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The independent source for study and review of camera ergonomics.

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  • 01/03/15--17:26: Cameras and Connectivity
  • The right balance, FZ1000


    Where is the camera industry going or failing to go ?


    This post  has been prompted by my observations of  a 12 year old family member on  recent outings.


    He has an interest in photography.


    On the first outing he borrowed an  i- Phone,  figured out how to use it in a few minutes  then proceeded to snap photos which he immediately forwarded to his friends.


    On the second outing he borrowed a Panasonic FZ1000, figured out how to use that in a few minutes   and was soon snapping away with the zoom lens at full stretch.


    The two big drawcards for the FZ1000 were:


    1. That long zoom which enabled photos not possible with the smartphone.


    2. The built in EVF which enabled him to easily see image preview and playback  on a bright sunny day when the monitor was just about useless.


    He actually managed to get a couple of in focus shots of birds in flight at the free flight show at the zoo.


    But then he hit a roadblock. The FZ1000 cannot be used to transmit its own photos to the internet. It may have been  possible to do so with a smartphone app.  But he had no interest in this level of gadget complexity and frankly, neither do I.


    It seems to me that most camera makers are not paying attention to their customers desires regarding usage practices.


    I think camera users in the digital era probably fall loosely into the same two groups as they did in the film era.


    The Majority


    When film was king, there was a large group of camera users who made their snaps then took the exposed film to a mini lab for processing and printing.

    In the digital era I think that this same group snaps pictures with a smartphone then uploads them to social media, cloud storage, email or other online virtual place.  A few of these people visit a photo booth where they can have prints made of a small number of special photos.

    I think most people in this group will not be interested in a camera which cannot communicate like a smartphone.


    Professionals and enthusiasts


    A very much smaller group of film users developed and printed their own film in a personal or shared or hired darkroom. Professionals paid someone to process their film and supervised someone to print it.


    In the digital era this same group shoots RAW, downloads photo files to a computer, converts and edits them in Photoshop or similar software and may even own a printer, although printing is mostly done by a Pro Lab.


    People in this group might not mind that the camera cannot communicate directly with the mobile phone network.


    However I bet that if it did so that feature would get plenty of use.


    It seems to me there are unlikely to be enough professionals and enthusiasts in the world to buy enough cameras to support the existing camera industry if it continues to make products without built in, native wireless communication which works just like a smart phone.


    Most camera makers are dragging their heels on this issue.   Sales figures for most camera types have been in decline for several years.


    I suspect that if most camera makers continue producing minor variations on their established camera themes year after year then they will go broke.  Just like Kodak, an employee of which actually invented the digital camera,  presenting Kodak with a huge new technology which it failed to develop.


    Plenty of  ordinary peoplewould like to have a camera with advanced (but easy to use) capabilities, especially a long zoom lens.


    Many of them don’t realise it yet, and therefore will not request one when asked, but when they do get that long lens they will also need a built in EVF to aid in holding the camera steady at the long end of the zoom and to obtain clear image preview and review in bright sunlight.


    Very few of them have much interest in all that tedious business of RAW capture, conversion and   editing. They also have no interest in the egregious ergonomic burden of  changing lenses.


    So, what is required ?


    Basically a hybrid camera/zoom lens/EVF/smartphone device which performs all image capture, filing, editing and communicating on a single piece of ergonomically designed multifunctional equipment which is easily portable.  Preferably one which does not require 350 pages of operating instructions.


    Is that so difficult ?   All the requisite technology has already been invented and is in regular use.


    Can you get one of these things ?


    I think the answer to that question at the moment is…………….almost………….but not quite.


    The Samsung Galaxy Camera was described on release of version 1 as a true hybrid zoom compact camera/smartphone. It has a long zoom lens and runs on the Android Jelly bean operating system.

    It has not had particularly good reviews as a camera and it has no EVF and apparently the version 2 does not offer 3G/4G so presumably it cannot make phone calls.  So it falls short on all functional measures.


    However Samsung appears to be heading more or less in the right direction.


    The Panasonic Lumix  CM1  is a hybrid camera/smartphone which runs on Android 4.4. It provides phone functionality and features a very large (for a smartphone) camera sensor of 15.9mm diameter. 
    The lens has a fixed focal length and there is no EVF.


    So  this device also falls short of my proposed specifications, but shows that Panasonic is also thinking about ways to merge the functionality of camera and smartphone.  


    Would it not be ironic if  Samsung or Panasonic became the camera market leader, and in the process redefined the concept of a camera. ?


    I think it could happen.


    Ken Olsen of Digital  Equipment Corporation is often quoted as having said in 1977  “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home”


    He got it wrong and Kodak got it wrong and I think that most camera makers are getting it wrong at the moment also.  They appear to be focussed (pardon the pun) on making cameras with ever increasing pixel count and  video performance (4K….8K…in a world full of 2K TV screens) which few people need or want.


    They missed the current craze for “point of view” video popularised by Go Pro,  millions of whose  products adorn a multitude of skate boards, helmets, bikes, selfie sticks and almost everything else.


    Perhaps they need to pay more attention to the technology usage practices of 12 year old children.


    In due course, we shall see how this plays out in the market place.







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    Add caption


    I started this blog  in February 2012.  I had become frustrated by the poor handling and operating qualities of many cameras on the market.


    I noticed that there was much discussion about and measurement of image quality and performance of cameras.


    But there was and still is no systematic, widely (or even narrowly) accepted basis for evaluating, comparing and measuring the ergonomic aspect of camera operation.


    So I worked on the problem, bought and used cameras and made many mockups of different design.


    My self imposed mission  and the mission of this bloghas been:


    1. To study camera ergonomics and present my findings in  a public place open to feedback from any source.


    2. To raise awareness of issues relating to ergonomics among camera users, or at least the ones who find their way to this little blog.


    3. To develop a taxonomy (the branch of science engaged in description, identification, nomenclature and classification) and language of camera ergonomics.


    4. To develop a method of scoring camera ergonomics which is based on sound principles, workable,  reasonably easy to utilise and which provides a meaningful  comparison between cameras.


    I had originally thought to write a book on the subject. Fortunately that did not eventuate. A book is far too static a vehicle for sharing results of an ongoing study, does not generate feedback  and would have extremely limited circulation.


    The first three items of my mission have been discussed at length on this blog over the last three years to the point that I feel reasonably confident that I have identified a workable schema for understanding camera ergonomics.


    Now I want to take the blog further along the pathway to realising mission #4.


    Over the last 3 years I have invented several different schemas for measuring and scoring camera ergonomics but discarded most as being too complex.


    I had to find a schema which is meaningful and which separates the better performing cameras from the less engaging ones but which is not too complex to implement.


    Likes, dislikes and preferences


    A substantial part of my quest has been to unravel the nexus between ‘likes’ which are a valid aspect of human experience,  and the process of systematic evaluation, which is a different kind of experience resulting from a more analytic engagement with the subject.



    The next 3 posts are  updated, edited and reposted versions of previous posts in which I present Discussion, Rationale and the Scoring schedule in detail.


    The 6  posts which follow present ergonomic scores of cameras which I have used.


    All the  matters  presented  including the scores and the basis on which they rest, are contestable of course, that is the nature of discovery.


    However my impression is that the scoring system ranks cameras in a meaningful fashion.








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    Lumix LX100

    Camera evaluation   can be considered under four headings:  Specifications, Image Quality, Performance and Ergonomics. 

    I often read reviews of camera gear which compare  camera specifications.  The implication is that if one has more pixels on the sensor or dots in the EVF or whatever,  then it is presumed to be "better". My experience tells me that I have to actually test a camera in real world operation to find out if one delivers a different performance in some respect from the other.

    Workable methods of measuring image quality and performance have been developed and are readily available for consumers.  These measurements often include some system of numerical scoring.   This information enables consumers to compare one camera with another and to engage in discussion with other consumers. 

    However when it comes to ergonomics  no such measurement or scoring system is available.  This makes it very difficult for consumers to evaluate any camera with respect to it's holding,  viewing and operating qualities.  Professional and user reviews of cameras lack adequate evaluation of ergonomics because there is insufficient language, taxonomy and system of measurement for ergonomics.

    "Ergonomics is very subjective"   When I started reporting my findings about ergonomics on this  blog and on user forums, I several times received feedback stating that "ergonomics is very subjective"  or similar words,  and therefore apparently not a proper subject for analysis or comparison.    Well, of course some aspects of ergonomics are subjective but so are aspects of  image quality.  Subjectively appreciated  characteristics of any object or system can be measured and compared. Even something as arcane as "Personality" can be measured with substantial reliability. 

    Ergonomics is also objective  Many aspects of ergonomics are determined by hard, observable, measurable factors. For instance: Does the camera have a built in viewfinder ? Does it have an anatomically shaped handle ? Can the user change key exposure and focus parameters while looking through the viewfinder and without having to shift grip with either hand ?  The list goes on.... All these things can be readily identified.  The tasks of operating a camera require actions. The number and complexity of these actions can be observed, listed and compared with the actions required to operate another camera.

    How many angels can dance on the head of a pin ?   This has been a theological question of no relevance to anything in the real world since the middle ages.  Unfortunately many discussions about image quality and performance are similarly irrelevant to 99% of real world photographic requirements.   I read on user forums a statement that camera A with 4260 line pairs per image height is "better" than camera B which can "only" manage 3600 lppih. As both exceed the resolution of most large format film photographs, the difference between them is of academic importance. 

    Or I see one camera being put forward as "better"  because it can shoot 60 frames per second and the other can "only"  do 30 fps.  

    A recent camera release offers ISO 409,600.  Reviewers  praise  this  amazing achievement, which, by the way is indeed amazing but of little relevance to the vast majority of photographs which the vast majority of photographers might wish to make.

    For most  photographs, most of the time, a large percentage of cameras  (and quite a few smart phones)   on the market right now will deliver good enough image quality and performance.  Many on line forum discussions and manufacturer's specifications are  no more relevant to the ordinary world than arguments about angels on the head of a pin.

    So, what does matter ?  Which characteristic does meaningfully differentiate between various camera models ? That is the user experience, including all aspects of ergonomics and the user interface.

    Is it possible to measure  and compare such things as "user experience" and "ergonomics" ?   Until now the answer to this question has been "no".  As a result us consumers are not gettting a good deal from camera manufacturers. 

    On my assessment, many cameras on the market today offer the user an experience which ranges from "truly awful" at one end of the spectrum to "could easily improve with better detail implementation" at the other end.

    This is how I see things   in the camera world at the moment. 

    1. Manufacturers, facing declining sales in all sectors are casting about for the next really good new idea  (even if it is actually a recycled old idea)   which might bring buyers back to the fold.   Hence the multitude of new models, many of which have styling cues which reprise old film cameras.   It seems to me that the  product development people either

    a)  don't know which way to turn and have taken to churning out many different kinds of models presumably in the hope that some of them will gain favour with  buyers. Sony is probably the most energetic exponent of this scattergun approach, or

    b)  have decided that their ship of state is sailing along quite well so they just reiterate the same old ideas with very small changes from one model to the next. This might be called the "It ain't broke so we don't need to fix it" approach, of which I would nominate Canon as the most prominent exponent.

    2. The only group of people who can guide  manufacturers towards the development of cameras which are enjoyable to use and will therefore sell, is the consumers.

