#518. Crowdfunding the perfect (Zen) camera

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Oct 11

Having already firmly and definitively established that all sensor sizes provide adequate platforms to create excellent photographs and that the choice between them should be one of user experience and photograph aesthetics, let me expand my gift to the universe by describing the perfect camera. Oh, humility …


[insert camera brand] … you’re welcome. You do seem in dire need of help and guidance.

Somewhere between the legendary cameras of the film age and the atrocities of today, it appears that a sense of what it takes to make a photograph was lost, diluted in the Hocus Pocus of digitisation. What ever happened to Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance and the metaphysics of quality?

Where is the Steve Jobs of the photo industry?

Compare this sweetie with your average digital camera and you’re in for a shock. We could have simplified it even more by removing the film lever and we could have called it un jour.

(c) Mamiya

(c) Mamiya

Instead of which the contemporary fiasco of camera design is increasingly alienating those who want to actually focus on their creative thought process (gosh, the very thought of that …) and making the others sweat through a PhD-sized learning curve.

Seriously, the testing process that must go on before some of the modern wrecks come out of their stable is so baffling it makes French administration look efficient.

But the worst part is this: instead of getting it right first time (hint, backtrack and look at the photo above) our modern manufacturers deliver their love in increments. The whole hoo-hah of launches even makes us feel like it’s fun to take a 50% financial hit on our previous investment every 18 months. Well, it ain’t. And the whole idea of obsolescence marketing is so past-millenium … Wake up.

What we need, then, is a genius tyrant to cut the fluff out of contemporary design by understanding what we photographers need better than we do ourselves. (All of which is purely in jest. I do not yet own a single Apple product, and the world around us aptly proves the damage done by tyrants. Heck, I even think the ongoing Delirious Design Disorder phenomenon is a healthy sign of a free market. But I’ll never admit to it and will continue my rant unimpeded by good faith or morality).

Until this happens, let me volunteer a few thoughts on design.

The way humans make photographs

Please note the use of the verb make, which implies a conscious and creative thought process to transform a real-life scene into a 2D representation of it that fits our personal criteria of beauty, inspiration, emotion, meaning … It therefore excludes point and shoot for which a screen, a button and no menus are the best way ahead.

Those of us making, or trying to make good photographs from scenes follow this routine, for which Ken Rockwell has forever preempted all authority in my heart with his how to F.A.R.T article πŸ™‚

  1. We see something of interest (easy and easier with time)
  2. We visualise a final image (hard and only gets easier if deliberately practised)
  3. We make conscious artistic decisions about shooting parameters (sensor size, lens focal length, aperture, speed, filters …) (hard-ish, but mechanics are super easy to learn)
  4. We dial these parameters in and click (should be easy but camera makers can turn this into a shitstorm of fury)
Lying on the road, one hand on each side of a railing cable

As above, so below – Lying on the road, one hand on each side of a railing cable, trembling quite a bit πŸ˜‰

The complete process involves the same two phases that Ansel Adams described, decades ago, in his magnificent trilogy The Camera, The Negative and The Print: capture and post-processing.

The first part remains the same as 50 years ago. The second has benefited from digital brute force in ways that were unthinkable only a financial crisis ago.

I see two very distinct phases, two thought processes (both originating from the same pre-visualisation) and two distinct sets of tools. Interaction between the two (sets of tools) are minimal and should, at all costs, be minimised by the user interface of the camera.


Same capture mode, different processing

So it irks, me, ever so slightly, when bozos in a corporate suite or some nuthead design department decide that the two should mingle.

Evil is energy misplaced.

  • Having to shuffle through a menu to make a shot is evil
  • Having to fight autofocus is evil
  • Having to dial-in aperture in camera is evil

Stop me now, before I grab some garlic and stakes.



Back to my perfect camera …

Camera makers, we all have phones !

You thought the first photo on this page was a quaint joke? Think again. Here it is once more.


This is the perfect camera ! This design perfectly separates analog (capture) and digital (processing).

