What Do You Really Need In A Camera
Image Courtesy of bollzy.com
07th April 2016, Singapore – The recent development of camera technology is getting very interesting. The manufacturers had been on a spree to outdo each other in their latest offerings and we on the consumer end, is trying to understand what exactly are these manufacturers trying to do? While many out there are obviously confused or simply overwhelmed by numbers, specs etc, we decided to write this article and share some thoughts on these specs & numbers.
In this article, I am going to take a comical look into the developments so don’t flame me. It’s just my thoughts anyway.
Let’s just take a look at some of the key features which are common in today’s imaging technology. However, no brands will be mentioned.
I remember clearly my first autofocus SLR (film) has only 3 focus points, namely – Left, Centre & Right. Then came the early DSLRs with 5 points (Added top & bottom), then 9 points, 11 points, 19 points and suddenly 100+ points, 200+ points & the crazy 300+ points. May I ask, how many times do you really select the points? And if you are the person who will let the camera decide where to focus for you, how many times had you ended up with images that had been back-focused? Sorry but I am old-fashioned, I prefers to set my cameras to a single center focus point and employ the use of focus on subject>half pressed shutter>refocus & recompose>shoot type.
In my 9 years of doing commercial photography, I had only used that one single center focus point. In some occasions when I was shooting pre-wedding albums, I do use manual focus. 300+ focus points? I believe somewhere out there, some engineers are already working on 800+ focus points with probably 1800+ virtual focus points.
Do You Really Need 800+ focus points?
Start Up Time
This is one of the features that most camera specs will always include. From that second you switched on the camera, the start-up time determines how fast the camera will be ready to shoot an image. Well, probably the makers are anticipating photographers to switch on & switch off their cameras regularly. But wouldn’t that wear out the on/off switch faster? I remember almost all cameras that were built after year 1999 has a power-save or sleep or auto-off function? And this function can be customized to how long you want the camera to idle before it starts to hibernate? From the pace that this feature is being improved model after model, probably the next revolution will be – the camera may have a motion sensor with a fuzzy logic chip built in.
Higher end models may even get a light sensor – so the minute you take your camera out of the bag, it wakes up by itself and ready to shoot by the time while you are bringing the camera to your face. Fast enough?
Do You Need your camera to stay awake the minute you wake up?
Since the beginning of digital SLRs, we all remembered the ISO that we “paid for” starts from a standard ISO 100 to about ISO 1600 – and ISO 1600 back then is almost not use-able in print. Then we started seeing cameras showing up with ISO 100 to ISO 6400, then came the negative to expanded scale from ISO 50 to ISO 12,800 and some already reaching ISO 25,600. Today, photographers are talking about ISO 30 to ISO 3,000,000+. Wow! Before you say “shut up & take my money!”, may I ask you what is the highest ISO that you had ever used? Personally I had used up to ISO 6400 for certain assignments but never once I had given my clients a print with a ISO 12,800 – because there is no need to! So what if you have ISO 3,000,000 and the maximum ISO you use is probably ISO 12,800? As I write, I am sure engineers out there are already working on a camera that gives you ISO 25,000,000 and higher end models may even get military grade night-vision technology. Who knows right? Now ask yourself, do you really uses an ISO that high?
FPS (Frame Per Second)
FPS – Which means Frames-Per-Second, and further means how many images are you able to capture in a full second while your finger depress the shutter button. Sports Photographers, Birds Photographers or even Press Photographers will be the people that will (really) be concerned about this. I remembered vividly from the early SLRs which managed 3 fps to 5 fps and then from early digital’s 3 fps to a mighty 8 fps (top of the line DSLRs) and today’s entry-level DSLRs doing about 5 fps to an insane 20 fps for some pro model DSLR. On this part, I will think that unless you set your camera to “Burst Mode” all the time, or works with the press, shoot sports and birds, an average of 5 fps is ample enough to serve most needs.