    3.  The pathway to cameras which are more enjoyable to use is better ergonomics.

    4. But designers, makers and consumers are all constrained by a deficiency of language about ergonomics and a complete absence of method by which the ergonomic capabilities of a camera can be scored and compared with another.

    5. I take the view that until some reasonably acceptable method of scoring ergonomics is found then no sensible discussion about ergonomics can take place and consumers cannot provide reliable guidance to camera designers about the way forward.

    6. Hence this present enterprise of mine, namely an attempt to devise a method of scoring camera ergonomics.

    Some, perhaps,  will argue this is not possible or even desirable.   Some might say..."Everyone is different".  Well, yes, but not to the extent they have the hands of a possum or a chimpanzee.  The creatures who use cameras are humans who are more ergonomically alike than different.

    What about likes, wants and preferences ?  Of course everybody has these.  However I want to be very clear  about this:  likes, wants and preferences can form the basis for a fertile line of enquiry which is completely different from and unrelated to an evaluation of ergonomics through time and motion studies. 

    An example:  Bill might say  "I really like camera A because it makes me slow down and think about the settings for aperture and shutter speed".  On ergonomic analysis we discover that camera B requires less than half as many actions to change aperture or shutter speed and each of those actions is less complex than those required by camera A.

    As objectively evaluated, camera B clearly has better ergonomics.   This in no way invalidates Bill's preference.  Bill can choose what to like and dislike for his own reasons whatever they may be.

    However  the converse also applies.   Bill's  preference does not invalidate ergonomic analysis by time and motion study either.  They exist side by side.  If Bill's preferences were shared by 99% of the population of camera users then designers could simply do whatever Bill recommended.  But what actually happens is that the individuals in any group will have a whole lot of different preferences.  Probably not many of them will want a camera which is slow to operate.  They will have other priorities.

    The message is spreading   It did seem to me for a few years that I was a voice in the techno wilderness.  But now it appears the mainstream camera commentariat is catching on. I close this post with a quote from Richard Butler, writing for Digital Photography Review on 24 April 2014. The context is a shooters experience report of the Sony Alpha6000.

    "While shooting with the Sony a6000, I've spent a lot of time thinking about what aspects of photography I enjoy, and about what I demand from a camera as a consequence. Every day I read comments about how 'Camera X' is best because of the capability of its sensor or 'Camera Y' is, because of the lenses available for it. These are mostly arguments that relate either to specifications or the image quality that a camera produces. But what of ergonomics, handling, user-interface and shooting experience?

    I found myself wondering whether the truism about 'the best camera is the one you have with you' shouldn't really be something like: 'the best camera is the one you enjoy shooting with enough to have with you.' The point being that, for me at least, the process of taking the photo is almost as important as the final result. Of course I want the results to be as good as possible, but I also want to enjoy the time spent using a camera, as well as the images I come back with."

    My thoughts exactly.









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    FZ1000

    In Part three of this 3 part series I will introduce a proposed evaluation schedule. If the reader has been following this blog the terms used in the schedule will be familiar. However  the new reader will likely wonder where the material is coming from.

    It's homework time  I have done a lot of work on this over the last five years and posted my thoughts and findings on this blog. I will try to summarise these findings in this post but to fully appreciate what I am talking about I urge the reader to work through two key sets of posts as detailed below.

    This blog started in February 2012.  The first 14 posts from 28 February to 11 May describe the evolution of my understanding of the elements of ergonomics as they apply to cameras.  Here I lay out my ideas about basic concepts of camera ergonomics and functional anatomy.

    My first ergonomic review was of the Panasonic GH2 in May 2012.

    The second key set of posts begins on 1 April 2014, with a review of my use of mockups to better  understand the elements of ergonomics.  This by the way is not an April fool's post, it just happened to get posted on that day. The next 16 posts to 19 April this year represent an update, review and elaboration of my original 2012 work. In these posts I go into considerable detail about a range of ergonomic issues including handles, shutter button position, control systems, control dials  and much more.

    I particularly urge the reader to work, and yes it is work, through "Language and taxonomy of Camera Ergonomics" on 6 April and "The problem with likes" on the same date.

    Brief summary of findings 

    There are 4 phases of camera use, Setup (prior to using the camera), Prepare (in the minutes before making pictures), Capture(the process of making pictures) and Review (which is pretty much self explanatory).

    In the Capture Phase of use there are three ways by which the user interacts with the camera. These are Holding, Viewing  and Operating.

    in order to make the camera do his or her bidding the user must perform a series of Tasks  in each of the phases and interaction modalities.

    Completion of each task requires Actions.  These can be examined by time and motion study.  Anybody with access to a camera and a user can do such a study.  It is just a matter of paying attention to every action required to make a camera work.  This can reveal the numberof actions required to perform each task.  It can also examine the complexity of those actions and note the presence of any enabling actions required.   

    All evaluation systems have underlying assumptions.  In this case some of these are:

    *  The camera is designed to be suitable for the expert/enthusiast user who wishes to take control of the process of picture making.  Novices/snapshooters can use this camera perfectly well by setting auto mode and leaving menus, buttons etc at default settings.

    *  A  Proper Camera is envisaged.  This has an anatomical built in handle (by which I mean one which is shaped to fit the hand which holds it),  a built in EVF of high quality, a fully articulated monitor, built in flash unit, ability to fit accessory flash units, zoom lens or ability to mount one, responsive performance and good enough picture quality for most users and uses.

    *  From an ergonomic perspective there are two types of camera:

    * Interchangeable lens camera (ILC)

    * Fixed lens Camera (FLC)

    The ability to change lenses is the defining characteristic of the ILC allowing great flexibility in the fitment of different lens types. But the process of changing lenses is so ergonomically disruptive that in order to compare cameras I have decided to assume that an ILC will be used with just one lens.

    In practice, FLCs have a huge ergonomic advantage over ILCs as they do not require the user to buy, carry and change multiple lenses.

    *  The evaluation schedule is written for a mirrorless camera with an EVF.  For a DSLR substitute optical viewfinder (OVF) for EVF.  A well designed EVF allows much more data and choice of data in the viewfinder, the EVF can be configured to look the same as the monitor and the segue from EVF to monitor can be seamless with a MILC but not with a flipping mirror DSLR.

    *  It is ergonomically preferable for camera operation to require the minimum number and complexity of actions.

    *  A well designed camera should be comfortable and secure to hold.

    *  Viewing arrangements should provide a clear subject preview in all operating conditions.

    This is completely different from and unrelated to any consideration of an individual's likes, wants and preferences.  It is also unrelated to any questions about style. 

    As a result of performing time and motion studies on many cameras and mockups  I have come to the view that some types of arrangement  for holding, viewing and operating provide clear ergonomic benefit over other types.  This is reflected in the evaluation schedule.

    In the next post I put forward a schedule for measuring camera ergonomics.  The alert reader will notice that some things are missing from consideration.  I have nothing to say about many of the features which festoon modern cameras.  There is an endless list of these things including "Best moment capture mode", "Motion Snapshot Mode"......etcetera.....

    I also do not refer to some features which some might regard as pertinent to the ergonomic evaluation. One of these is touch screen operation.  The touch screen is inaccessible when looking through the viewfinder. My scoring schedule is deliberately biased towards operating in Capture Phase with the eye to the viewfinder. The reason for this is that I regard viewfinder operation as one of the cardinal features which differentiate the proper camera from other photo capable devices.

     I am well aware that some users say they feel happy to use a camera in monitor view but I bet they will be considerably less happy when the sun is shining on the monitor or a long lens is fitted or they want to exclude noise (auditory, visual, emotional etc.)   intrusion from the immediate environment or all three.   
    The touch screen might be a workable alternative to hard UIM's in Setup, Prepare and Review Phases of use. My thinking is that having provided plenty of hard UIM's for use in Capture Phase one might as well use them in the other Phases as well.

    Communications technology is improving and might well deserve inclusion in a subsequent update, although that is more a specifications/function/performance issue than an ergonomic one.

    I don't do motion picture so will confine my evaluation  to still photo.  I would imagine that the videographer will often want to mount the camera to a fluid head, in which case it might be best driven from the touch screen.  There are several websites devoted to the world of video, this is not one of them.

    Maximum score allocations:    This represents a judgement call about which aspects of camera use are the most ergonomically important.  Obviously this is contestable but I think it is reasonable to allocate the highest priority to the process of operating the camera in Capture Mode. The actual numbers are somewhat arbitrary as they must be but they can be adjusted in the light of ongoing experience, should that be necessary.


    Phase of use


    Maximum score

    Setup


    15

    Prepare


    15

    Capture

    Holding

    20


    Viewing

    20


    Operating

    25

    Review


    5

    Total


    100








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    LX100

    Summary of abbreviations used:
    FLC = Fixed Lens Camera.  FZLC= Fixed zoom lens camera.

    ILC = Interchangeable Lens Camera.

    UI = User Interface. Can be hard (buttons, dials etc) or soft (screen based).

    UIM = User Interface Module.  Refers to a button, dial, lever, switch collar, ring etc.

    Set and See  module. This is usually a dial, lever or switch.  It has manufacturer predetermined function represented by permanently marked icons, numbers, words, etc. marked on the module. You set and see the selected parameter right on the dial. Repeater readouts of the set parameters might or might not be presented in the EVF/monitor.

    Scoring  In each subsection the maximum score will be gained if a camera allows the user to efficiently perform all the tasks , has all the hardware and positive  factors with none of the negative factors. Total maximum score is 100.

    I rate changing lenses as just about the most ergonomically disruptive task which any camera user has to carry out.

    So in the interests of  reasonable comparison, the score for an ILC assumes the fitted lens remains in place.


    Setup Phase  [Max score 15]

    Tasks  Make Main Menu selections, Allocate My Menu items, Allocate Quick Menu items, Select Function Button and dial  assignments, set up Custom Modes, set up other functions such as Wi-Fi.

    Elements   Has a Main Menu, My Menu with user selected items and a separately accessed Quick Menu with user selected items for Prepare Phase selections.

    Most UIM's enable user selected function.

    Content  Menu headings and subheadings are logical, coherent, systematic and easy to navigate.  Like items are grouped together.

    User interface  All items are clear, legible and easy to read.  The process navigate>identify>select  is easily learned and becomes second nature.

    Negatives  Main Menu confusing, contains mystery icons or items, not logically designed, like items scattered about in different submenus.  No My Menu.  Q Menu items not user selectable.  No Custom Modes. Navigation complex or confusing.  Setup Phase UIM's located where Capture Phase UIM's need to be.

    Prepare Phase  [Max score 15]

    Tasks  Set Main Mode, set frequently used modes (usually Focus , Autofocus, Drive), set less frequently used modes and other adjustments required in the minutes prior to Capture Phase.

    For ILC only: Mount an appropriate lens. I have not included this task in the scoring schedule. It is a task which must always be carried out with an ILC (unless just one lens is always left mounted on the body) and is never required for a FLC.

    Scoring an ILC assumes the lens is not changed in order to achieve realistic comparison between ILCs and FLCs.  

    Hardware  Has dedicated set and see UIM's for the most commonly used Modes.  Allows quick access to other modes and functions required in Prepare Phase, by Quick Menu button, Function buttons  or other quick access portal(s) on body and lens.