Down to earth, a camera design proposition

β€œIn the course of my life, I have often had to eat my words, and I must confess that I have always found it a wholesome diet.”
― Winston S. Churchill

So, having been so assertive and full of myself, let me climb down my ladder and explain my thoughts … πŸ˜‰

Take a loot at the Samsung VR headset. This cheap device does away with complex electronics and screens by plugging a Smartphone into a simple optical contraption with minimal intelligence. I believe most cameras would benefit from the same approach:

  • Better rear screen, for free (if you own a compatible Smartphone, that is)
  • Huge processing power
  • A platform designed for apps.

If you think about it, the EVFs and rear screens on our cameras are basically augmented reality devices. They show the world with histograms, horizontal levels, zooms, menus … None of them, to my knowledge, come even remotely close to a Smartphone for those purposes.

My suggestion, then, is to give us a cleaner separation between analog (aperture rings, ISO dials, speed dials …) that suit our eye-hand coordination habits (read no right brain to left brain hindrance) and digital (HDR, panorama, star trails, housekeeping, …) leaving the latter to a phone app or three.


Finding peace

More specifically

  • Sensor: choose your poison. They’re all excellent. Me, I’d love a huge low-res MF monster (56×72 30Mpix). Area yield mathematics stack the odds against me. But with very large pixels, who knows if wafer defects are that much of a problem …
  • A Fuji type OVF/EVF ? (you can frame without the EVF, then use it as a dashboad)
  • Speed/Aperture: Although my personal preference goes to the manual aperture ring, on lens, an EV dial, on camera is far more universal (because it serves the purposes of those in speed priority mode as well).
  • Why not make it AF, so long as that allows acceptable manual focus (see how reasonable I’m being).
  • A really good shutter button.
  • I’ll even grant you a custom button or two for hippies.
  • Get rid of the rear screen, filthy menu systems and just add a Smartphone dock (iPhone & Android versions). Spend the money you saved on great post-sensor electronics.
  • Write a *good* app.

This is looking an awful lot like the new Hassy X1D …

Other companies have experimented too. Leica come to mind, with their 6 grand M-D (Typ 262). Many laughed. I was among them, shame on me. Now, I get it and regret it.

In my defense, the marketing nonsense that surrounded that launch did nothing to make the message clear. But now, I get it.

Square pano. Can't see the final result until the computer delivers it.

6×7 pano. Can’t see the final result until the computer delivers it!!

Why do we use rear screens, other than for setting menus? Chimping!

Chimping at the restaurant after the shoot is inoffensive fun. But checking your photograph after your shot, to take a second if you fluffed? Not good. That’s not how good photographs are made (outside a studio) !!! Really, really not.

Imagine Robert Cappa, Robert Doisneau, HCB or Pentti Sammallahti chimping after a decisive moment and thinking “let’s rewind so I can compose better”. Laughable, right? But camera makers, with their 700 point AFs & crappy ergonomics are trying to make us think that it’s better to create a meaningless photo that’s pin sharp than a fuzzy masterpiece. Have you ever seen a Doisneau up close? …

So. You pre-visualise, you don’t iterate (again, out of the studio) ! Sure, chimping can occasionally save the day, but it should never become a part of your process. Think about it. Get it right. First time. Cue the Typ 262, a tremendous photographic tool for those (rich and) brave enough to face and fight their inadequacies.

But no screen at all? I think not. That’s saying 24×36 is the only format (no panos, no zooming). It’s saying the photo world has to be literal. It’s saying the camera can only serve one purpose. A phone with great apps can show the milky way build up on screen (like Olympus pioneered), can remove intruders from in front of the Taj Mahal (and, as a fun bonus, cause some nauseating purists to choke on their outdated views of authenticity) via multiple photographs, can pixel shift (if the camera has IBIS) … Who would want to miss out on all that?


Morning pano

Bring the Zen back !

Why do people jog?
Why do people join Fight Club?
Because it’s simple!

