Do Modern Cameras Ruin Photography Because They Are Too Complex?

Modern cameras are capable of so much, but will there ever be a simple modern camera?

One of the simple joys in life is loading a roll of film into a camera, and going about shooting pictures with no beeps, boops, screens, complicated menus, or error messages flashing in your eyeballs. Modern cameras are fantastic and can do so much, but one photographer, Mike Johnson, posed a question that generated quite a response on his blog. Mike asked if there will ever be an easy to use, modern camera that can bring back the simple joys of shooting. Let’s talk about this after the break.

In a recent post on his blog, The Online Photographer, Mike Johnston waxes lyrical about his three decades of working in the photography trenches. He recently looked over modern cameras, like the upcoming Fujifilm X-T4, and he couldn’t help but think the need for a simple to use digital camera akin to an old 35mm film camera has never gone away. 

modern cameras

Mike quickly admits defeat in his longing for such a camera. “No one is ever going to make a simple but high-quality digital camera that feels like a simple film camera. It doesn’t fit the marketing needs or the commercial requirements of today’s business models.” This statement is mostly true, although one could argue that Leica came close with the M10-D. The Online Photographer goes on to state what his ideal, simple, modern camera would look like.

Mike’s camera would be a full-frame equivalent that’s not too heavy, and which only uses manual focus lenses. The only controls would be a shutter release, a shutter speed dial in full and half stops with an “A” setting, an ISO dial with only six ISOs in full stops (100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, and 3200), and an exposure compensation dial (also in full and half stops). Aperture would be controlled via aperture rings on the lenses themselves. As for the viewfinder, it needs to be big, has to offer 96% coverage at a minimum, and have no information displayed other than a histogram and a focus indicator that blinks when focus is achieved.

photography gear
The Pentax K1000 was about as simple as things could get.

As for other controls on the camera, Mike would like to see a depth-of-field preview button, a lens release button, and a small LCD (like the top screen on the EOS R) with an exposures-remaining counter and a battery charge indicator. Mike would also like there to only be one card slot, no viewing LCD, and the camera will only shoot RAW, no JPEGS. The camera should also not have any video functions, no film simulations, no AF modes, no Wi-Fi, no GPS, and there should be just one menu screen, which I assume would be viewable in the viewfinder as there is no LCD.

modern cameras

To date, there are three or four modern cameras I can think of that have tried to dumb things down. They are the Fujifilm X-Pro 3 (and that’s a stretch), the Leica M10-D, the Kickstarter backed Yashica Y35, and, as mentioned in the Online Photographers article, the Nikon Df which was meant to be a camera for ‘pure photography.’ All of these cameras have tried to bring the focus back to photography, but nowhere near the extent that Mike and others who grew up with film cameras want. 

Unfortunately, we live in an age where consumers want ‘all the things’ and the kitchen sink packed into cameras today. As great as the ideal, simple, modern camera sounds, it will never happen. The number of people who would reach for a camera like this is small, and the camera would likely be expensive.

modern cameras
Olympus needs a serious user interface and menu intervention.

I agree with Mike’s feelings in regard to cameras being too complicated, and I think manufacturers could make using their cameras easier. Being bogged down in menus not only takes away from the act of photographing, it is also annoying to your clients when you’re 17 pages deep into the menu system as well.

There needs to be some sort of happy medium, and I’m sure the powers that be at these camera companies will find designers and software engineers who can design user interfaces that don’t require a degree to decipher. Modern cameras certainly don’t ruin photography; a lot of the features Mike would like to have removed make photography downright fun and enjoyable. But things can certainly become a little frustrating at times. Right now, though, if you want to relive the joys of photography from yesteryear, pick up a vintage film camera, some gorgeous, vintage, manual focus lenses, and some rolls of film. That will put a smile back on your face, and it will make photography fun again.

Brett Day

Brett Day is the Gear Editor at The Phoblographer and has been a photographer for as long as he can remember. Brett has his own photography business that focuses on corporate events and portraiture. In his spare time, Brett loves to practice landscape and wildlife photography. When he's not behind a camera, he's enjoying life with his wife and two kids, or he's playing video games, drinking coffee, and eating Cheetos.