about the current definition. But I want to share some of my thoughts on the state of current compact cameras (although they could also be applied to current dSLR cameras). Not too long ago I published a post on my blog where I mentioned that many of the current cameras are packed with features I hardly find usable, while requiring some dial + button combination or hidden menu option to control basic exposure parameters.

    With PMA 2009 nearly here, many camera manufacturers will introduce new cameras or follow-ups packed with all sort of new features to improve the "photographic experience". But for whom? Do we really want these highly sophisticated features in our cameras?

    As a photographer you often have to dig in the menu to change settings, or press a combination of buttons to change values. But don't we all want to take pictures? Face detection for autofocus, red eye reduction, highly intelligent metering systems, extended dynamic ranges, and of course all those program modes. Sure they could make sense, but we sure must pay for all these items and development too. Ever wondered why a Yashica T4 (analogue camera) was so popular in the film ages? It was simple, small and had a very good lens. Why do we need scene modes when the P mode is sufficient? Did designers and engineers really think it was easier to change the aperture with two buttons instead of an aperture ring? Isn't photography about exposing right, choosing an aperture, metering, adjusting speed (or vice versa), framing and pressing the shutter button? Is it really progress to hide the things that matter so Joe the Plumber can buy an expensive camera thinking he becomes a better photographer?

    And am I the only one? I don't think so. How comes that the Sigma DP1 is still quite a popular camera with photographers despite the lack of features and noticeable slowness? Because it is the photographer who is in control and not the camera. So what I would like to see is the return of the simple camera, built to last, shutter speed, ISO and Exposure Compensation (EV) dial on top, a usable clear bright viewfinder, and an aperture ring on the lens. And make manual focusing possible too with a ring on the lens; I like it the old way. Let camera manufacturers be inspired again by those great rangefinder cameras from the Seventies. I know that many manufacturers are low on cash and that it is difficult to get money from the bank. But all I ask for has already been done before. I don't always need titanium or magnesium camera bodies; metal is fine. Just back to basics, a camera to learn to photograph and that becomes a companion for many years (something not to often seen anymore in my opinion).

    Originally published on the old Serious Compacts blog. Older comments can be found here: A Wish for Simplicity
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 21, 2016
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  2. BBW

    BBW Administrator Emeritus

    Jul 7, 2010
    betwixt and between
    Although this essay is from 1/09, it certainly seems that we may still be wishing for that simplicity. My current camera of choice the Olympus E-PL1 has many options that I never use. I basically shoot in Aperture preferred.

    Do any of the cameras since this was written meet Wouter Brandsma's wish for simplicity? I thought maybe the Leica X1 might, but will have to read more...it may in some ways but not all.
  3. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus Top Veteran

    Jul 6, 2010
    I couldn't agree more with the sentiments expressed. I regularly get lost in the menus of my GH1 let alone the Nikon D3X that I was using.
    I've always been grateful for the reset to camera defaults option on most cameras I use!

    When I get a camera, I just want to want to be able to shoot with it. The more obvious it is the better. Both the Leica M9 and X1 have simple pared down menus
    that let you do what you want, which is create images. The options available on other cameras and indeed a good deal of the technology that we use these days is
    becoming ridiculous.

    I'm all for functionality but when its at the expense of usability then it becomes pointless. I can pick up my Leica M9, focus and shoot in the space of a couple of seconds,
    and thats from a camera that is supposedly primitive. Its all very well to have lots of options but when the spaceship has taken off and left the atmosphere by the time your camera has
    worked out which of its 15 AF points its going to focus on you might be regretting a certain lack of coherence in your cameras layout.

