A Plea to Manufacturers: 12 Features All Cameras Desperately Need


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Aug 02, 2023

A Plea to Manufacturers: 12 Features All Cameras Desperately Need

Cameras all have a pretty solid set of features and design elements that appeal

Cameras all have a pretty solid set of features and design elements that appeal to a wide range of users. But, for the most part, pretty much all of them lack a set of features that would make them all a lot more powerful and enjoyable to use.

We all have preferences when it comes to cameras. Some folks like tilting screens. Others prefer a flip-out design. Some enjoy "rangefinder-style" corner EVFs, while others swear by centered viewfinders. Petite cameras have their ardent supporters, while others won't buy a camera that lacks a robust grip.

I’ve read thousands of comments across this site and many others, so I feel I’m informed about the things people yearn for in a camera. Aside from these common asks, I wanted to talk about some lesser-mentioned features that would be amazing to see in all cameras — or at least the "prosumer" and "professional" models.

Author's Note: Some manufacturers already incorporate some of these features, but none have adopted all of them in a single camera. In fact, many of these requests are inspired by experience with cameras that have these features. Where appropriate, I have mentioned existing cameras with similar or identical features. This is a plea to all companies to include these valuable features more frequently.

Auto ISO is a feature that I, and many others, use very often. I’d estimate that 95% of my shooting is in either aperture priority or manual mode with auto ISO.

However, some cameras only allow you to choose either an auto minimum shutter speed or a specific minimum speed. Frankly, this makes it entirely worthless. OM System and Panasonic, I’m looking at you.

The problem? This is entirely useless with zoom lenses (do you set it for the wide end or the long end?). It also requires you to dive into the menu and change it every time you change a lens.

Other manufacturers adopt the more logical approach: adjustable minimum shutter speed based on the focal length. Nikon does this with a sliding scale from "Slower" to "Faster," where each increment isn't explicitly labeled but seems to go from 1/x ("Normal") to 1/4x ("Slower") to 4x ("Faster"). Leica takes an even more straightforward approach with each increment specifically labeled, e.g., 1/2x, 1/3x, etc.

With today's incredible in-body image stabilization (IBIS) in most camera systems (as well as in-lens "optical" stabilization), it's an absolute shame to waste the potential of auto ISO. It's one of the worst things about my amazing OM System OM-1 — if there were a single feature I could add, it would be this one. I have a camera with arguably the best IBIS out there, yet I can't make full use of it in aperture priority mode. I tend to leave it set around 1/20 second, with faster speeds in some of the custom modes, such as when using a long lens for wildlife photography.

This one drives me absolutely crazy. As far as I know — it's not easy to keep up since features are added and changed all the time in cameras — Nikon is the only one to get this right in its mirrorless cameras through its "Prioritize Viewfinder" mode.

All manufacturers offer the standard options: Viewfinder only, LCD only, and auto switch (which uses an eye sensor to switch between the two). However, to my knowledge, only Nikon offers an option that mirrors how a DSLR works. In "Prioritize Viewfinder" mode, the monitor stays off except for menu navigation and playback, and the EVF remains off unless the eye sensor is activated.

This is great for several reasons. Chief among them is that the EVF/LCD is only on, and therefore consuming power, when using it. The other is that you still get menu and playback on the LCD without switching viewing modes.

I shoot almost entirely with the EVF for composition and review images and use the camera's menu with the LCD. Using a camera in this way allows me to get well over 1,500 images on a single charge with my Nikon Z7 — and I rarely take more than a single photo of anything, and I never do bursts unless I’m shooting wildlife. It's also a lot nicer not to have a distracting LCD screen on when I’m just walking around.

Update 5/23: The Leica SL2 gets this right as well with what it calls "EVF Extended" mode.

Of note, Panasonic, and possibly others, have this feature in a workaround: set the camera to auto-switch and then press the DISP button until the LCD turns black but remains working for playback/menu. The only problem is that it resets every time you power down the camera.

One of the nice things about digital photography is how easily we can adjust, manipulate, and fine-tune colors in an image to our liking. Saturation, hue, and luminance can all be molded to taste, and that's before we even get into white balance. Some photographers are happy with the colors straight out of their camera, while some prefer to radically alter colors for various effects.

