2013 Clean Out: My Next Camera

My current camera is a Canon EOS 7D.  I upgraded a couple of years ago from a 50D because the 7D had more professional features that I could use.  It is a fantastic camera.  The build quality is great.  The image quality is great.  It’s pretty much everything that I’d want in a camera except for one thing: it isn’t full frame.  A full frame camera not only provides higher image quality, but also provides the widest angle images.  For a bit of background about the differences between crop and full frame cameras, read this. I will upgrade it, someday, and it will be to a full frame camera.  But is being full frame enough to justify buying an entirely new camera for an upwards of $3000? Probably not.  I think I’d need some additional innovations to entice me.  Here are some things that I’d like to see to sweeten the pot*:

  1. Improved Image Quality – A few years ago it was all about megapixels and having an image large enough to print a billboard with.  Now that we’ve gotten to a point where there are enough megapixels to print high quality photos at pretty much any size the focus has shifted to image quality.  Each new sensor has less noise, better color, higher sharpness, and greater sensitivity.  For my next camera, it would be great to be able to get more usable images out of ISO 12,800 and 25,600 with the option to go up to 51,200; 102,400, and 204,800 for ultra low-light images.
  2. On-Camera Image Stabilization – Image stabilization (IS) began back in the film days.  Since you couldn’t move the film to compensate for camera shake, Nikon and Canon developed IS in their lenses.  Once digital SLRs appeared, it was possible to move the image sensor to compensate for camera shake.  Neither Nikon nor Canon implement this in their cameras (Sony and Pentax do).  Their opinion is that IS in the lens is more effective than IS in the camera.  This is true, however it wouldn’t hurt to have it in the camera as well in order to help compensate for non-stabilized lenses.  Some of us can’t afford to re-purchase our lenses at 2x the cost of the original just for IS. I can even foresee a hybrid mode where the in-camera IS can add to the lens IS, offering even more stabilization.  I have a good feeling that it will never happen, but I can dream.
  3. Functional Live View – Even in the digital age, SLRs still have an optical viewfinder.  You have to look through the tiny window at the top of the camera to take a picture.  Viewfinders in digital point-and-shoot (PnS) cameras are a thing of the past.  Live View provides this functionality for SLRs but it’s riddled with issues.  Autofocus is sloooooowwww. Taking images is slow.  The reason has to do with the way that traditional SLRs work, but some companies have started to work around that. Sony has a system that works similar to a traditional SLR but provides Live View functionality that works like a point-and-shoot.  It isn’t perfect yet, but someday it may be good enough to be added to my next camera.  A viewfinder is still the best way to compose and take a shot on an SLR, but LiveView is a nice option in certain situations.
  4. Swivel Screen – Newer SLRs are starting to include swivel screens that pop out from the camera and tilt up and down.  These are not useful in every situation but are great for taking video or trying to photograph something above a crowd.  Unfortunately swivel screens are not considered “professional” enough and are relegated to low and mid-range SLRs.  They are still useful features and I believe they would be of use in a professional camera.
  5. More Autofocus Points – SLRs autofocus by analyzing scenes using one of several points in the viewfinder.  Users can select points to tell the camera where to focus or the camera can try to determine what to focus on automatically.  The more points there are, the more options there are for focusing.  Older SLRs only had 3 focus points.  Newer ones have 9, 19, even 45 points.  The more points the better.  The current EOS 5D (most likely what I’d upgrade to) only has 9 points.  My 7D has 19.  The 5D needs to catch up before I get one.
  6. Better Video – Most recent SLRs offer video modes that take HD videos.  SLRs combined with various lenses can produce professional videos that you just can’t get with a point and shoot.  But video on SLRs use Live View, so they inherit Live View’s issues with slow autofocus.  Lenses and autofocus motors are also loud, so you can often hear them in the video.  Currently, the only reliable way to take video on an SLR is to manually focus and avoid fast moving objects (to avoid rolling shutter syndrome).  Systems like Sony’s Live View are a step closer to offering video that matches the ease of use of a point and shoot.
  7. Touchscreens – Touch screen seem to be everywhere lately.  They’ve even made it into cameras in the form of point-and-shoots from companies like Nikon and Sony.  SLRs generally have a lot of buttons and each allows the photographer to quickly change settings on the fly.  These buttons are necessary to provide flexibility in various shooting situations so I wouldn’t want all of the buttons on my SLR to be replaced with a touch screen.  But what if the image preview screen had some touch functionality?  Imagine flicking left and right to view images or pinching to zoom in and out.  Or maybe touching the screen to focus in Live View or video mode.  I wouldn’t want a fully touchscreen-driven SLR, but limited functionality could improve my workflow.
  8. Automatic Sensor Cropping – Some lenses are designed so that they only work on crop sensor cameras.  When placed on a full frame SLR, they either don’t fit at all** or create a reduced image circle inside of a black frame.  Currently that’s what you get when you put a crop sensor lens on a canon camera.  Nikons will actually crop the sensor so that your cropped lenses still work.  Why do I want this? Well, I don’t want to have to buy new lenses when I get a full frame camera.  If the camera adjusted to me, I’d be able to keep my lenses.
  9. Dynamic Sensor Cropping – While we are on the subject of sensor cropping, how about letting my crop it on my own through the camera?  Most cameras have a 1.3, 1.5, or 1.6X crop, but why not let the user set a custom crop of say 2x or 3x? Why? The higher the crop, the more magnified the lens.  So a 1.5x crop makes a 200mm lens act like  a 300mm lens, a 2x crop would make it a 300mm lens, and a 3x crop would make it a 600mm lens.  The disadvantage to this is that you’d be cutting the image size (in megapixels), but it would be a worth tradeoff for the flexibility.

When I originally wrote this post a year and a half ago I had no intention of buying a new camera in the near future. I’m still in the same place today. I wouldn’t get rid of my crop sensor camera anyway (unless my new one had sensor cropping, which still is not available on Canon cameras) so I wouldn’t be able to recover any cost. This is just a list of the things that I’d love to see from Canon in the coming years.

*We are assuming Canon cameras here as I have already invested in their lens collection.  Nikon cameras already have some of these features however it would not be practical to start fresh with a new camera system.

** Canon EF-S lenses are designed specifically for crop sensor cameras and will not mechanically fit onto a full frame SLR.  Many third party crop sensor specific lenses will still mount, but will display a reduced image circle.

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