    Anyway aren't all us photographers supposed to have the IQ of a pencil? Isn't "Press the big button on the top" about the limit of our photographic expertise?
    • Like Like x 2
  4. BBW

    BBW Administrator Emeritus

    Jul 7, 2010
    betwixt and between
    Amen! I laughed as I read this but was nodding all the while.:bravo-009:
  5. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator Emeritus

    Jul 3, 2010
    It's a shame that there aren't more affordable cameras which meet this vision of simplicity. Also, I'd like to see some SLRs meet this vision, and not just digital rangefinders. A digital Olympus OM or Nikon FM style camera which accepted those lenses would be wonderful.
    • Like Like x 2
  6. :jacobin:pigeon:

    :jacobin:pigeon: Regular

    Jul 8, 2010
    All I need is SAM (will use A 95% of the time), exposure compensation, dialable kelvin and spot metering for controls (easily accesible, not buried in some menu system), since I ignore most everything else. I have no need for different colour settings, fancy, yet soon dated in-camera filters, no need for camera cropping, etc. As for ergonomics, I do appreciate a swivel screen (preferable to lying on the floor, especially handy for museum shots where tripods are not allowed).
    • Like Like x 1
  7. Archiver

    Archiver Top Veteran

    Jul 11, 2010
    Melbourne, Australia
    I don't really need a trillion functions on my cameras either, but I do appreciate a really good movie mode. Many things in life are better captured with video than images; think of a video of one's daughter dancing and singing, compared with a still image.

    I'm one of those photographers who loves his Sigma DP1 (and DP2). All I need is a camera that gives me good images, and I can work out the rest. I enjoy the speed and flexibility of my 5DII, but heck, I never use all the little doodads buried in the menu. PASM (raw) + video is how I use it.
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  8. Wouter Brandsma

    Wouter Brandsma  

    Jul 7, 2010
    It is wonderful to see this one year old article still being appreciated. And I still believe in every word I said. I use a Ricoh GRD3 that I appreciate because of the customizability, but the only reason is that it enables me to use the GRD3 as my film GR1. I photograph with a 10D that I use only with legacy lenses, of course only in manual mode, but I don't like the much beloved handling and form factor of the Canon SLR.

    To be honest, I actually hate cameras. They never can be used the way you want to, they are packed with things I don't care about. It always surprises me that the form factor and usability that worked so well for many, many centuries is totally abandoned nowadays. And the only manufacturer left that produces the cameras the way I would like to see it, charges a lot of money for it.
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  9. JanCdeRidder

    JanCdeRidder Rookie

    Aug 3, 2010
    Isn't the Leica X1 a simple camera?

    However, I use the D700 as well and have never gone past the main menu... I shoot at A, define the max ISO and thats it. You don't need to use everything available....
    • Like Like x 1
  10. TEBnewyork

    TEBnewyork Rookie

    Aug 6, 2010
    Well aside from the M8/M9 the camera that came closest in my mind is the Digilux2/LC1.

    Also, for all the beating that the interface of the NEX takes, If you shoot mainly in Aperture or Shutter Priority and are fine with Auto ISO (I am), it is probably one of the simplest interfaces around (with either a kit lens or manual lens). In Manual Mode if you don't frequently switch around your ISO the same can be said (and in film you didn't change ISO until you changed film). I can easily shoot the entire day without hitting the menus.
    • Like Like x 1
  11. JoepLX3

    JoepLX3 Regular

    Jul 11, 2010
    May I disagree (to get / keep a discussion going)?
    - A camera doesn't become cheaper by remove scenic settings in a menu (that has to be developed for Joe average) but a serious compact camera does become more expensive and/or less compact by adding turning wheels especially if Joe average won't buy it any more. Marketing is about volume x margin. So if the volume for the semi-professional compact is low then the margins have to be high, simply to maintain an interesting return on companies investment.

    If you think you "deserve better" then:
    - Carry more
    - Pay more
    - Just ignore the buttons / features you don't need, you should be able to do so, right?