Others chase "perfect" color that is as natural and accurate as possible because, for many photographers, accurate and realistic color is essential. A food photographer who doesn't spend time on their colors may end up with vegetables that don't appear ripe, or meat that looks grey and unappealing. Portrait photographers want pleasing but accurate skin tones, and a car photographer wants to capture the perceptual beauty of that particular shade of red on that McLaren.

Because digital sensors (aside from Foveon) are achromatic and only manage to recreate color via interpolation through a filter (known as a "color filter array" or CFA), the colors we see with our eyes and the ones we end up seeing on our screens are rarely the same. There are many other reasons perfectly accurate color is difficult (impossible, actually); our perception of color is not one hundred percent consistent from person to person (and it's variable depending on ambient conditions); particular objects reflect, emit, or absorb near-IR and near-UV light, which wreaks havoc on reproduction using a digital sensor. It's simply impossible to make a camera that perfectly captures the spectral response of the human eye for dozens, if not hundreds, of reasons. But we can chase perceptual reproduction of color — and many have.

I fall into this group. I spend a lot of time trying to get my colors to a neutral starting point that closely resembles what I saw. I’ll then fine-tune from there, depending on the subject matter and the look and feel I want. But that neutral — or natural — color is where I want to start.

Having used hundreds of digital cameras, I’m no stranger to how extensively color can vary across the board, even from the same manufacturer. For example, the color of my Nikon D810 is extremely different from my Nikon Z7, which is hugely different from my Nikon D7200. Throw in that I use cameras from three manufacturers, and you can see the issue.

I navigate this challenge using an X-Rite (now Calibrite) ColorChecker Passport, as well as a ColorChecker Display Pro to calibrate my monitors. I make profiles for each camera I own that are applied when I open the files, bringing everything to a neutral starting point.

But why can't we have that straight out of the camera? Why can't we have the option to ditch the manufacturer's look and just have a neutral RAW file? Hasselblad is well-known for this exact thing. They call it the Hasselblad Natural Color Solution, and their efforts paid off — they have the best color in the business, and every camera matches. You can pair an older CFV-39 back with a CCD sensor alongside a newer mirrorless body and seamlessly mix the files.

It would be great if all manufacturers could come together and settle on a Natural RAW option, but that's almost certainly a pipedream. But, at the very least, give us your version of Hasselblad's famed Natural Color Solution. It's literally a selling point for them! It can be for you too!

This one is relatively simple. Give us the option to apply automatic exposure compensation that shifts the exposure to "the right" to maximize dynamic range. All the camera has to do is analyze the zebras and/or histogram and move the exposure to the cusp of clipping (how far it goes could be preset, much like you would do with zebras.

Here is a more thorough explanation of histograms and ETTR for those who are not familiar.

Edit: Apparently, the Phase One IQ4 has an auto ETTR mode. This is exactly what I want.

Auto ETTR is predicated on a proper histogram, and histograms can vary wildly because they are not based on the RAW data but rather a camera's JPEG profile. Don't believe me? Set your JPEG to "Vivid" or something similar, look at the histogram, and then set it to "Neutral" or "Flat." There will be a noticeable difference.

This is problematic for shooters who want to maximize the latitude of RAW files. After a lot of time using a camera, I generally get a feel for how much extra room I have at each end of the histogram in a RAW file. For example, with the Nikon D810, I knew that if my JPEG preview clipped in the highlights, I still had about a stop of headroom left.

But a true RAW histogram would be a godsend. Many photographers have called for this over the years, and the reasons we haven't gotten one vary from complacency to the fact that it isn't simple to implement.

For one, you can't simply "view" a RAW file — it needs to be demosaiced (unless it's a monochrome camera). Secondly, white balance plays a huge role. While many claim white balance does not affect RAW data, they are wrong; shifting white balance actually affects exposure, and in extreme situations, a massive white balance shift in post can cause color channels to clip.

There was an interesting "hack" called UniWB that attempted to get around the problem of RAW histograms by setting the green, red, and blue values to the same coefficient. Thom Hogan goes into it a bit more in-depth here, and Guillermo Luijk really dives into it for those interested. But the fantastic folks at MagicLantern were famously able to make several Canon cameras display proper RAW histograms — though none of the newer models are supported, to my knowledge.