    User interface Clear graphics, icons and displays on monitor and EVF when navigating and selecting items via Q Menu, Function buttons or other portal. UIM's for Prepare Phase do not displace UIM's for Capture Phase from top value locations on the body.

    Content  Quick access portals allow adjustment of other modes and functions, for instance flash, metering, recording quality, image size, ISO (if set in Prepare Phase) shutter type, image stabiliser, display, burst/continuous rate, electronic level, electronic shutter, grid lines, histogram  ...............and many more, as user selected.

    Negatives  Any Prepare Phase items only accessible via main menu.   Settings locked  while camera is writing files to the memory card. Q Menu items, functions of buttons and other UIM's not user assignable. Prepare Phase UIM's located where Capture Phase UIM's need to be.

    Capture Phase  [Max score 65]

    Holding  [Subscore 20]

    Tasks   Hold the camera in a relaxed but secure grip with both hands with right index finger on the shutter button in relaxed position.  Maintain this grip while carrying out the "operating" tasks below.

    Hardware  Built in ergonomic anatomical handle, inverted L type is optimal.  Ergonomic thumb support. Diagonal type is optimal.  Optimal shutter button position is forward, top left on the handle (as viewed by the user).

    User Experience  Handle and thumb support work together to allow the user's right hand to adopt the half closed relaxed posture in basic hold position.  Shutter button location enables this optimal holding posture.

    Negatives  Absent or poorly shaped handle. Handle only available as accessory.  Thumb support inadequate in position, elevation or orientation.  Sub optimal placement of shutter button.

    Viewing  [Subscore 20]

    Tasks  the operator can comfortably and clearly, in all conditions,  view in the EVF or monitor the information listed below.

    * Subject preview (live view) unobscured by overlays.

    * Major camera data, displayed outside the preview image, in either landscape or portrait orientation,  optimally below but possibly also above:

    Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO, Exposure Compensation, White Balance, Battery Status, Capture Mode in use, Remaining exposures on card.

    * Secondary camera data/displays, superimposed over the preview image:

    Active AF Area position and size/shape, Grid lines, Histogram, Manual Focus Guide indications, others as user selected.

    Hardware  There is a built in high quality EVF with high quality viewfinder optics and comfortable eyecup.  There is a high quality monitor. Fully articulated type is optimal.

    Content  EVF and monitor gain up or down to represent exposure compensation. 100% accurate preview is provided.

    User Experience   EVF and monitor both provide the same information presented in the same way. There is a seamless segue from one to the other.  Look in the viewfinder, see the viewfinder;  look at the monitor, see the monitor.  Optimally there is no perceptible EVF blackout time after each exposure.

    Negatives  EVF not built in, Camera data is only available superimposed over the preview image, EVF refresh rate slow, EVF delivers poor viewing quality in some conditions. Monitor fixed or only swing up/down.

    Operating [Subscore 25]

    Task list  While continuously looking through the EVF (or monitor, but the EVF is a more stringent test) and without shifting grip on the camera with either hand, Capture Phase requires that the following tasks be carried out smoothly and efficiently, without impeding the capture process.  Obviously not every exposure requires every one of these tasks to be performed but the camera should be configured so it is possible to do so:

    * Adjust primary exposure parameters: Aperture (f stop), Exposure Time (Shutter speed), Sensitivity (ISO).

    * Adjust secondary exposure parameters: Exposure Compensation, Program Shift, AE Lock, White Balance.

    * Adjust primary framing and focus parameters: Zoom, Initiate/Lock autofocus, Manual Focus.

    * Adjust secondary focus parameters: Change position and size of active AF area, manual over ride focus, AF Lock.

    Hardware  There are sufficient UIM's of appropriate design on body and lens with which to drive the camera as described  in the task list.  UIM's on the lens controlling zoom, focus and aperture (if fitted) are of circumferential type.  UIM's on the body can be operated by the right index finger and thumb without having to shift grip.

    User experience  With practice the user can learn to drive the camera like a motor car. The user looks through the viewfinder (windscreen) at the subject (traffic ahead) and operates the device by feel without looking at it. With further practice the user does not have to think about the process of operating the camera any more than a driver thinks about operating a motor car.

    Negatives  The camera is configured so the user has to interrupt the capture process in order to change one of the parameters listed above.  UIM's for Capture Phase are located in a physical position lower in the ergonomic hierarchy than UIM's for Setup, Prepare or Review Phase. The user has to enter a menu or shift grip or take the eye away from the viewfinder to adjust on of the parameters in the task list.

    Review Phase  [Subscore 5]

    Task list  Tasks which photographers might want to perform in Review Phase may vary greatly according to individual preference. Some photographers do little in camera review, others a lot.  Ergonomically this is the least critical phase of use as the photo has already been captured.  As a minimum I would list:

    * Recall the last 1-9 photos captured and select one.

    * Zoom into and move around in a review image.

    * Jump from one image to the next or previous at the same level of magnification and the same location in the frame.

    * Delete one/many.

    Hardware  The camera needs UIM's to enable the tasks above to be performed. These need to be located low in the positional hierarchy on the camera.

    Content  Comprehensive data about each image is available and efficiently recalled onto the monitor screen or in the EVF in the same form.

    User experience  The task list can be carried out efficiently.


    Negatives  Essential file data is not able to be recalled.  It is not possible to scroll from one frame to the next at the same location and magnification.  Auto review cannot be disabled.  UIM's for Review Phase occupy high value locations on the camera which are better reserved for Capture Phase.


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    FZ1000

    I have been   discussing issues around scoring ergonomics for some time.


    I now feel ready to take the next step and put numbers on the ergonomic score for various cameras which I have used and tested.


    First up  is the Panasonic FZ1000 which I named Camera Ergonomics camera of the year for 2014 and which remains my preferred camera for most purposes.


    Overall  this camera is very enjoyable to use and sets something of an ergonomic benchmark for other makers and models to emulate.


    It could be improved however as I will show.


    Setup 10/15


    I have marked Setup down a bit as I think Panasonic, like other camera makers, could do its customers a big favour by culling, better ordering and simplifying the typical Panasonic menu system.  When setting up a recent high end Panasonic camera I have the distinct feeling that the makers have included many  features because they can, not because users were clamouring for them.

    For instance the multitude of options for autofocus could readily be trimmed with no loss of function.


    There is no “My Menu” facility.


    Prepare 13/15


    I cannot recall testing a camera which does Prepare Phase better than the FZ1000.

    There are a few quibbles which prevent a maximum score.


    For instance the Playback button occupies a high value position when it could readily make room for a UIM for Prepare or Capture Phase.


    Holding  17/20


    One of the best cameras to hold, the handle is a good size and shape for average adults and also feels comfortable in smaller ladies or childrens hands. The thumb support is substantial and encourages the optimal diagonal thumb position.


    The only oddity is the cutaway shape of the thumb support which just doesn’t fit the anatomy of any hand.


    Viewing  18/20


    Another high score here. The EVF is excellent and fully adjustable. The rubber eyepiece surround  is large and excludes stray light, but could be deeper and softer for comfort.


    The monitor is also excellent, fully adjustable and fully articulated.

    The EVF refresh rate could with advantage be faster in Burst Mode.


    Operating  20/25


    A practiced user can carry out just about the entire task list for Capture Phase without having to take the eye from the viewfinder.


    There are some issues, none deal breakers but together they prevent a maximum score.


    The camera lacks a JOG lever which would ideally be located  approximately where the Fn3 button now lives.  In order to move the AF box the right thumb must drop down to the cursor buttons thereby disrupting the right hand grip.


    I would prefer to have manual zoom as it works faster and feels more natural than the power zoom provided.  I assume there is some technical reason for the power zoom, unfortunately it is not the practice of camera makers to explain their reasons for such things.


    In order to switch from AF to MF the user must change two UIMs, the zoom/focus lever on the lens barrel and the focus mode lever around the AF/AE-L button.


    The Zoom/Focus switch on the lens barrel is difficult to locate quickly with the camera held in portrait orientation.


    Review 5/5


    No problems here. The Review Phase task list is readily carried out.


    Total Score  83/100  


    It would be possible for a revised version of the FZ100 to score even better.  Apart from the items mentioned above there is space for a more elegant layout top front on the handle. This would include a quad control module and a front control dial optimally placed just behind the shutter button, giving full twin dial control.


    However we are talking refinements here. Overall the FZ100 delivers excellent ergonomics,  better than most cameras which I have tested.


      



















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    The LX100  is a  full featured compact camera which tries to pack a lot of functionality into a small space, with variable success. The product development people at Panasonic elected for their own reasons, whatever they may have been, to equip the LX100 with  “traditional” controls. They also endowed the camera with the modes and functions which usually find themselves on a Mode Dial but the camera has no such dial.


    As a result camera operation requires numerous ergonomic workarounds which could easily have been avoided by doing the obvious thing and fitting the camera with a Mode Dial + Control Dial user interface like most other cameras.


    Setup  10/15


    The LX100 has a standard Panasonic advanced camera menu system with a few variations specific to this model.

    As such it is well laid out and reasonably easy to navigate but could be simplified and streamlined with fewer options, as some of those provided are of uncertain benefit.


    Prepare  8/15


    Prepare Phase tasks are reasonably easily carried out but the process would be more streamlined with a Mode Dial. There are workarounds in the form of the iA button and the Filter button.  Custom 

    Modes are available but have to be accessed via the main menu or a Fn button, which prevents that button being used for any other purpose.

    You cannot tell by looking at the camera if a Custom Mode is in play, if iA has been set or if a filter has been selected.


    If iA is set the aperture ring and shutter speed dial are disabled and any setting thereon is not conveyed to the camera’s operating system.


    Holding  11/20


    This one is quite good for a compact but, as previously described, I rate all cameras to the same standard.  I have designed and built a mockup exactly the same size as the LX100 which is very much nicer to hold.


    There is a mini handle and a thumb rest which work decently well. It is just frustrating that a better holding design could readily be provided for a camera this size.


    Viewing  10/20


    On the positive side there is a built in EVF of decent but not outstanding quality and there is a good quality monitor. Both are fully adjustable.


    But the EVF eyecup is small allowing stray light to enter and the monitor is fixed. I have to say I never appreciated the value of a fully articulated monitor until I used a camera with one.  Having done so I do not care to go back to the fixed variety.


    Operating 10/25


    Some may think this low score is a bit hard on the LX100.  Many reviewers have waxed lyrical about the “traditional” controls. I have explained why I am not a fan at considerable length in many posts on this blog.  I refrain from repeating all this material here.


    On my analysis this camera works best for general hand held photography  in P Mode without the user having to touch either the aperture ring or shutter speed dial.


    Review 5/5


    The main tasks of Review Phase are readily carried out.


    Total  54/100


    This score is based on long term use and a series of careful time and motion studies in which I count the number and complexity of actions required to complete the tasks of operating the camera.


    When I do that in systematic fashion the LX100 scores low.  


    The “traditional” control system does not provide the most efficient way to operate a complex, multi featured, modern electronic camera.


    Some users may well say they ‘like’ it but an ergonomic score is not about ‘likes’.


    Twenty years ago I ‘liked’  using a 4x5 inch large format view camera. But I would never have claimed that it provided a streamlined user experience.  Quite the opposite in fact but I enjoyed it for other reasons until my back gave out.






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  • 01/09/15--13:14: Panasonic G6 Ergonomic Score



  • The G6 is the  most recent but as I write this probably discontinued version of the original 2008 MILC which was the G1.


    It is a nice little camera which in my view has never been fully appreciated by the marketplace.


    It delivers decent picture quality and performance together with decent ergonomics, marred by some design errors.  It was tested with the Lumix 14-140mm f3.5-5.6 travel zoom lens.


    Setup  11/15


    The G6 uses the standard Panasonic menu system which is clearly laid out with a good graphical interface. The main issue is that the sheer number of options can make setup a somewhat daunting task  particularly for a novice.


    Prepare  10/15


    The G6 suffers in comparison to the GH3/4 or FZ1000. There are fewer direct access points for Prepare Phase settings, particularly if [Direct Focus Area] is set.


    Holding  14/20


    The handle is nicely shaped but a bit small as is the thumb support. The shutter button could to advantage be a bit further to the left as viewed by the user.


    Viewing  14/20


    Most of the requirements are in place. The EVF is of decent quality and is optimally located. The monitor is fully articulated.


    The rubber eyecup is a bit uncomfortable being rectangular unlike the eye socket which is rounded.

    A much shorter EVF blackout time would be to advantage.


    Operating 14/25


    Most of the requisite features are in place but not all of them work optimally. The rear dial is awkward to operate. The cursor buttons are not easy to locate by feel. The buttons on the right side of the control panel are forever being pressed accidentally.


    Review  3/5


    With only one control dial the camera does not enable scrolling from one image to the next at the same level of enlargement and same location in the frame.


    Total  66/100

    This is a decent but not excellent result. The G6 is large enough to support a camera with excellent ergonomics with a rethink of the body design. 


    I have posted elsewhere on this  blog  my vision of the camera which might result, in the form of a mockup  incorporating  numerous design improvements.

     




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  • 01/09/15--13:22: Nikon 1 V2 Ergonomic Score



  • Nikon has  been floundering with its 1 series of ILCs, seemingly unable to figure out where the system fits into the camera world or even the Nikon group of products.


    The V1 was an ergonomic disaster, caught between high end and snapshooter ambitions.


    The V2 was a substantial improvement featuring a more mainstream, functional control system.


    With the V3 Nikon removed the built in handle and EVF, in my view a very strange step back towards the snapshooter/compact genre, except they increased the price presumably preventing the great majority of snapshooters from giving it any consideration.


    I have had the opportunity to spend substantial time with the V2 and become familiar with its workings.


    Overall it operates quite well as long as one is prepared to accept the limited functionality of the user interface.  It was tested with the 10-100mm f4-5.6 collapsing zoom lens.


    Setup  7/15


    The menu system is deliberately limited in scope which is no bad thing however other limitations are restrictive. There is  no Q menu or equivalent, no Fn buttons with user assignable functions, no My Menu and  no Custom Menus.

    Prepare  6/15

    There is a Mode Dial which functions as  expected. There is also a basic Fn button the implementation of which is clumsy.  There is no direct access to Drive Mode, AF Mode or Focus Mode.  Quality and VR cannot be accessed outside a menu.


    Holding  12/20


    There is a built in handle but it has a boxy shape conforming to no human hand and it is very short. The thumb support is vestigial.


    Viewing  10/20


    There is a built in EVF in the optimal location above the lens and it does have a proximity sensor for switching with the monitor. But the EVF itself is of low quality and is minimally  adjustable. The monitor is fixed, not articulated and cannot be set to have the same style as the EVF.


    Operating  8/25


    The V2 is something of a Dr Jekell and Mr Hyde. On the one hand it can fire off long bursts of shots at  high speed with each frame individually focussed on a moving subject. On the other hand it has  limited functionality for user adjustments and inputs.


    There are many parameters such as ISO which are difficult or impossible to adjust while using the viewfinder.


    Position of the AF box can be changed but there is no recenter button.


    Manual focus is very difficult as most lenses lack a focus ring.


    Review  3/5


    The V2 has the usual problem encountered in cameras having only one command dial. It is difficult to scroll from one image to the next while maintaining position in frame and level of enlargement.


    Total 46/100


    I know some people who own a V2 and are quite happy with it. They are essentially snapshooters who use the camera in one of the automatic modes and rarely seek to change exposure or focussing parameters directly. 


    But I suspect the enthusiast/expert photographer will soon tire of the V2s limitations.





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  • 01/09/15--13:29: Sony A 3500 Ergonomic Score



  • Sony appears to have a scattergun approach to model releases.


    One of the fruits of this is the ultra budget DSLR lookalike A3000/3500 (the 3500 uses the same body but a lower spec lens) which is actually a MILC of very basic specification, designed to hit an extremely low price point.


    It was so cheap I bought one just to test its capabilities. It produced very good picture quality in the right conditions.


    What about the ergonomics ?


    Setup  5/15


    The menu system is a bit hard to figure. Submenu items appear in unexpected places. For instance aspect ratio is listed under Image size. 


    ISO is under Brightness/Color.

    Flash Comp is under Brightness/Color but Flash Mode appears in Camera.


    You get the idea. The whole menu system needs a rethink.


    Prepare  5/15


    There is no Q Menu and no Fn buttons. A trip to the frustrating menu is required for many adjustments.


    Holding  12/20


    The A3500 looks like a proper camera with a large body and chunky looking handle. But in use the handle proves to be thin and less comfortable than it looks. The thumb support is vestigial which doesn’t help.


    Viewing  8/20


    There is an EVF located in the optimal position above the lens but it is of very poor quality and low resolution.  The monitor is fixed and not adjustable. There is no auto switching between the EVF and monitor and the button for manual switching is very poorly located.


    There is a proper battery status indicator which is nice.


    Operating  8/25


    It's not all bad. If you accept to leave the camera in P Mode and don’t try to change settings much it actually works quite well.


    ISO, Drive Mode and +/- are adjustable while looking through the EVF which is nice.


    The AF box position can be changed without much difficulty.


    Manual focus is not available at all on the 3500.


    There is no top of body control (command) dial.


    Review  2/5


    There is only a single dial on the lower rear of the camera for enlarging and navigating. 


    Total  40/100


    I wanted to run an ergonomic evaluation on the A3500 as it represents the absolute bottom of the budget pricepoint level for a DSLR style camera.


    It works quite decently well as long as one has modest expectations but the user experience is not engaging.




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    The GH4 is an advanced Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera (MILC) which provides excellent image quality and performance with an extensive specification list and range of capabilities. It also provides a very good user experience with good ergonomics.


    For the purposes of scoring I used the Lumix 14-140mm f3.5-5.6 lens. This enables comparison with fixed lens cameras.


    Setup  10/15


    The GH4 has a typical Panasonic menu system with a clear user interface and easy navigation. But as with many other recent cameras the sheer number of menu options can make setup a daunting task especially for a novice.


    There is no My Menu.


    Prepare  13/15


    The GH4 works very well in Prepare Phase with several set and see modules for modes, plus a good Q Menu and plenty of Fn buttons.


    A few minor quibbles prevent maximum score. For instance Shutter delay can only be found in the Rec Menu.


    Holding  18/20


    The handle is nicely shaped for comfort as is the thumb support. Some minor issues prevent a maximum score. The shutter button could be a little further to the left as viewed by the user. The shape of the upper front of the handle forces a gap between the right index and middle fingers which in turn makes the ISO and +/- buttons difficult to reach.


    Viewing  18/20


    All the key elements are in place and work well. Good EVF, good, fully articulated monitor. I find the eyecup a bit uncomfortable. EVF blackout time is short but not negligible.


    Operating  19/25

    Again most of the key elements are in place. Most primary and secondary exposure and focus parameters can be adjusted while looking continuously through the viewfinder.


    There is no JOG lever to change position of the AF box so the cursor buttons must be used which requires the right thumb to drop down, interfering with the right hand grip.


    The Disp button is poorly located right in the middle of the wrap around thumb support.


    I found that reaching the ISO and +/- buttons requires an excessive stretch of the right index finger.


    Review  5/5


    All the key tasks are readily carried out.


    Total Score 83/100


    With practice and familiarity the GH4 can provide a very streamlined twin dial user experience. It is one of the better cameras I have used and tested.  It could be improved however with some alterations to the shape and configuration of the upper part of the handle and the thumb support and a JOG lever.





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    The half closed relaxed hand. This is the author's hand which is of average size for an adult male according to Wikipedia.

    This long post  is an attempt to gather together and summarise my discoveries about camera ergonomics over the last five years and to present my proposal for measuring and scoring camera ergonomics.

    Ergonomics: 

    The science of designing things which people use for maximum efficiency and safety.


    Who am I ?


    An expert/enthusiast photographer with 60 years  experience of making photos with a wide variety of different types of camera.


    I have no connection to any person or organisation involved in the manufacture or sale of photographic equipment. Nobody lends me cameras for testing. My observations and findings are independent.


    I have had many photos published and some of my pictures are held in the permanent collection of a State Library.


    I am a retired medical professional. I like to know how stuff works and will keep investigating until I figure it out, if that appears possible.


    I believe I have made substantial progress towards understanding the elements of camera ergonomics and am now testing a method for measurement and scoring.


    How it started


    I bought a Panasonic G1 after having previously owned several mid  range Canon SLRs then DSLRs. I encountered numerous problems holding and operating the G1 and started to wonder why some cameras were a pleasure to operate but others were not.


    My voyage of discovery into the nature of camera ergonomics had begun.  I soon realised that there was an abundance of cameras with poor ergonomics of all sizes, from all makers at all price points.  

    There was, to put it mildly, a lot of material to study.


    Same hand and relaxed posture as the photo above but now the interphalangeal joints of the middle 4th and little fingers have been flexed to grasp a camera handle. This is a relaxed but stable and strong position. A well designed camera should fit into the hand in this position. When I am making mockups, the hand position comes first, the camera body/handle/thumb support are shaped so they fit into the hand. 


    The blog


    I originally thought to write a book about my findings but soon realised that a blog would be able to reach far more readers and provide a more interactive open forum for feedback and discussion.


    Philosophy and assumptions


    No endeavour arises from a vacuum.


    Compact cameras are steadily being replaced by smartphones.


    This enterprise is directed towards people who elect to use a camera for taking photos, be they snapshooters or enthusiasts.


    I take the position that if the camera is to survive and evolve as a discrete type of device it needs to be distinctly different from and more specifically crafted for photography than any smartphone or similar type of device.


    It seems to me that the main difference between a camera and a smartphone is the issue of engagement. A camera requires the user to engage with the device by hand, eye and brain in the considered process of taking a photo.  Making photos with a camera is not an afterthought to the day’s events, it is one of the events.


    The process of using a camera is deliberative. Making photos with a smartphone is more likely to be opportunistic.


    Mockup of a small fully featured ergonomic camera. You can see the inverted L shaped handle. This was shaped to fit the hand. The shutter button, control dial and adjacent buttons were located where my right index finger wanted to find them. The layout is relatively simple but is also very efficient.  To a casual observer it might appear to be much the same as many other small DSLR style cameras but as always with ergonomics the details are critically important.


    The Proper Camera    This concept gives practical expression to the ideal camera for deliberative use. Features which define the proper camera include:


    * Good enough image quality and performance for the user’s requirements.


    * Anatomical handle and thumb support of optimal design.


    * Built in, always ready,  viewfinder of good quality.


    * Fully articulated monitor.


    * A user interface which:

    Allows an expert to obtain full control of  imaging parameters if desired.

    Allows the novice/snapshooter to set the camera to automatic operation if desired.


    * Zoom lens or ability to mount one.


    * Built in flash unit.


    My position is that (the declining numbers of) cameras without the features listed above occupy a ‘betwixt and between’ position in the imaging world, lacking both the convenience of a smartphone and the versatility of a proper camera.


    Rear view of the mockup above. Shaping of the thumb support and right side of the body was all done to conform the holding hand, not the other way around. The large buttons have user assigned functions, are easy to find and operate by feel but located so they will not be hit accidentally. The JOG lever just to the right of the viewfinder directly moves the AF area.  A larger version of this camera concept has a thumb support wide enough at the top to contain a rear control dial.

    Likes and preferences


    In order for this work to move forward it has been necessary for me to unravel the nexus between “likes and preferences’ on the one hand and ‘ergonomic analysis using basic principles aided by  time and motion studies’ on the other hand.


    Likes and preferences have three characteristics pertinent to this discussion:


    * They are idiosyncratic. In other words they are held by an individual for that person’s own private reasons whatever they may be. Another individual has different likes for different reasons.  People often say they like that to which they have become accustomed, whatever it was. It might be a DSLR with a big fat handle or a compact without an EVF or a handle or the camera that made some really good pictures on our last holiday………………you get the idea.


    * They are transient. Likes are shaped by a person’s experience. With different experiences a person’s likes will change.  The person who loudly proclaims in 2010 that he will never, ever, give up his DSLR with optical viewfinder is discovered in 2012  promoting  with equal fervour the  EVF in his new  mirrorless camera.

    About 20 years ago I liked using a 4x5 inch view camera because it was interesting and challenging and it made some amazingly good photos, not because it had good ergonomics. But I got a bad back from dragging the big heavy kit around then I didn’t like it any more.


    * They are often poorly formulated. People will often assert they ‘like’ something or somebody but are unable to explain why.    A person may say they really like a certain camera then  on subsequent reflection realise that they like it because of the color or an association with a loved person. Or some other extraneous factor.


    My conclusion is that ‘likes’ and ‘ergonomic analysis’ are both valid but completely separate and largely unrelated descriptors of the human/machine interface.


    My further conclusion is that I have to set to one side the matter of likes and preferences as it is unhelpful to the enterprise of ergonomic analysis.


    Small full featured camera in hand.  The right hand is in the half closed relaxed position. The JOG lever is adjacent to the thumb for immediate operation. The quad control set  is easily and quickly operated by the right index finger without the need to move a muscle of any other part of the body. The left hand position shown here is for the photo. It is more comfortable to place the left hand over or under the lens.


    What about my own likes and preferences ? 


    I used many different types of cameras over the years, from subminiature to large format.  I just took each camera as it came and learned to work with it.


    The first one to which I recall forming a definite aversion was the Panasonic G1, soon followed by the even less user friendly G3. But instead of simply saying “I don’t like those cameras” I used the experience of dislike as the impetus for several years of study in which I tried to understand exactly why I preferred some cameras to others. 


    By the way Panasonic has lifted itself from one of the worst to one of the best ergonomic performers, although recently there has been some  regression in the form of  the LX100.


    So, I ‘like’ using equipment which fulfils its purpose in a fashion which is both efficient and engaging.


    I do not ‘like’ any particular brand or type of camera and do not ‘like’ any particular style of design although I have discovered that some work better than others as determined by measurable criteria.


    Developing a framework for describing ergonomics


    When I started this work there was no systematic way to describe the ergonomics of a camera. 

    So I developed a framework within which and a language by which ergonomic concepts could be expressed. This paved the way for me to develop criteria for evaluating and scoring ergonomics.

    The sequence was Framework>Language>Criteria>Scoring.


    Forced hand/finger position for top/rear shutter button position. Many cameras have the shutter button on top of the body when it could easily be forward on a handle. This is not a disaster but is not as relaxed or strong as the half closed relaxed position shown above which is enable by the shutter button forward position.  As all the available lateral movement of the index finger has been expended  there is minimal freedom for the finger to  comfortably reach buttons or a dial nearby.


    Technological vs conceptual complexity


    The three pillars of camera evaluation are image quality, performance and ergonomics.


    Regarding image quality it is relatively easy for users to write a shopping list of requirements. The list would likely include good color fidelity, low noise at all sensitivities and good resolution. It is conceptually straightforward. But for the engineers to deliver all these things at the same time is technologically very complex.


    Likewise the user can readily write a shopping list of performance requirements. This might include fast sensor readout times, fast frame rates with focus on each frame, global shutter, etc.

    Conceptually easy enough but technologically difficult to implement.


    Ergonomics presents the opposite problem. A camera with good ergonomics is just as easy to make as one with poor ergonomics and costs no more. Technology is not an issue.

    The problem here is conceptual. Until now there has been no systematic framework within which to understand, describe, compare, measure and score ergonomics.


    In general camera makers have been much better at dealing with the technological challenges (image quality, performance) than the conceptual ones (ergonomics).


    Camera size, hand size


    The size issue is another one I had to investigate very early in my journey of discovery.


    I ran into handling problems when I downsized from a Canon EOS 40D to a Panasonic G1, a much smaller camera.


    So of course I initially thought I was dealing with a size problem.  But I was wrong. I soon discovered that the Samsung NX10, almost exactly the same size as the G1 was more comfortable to hold and easier to operate.


    I also discovered that the canon EOS 450D, larger than either of the mirrorless cameras felt cramped and uncomfortable with a handle design which was not a good match for any of the hands which I used to test it. This included adult males and females and a selection of grandchildren.


    So yes, obviously, hands and cameras both come in a range of sizes. But one of the key discoveries which I have made is that with good ergonomic design large hands can readily operate small cameras and within limits, small hands can effectively operate large cameras. Obviously a pro level DSLR is going to be too fat and heavy for one of the grandchildren, aged 5-13.


    But the 12 year old had no trouble holding, carrying and using a Panasonic FZ1000 for several hours at the zoo recently. He even got a couple of decent BIF shots at the free flight bird show.


    Several of my mockups are proof of concept that even very small cameras can have decent handling and operating characteristics in small or large hands.


    Some cameras have a thumb support at the extreme right of the body with a thin handle or mini handle forcing the shutter button also across tot he right. This is the resulting hand/finger position. It is cramped, weak and does not allow free movement or the thumb or index finger.


    Scaling 

    I discovered quite early in my voyage of enquiry that cameras do not lend themselves to scaling up or down.  It is readily possible to design small, midsize or large cameras with good handling characteristics but each size range has to be shaped differently from the others.


    Here is an example: Sitting on my desk right now is a Panasonic FZ1000 and a Sony RX100 (original). On the control panel (the area of the back of the body to the right of the monitor) each has a round 4 Way controller module and 5 buttons. The FZ1000 control panel measures 40x75mm for an area of 3000 squ.mm. The RX100 control panel measures 20x55mm for an area of 1100 squ.mm. The FZ1000 provides an efficient user interface. The buttons are large, well spaced and located where they are easy to reach and operate by feel. The RX100 buttons are very small, crowded, close to the edge and very difficult to locate by feel.


    This type of control panel can be scaled down in the physical sense but that makes for a poor ergonomic result.


    My proof of concept mockup compact uses a completely different type of  control panel design with fewer, larger buttons, none near the edge and  a JOG lever but no 4 way controller.  This combination  provides a much more ergonomic interface.


    Mockup compact with Sony RX100(original). I made this mockup as proof of concept that a very small camera can still have decent ergonomics. The mockup is slightly larger than the RX100  but it has a built in handle, control dial, built in EVF,  JOG lever and large, well placed buttons.


    Camera shape


    Modern fabrication technology and electronic operation has freed designers from the mechanical constraints of a previous era. So now a camera can be literally any shape at all and the controls can be disposed in any arrangement at all on (or off) the camera.


    I experimented with mockups having a variety of shapes, and concluded that the most ergonomically effective shape and arrangement for a hand held camera intended for expert use is one which has been around for years, namely the SLR/DSLR style with hump top and handle.


    Hands and fingers (functional anatomy)


    Our subject is the interaction between hand held cameras and the hands which use them so some understanding of their functional anatomy is essential. I studied anatomy 50 years ago so this line of enquiry came naturally to me. But anyone with hands can do the same thing. It does not involve rocket science, just careful observation.


    Here follows a summary of the main points which I found pertinent to camera holding and operation:


    * Hands vary in size but they all work the same way. No humans have the hands of a possum.


    * Humans have an opposable thumb. This is essential for holding and operating a camera.


    * The human hand aligns itself naturally into a ‘half closed, relaxed’ position. From this position the fingers can close or open, using muscle effort.


    * The ideal camera/handle/thumb support shape/shutter button location  is that which conforms to the ‘half closed, relaxed’ hand posture with the right index finger on the shutter button ready to go.  The camera is shaped to fit the hand, not the other way around.


    * With a small amount of flexion or extension of the fingers and thumb, a range of camera sizes/hand sizes can be accommodated, provided the camera shape is optimal.

    * The right index finger is a ‘controller’. The right middle, 4th and little fingers are ‘grippers’. The thumb has to perform both gripping and controlling actions requiring careful design of the thumb rest and rear of camera controls.


    * The right index finger can move side to side through a small range and can undergo flexion and extension through a larger range.  This is highly relevant to the optimal design of controls in the vicinity of the shutter button.


    * The right thumb can move a small distance side to side without disrupting opposition at the base of the thumb. This enables the thumb to undertake some movements  without the left hand having to support all the weight of the camera.


    * The left hand and fingers have supporter/controller duties.


    * Lens based controls for Capture Phase operation should be circumferential (rings) with tactile surface all the way around. This enables the user  to locate and turn the rings with the left hand by feel without looking, in landscape or portrait orientation.


    * Lens based controls for Prepare Phase use can be of other types usually requiring visual identification.


    Rear view of the compact mockup with a Sony RX100. The mockup has an always ready EVF, fully articulated monitor, proper thumb support and enough large buttons with user allocated function to drive the camera effectively.


    Haptics  (The science of touch)


    Early in my voyage of discovery I encountered several cameras (Panasonic G1, GH2, G3) which used 5 little rounded buttons in the 4 way controller on the back of the camera. No matter how much I practiced I could never reliably find the button I wanted by feel. Then I got a camera (Samsung NX10) which used the ‘rocking saucer’ design with raised, sharpish edge for the 4 way controller. Problem solved. This one was easy to locate and operate by feel.


    One of those cameras with the little round buttons (G3) also had a rear control dial which was so deeply recessed in its housing on the upper rear of the camera I could only work it by jamming the very tip of my thumb onto the dial. This required my right hand to adopt a totally un- natural position  which gave no support to the camera  and which precluded other camera tasks.


    Several Canon EOS DSLRs have a line of  identical round buttons behind the control dial on top of the camera. On the 60D which I had for a time, these control AF, Drive, ISO and Meter Pattern. There are 2 problems with this arrangement.


    The first is that the buttons are so far behind the dial I was unable to reach them with my index finger without releasing grip on the handle.


    The second is that apart from a tiny little nipple on the ISO button they are identical. I never managed to reliably find or operate any of these buttons by feel. I had to stop looking through the viewfinder and shift grip with my right hand.


    Canon could easily fix this problem with a modest redesign of the camera top section but they kept the same arrangement on the 70D. Presumably they are working on the principle that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Sure, the arrangement is not broken but it could easily be implemented better.


    Haptic issues are of critical importance to the design of everything on a camera, especially UIMs (user interface modules, meaning buttons, levers, dials etcetera). The size, shape, position, projection, texture and movement  of  UIMs determines whether they are able to be operated efficiently or not.



    The compact mockup in hand. It lacks the inverted L shaped handle, forward shutter button and quad control set of the larger mockup but still provides a decent user experience.


    Handles, thumb supports and nearby controls


    I have spent a large amount of time and effort exploring many different types of handle, thumb support and nearby controls.


    This has involved making many mockups. Each of my camera mockups has required many alterations to the handle until I have been satisfied.  To briefly summarise a lot of work:


    * The optimum handle shape for small (larger than RX100 size compact) medium and large cameras is the ‘inverted L’.  The optimum location for the shutter button is front left (as viewed by the user) on top of the inverted L handle.


    * The optimum location for a top front command (control) dial is 12mm behind and at the same height as the center of the shutter button and angled to match the orientation of the right index finger.


    * The right index finger can efficiently  operate two buttons in addition to the shutter button and control dial. These buttons are  located to the right of the shutter button and control dial to form a ‘quad control’ set.   No cameras in past or current production have the quad control set as envisaged by me. Some DSLRs and the Samsung NX-1 are heading in that direction but have some way to go.


    A well designed quad control set allows the user to quickly and easily control with just one finger and without having to move a muscle in any other part of the body, all the following: Autofocus, Auto exposure, Aperture (or Shutter speed depending on capture mode), Sensitivity (ISO), Exposure Compensation and Capture.

    This means that for most photos, most of the time the camera can be driven with just one finger.


    * The inverted L handle can be scaled up and down provided great care is taken to get the dimensions right.  If done carefully, small hands move up the handle and large hands move down the handle. Both  can operate the controls effectively.


    * The optimum thumb support allows the thumb to lie diagonally across the back of the camera. This places the thumb in its strongest and most relaxed position.  Thumb supports which force the thumb into a vertical position near the right edge of the camera provide less strength, stability and balance and less opportunity to effectively operate a rear control dial while maintaining a firm grip on the camera.


    * The optimum location for a rear control dial is in the upper section of the thumb support. Check out the Panasonic GH3/4 and FZ1000 for good examples of this.


    Locations


    From an ergonomic perspective the highest value real estate on a camera is that easily accessible to the right index finger and thumb without having to shift grip or stop looking through the viewfinder, and to the left hand/fingers without having to shift grip.

    UIMs for Capture Phase are best located in these high value locations. UIMs for Prepare and Review Phases are best placed in lower priority locations.


    I often see cameras with Playback (Review Phase) or Menu (Setup Phase) buttons in high value locations while controls for Capture Phase (such as ISO or Exposure Compensation) are relegated to low value locations.


    Phases of camera use, tasks and actions


    There are 4 phases of camera use, Setup(prior to using the camera), Prepare (in the minutes before making pictures), Capture (the process of making pictures) and Review(of images captured).

    In the Capture Phase of use there are three ways by which the user interacts with the camera. These are Holding, Viewing  and Operating.

    In order to make the camera do his or her bidding the user must perform a series of Tasks  in each of the phases and interaction modalities.

    Completion of each task requires Actions.  These can be examined by time and motion study.  Anybody with access to a camera can do such a study.  It is just a matter of paying attention to every action required to make a camera work.  This can reveal the number of actions required to perform each task.  It can also examine the complexity of those actions and note the presence of any enabling actions required.   

    *  From an ergonomic perspective there are two types of camera:

    * Interchangeable lens camera (ILC)

    * Fixed lens Camera (FLC)

    The process of changing lenses is so ergonomically disruptive that in order to compare cameras I have decided to assume that an ILC will be used with just one lens.

    Some assumptions  which inform the evaluation process:

    *  It is ergonomically preferable for camera operation to require the minimum number and complexity of actions.

    *  A well designed camera should be comfortable and secure to hold.

    *  Viewing arrangements should provide a clear subject preview in all operating conditions.

    This is completely different from and unrelated to any consideration of an individual's likes, wants and preferences.  It is also unrelated to any questions about style. 

    As a result of performing time and motion studies on many cameras and mockups  I have come to the view that some types of arrangement  for holding, viewing and operating provide clear ergonomic benefit over other types.  This is reflected in the evaluation schedule.

    My scoring schedule is deliberately biased towards operating in Capture Phase with the eye to the viewfinder. The reason for this is that I regard viewfinder operation as one of the cardinal features which differentiate the proper camera from other photo capable devices.


    Motion picture

    I have not included motion picture in this exercise as use of a camera for that purpose involves some quite different ergonomic priorities.


    Maximum score allocations:    This represents a judgement call about which aspects of camera use are the most ergonomically important.  Obviously this is contestable but I think it is reasonable to allocate the highest priority to the process of operating the camera in Capture Mode. The actual numbers are somewhat arbitrary as they must be but they can be adjusted in the light of ongoing experience, should that be necessary.


    Phase of use


    Maximum score

    Setup


    15

    Prepare


    15

    Capture

    Holding

    20


    Viewing

    20


    Operating

    25

    Review


    5

    Total


    100


    Scoring  In each subsection the maximum score will be gained if a camera allows the user to efficiently perform all the tasks with a small number of actions each of low complexity, has all the hardware and positive factors with none of the negative factors. Total maximum score is 100.

    I rate all cameras against all other cameras using the same criteria. There is no division into entry, midrange,  professional or any other grouping.  I expect all cameras for all users to have excellent ergonomics.

    The overall score has three elements:

    1. Subscores.

    2. A narrative explaining the scorer’s reasoning for the subscore with reference to the criteria.

    3. A total score. 

    Some aspects of scoring rely on subjective impressions, for instance whether a handle is rated as ‘comfortable’. In this case long term experience with many cameras helps to inform the decision process.

    But many items on the scoring schedule involve rating the camera against  objective criteria. For instance can all the tasks of Capture Phase be carried out while looking through the viewfinder and without having to change grip with either hand ?

    Unscored features

    Modern cameras come with a plethora of features and functions such as ‘art filters’, special effects, scene modes …..etcetera. I do not include these in the ergonomic evaluation or score.

    I also do not rate touch screen capability. Some users say they have high regard for this feature but from an ergonomic perspective it is unusable with hand held operation and OVF/EVF viewing. It may be useful with the camera on a tripod for stills or video but cameras designed for stills or hybrid still/video (like the Panasonic GH4)  will still work just fine without the touch screen.  Some dedicated video cameras rely heavily on a touch screen interface.


    Setup Phase  [Max score 15]

    Tasks  Make Main Menu selections, Allocate My Menu items, Allocate Quick Menu items, Select Function Button and dial  assignments, set up Custom Modes, set up other functions such as Wi-Fi.

    Elements   Has a Main Menu, My Menu with user selected items and a separately accessed Quick Menu with user selected items for Prepare Phase.

    Most UIM's enable user selected function.

    Content  Menu headings and subheadings are logical, coherent, systematic and easy to navigate.  Like items are grouped together.

    User interface  All items are clear, legible and easy to read.  The process navigate>identify>select  is easily learned and becomes second nature.

    Negatives  Main Menu confusing, contains mystery icons or items, not logically designed, like items scattered about in different submenus.  No My Menu.  Q Menu items not user selectable.  No Custom Modes. Navigation complex or confusing.  Setup Phase UIM's located where Capture Phase UIM's need to be.

    Prepare Phase  [Max score 15]

    Tasks  Set Main Mode, set frequently used modes (usually Focus , Autofocus, Drive), set less frequently used modes and other adjustments required in the minutes prior to Capture Phase.  Clearly not all  these tasks are required for every shooting session but the camera should enable them for the times when they are required.

    Hardware  Has dedicated set and see (module with inscriptions indicating current setting)  UIM's (user interface modules: covers buttons, dials, switches, levers etc) for the most commonly used Modes.  Allows quick access to other modes and functions required in Prepare Phase, by Quick Menu button, Function buttons  or other quick access portal(s) on body and lens.

    User interface  Clear graphics, icons and displays on monitor and EVF when navigating and selecting items via Q Menu, Function buttons or other portal. UIM's for Prepare Phase do not displace UIM's for Capture Phase from top value locations on the body.

    Content  Quick access portals allow adjustment of other modes and functions, for instance flash, metering, recording quality, image size, ISO (if set in Prepare Phase) shutter type, image stabiliser, display, burst/continuous rate, electronic level, electronic shutter, grid lines, histogram  ...............and many more, as user selected.

    Negatives  Any Prepare Phase items only accessible via main menu.   Settings locked  while camera is writing files to the memory card. Q Menu items, functions of buttons and other UIM's not user assignable. Prepare Phase UIM's located where Capture Phase UIM's need to be.

    Capture Phase  [Max score 65]

    Holding  [Subscore 20]

    Tasks   Hold the camera in a relaxed but secure grip with both hands with right index finger on the shutter button in relaxed position.  Maintain this grip while carrying out the "operating" tasks below.

    Hardware  Built in ergonomic anatomical handle, inverted L type is optimal.  Ergonomic thumb support. Diagonal type is optimal.  Optimal shutter button position is forward, top left on the handle (as viewed by the user).

    User Experience  Handle and thumb support work together to allow the user's right hand to adopt the half closed relaxed posture in basic hold position.  Shutter button location enables this optimal holding posture.

    Negatives  Absent or poorly shaped handle. Handle only available as accessory.  Thumb support inadequate in position, elevation or orientation.  Sub optimal placement of shutter button.

    Viewing  [Subscore 20]

    Tasks  the operator can comfortably and clearly, in all conditions,  view in the EVF or monitor the information listed below.

    * Subject preview (live view) unobscured by overlays.

    * Major camera data, displayed outside the preview image, in either landscape or portrait orientation,  optimally below but possibly also above:

    Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO, Exposure Compensation, White Balance, Battery Status, Capture Mode in use, Remaining exposures on card.

    * Secondary camera data/displays, superimposed over the preview image:

    Active AF Area position and size/shape, Grid lines, Histogram, Manual Focus Guide indications, others as user selected.

    Hardware  There is a built in high quality EVF with high quality viewfinder optics and comfortable eyecup.  There is a high quality monitor. Fully articulated type is optimal.

    Content  EVF and monitor gain up or down to represent exposure compensation. 100% accurate preview is provided.

    User Experience   EVF and monitor both provide the same information presented in the same way. There is a seamless segue from one to the other.  Look in the viewfinder, see the viewfinder;  look at the monitor, see the monitor.  Optimally there is no perceptible EVF blackout time after each exposure.

    Negatives  EVF not built in or not available, Camera data is only available superimposed over the preview image, EVF refresh rate slow, EVF delivers poor viewing quality in some conditions. Monitor fixed or only swing up/down.

    Operating [Subscore 25]

    Task list  While continuously looking through the EVF (or monitor, but the EVF is a more stringent test) and without shifting grip on the camera with either hand, Capture Phase requires that the following tasks be carried out smoothly and efficiently, without impeding the capture process.  Obviously not every exposure requires every one of these tasks to be performed but the camera should be configured so it is possible to do so:

    * Adjust primary exposure parameters: Aperture (f stop), Exposure Time (Shutter speed), Sensitivity (ISO).

    * Adjust secondary exposure parameters: Exposure Compensation, Program Shift, AE Lock, White Balance.

    * Adjust primary framing and focus parameters: Zoom, Initiate/Lock autofocus, Manual Focus.

    * Adjust secondary focus parameters: Change position and size of active AF area, manual over ride focus, AF Lock.

    Hardware  There are sufficient UIM's of appropriate design on body and lens with which to drive the camera as described  in the task list.  UIM's on the lens controlling zoom, focus and aperture (if fitted) are of circumferential type.  UIM's on the body can be operated by the right index finger and thumb without having to shift grip.

    User experience  With practice the user can learn to drive the camera like a motor car. The user looks through the viewfinder (windscreen) at the subject (traffic ahead) and operates the device by feel without looking at it. With further practice the user does not have to think about the process of operating the camera any more than a driver thinks about operating a motor car.

    Negatives  The camera is configured so the user has to interrupt the capture process, change grip with either hand or lower the camera from the eye in order to change one or more of the parameters listed above.  Poor/suboptimal UIM location or haptics.

    Review Phase  [Subscore 5]

    Task list  Tasks which photographers might want to perform in Review Phase may vary greatly according to individual preference. Some photographers do little in camera review, others a lot.  Ergonomically this is the least critical phase of use as the photo has already been captured.  As a minimum I would list:

    * Recall the last 1-9 photos captured and select one.

    * Zoom into and move around in a review image.

    * Jump from one image to the next or previous at the same level of magnification and the same location in the frame.

    * Delete one/many.

    Hardware  The camera needs UIM's to enable the tasks above to be performed. These need to be located low in the positional hierarchy on the camera.

    Content  Comprehensive data about each image is available and efficiently recalled onto the monitor screen or in the EVF in the same form.

    User experience  The task list can be carried out efficiently.

    Negatives  Essential file data is not able to be recalled.  It is not possible to scroll from one frame to the next at the same location and magnification.  Auto review cannot be disabled.  UIM's for Review Phase occupy high value locations on the camera which are better reserved for Capture Phase.


    Initial reactions to the scoring schedule


    The scoring schedule described above, together with the supporting narrative, presents the reader who has not been following this blog for several years  with  new ideas, new ways of thinking about camera operation and unfamiliar language.


    There has been a range of early responses to  exposure of this material in online forums.


    Feedback from some respondents has been cautiously positive.


    Some  say they disagree with my findings entirely.


    Some say that I am just promulgating my own likes and preferences. 


    Some say that “ergonomics is subjective”, as if there could be no merit in further discussion. 


    Some say that my quest is noble but doomed to failure like that of a modern day  Don Quixote.


    Some say that so great is the range and diversity of individual likes and preferences that any attempt to measure and score ergonomics is futile.


    I have given thought to these negative comments and realised that if they are correct, it follows that no satisfactory camera could ever be made. 


    But  satisfactory cameras are made and some of them get consistently good reviews for user experience. 


    So there must be ideas, concepts and functional capabilities which can be identified and which can be incorporated into camera design and which can benefit all camera users.


    I have been challenged on the feasibility of a total score with some respondents opining it to be futile, irrelevant or misleading.

    I take all this on board and acknowledge that the framework, language, criteria and scoring schedule are all unfamiliar to most camera users, contestable and subject to debate.

    The reason this material is being presented in a public forum is to enable that debate to proceed.

     For the present, I  remain of the view that the overall score is useful. With regard to the cameras I have scored to date the total  score strikes me as a fair summation of the  overall ergonomic capability of each camera and a reasonable guide to each camera’s rank against the others.

    Further readings

    On the ‘Pages’ bar of this blog, found at the top of the home page in most browsers, there is extensive discussion about many topics grouped under the ‘Basic Concepts’, ‘Design’ and ‘Measuring Ergonomics’ tabs.

    Each of the specific camera reviews also has commentary about ergonomic issues.


    End of this post











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    Panasonic FZ1000


    What you don’t count, doesn’t count


    Ergonomics:  The science of designing things which people use for maximum efficiency and safety.


    I recently posted  here, a major summary of my findings about camera ergonomics to date. That is quite long so here is a short version.


    Several years ago  I began to wonder why some cameras were a pleasure to use but others were not.


    I studied functional anatomy of the human hand. I investigated haptics which is the science of touch, as it applies to cameras. 


    I bought and used many real cameras and made many (thirteen to date)  mockup cameras in a variety of shapes and sizes. I used these to investigate design ideas, shapes, handles, thumb supports, dials, buttons, viewing arrangements and other types of controls.


    I figured out that with good ergonomic design it is possible to make small to medium large cameras which work well in small, medium or large hands.


    I discovered that individual likes and preferences are not a good guide to ergonomic design as they are idiosyncratic and subject to change.


    I noticed that  there are effective ways to describe the specifications, features, image quality and performance of a camera but until now there has been no framework within which and no language by which a person might describe and evaluate the ergonomics of a camera.


    So I developed  such a framework and language.


    There are four Phases of camera use:


    * Setup: This consists mainly of entering selections into a series of menus.


    * Prepare: This is the few minutes before starting to make photos when the user makes settings of various modes and functions to suit the current circumstances.


    * Capture: This is when photos are being made. This phase has the most critical requirements for ergonomic design as so many things must happen quickly without disrupting the capture flow.


    In Capture Phase there are three ways by which the user interacts with the camera.


    These are Holding, Viewing and Operating.


    * Review:  Photos captured are reviewed, assessed, deleted or sent to another place.


    In order to  make the camera do his or her bidding the user must perform a series of Tasks in each of the phases and interaction modalities.


    Completion of each task requires Actions. These can be examined by time and motion study. 
    Anybody with a camera can do this. It is just a matter of paying attention to every action required to make a camera work.


    This study can reveal the number and complexity of actions required to perform each task.


    The tasks associated with each phase of use and interaction modality can be listed.


    The efficiency with which each task is carried out can be evaluated.


    It now becomes possible to measure and score a camera’s ergonomics with reference to specific criteria, independently of any user’s likes and preferences.


    This post is headed by the aphorism  ‘What you don’t count, doesn’t count’.


    This sums up  a major problem for camera design at the present time.  If there is no framework, no language and therefore no ability to score a camera’s ergonomics, the subject has no status.


    Many cameras these days are loaded with features, have fulsome specification, very good picture quality and good enough performance.


    The main difference between cameras is the user experience and the main determinant of that is ergonomics.


    I believe that scoring ergonomics is the key to further progress in camera design.


    The task lists and scoring schedules  can be found in the fullsummary on this blog.








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    Above it all ?  FZ1000


    I read on a photo rumor  site several days ago that Canon wants to be number 1 in the Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera (MILC) market by 2017.


    I read elsewhere  that sales of compact cameras have fallen dramatically, DSLRs sharply and MILCs slightly but from a very low base.


    I wrote the comment below  at the end of 2012, about the original Canon EOS M which was released in mid 2012.

    Canon was the last player to arrive at  the MILC party. They waited 4 years from the first MILC which was the Panasonic G1. They had all the time in the world to evaluate their competitor's products, analyse their strengths and weaknesses, develop  a strategy then produce a category killer product line.  Instead they presented the EOS-M, in my view the most derivative, uninspiring, under achieving new camera release in recent photographic history. To create the EOS-M,  Canon took an EOS 650D then hacked off  most of  the useful holding, viewing and operating parts.    Canon's image quality is going backwards. My EOS 40D of 2007 had a DXO Mark score of 64. The EOS 650D which apparently uses the same sensor as the M, scores 62. The slow autofocus performance of the M has been widely reported. The 650D's handle and thumb support along with the eye level viewfinder and most of the buttons and dials, have all gone, along with the swing out monitor. If this thing were really inexpensive it might make a little bit of sense, but they are asking you to pay the Same price as a 650D. 

    The puzzle is - What is Canon trying to achieve with the EOS-M ?  I really can't figure it out at all. I can understand  that maybe they are trying to make something that puts them in the MILC tent but won't steal sales from their own DSLR line. The problem, it seems to me, is that it is unlikely to steal sales from anywhere.


    The EOS M2 was a mild upgrade of the M with faster autofocus.


    The EOS M and M2 sold so poorly they were withdrawn from sale in many countries. But apparently they are reasonably popular in Japan.


    This raises the possibility of different products for global regions.


    My work with ergonomics suggests strongly that for world wide success with a MILC, Canon needs to produce a Proper Camera.  One with an anatomical handle and thumb support, built in EVF of good quality, fully articulated monitor, built in flash and a full suite of controls to satisfy an expert user. It needs good picture quality and good all round performance.  


    The camera could  be operated perfectly well by a snapshooter in fully automatic mode.


    It seems bizarre to me that I should be urging Canon, of all manufacturers, to make a proper camera.


    In the event, two and a half years after the EOS M they have come up with the EOS M3.


    This is, basically,  an M with small handle and thumb support.  And a flip up monitor.


    No built in EVF, no fully articulated monitor.


    With this  they want to conquer the mirrorless world ????????


    All they really needed to do  was copy the Sony A6000.  Move the lens axis over to the left (as viewed by the operator) to make room for a decent handle and stick a good EVF top left on the body. How difficult could that be ??


    What on earth  is happening at Canon ?


    They have recently released a series of half baked cameras which will endear the brand to only a few rusted on Canon loyalists and their number is declining every year as indicated by sales charts.


    The EOS 7D (2) was 4 years late and has a sensor DXO mark score no better than the (Sony) sensor in the G7X compact.


    The G7X was presumably intended to compete with the Sony RX100 (3) but they forgot the EVF.


    Similarly there is no EVF in the Powershot G16, just the antiquated, inaccurate, uninformative OVF from G cams of years passed.


    The Powershot SX60 superzoom has decent ergonomics including, lo and behold, a good enough EVF but there are many reports of poor image quality.


    The Powershot  G1X(2) failed to fix many of the numerous problems which burdened the original G1X. The Mk2 has a low DXO mark score for the sensor size, just a vestigial handle, no  built in EVF and some ergonomic issues with the various user interface modules. If you want a reasonably decent handle and an EVF these have to be purchased separately and when fitted the camera is no longer compact.


    Canon’s DSLRs stick to a design formula which has been endorsed by the market for several years. But Canon’s DSLR ergonomics could easily be improved yet that is not happening. Neither is their image performance improving much.  They are stuck in a rut, releasing ‘new’ models which look and operate just like the old models. That might be fine if the old models were incapable of improvement. In fact they could be improved but Canon is not doing it.


    Today Canon announced that it intends to make a new fixed zoom lens camera (FZLC) to be named G3X (maybe). Canon’s strategy here is a bit strange. They are announcing a product for which, it seems, there is not yet a prototype. Apparently it will use the same Sony 15.9mm sensor as that found in several cameras (RX100/3, RX10, G7X, FZ1000) and will have an E24-600mm lens and will somehow (probably a very small aperture at the long end), given the 25x zoom lens, be very compact, but from the promotional (? mockup) product photos appears to have no EVF. 