While many will disagree with me, now be honest, after shooting in burst mode, count how many shots are sharp, and how many will you keep? As a user of flagship DSLRs from 3 brands, each doing an average of 10-15 fps, I know how it is like to be deleting and selecting the few images that I will really keep or submit to client. And the more I burst, the more time I have to spend viewing the images one by one and further deleting them while keeping a few that I really need. Do not forget that digital images take up spaces too.
And since our camera shutters has an intended lifespan of (average) 150,000 shots to 250,000 shots, let’s just take the lower 150,000 and use the soon-to-come 120 fps as an example.
Your shutter lives for 150,000 shots.
Your FPS is 120.
So 150,000 shots divided by the fps 120 will be 1250 actuations.
Congratulations, your camera shutter is going to “die” after you press the shutter for 1250 times – set to burst mode. Does that make any sense to you? Let’s see if the next update of DSLRs or other cameras will get us 80 to 120 fps.
Wait, do you need 120fps at all?
Image Courtesy of rewindandcapture.com
No, I am not talking about the good old front-mount-screw-on filters or the luxurious square filters. What I really meant was the digital filters that came along with your cameras. When the days were much simpler, apart from the color shooting mode, we get a monochrome (Black & White or Bandicoot) option and for the lucky some, Sepia. Today, more digital filters are added with every new model and some are actually quite decent and fun to use.
One of the camera brands that started this trend had about 7 filters in their DSLR and today, almost every brand offers at least 20 to 30 digital filters in their DSLRs and adding new ones with every release. While the creative options have largely expanded with the inclusion of these filters, how many filters have you really used for your images? Sorry again but I am old-fashion, I will prefer to capture the image as it is then edit & process the images to my liking later. Yes, there are occasions that I walk about with the camera color set to Monochrome, but rarely, what about you?
Do you need like 100 “bubble gum” digital filters in your camera?
Image Courtesy of exposureguide.com
Almost every decent DSLR or higher end compacts does bracketing. (Some can even do bracketing and in-camera blend) For those of you who know that you have this function but has never used or not exactly sure what it does, here’s a one sentence explanation. The camera captures a scene (basic) in 3 exposures that comprise a normal exposure, a darker exposure and a brighter exposure so you can layer them and merged them into a final image with a balanced exposure – in short HDR. Yes, you heard it right, 3 bracketed shots were what we have in the early days. Soon the number of bracketed shots was noted to have increased to 5 shots and to 9 shots in the mid era.
Today, some of the imaging demon cameras manage up to 30 bracketed shots. In the past, 3 to 5 bracketed shots gives very interesting end results as the images are on a much different dynamic range for example: -3, 0, +3. Today, those on 18 or more bracketed shots are really getting -8, -7.5, -7, -6.5, -6, -5.5, -5, -4.5, -4, -3.5, -3, -2.5, -2, -1.5, -1, -0.5, 0, +0.5, +1, +1.5, +2, +2.5, +3, +3.5, +4, +4.5, +5, +5.5, +6, +6.5, +7, +7.5, +8. Tell me, if you had shot a configuration similar to my example above, after blending without individual edit, tell me what did you get? Still have dynamic range? Or you have to add lots of contrasts to make up for the DR losses?
Hate to say this but I suspect one day, the engineers developing the bracketing functions will soon give us 100 frames bracketing – and you will get an image that looks exactly like how you have shot it at 1/100, F5.6 & ISO400. (Just saying).
Do You Really need to bracket more than 5 shots?
In-Camera Customization/ Editing
Image: Full Suite Photo Editing Software built into camera?
From my understanding, not all but many cameras today allows you to edit your images directly from the camera. Although most of the options available now are cropping, straightening, some color & contrast adjustments or adding a digital filter to your images, I am very sure more editing functions are on their way. Pardon me again for being old-fashion, but I really prefer to load my images to my computer and edit my images on the big screen.
And there are a lot more I can do from my soft wares than what was offered from the camera. Yes, that might save you some time if you are doing some basic and simple edit, but how many of you are really using this function? Camera manufacturers are constantly trying to outdo each other and probably, I say probably, soon you can add watermarks, super-imposed images, and even order Starbucks from inside your camera.
Do You really need this function?
Materials used for manufacturing our cameras are getting cleverer by the model. I believed many of you would have remembered how heavy the 1st generation DSLRs were. From engineering plastics to recycled compound, from aluminum to titanium alloys, our cameras are getting lighter and with the advancement of technology, our cameras are getting smaller and smaller too. The good news is, manufacturers are not exactly competing on who can design and make a camera that weight next to nothing, but the real competition is really more on the size. Just look at the entry-level DSLRs, some of them are just slightly bigger than the high-end compacts or bridge cameras. On the other end of the scale, who would image a professional spec full frame camera to be much smaller than a DSLR?
With the current trend of cheaper travel and more people taking up photography, size is definitely one of the priorities in the list. Not forgetting smart phone cameras are getting more advanced since the 2 megapixel hey days so camera manufacturers have to counter this carefully. Who knows, the next DSLR may be pocket-sized and mirrorless that fits into your wallets – ok, I will leave the rest to your imaginations.
Remember, it’s what you need from a camera and not what the size that determines your buying decision.
Sensor & Megapixel Size
There are 2 parts to this. 1st is the physical size of the sensor and 2nd is the ever-increasing megapixel war.
In the past, when you are using a Full Frame DSLR (35mm equivalent), wow you must be a pro, or a super-rich person as full frame cameras are out of reach for many people. Today, every other person is using a Full Frame camera – because it is now cheaper to the point it had fallen below the SGD $2K mark (street price) for a new Full Frame body. Don’t get me wrong, cropped-sensor (APS-C/ APS-H) DSLRs still have their foothold in the industry as these cameras are really meant for added range for a wide variety of photographic purposes. And further to that, it is cheaper to produce so that is probably why almost 95% of entry-level DSLRs are using APS-C sensors.
Between FF & APS-C sensors, both have their specific uses and capabilities. But sadly, in local context, using a Full Frame camera means “something”. From the way the R&D is moving, probably in future they will just do away with APS-C sensors and all cameras will released in Full Frame by default – and you can use a digital crop-factor (which some cameras already has this function). But what if I tell you now you can choose the crop factor from inside your Full Frame badass to either x1.3, x1.5, x1.8, x2, x5, x10, x35, x50, x100 – so using a 10mm ultra-wide angle can be configured to 1000mm by digital crop factor at x100 – ok, I am really just kidding!
So do you really need a Full Frame sensor?
On the megapixel race, personally I felt that it is mega-rated. I mean do you really need that many pixels if you are just shooting for fun? Maybe yes and maybe no. But allow me to share what happens when you upgrade from – say a 16 megapixel camera to a 36 megapixel camera. First and foremost, you need a higher capacity memory card – and memory is expensive especially the good ones (pun intended). Your 8Gb or 16gb memory card can no longer store as much images as before.
And do not think buying a cheap & regular 32gb or 64gb will justify, faster writing speed cards costs more money too. Next, you need a good resolution screen to match – else you are not really viewing what was captured – The screen costs money too. And do check if your computer and software can handle multiple big files without hanging or crashing, if not you will need to upgrade (money again).
After you have addressed all the earlier points, now you need to have a much bigger HDD or backup system to store your files. Big files = Big Storage, that’s pretty much common sense isn’t it? And deep storage costs you more money. So the next time if a newly announced camera is 100 megapixel or 1000 megapixel, be prepared to fork out money for a 512gb memory card, a 4K or 6K screen, a super computer with infinity memory ram, a 10,000TB Storage/ back-up system and everything else in between. OK, this is not funny anymore. So do you need 1000 megapixel one day?
There are a lot more points that I would like to cover in this article but I do not wish to risk being sued for unauthorized sharing of embargoed information until they are official. As a final disclaimer, the above article was intended to pull some jokes on the camera manufacturers without releasing any classified information on the research and development of any camera, lenses or photographic accessories. All speculated specifications and functions are purely false and imaginary with no basis and no reference.
On a serious note, things are moving really fast in the digital imaging arena and as a photographer, it will be interesting to watch and move along with the technology – even with the absurd ones.