For now, the best we can do is to set the JPEG preview to the flattest profile and then dial down the contrast and saturation. If manufacturers can't provide a true RAW histogram, maybe they can at least give us a dedicated JPEG profile to mimic the RAW data.

Most of today's cameras, with the exception of some Canon cameras, feature ISO-invariant (sometimes referred to as "ISOless") sensors. I won't get into the science of it since others have already, but the long and short is that you lose nothing in terms of dynamic range or noise by shooting at a lower ISO and boosting your exposure in post versus shooting at that ISO in-camera. But you do gain something: extra highlight latitude. So by shooting at a lower ISO, you can ensure your highlights aren't clipped, boosting the exposure while still controlling your highlights.

So, please give us an option to do this. For example, say we want to shoot at ISO 800. Manufacturers can have the camera automatically shoot at its base ISO (say ISO 100), then tag the file to add +3 stops of exposure compensation in post. For this example, we’re ignoring dual gain — ideally, you’d shoot at or above the camera's second gain stage if your desired ISO is above that, but there's no need to get that technical.

The best way to implement it would be in steps, such as every three stops. For example, ISO 800 would be shot at ISO 100 and boosted +3, while ISO 6400 would be shot at ISO 800 and boosted +3. This is primarily because there can be some issues with banding due to the layout of the phase detection array on some sensors with extreme exposure pushes in post that don't exist with an analog ISO in-camera.

Fujifilm actually does this with its "DR Boost" modes. Those modes are called "DR Boost" because they "boost" highlight dynamic range by shooting at base ISO and then bumping the ISO in post, though this comes at the expense of shadow noise. For example, Fujifilm's normal mode is "DR 100" with 200% and 400% (and Auto) settings available. 100% operates normally, while 200% would boost the file one stop and 400% would boost it two stops.

Though I am not sure, I believe newer Hasselblad cameras do this above a specific ISO (around ISO 800 or so), as do Phase One cameras. I think Phase One cameras operate in steps, as suggested before. But again, I could be wrong, or Phase One may have changed some of their technology since I read that.

In 2011, Ricoh implemented a game-changing feature in its IBIS-equipped DSLRs: an Astrotracer, which functioned using the IBIS mechanism in conjunction with a GPS module.

One of the problems with astrophotography is that you need a lot of light, and short of raising your ISO to ungodly levels, your only choice is to lengthen your shutter speed (assuming your lens is fully open, which it probably is).

The issue is that Earth spins, moving the stars and planets across the sky relative to a stationary point on the ground. I won't get into the technical details, as there are far better articles out there about that, but depending on your focal length, you have a limited amount of time before you begin to see "star trails."

Before Pentax's Astrotracer feature, your only option was an external star-tracker, adding complexity and cost for casual hobbyists. Using the "floating sensor" aspect of IBIS, Pentax cameras shift the sensor along with the Earth's rotation to accomplish the same thing.

It's limited because the sensor can only move so far, so you won't be tracking the night sky for hours. But it makes all the difference when you need sixty seconds of exposure time instead of fifteen.

There's a possibility that this feature is trademarked by Ricoh, preventing others from adopting it or maybe companies see it as a niche that isn't worth investing in. After all, if there's one company that caters to niches, it's Ricoh. But even if that's the case, it's a feature worth licensing and would be appreciated by many photographers.

Manufacturers like Sony and Fujifilm are improving at this, but it's still not entirely there. I’d like to see a complete separation of photo and video menus with a completely different interface for each. Blackmagic has one of my favorite user interfaces of any camera, and something like that would be great to see for the video side.

There is one camera that has done this: the Canon R5c. The problem? Switching modes takes somewhere around eight seconds since the camera has to reboot an entirely new operating system.

The only company that has really nailed this simply, with very little load time, is probably the one you least likely expected: Leica. The SL2 has a completely separate interface for photo and video that's effortless to switch between and, even better, it remembers settings between each, meaning you don't have to fuss with your video settings and then try and remember them the next time you switch to it. But the UI itself isn't any different, which is where I’d like to see manufacturers take things a step further (a la the Canon R5c).

This should be a standard.

