Design by Default

You may have noticed that all new cameras are designed to the mean. Features pioneered or on previous and competitor's models simply get added to any new model. 

A good case in point is the now ubiquitous HDMI connection. Since it's less than a dollars' worth of parts to put in a camera, HDMI is put into all cameras. Serious question: when was the last time you used the HDMI port on your camera?

Gordon Laing (Cameralabs) made a comment in passing about the Panasonic S9 that's relevant here: "I wonder if the target market would have preferred a headphone jack instead an HDMI port, as I’m not sure how many are likely to connect external recorders or make TV slideshows with it." [he left off "use the camera as an input to a video switcher or as a Zoom input, but Panasonic apparently didn't build in any support for USB Webam] 

The narrative that Panasonic wants people to believe with the S9 is this: you take an image or video with the camera and push it over to the mobile app for sharing. No HDMI connector should be necessary if that's the model usage. Remember, these "creator cameras" are supposed to be attracting smartphone users with additional capability. The smartphone creator generally tries to do it without ungainly add ons and cables, though occasionally I run into some that have caged and enhanced their phone in ways that make it look like something out of a dysfunctional future. 

Curiously, Panasonic did pay attention to another aspect that's ubiquitous among cameras these days: the hot shoe. The Panasonic S9 may have a slot at the top of the camera that's "flash foot sized," but there are no sync pins; it's a cold shoe. Okay, but this is probably a wrong design decision, too ;~).

No, not because the S9 user is going to want to use flash (though they might). It's a wrong decision because the creator target customer Panasonic seeks wants a sleek, all-in-one solution. Having a flash shoe with electrical connections for audio was probably the right design decision. After all, if that creator is creating video, they're going to need sound. Plugging cables into the side of the camera making it user unfriendly and ungainly for that is not what that creator wants. They'd love a wireless system that looks integrated. Sony gets this, and provides several solutions for shoe-mounted audio, but I noticed that the DJI wireless mic is now offering a Sony-shoe compatible solution that removes the wire connections, too. 

An interesting exception to my contention that cameras are designed to the mean is the Nikon Zf. It was simply designed to a different drummer ;~). One of the questions I consistently get from people looking at the Zf is whether or not there are any User settings (U#) or banks. Well, no. Isn't that outside the "revert to old design" notion behind the Zf? The film SLRs the Zf is intended to mimic didn't have U# or banks. I actually support Nikon's decision in this respect: there's already too much "modernization" in the Zf design as it is. If Old School Simple is the design goal, then it should remain the design goal and not instead result in design creep to the mean. 

That said, the Zf has enough design contradictions in it to keep my keyboard busy should I deem it necessary. I've already described much of that at length, so I won't repeat it here.

Meanwhile, at the top end of the design spectrum seems to be the default notion that "more buttons are better." The Nikon Z9 has 29 buttons (including the thumb stick presses). The about-to-be-releasedannounced Canon R1 seems to have at least 27. (Let's not even start to count dials ;~). The problem here is that you only have ten fingers. That many buttons really have to be in very logical groupings and places, or else you're just asking the photographer to move their hand when they shouldn't be. Moreover, these are big bodies, so folk with smaller hands often find themselves stretching to button positions. 

Realistically, you're not even using all 10 of your fingers to reach the multiple dozen buttons. Right thumb, right index finger, maybe right middle finger, plus a hand move (from holding the camera/lens) with left index finger or thumb. Everything else tends to mean you've pulled the camera from your eye and/or handling it differently from when it's at your eye. No one is quite getting this right any more, but everyone seems to be catering to "need easier access to..." complaints by adding controls. I'd think we'd have seen more touch/glide/swipe multi-use controls at this point, but it seems that the only thing the camera designers really have any idea how to do is button or dial. Thus we're now getting button-itis.

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