How Modern Cameras Alienate Professional Photographers

Despite what Influencers are preaching these days, there isn’t a lot of new stuff happening in photography. Lenses can get sharper and brighter, and modern cameras might go up to a million frames per second, but the core of our craft remains unchanged. The exposure triangle has not grown into a square or a pentagon. Whether we’re thinking about DSLR style or rangefinder-style bodies, their look and feel have been fairly consistent throughout the generations. Therefore, I still have difficulties understanding why some camera manufacturers go out of their way to shuffle buttons around with every single camera release. 

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Most people don’t change cameras every day, so no matter which body is picked, you will get used to its layout and any operation becomes second nature. Professionals, however, have several bodies: some for redundancy/backup, some because their business requires them to shoot different genres and they need the best tool for the work at hand.

For example, wedding and street photography require quick changes of settings in a dynamic environment. More than other genres, timing is critical. I would argue that timing is more important than dynamic range, megapixel count, or any other fancy spec manufacturers are pushing these days. I need to rely on my muscle memory, and being able to operate everything without my eye leaving the viewfinder is critical with modern cameras.

Looking at Canon, the touch bar on the EOS R was an attempt to modernize its layout. It didn’t find its goal and that’s ok; you can just pretend it’s not there. The issue arises when we look at everything else. The R and the R5 have similar buttons in similar places. However, when you get inside the customization menu, you cannot assign the same functions to the same buttons in both bodies, making them challenging to operate together without wasting a lot of brain power remembering which is which.

Something as simple as a depth of field preview cannot be set the same way. It is also true if you consider the R and RP, same buttons, and different customization menus. The R5 and R6 are as close as it gets but, Canon being Canon, they had to change the mode button to a PSAM wheel just to keep things a bit confusing.

Fujifilm doesn’t fare much better. The Q button on the XT3 was at screen level, then on top with the XT4, and again down at screen level on the X-H2S. At the same time, the GFX 100S puts it all the way to the right. If we think the GFX is a DSLR-style camera more in-line with the X-H2S, the X-H2S just removed the click from the thumb wheel where as the GFX 100S and all the X-Ts have all been rocking that clickable thumb wheel. MAKE UP YOUR DAMN MIND ALREADY.

It doesn’t look like much, but those minor tweaks in modern cameras are enough to disrupt shooting flow. Pushing the wrong button can make you miss the shot. It’s excruciating if using a dual setup on a moneymaker like I am. I’m a prime shooter. I’ll typically have a wide lens on one body (usually 28mm) and a tighter lens on the second (50 or 85mm). This means I’m constantly jumping from one body to the next in a split second, multiple times on a wedding day. Therefore, whatever body I pick, I’d need two of them as I need the exact same controls at the exact same place doing the exact same thing.

This is what makes me angry. I can’t enjoy diversity in a lineup. I can’t pick a second body a little cheaper. I can’t have one for high-resolution stills and the second for speed or video. On top of the ergonomics differences, Canon colors are different enough between the RP, the R, and the R5 to make it impossible to batch edit pictures if you want to deliver a consistent look in your album. Of course, you can tweak one to match the other, but it’s one more step in editing that I’m not willing to take; I spend enough time in Lightroom as it is.

Is consistency too much to ask within the same generation of releases? Canon is doing poorly in that department. The brand new R7 is yet another HUGE departure from other bodies, one more I won’t be able to add to my kit. I came to envy Nikon shooters. The Z5, Z6, Z6II, Z7 and Z7II are modern cameras that have the same ergonomics and button placement. This is market segmentation done right. Despite their dance on the X-mount, Fujifilm had at least the great idea of making their last two GFX bodies identical except for the sensors and autofocus. I repeat: this is market segmentation done right. It makes the whole thing more pleasant for dual setups or backup solutions without having to think too much about your gear. Gear should disappear from thought and the picture-taking process when you’re in the zone. It should be a natural extension of your arm. The less you have to think about it, the more you can stay in the moment, and the more brain power is available to focus on your craft. Maybe we should all just shoot in AUTO and forget about ergonomics.