I know what you’re thinking: there's only so much room on a camera. Yes, that's absolutely true. But more can be done to many cameras without adding anything to the size. For example, let's take the Nikon Z6/Z7 bodies: these have a single control dial on the left in favor of a top-panel screen on the right (which I love).

But why not have a sub-dial below the main PASM dial? Fujifilm excels at this with its X-Tx series of cameras. For example, the Fujifilm X-T5 has a sub-dial below the ISO dial that switches between shooting modes, while a sub-dial beneath the shutter speed dial swaps between Stills and Movie modes. The Sony Alpha 1 does something similar with a sub-dial that swaps between autofocus modes.

I’d love to see all camera manufacturers adopt this. Personally, I’d prefer either a dial that switches between shooting modes like the Fujifilm cameras or one that changes metering modes.

On a slightly different note, all Sony cameras should have the second dial on the left. There is no reason to relegate this to the Alpha 1 and Alpha 9 lines! The space is there on all the other full-frame models; it's wasted space right now. No one will say, "Well, I was going to buy the Alpha 1, but since the Alpha 7 IV has a second dial too, I guess I won't." Sony, you’re just pointlessly hobbling your cameras’ ergonomics for no gain.

This is a feature typically reserved for the highest of the high-end. Nikon has historically been the leader in this area, with cameras like the Nikon D5 and Nikon D6 featuring illuminated buttons.

The newest, of course, is the Nikon Z9 and now the Nikon Z8, both of which feature backlit buttons.

Why not do this for all cameras? Again, this is only a feature that will attract customers. It won't cannibalize the sales of the more expensive models. Of course, one could argue cost-cutting, but come on. Certainly, it's not a feature needed on a camera like the Nikon Z50 or a Canon R10, but I’d argue it would certainly be appreciated in cameras in the $2,000+ range.

Several recent cameras have allowed us to record directly to external SSDs via the USB-C port. To my knowledge, Blackmagic was the first with its Pocket 4K and Pocket 6K cameras, with the Sigma fp following suit the following year. Most recently, Panasonic adopted the feature in the Panasonic GH6 and Panasonic S5 IIx, which marked the first time one of the major camera companies had allowed direct video recording to an external SSD in a hybrid camera.

But no company has yet done what is possibly a more widely desired feature — or at least one that might appeal to a broader range of users — the ability to backup memory cards in the field to an external USB-C device like an SSD or flash drive.

There's no reason this can't be done, even in cameras that don't allow video recording to SSDs (which requires a certain minimum speed, among other factors). You can already connect a camera to a computer via USB-C and backup data, so why not direclty to an SSD or flash drive?

I used to toy with buying one of those hard drives with an SD card slot to back up files in the field, but they were prohibitively expensive and seemed buggy, based on reviews. This proposed feature would bypass that completely, and should be seamless with the proper menu implementation.

Let's face it, most cameras have abysmal wireless tethering. Whether it's the app itself or setting up the connection between your phone/tablet, it's rarely a pleasant experience. But come on. We’re almost halfway through 2023. It's time for easy wireless connectivity for tethering. It should be painless, whether it's for studio work, clients, or something else.

When I reviewed the Leica M11 and the new version of the Leica FOTOS app, I was blown away by how seamless the experience was. Connection was immediate and hassle-free; controls were simple and elegant. It made me want to use it rather than grin and bear it because I needed to use it.

Of course, this doesn't matter only for tethering, it's vital to a better experience for those who want to upload their photos straight to social media. I’m not one of those people, but why not if you can kill two birds with one stone?

Another aspect of the Leica M11 that impressed me is the ability to update its firmware via the app. Instead of removing a card, plugging it into a computer, downloading a file, putting it on the card, reinserting it into the camera, you can do it without a single cable in a fraction of the time. Even worse are the cameras that require you to plug directly into the computer and update via a program — I’m looking at you, OM System/Olympus.

This one is unlikely and definitely niche, but I love the idea, and I imagine many others would as well. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, the only cameras that allow this are the (seemingly discontinued) Sigma sd Quattro and sd Quattro H, as well as the discontinued Sigma SD1 Merrill and SD14 Merrill.

Popping the IR (infrared) cut filter off gives you immediate access to a full-spectrum camera for IR photography without a costly and irreversible third-party modification to your sensor.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.

Author's Note: Update 5/23: Image credits: