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A Wish List for Future Digital SLR Cameras

by E.J. Peiker | September 1, 2003

NatureScapesDear Canon: Please Produce My Perfect Digital Camera

I have now been fully converted to digital camera bodies for two years. Over those two years I have taken approximately 35,000 images with the Canon EOS 1D, EOS 1Ds, and EOS 10D and have traveled over 100,000 miles with them to photograph landscapes and wildlife. During this time I have amassed a wish list for the perfect digital body.

Let’s start with the basic needs that I feel are lacking in the Canon EOS camera system. First and foremost, I believe the viewfinders are missing some key information. This is information that Nikon and other system users take for granted. Namely, we need flash exposure confirmation and metering mode indicators in the viewfinders for Canon bodies. To complicate the viewfinder woes even further, Canon pro bodies (1D, 1Ds) blank out the viewfinder inside the camera when one of the mode selection buttons is depressed, making it difficult to accurately change modes or flash exposure compensation without taking your eye off of the viewfinder. Fortunately, the 10D consumer grade product does not do this and is superior in that regard. I find the exclusion of these basic things to be inexcusable in cameras costing between $1,500 and $8,000 and touting themselves as professional and prosumer products.

Now that I have that off my chest, here are some characteristics of a camera that would satisfy me for a few years. Let’s start with the digital sensor – the heart and soul of digital imaging!

Sensor

I believe an ideal sensor size would be 2400×3600 pixels for a total of 8.6 megapixels. This would allow uninterpolated printing in most normal situations and allow interpolated quality prints as large as 20×30 inches. I would like the sensor to use the two-sensor element per pixel approach that Fuji has proposed. In this case each pixel has a small sensor and a large sensor. The smaller one is sensitive to bright light and the larger one is sensitive to low levels of light. The data is then combined in the imaging processor resulting in approximately ten stops of dynamic range compared to the six stops we have today. In many cases this would allow us to dispense with graduated neutral density filters. The blown highlight phenomenon would largely be a thing of the past, as would constant worrying about exposure compensation. I feel the current EOS 1D sensor uses an ideal 1.3x crop ratio. It still allows very wide-angle shots with lenses that many landscape photographers already own, while giving extra reach coveted by wildlife photographers.

The sensor needs to incorporate technology that makes it less prone to attracting dust, such as an internal static discharge, an ionization system, or something similar. Many electronic instruments have included ionization systems for twenty years – the technology exists today. Additionally, internal technology to clean the sensor like the ultrasonic cleaning capability of the Olympus E1 is a must – it is high time the manufacturers tackled the sensor dust issue! The latest innovation from Minolta where the digital image sensor is stabilized seems like an ingenious idea on paper. Time will tell if this is practical and as good as Image Stabilization or Vibration Reduction technology incorporated into lenses. I will be watching development on this front closely.

Metering

Even though it won’t be as critical as the high dynamic range sensor I have described above, a better metering system than what is currently available in any DSLR is needed. Nikon should incorporate their excellent RGB metering systems in their digital offerings and Canon must develop a meter that much more accurately meters situations with highlights present and that accurately meters scenes in overcast and backlit conditions.

Autofocus

In the autofocus area all the AF sensors should be of the cross type and as sensitive as the central sensor in the 1D and 1Ds. They should also be spread out more. The dynamic AI servo algorithms should be updated to predict the subject’s placement more accurately at the time of shutter opening. I feel Canon’s algorithms are slightly behind the action by probably 10ms or so. Selecting the active AF sensor should not require two different controls for vertical and horizontal movement as is the case today in the Canon lineup. A system with a joystick-like interface in place of the rear dial would be more intuitive and faster. The Nikon cameras are much better in this regard.

Weatherproofing and Flash

As an outdoor photographer, rain can be a big challenge. I personally do not let rain stop me from photography. Canon has done a great job in sealing the professional DSLR’s, to the point where my 1Ds fell in a river and after being submerged for a few seconds was retrieved with no ill effects whatsoever. The problem is the flash system. I have now destroyed two flash units due to water getting on the contacts. It seems if you have a camera system that is advertised as being nearly weatherproof, you need a flash system that is also.

CompactFlash

I would like to see this DSLR have two CompactFlash slots and the camera be user-configurable. It could either write to each card sequentially (i.e., fill up card one then card two), write to each card with every frame to clear the buffer faster, or write the same image to both cards simultaneously to create an instant backup. The imaging processor should double in speed every two years following Moore’s Law so that wait times are continually reduced. Today’s fastest flash cards are faster than any of the digital processors that write the information. The power to the camera should not be interrupted when the flash card compartment is opened and data should continue writing to the card until the card is removed from the slot. This would be an additional precaution against image loss.

User Interface

The LCD on the Canon pro grade DSLR is inferior compared to the consumer grade 10D LCD. Color saturation and contrast are much better on the 10D, which allows the photographer to more accurately assess the photo just taken. The user interface is probably a little better on the pro bodies with four main menu pages as opposed to a single very long scrolling list. I find having custom functions set through the camera’s LCD combined with personal functions requiring a computer link ludicrous. Why not have the ability to set all from the camera? This may be a leftover from the 1V where Canon was trying to sell the additional software, but now it comes with the digital camera bodies so what’s the point?

I like the continuous zoom feature on the 10D’s LCD much better than the single step zoom feature on the 1Ds, and the complete lack of zoom capability on the 1D. On a very positive note, Canon owners of any digital body can easily upgrade firmware themselves. Other systems require the user to send the camera to a service center for simple software patches. My wish list also includes a larger LCD screen on all the cameras.

Communication Standards

The age of wireless computing is here with the 802.11 communication standards. The ideal digital camera would have an 802.11g built-in communication standard so that information can be transferred seamlessly to any computer with a wireless card. Nikon has added 802.11b (compatible with 802.11g) as an option on the D2H. In my opinion this is a major step in the right direction!

Some other “best of breed” features that should be incorporated include:

  • 1/500 or faster flash sync speed from the 1D
  • 5-8 frames per second as the 1D
  • A low noise image processor like the 10D for much higher image quality
  • Low noise at ISO 400 like the 10D or even lower noise such as the near complete lack of digital noise found in the Fuji S2
  • An ISO range starting at 50 like the 1Ds and ending at 3200 like the 1D with lower noise throughout the range
  • The 1Ds automatic white balance algorithms which seem more accurate than either the 1D or 10D
  • The dial approach to changing exposure modes like the 10D rather than the multi-button/dial approach in the 1D/1Ds
  • The moisture/dustproof characteristics of the pro bodies
  • The DOF preview button in the traditional position on the lower right lens mount, as opposed to hidden on the wrong side of the camera like on the 10D

I am sure there are other items that I have left out but I think the ultimate wish list for a DSLR would include the above features and would be a “killer” camera body. Now we just need to get the weight of those big lenses down.

About the Author

E.J. was born in 1960 in Augsburg, Germany and moved to Ohio in 1969. He attended Purdue University and earned a Bachelor's Degree in Electrical Engineering and completed graduate studies in Microelectronics and Semiconductor Physics. After working for the Intel Corporation for 27 years, he is now retired from the electronics industry and is a professional freelance photographer. E.J. and has formally studied photography at the University of New Mexico and completed courses from The Rocky Mountain School of Photography. E.J. has two sons, and has lived in Chandler, Arizona since 1994. A photographic specialty is artistic images of ducks and E.J. has published the book Ducks of North America - The Photographer's Guide. E.J. is also prolific in landscape photography, his first photographic love. E.J.'s photographs have been published worldwide in books, advertising, magazines, billboards, murals and more. Some of his publishers and clients include The National Geographic Society, World Wildlife Fund, The United States National Parks Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the United States Navy, State Parks Arizona, Barrons, and Dorling Kindersley. New Zealand Post honored E.J. by making one of his penguin images the primary image for their 2014 Commemorative Antarctica Ross Dependency Stamp set. He has also been named one of the top 100 Wildlife Photographers in the world by Eastern Europe's Digital Photographer Magazine. Visit his website at: www.ejphoto.com.

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