Thoughts on camera looks, ergonomics, and why they matter.

I often get called upon, flamed, or even ridiculed, for playing close attention and giving a lot of importance to looks and feel in a camera. Cameras, after all, are tools, I told. Nobody cares what a hammer looks like, as long as it’ll drive nails in, right ?

Wrong. A carpenter will care. He’ll care how the hammer is built, how it balances in the hand, how comfortable the handle is, etc. And if it’s a carpenter with an aesthetic sensibility, heck he’ll even care how his hammer looks.
I happen to have a lot of aesthetic sensibility. As a photographer, forgive me for feeling a little concerned for my peers who don’t…

So where is this post going ? Here : as of early 2014, any recently announced, rumoured, or released digital camera with at least m4/3 sensor size is capable of pretty awesome image quality. Any of them. Sure, there’ll be some differences in output, namely DR, and high ISO noise performance, but they’ll be marginal most of the time, even if you compare sensor sizes as unrelated as m4/3 and FF, the former having really come a long way. If you shoot RAW and apply careful post processing, there isn’t a camera on the market today that should deliver too much crap.
Which means the number one differienciating factor for many people, including me, will be usability, operation, and performance. Which englobe looks, build, ergonomics, and the new kids on the techology jargon block : haptics. Oh boy, I love this guy. Haptics. As a non native English speaker, I had to look this one up the first time I came across it. I had sort of figured out its meaning, but I needed to be sure. Turns out haptics is “the science of applying touch tactile sensation and control to interaction with computer applications” (thank you WhatIs.com). So here we are, all concerned about how our cameras *feel* to the touch. As someone who was thoroughly put off the otherwise excellent and much desirable Fuji XE-1 by its offensive cheapo hard plastic faux leather material, I can only tell you how important touch is to camera operation. Now the Canon 6D I handled last week was a dream. Handsome and sleek and grippy, just the right size for a DSLR, elegantly austere in design, fast and quiet in operation. And this grip, aahh… So far however the NEX7 has been both the most beautiful and best feeling camera I’ve handled. I even think this plays a great part in the fact I’ve been shooting if for so long !

This is all so important simply because when you shoot a lot, you want a camera to work with you, rather than against you ! What about the popular saying that size doesn’t matter ? Well that’s one *big* lie. Sorry people but it does, at least in some crucial places. I’ve bitched enough about the A7’s EVF “hump”, and now I’m all excited about the Fuji XT-1, which also has a very large EVF, and hump attached. Am I crazy ? No I’m not !! My gripe against the A7 wasn’t so much the raised EVF (though it looks bad and adds uselessly to the camera’s size) but the eyecup protrudes from the back for a stupid 2.5 cm, which makes the A7 totally unable to fit where the N7 does, despite being only a couple of mm longer and taller !! The XT-1’s hump is squatty and low, and does not protrude any, so overall it’s not offensive in the least.
I’ve also ranted quite a bit about tiltable screens. While I totally understand an articulating screen, flipping to the side, is better for video, I’m a stills-only shooter and shooting from the waist needs a tiltable screen. Once you’ve gotten used to low angle shots being a breeze, you can’t go back… Screen resolution is another matter, I’ve found the 230K unit in the SLT-A37 unusable, but the 460K one on the 3N totally acceptable, with little actual, real use difference with the 900+K screen on the higher end NEX.

So , truly, a specs sheet is one thing. Hands-on experience with a camera is a totally different one. As of today the N7 is still the best feeling/looking and most complete camera I have found, and the only one ticking ALL the following boxes :Chip size at least APS-C
Tilt screen
Built-in EVF (no hump)
Tiltable built-in flash
Direct (“hot” or “live”) access to aperture and shutter in all modes (and ISO, icing on the cake)
Accurate and reliable exposure preview (that can be turned off for flash shooting)

All the other “top dogs” are missing on at least one of those features. Until I come across another camera that ticks all those boxes, and with grace, the N7 remains my primary tool.

 

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About marla2008

Shutterbug. Shallow DOF nut. Mother of Child. Student of the Horse.
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10 Responses to Thoughts on camera looks, ergonomics, and why they matter.

  1. antoine says:

    you got me worried for a minute when you got that canon, I’m glad that you are still such an enthusiastic nex users, as I benefit greatly from all your experience: first the pen 38mm (I just can’t shoot with anything else right now) now the think tank bag (gorgeous and much smaller than I anticipated, which is a great thing for me).What’s next?
    Anyway my criterias are much the same as yours, and I can’t imagine changing for another camera, but I can’t deny I’m curious about the next canon M! If autofocus is not as sluggish, who knows? It might be quite good…

  2. marla2008 says:

    What next EOS M ?!? That’s the question ?? The EOS M2 has not even been made available to anything but the Asian market, that shows a lot about the faith and interest Canon puts in it… And I just saw today that they patented a bunch of slow pancake zooms that are about as exciting as watching nails grow, lol…
    Naah… the future ain’t there. The big mirrorless battle is between Fuji and Sony, as long as Olympus remains hobbled in m4/3 territory, and Sony having dabbled in FF. Samsung makes excellent lenses but has only crap bodies to go with them, no dice. I might add a Fuji to my Think Tank bag in a near future, who knows ? 😉

    • antoine says:

      I was not aware it was already available in Asia. Upon research, it is not exciting at all, I agree with you.
      I did not know you already tested samsung gear. Is it that bad (the bodies, I mean)?
      The fuji lenses are quite exciting, I’d like to put my hands on one of their camera to see what’s what. They are aps-c too, right?

      • marla2008 says:

        Yup, APS-C, but many think they are on par with FF for IQ, the lenses being so integrated in design with the sensor, and I tend to agree. Anyway, I tested one NX200 kit, and my gear addiction buddy Tracy (this lady tries out more stuff than I do !!) had both NX1100 and NX300, which a handful of lenses. The combo I tried was just horrid, I swear I packed it up in less than an hour, it was that bad. In all truth I believe the lens (18-55) was broken, it not it was so bad it should have been. The NX200 is NOISY at ISO200. Like, amazing. Tacy had better luck, her NX1100 was a pretty decent performer, lenses were excellent, but her NX300 was ridddled with QC issues. She returned the whole thing, or sold it, whatever. Neither of us ever looked at Samsung again, and given how ugly the recent offerings are, that’s not bound to change soon 😉

      • antoine says:

        haha thank you for the warning!

  3. Dave Uhlig says:

    Marla, just wanted to write a note and say “thank you” for your blogging insight. I have been shooting the Nex 6 and 7 all year. Several weddings and lots of family and senior sessions. Really happy with the feel of the cameras. I agree with you on about everything you have written here! I am going to wait and be patient with the rumored release of the next Nex…

    • marla2008 says:

      OMG Dave, I checked out your site, your work is *awesome* !! I’m humbled you should like the blog… Beautiful images, I’m really impressed. Your B&W work motivated me to do some more of that. Again, congratulations, super impressed with your stuff !!

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