    Enjoy your Sigma, what is wrong with that one, it is not the tool that makes the picture, it is you.
    • Like Like x 1
  12. Wouter Brandsma

    Wouter Brandsma  

    Jul 7, 2010
    With regard to the Sigma I have been excited about that camera for a little more than a month. It is a simple camera with amazing image quality, but I and the DP1 are not the best friends. I don't mind to slow down, but I don't like slow cameras. It just doesn't want to be used as a tool to make pictures.

    And to your first comment Joep, I don't necessarily mind to pay more for a more simple camera. I understand all the margins stuff, but at some point these manufacturers spent an awful lot of money on R&D to get all that whiz kids stuff for there cameras. Just for the sake of innovation and marketing I think. And ignoring the buttons? I would love to, but why did they put so many buttons on these cameras?
    • Like Like x 1
  13. Wouter Brandsma

    Wouter Brandsma  

    Jul 7, 2010
    I think the X1 is a pretty simple camera and I can only hope that Leica will continue to produce more of these cameras.
    • Like Like x 1
  14. Wouter Brandsma

    Wouter Brandsma  

    Jul 7, 2010
    It could do the trick Terry, but I would have loved to see such a camera with a viewfinder. And I go as far to say that an EVF is getting pretty good too (I really liked the Ricoh GXR EVF). And I guess I never should have tried Cam's M8 last year.
  15. grebeman

    grebeman Old Codgers Group

    The ability to use old lenses on a m4/3 camera and exercise full control in terms of manually setting the lens via an aperture ring and depth of field scale has reawakened fully my interest in photography, so yes, lets keep it simple for those of us who like to be in control and not have a computer dictate our actions.

    • Like Like x 2
  16. Prototype

    Prototype Veteran

    Jul 9, 2010
    Fantastic post and I'd like to thank BBW for pointing this out to me. Personally, I don't mind cameras with a lot of feature. As Joep points out, the added features don't impact the price significantly. As long as the most important ones are most easily accessed, I'm happy. Unfortunately, only a few companies do this.
    • Like Like x 1
  17. Boyzo

    Boyzo Veteran

    Jul 14, 2010
    I don't really agree with Wouter, I sold my old Mamiya MF and my Minolta SLR and lenses lie in a cupboard.

    I work in Aperture mode with either the G series and the Pens and find the methods provided by either models for basic adjustments more than adequate and in the main once the body is setup in the menus to my needs
    I just ignore the majority of settings is scene modes filters etc.

    If I want to go closer to full manual then I can use the L1 which is a great camera but bulky and still does not have a a full MF ring (ie its focus by wire) but actually works quite well.

    Modern Digital cameras are a marvel of micro-engineering and a tribute to the manufactures and two companies that made a significant direction change with 43 and m43 (Oly and Pany) and there is no way I want to go back to the "Old" days

    I can pick up a GF1 or E-P2 with Short kit lens and stroll around taking pictures with ease gone is the SLR bulk bag / lenses no AWB limited shots (film)

    AF and AWB are all features refined by Panasonic and Oly in the 43 /m43 systems and are without a doubt a must have.

    If you want this "Old Simplicity" go get an old rangefinder or SLR and scan your negatives with a drum scanner and then go fix the scanned images up with PhotoShop.
  18. Wouter Brandsma

    Wouter Brandsma  

    Jul 7, 2010
    Do you mean that when I want simplicity I should get a RF or SLR film camera, because you feel perfectly fine with aperture mode on your digital cameras and therefore disagree with me?
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  19. I think that most people who have 'Serious Compacts' do pretty simple photography and therefore once the camera is set up it's just a case of good composition and away you go. I use aperture priority 99% of the time and i usually just point and shoot. my adjust aperture quite a bit but that's really all. What could be easier!
  20. Penny

    Penny Veteran

    Aug 26, 2010
    Outside Liverpool Uk
    I agree with Andy I shoot 'A' and choose the ISO then let the camera do the rest, the menu system is probably very good for a many photographers but not me, which is why the Leica X1 is excellent for me with one exception close-ups are virtually impossible (for me)
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