/There, my first ever Haiku/

DSC06017 DSC06015

Be honest with yourself. Jogging is fun because it’s so simple. Grab a friend and run. The minute you add training apps, digital thingamebobs and fancy gear, performance soars and the fun evaporates.

As human beings, we need to bond and create. Complex equipment hinders both by creating clans and engaging our left brain.


Simplify our gear
Claim Zen for photography
I hear jaws dropping

About that crowdfunding

You know who would do that really well? Zeiss would! (right now, a man called CC is hating me for bringing this up again  πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ ) Sure electronics aren’t Zeiss’ core business. But they sure know a thing or two about tight tolerances, analog quality, ergonomics and connectivity.

Now, if at least 200 000 readers commit to buying their smartphone-based camera when it’s ready, who knows where this can take us? I’ll take two, so as not to swap lenses. Only 199 998 to go!


Email: subscribed: 4
  • CraigMarker says:

    Count me in.

  • Jack says:

    I’m all in.

  • Jack (again) says:

    I’m astounded by Sony’s intro of A6500 a few months after big intro of “most wonderful” A6300. You pegged it.

  • philberphoto says:

    Count me in. That way, instead of you railing at my camera, it’ll be me railing at yours. Much more fun (for me) this way. Oh, and two bodies please! No, this is not the morgue…:-)

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Why wait? – DxO & iPhone produce it now – also some outfit called Olliclip

    BTW – how does using a cellphone get rid of the screen, or stop chimping? As far as I know, chimping occurs on auto pilot, when you take photos with a cellphone.

    I do have a use for that screen at the back. Well two, actually.

    I use it a lot for macro work, in live view.

    And being an ancient piece of human refuse, I much prefer opening the screen out so I can peer down from wherever I am, rather than “doing it properly” and getting down on my hands & knees – or worse, lying on the ground – to take photos from a low altitude vantage point. Those fold out screens are as useful to us old folk as “gophers”, walking frames, and walking sticks.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Well, for some reason, the DxO feels very very MEH. A real camera with a phone used as rear screen and computer would appeal more. It certainly wouldn’t stop chimping. That’s only a matter of individual willpower. But it would be a much better screen for your uses than what we are currently being offered.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        So true, Pascal – I’ve yet to see a quality screen on the back of a “camera”. And that’s very frustrating for me, because it stuffs things up when I am using live view.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Someone said something to me the other day which gave an insight into this topic.

    She mentioned compacts and said cellphones have effectively killed the market for compacts.

    Then she went on to suggest that cellphones relate to SLRs or mirrorless cams, much as typewriters relate to computers. Her point was that you CAN take photos with a cellphone – but with an SLR or mirrorless, you can do so many more things, in taking the photo. She added that it’s much the same with cars – a 2CV will “get you there”, but a Lambo or a Bugatti Veyron or a Maybach will too, with a whole lot of other features chucked in, for good measure.

    Aha – I now have a different perspective. We’ve had Box Brownies and Instamatics from Kodak, Polaroid cameras, and all sorts of other gear that the “masses” bought up. But that never stopped the production of mid & high end cameras. Maybe it’s churlish for a person who refuses to own such a contraption as a cellphone to suggest this. Of course I don’t REALLY mean to suggest that cellphones are just a tricked out Box Brownie. After all, you can’t make a phone call, or send an SMS, on a cellphone, can you? πŸ™‚

  • Quentin Newark says:

    You know about this?


    It doesn’t use your idea of a smart phone (but that idea is a bad idea, which model: one specific manufacturer?, size?, Apple/Android?, how much battery, what if you want to use it in the middle of photography, etc).

    The good part of your rant is the simplicity of process and high level of control. The Konost gets very very close.

    By the way two or three parts of your specification – sensor, vf, form, dials – match the new Fujifilm GFX…

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Quentin, yes, I know about this but the project doesn’t seem very active and they never answered my emails, so it looks kind of dead. Interesting, though.

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