the Best Camera in the World ..
.. will be the one where the camera manufacturers allow me some input into the matter. If only Nikon and Canon (and Pentax and Fuji and everyone else) would just gather around a table and listen to me. If only …
When I get to handle a new camera, I often wonder why the manufacturers designed a camera the specific way they did. It might be the strange placement of a button or control; or the omission of a feature, or even the deliberate hampering of features in the non-pro bodies. Sometimes I just wish they would bring in a feature that I love on another camera.
Here are the gear-head musings on what I would insist the Best Camera in the World would be like, if I had any say in it. (Sorry, but that means this posting will have a lot of words and no images this time around.)
Firstly, the Best Camera in the World would have to be a modern full-frame digital SLR camera (D-SLR) for the combination of accessibility, versatility and image quality.
I recently moved from using Canon 1D mkIII bodies to using Nikon D3 bodies. Personally, I think the Nikon D3 is the best camera that has ever been made to date. But there are a number of pros and cons, and not everything falls in favor of the Nikon D3. Therefore most of this post is a comparison between these two cameras, and which things from either camera I would want to see in the Best Camera in the World.
But before we even get there, I have to touch on something - Exposure Modes. Both these cameras fall down sorely when it comes to how the exposure modes are accessed. Pentax’s ingenuity here towers over them in this regard.
Exposure modes: Hyper-Program and Hyper-Manual
When Pentax brought out the Pentax Z-1 / PZ-1 in the early 90′s, they had re-thought the way a camera’s exposure modes should to be implemented, in a most inspired way. They had the usual range of exposures modes we all know, such as Shutter Priority (Tv) and Aperture Priority (Av). But Program mode became Hyper-Program; and Manual mode became Hyper-Manual. Sure this sounded gimmicky, until you handled the camera and realized what they achieved.
Hyper-Program worked like Program mode, except that if you dialed the shutter button, it would immediately change to Shutter Priority (Tv), as you change to specific shutter speeds. Similarly, if you dialed the Aperture dial, then the camera instantly changed to Aperture Priority mode (Av), as you set the aperture. No need to switch mode dials on the top of the camera. You just turned either the aperture dial or shutter speed dial to change between the modes at will. And if you wanted to return to the usual Program mode, you just hit the * (star) button. Intuitive and simple. (And no, this is completely different than Program Shift.)
Hyper-Manual worked a similar elegant magic in how you controlled the camera’s manual exposure mode. Let’s say you rely on your built-in meter in this scenario. If you use any other camera in manual exposure mode, you have to dial the shutter button and aperture button to get to the correct combination for proper exposure. With Hyper-Manual, you just hit the * button, and the camera entered a combination of settings for you, depending on where you pointed your camera. This combination of settings could be according to a Program-mode line, or according to the shutter speed your camera happened to be at; or the aperture your camera happened to be at. (This was set deeper in the menu according to your preference.)
Let’s say you knew you’d be working at f2.8 .. then you’d just hit the * button and the appropriate shutter speed was entered for you. Perfect for working with the camera’s spot-meter. If you’ve ever tried to spot-meter with a long lens on your camera while hand-holding it, AND looking at your metering display .. then you know how tough it is. But with Hyper-Manual mode, you just hit the * button while looking precisely where your spot-meter is aiming. Much faster. You just hit one button with your thumb, and you’re set.
Now, should you decide you have the correct exposure, but want to change your shutter speed or aperture, then you hit the Exposure Lock button, and change either the aperture or shutter speed .. and the other setting will follow in relation to the metering value that was entered.
With any other camera, let’s say you have 1/500th @ f2.8 but you want 1/200th @ f4.5 .. then you’d have to turn both dials by the same amount of clicks. But with Hyper-Manual mode, you lock the exposure combination, and just change the one dial. Either one. Doesn’t matter.
The way these two modes work is such an incredible stroke of genius, that any camera that doesn’t have those two modes, is severely hampered already. The Best Camera in the World needs to have Pentax’s Hyper-Program and Hyper-Manual modes.
Now for the rest of the handling, features, buttons and dials …
The Best Camera in the World also needs …
As mentioned earlier, I’ve used the Canon 1D mk3 bodies extensively, and have now moved to using Nikon D3 bodies. As wonderful as the Nikon D3 is (and I certainly have strong reasons for the move), the D3 could be improved upon further:
Things that the 1D mk3 has, but are (sadly) lacking on the D3:
- flash exposure compensation on the body.
- flash exposure compensation read-out in the viewfinder. Another big plus for the Canon.
- being able to select which card I am writing to, and looking at. You can’t do that with the D3. This is far better thought-out and implemented on the 1D mk3.
- the way you can speedily flick through images with the rear dial. I loved that.
- I preferred the more sensible layout of the AF sensors in the viewfinder of the 1D mk3. (Nikon fans are going to kill me for even saying this.)
- the mk3 has a mode where the shutter noise is quieter. Not quite silent, but definitely quieter.
- the 1D mk3 sensor is self-cleaning .. and it works! The D3 has nothing. :-/
Things that are better on the D3 …
- AF speed and accuracy, especially in low light. Seriously, the Nikon D3 is better here.
- high-ISO noise is better with the D3 than the 1D mk3. It’s not a huge jump, but higher ISOs look cleaner on the D3.
- I can select flash OFF with a simple touch of a button on the front of the D3.
- I can program the DoF button for other functions, such as changing to spot-metering momentarily.
- custom function d7 allows the LCDs to light up any time I touch any button. This is a big deal for me. I hated how the LCD light button was implemented on the 1D mk3 and Canon 5D.
- the feel of the Nikon D3. It just wants to be gripped in your hands.
Things I hate about the D3 ..
- the positioning of the lever on the front of the camera where you select between Single / Continuous / Manual focusing. It can easily be knocked out of position. The way Canon implements this is much better.
- the image type button (raw/jpg) is riiiiight next to the ISO button and WB button. It’s just begging for you to switch to small JPG instead of RAW during some important point during a shoot. This is a huge oversight in the controls of the D3. There should be massive separation between controls which are often adjusted such as ISO and WB … and settings that are crucial, but not adjusted that often, such as selecting the image type and quality (raw/jpg).
Things I loooove about the D3 ..
- I can use Nikon zooms. The Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 (B&H), is the best mid-range zoom I have used, and the Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 (B&H), is a thing of unparalleled beauty.
That about covers it as a comparison between these two cameras here. Some pros and cons to both these top-of-the-line bodies. From these lists of things I love and hate about either of those two cameras, you can immediately see what I would like to be included for the Best Camera in the World. I want a hybrid between these two cameras … with Pentax’s Hyper-Program and Hyper-Manual modes.
Ideally, all the camera manufacturer would come together and ask my input on designing their next camera. So if any of the designing engineers at Canon and Nikon are reading this .. give me a call. I’m waiting.