    So apart from  a few outliers like the Powershot SX50/60 line which does have a built in EVF, Canon appears to be offering


    either the DSLR line, with optical viewfinder


    or all the rest including most Powershots and the MILC EOS M2/3 without a built in viewfinder.  

    Presumably Canon hopes the selling point for these cameras is ‘smallness’.


    ‘Smallness’ as a camera attribute is most useful when one is not using it. In other words it makes the device a bit easier to carry.


    But it also often makes the thing less user friendly especially if the price of ‘smallness’ is an important ergonomic feature such as the inbuilt EVF or a proper handle.


    My view  is that Canon’s product development people need to stop dithering around with half  baked products and drive into the MILC market with force majeur.


    They did this in 1987 with the first EOS autofocus SLR and again in 2000 with their first digital SLR the D30. Both bold strategies led to major market success and Canon’s still high, but waning,  brand recognition  in the market.


    They need to fully embrace the inevitable which is that  MILCs are a much better option for the entry/upper entry and mid range ILC market than DSLRs.  They need to make full featured MILCs which are  proper cameras. 


    They need to apply the same ‘all in’ approach to their (Powershot) fixed zoom lens cameras (FZLC), stop messing about with underdone products like the G1X and  proposed G3X  and go the full featured way with real cameras which people will be proud to own and enjoy using.


    It looks to me very much as though Canon is making the products which Canon wants to make with little regard for their customers or for the requirements of good ergonomic design.


    In due course the market will deliver its verdict.


    But wait:  that verdict has already been given on the EOS M1/2. Many countries outside East Asia did not buy it in commercially viable numbers.


    I am not a marketing person but I suspect that if I was trying to sell a product and found that whole global regions elected not to buy it, I might regard this as a hintor cluethat there might, just possibly, be something wrong with the product.












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    12 Mockups. The 13th, not  shown here, is a mockup of the strange Sigma DP2 Quattro, definitely not an ergonomic success.


    ‘Drawings are the curse of camera design’


    Six years ago I switched camera systems from an established DSLR to one of the newly arrived mirrorless interchangeable lens (MILC) systems.  I found the first model of this system very awkward to use with poor holding and operating characteristics.


    So I set about making plywood mockups to investigatewhy some cameras had good holding and operating characteristics while others were poor.


    The great benefit of mockups is that they can be made to any shape, size or configuration.

    Better still,  anything  can be changed during or after construction and my mockups usually see many changes.


    Sometimes  camera makers release promotional material about their design process. This usually begins with drawings followed by  production of  a mockup by 3D printing.


    My mockups  arise from a different process. For each mockup I  set a few basic dimensional parameters, based on the project which is underway at the time. This generally includes overall width and  height, body depth, monitor size and style (for instance flat top or hump top).  I usually have a good idea how much space to allow for EVF housings, handles and the like, derived from actual cameras and increasingly from previous mockups as I gain experience.


    I do not make drawings. I believe that drawings are the curse of camera design.


    I design in the wood, directly, guided by my own hands and fingers.  If something does not feel right, it’s not right. I remove it and start over.


    My mantra is that camera design must be guided by finger logic not brain logic.


    I start from the view that a camera should be driven like a motor car, automatically, without the user having to think about operating the device with his or her brain.


    When driving a car one does not think ………..need to turn left now…….need to move steering wheel…….turn it anticlockwise…….not too much, now……


    In practice the driver does not have to thinkabout turning left at all. He or she just does it.


    When I create the shape  size, configuration and control layout of a mockup I strive always to make the holding experience comfortable and secure while the controls are placed just where my fingers want to find them.  Fingers first, controls afterwards.


    I have put much effort into designing control systems so the camera, which is inherently a complex device,  can nevertheless be driven like a car, automatically, without having to think much about each discrete action.


    What about touch screens ?  I you had to drive a car by means of gestures on a touch screen then most people on or near the road including you, would die.


    Why ?  For the simple reason that when driving a car you must pay attention to the road ahead.  By the way I hold the view that touch screens fitted to automobiles should be automatically disabled as soon as the vehicle starts to move. 


    Notice that it is illegal to drive while operating a mobile phone.


    The reason ? Accident data shows clearly that driving while attending to a screen leads to a high crash rate.


    Lots of pedestrians wander onto roadways intent on their screens and are injured or die or cause another road user to crash.


    Of course operating a camera via touch screen is not going to kill anyone. But it will distract the user’s attention away from the subject.


    When operating a camera in Capture Phase the user has to pay attention to the subject  not the camera. The user looks through the EVF or OVF or monitor at the subject.  The point is that the user cannot attend to the screen and the subject at the same time.  The camera is operated by the fingers.


    With good ergonomic design the actions required to complete the tasks of operating the camera in 
    Capture Phase can be carried out without the user having to think about each individual finger movement. Just like driving a car.


    Actions required in Setup and Review phases could carried out by touch screen. In these phases the user is looking at the screen so interacting with the device by touching the screen might be reasonable and might allow a reduction in  a reduction in the number of buttons required on the back/top of the body.



    Prepare Phase actions are best allocated to hard UIMs especially set and see modules for clarity and speed of operation.

    My mockups are designed in the expectation of operation by hard controls in all phases of use as I have found that is the quickest and most positive way to carry out the tasks of each phase. 


    Testing   I test mockups on myself obviously but also on other family members with hand sizes from 10 year old children to large adult males.  My own hands are of average size and shape for an adult male.


    I worked out that it is possible to design configurations which can work well with a wide range of hand sizes.


    This is mockup #13 in the basic holding/operating position.



    What about style ?  I was describing to a family member recently the four headings by which I organise  camera evaluation, these being  Specifications/features,  Image Quality,  Performance  and Ergonomics.  The response was ………and…….?? …What about…….Style??


    Ah, yes, style. When designing a mockup I have no preconceived notion of style apart from the basic description; for instance is it a compact or full sized model, will it have a flat top or hump top….and so forth.   The camera emerges from the composite design/build process with its own shape, which  is derived from the ergonomic development, not imposed on it. 


    As I look at all my mockups together it becomes clear that an identifiable ‘style’ has indeed developed in the service of efficient, enjoyable operation, not because it looks vaguely like something which somebody thought was hot stuff back in 1964.






    I tried out many different concepts of shape and configuration, several of which do not make it into this gallery of mockups as they proved unworkable.


    After much experiment I discovered that the  optimum ergonomic shape  for a hand held camera is a modified version of one which has been around for many years, namely the hump-top-with-a-handle-SLR shape.


    As a result many of my recent mockups will probably appear unremarkable and perhaps un-interesting to the casual observer. In fact they embody considerable detail design work around the issues of holding, viewing and operating.


    The precise size and shape of each part of the camera such as the handle, thumb support and so forth is extremely important. It may not be at all apparent to many camera users which shape is satisfactory and which is not.


    Each mockup is different, each is a little adventure and each teaches me something new about the subtle art of camera ergonomics.


    One fundamental realisation which I discovered quite early in my journey with mockups is that cameras do not scale up or down. The hands which use them remain stubbornly the same size regardless of the dimensions of the device. It follows therefore that each camera at each size point must be designed to best fit the hands which use it.






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    This is Mockup #13 showing the canted-back-10-degrees-inverted-L-shaped handle. Unfortunately words and photos cannot adequately describe just how good this handle type really is. 

    The subject of this discussion   is cameras which will be hand held most of the time.  It is therefore of fundamental importance that such devices be comfortable and secure in the hands and that they can be held and operated simultaneously without interrupting the capture flow.


    I have expended much effort  and research over the last five years into the matter of handles.  I have worked with many actual cameras, full camera mockups  and  handle mockups.


    Handle mockups are useful as they enable the research to focus (pun intended) on that specific aspect of design without the distraction of all the other stuff which burdens a modern camera.

    In order to clarify my thinking and work I have identified several handle types, with intermediates being fairly common.


    Handle type and shutter button location are inextricably bound together as we shall see.


    Handle only mockups with top/rear shutter button location.  The no handle version is on the left and the 'form-follows-fingers' handle on the right.


    Hand/finger position for the top/rear shutter button, no handle.


    The handle types are:

    No handle:  This includes  numerous variants with a vestigial or minimal handle.  No handle  cameras have the shutter button in the top/rear position on the camera body. In order to hold and operate a no handle camera the user’s right hand must be held in the index finger cocked up position. 

    This position is ergonomically inferior to the half closed relaxed position.


    Why ?  From the half closed relaxed position the index finger can easily flex and extend as well as move side to side. This enables the index finger to easily operate four UIMs (user interface modules: buttons, dials etc) without strain and without having to move a muscle of any other finger.


    But in the index finger cocked up position the index finger has already used up its side to side movement capacity and most of its flexion and extension capacity. So it can get onto the shutter button but nowhere else, unless the whole hand shifts grip.



    Top/rear shutter button position with form-follows-fingers handle. This is reasonably comfortable but there is no overhang beneath which the third finger can fit to support the mass of the device. Movement of the index finger is restricted.

    Photo courtesy of Digital Photography Review
    This shows what happens when designers try to marry a full handle with top/rear shutter button position. The index finger is required to stretch far away from the third finger. Several reviewers reported this to be awkward and uncomfortable. Movement of the index finger is very restricted.  Sony changed this layout with the next generation of A7 cameras.  The question is why did they inflict this ergonomically unsatisfactory arrangement on buyers in the first place ?



    Handle with top/rear shutter button   Several camera makers have tried to incorporate a handle on a camera with top/rear shutter button position. This produces a result which is at best suboptimal and in some cases worse than no handle at all.


    One of the handle  mockups, as shown in the photo illustrates the general shape of handle which  results if  the handle shape follows the fingers.  There are numerous problems with this arrangement.  There is no overhang under which the third finger can fit. So in order to prevent the camera falling when the left  hand is removed, the right hand must squeeze the body tight. There is no platform on top of the handle for control modules and the hand must be deployed in the index finger cocked up position.


    Some cameras have tried to deploy a more substantial handle, some with incorporated control dial, on a body with top/rear shutter button. One such is the Sony A7, shown in the photo. This requires the right index finger to separate widely from the third finger so the index finger can get onto the shutter button and the third finger can get down to the handle.  To compound the problem there is a control dial positioned neatly in the center of the top plate of the handle. This might look nice to the designers but is an ergonomic kludge, as the dial cannot be operated with any finger without shifting and disrupting grip with the right hand.


    Someone apparently tapped Sony’s designers on the shoulder about this because with the A7(II) they changed over to a projecting handle with the shutter button and control dial top front on the handle. 
    The implementation of this still requires work (the inverted L shape is better) but at least they are moving in the right direction.


    The thing which baffles me is that camera designers move simultaneously in so many ergonomically wrong directions with the release of  new model lines, requiring corrections with update models.


    I am not picking on Sony here. Check out the major changes seen in each iteration of the Nikon 1 V series MILCs or the ergonomically conflicted Nikon Df. 



    Small cameras, projecting handle on the left, parallel handle on the right. The parallel handle is basically the same but turned 90 degrees.  It works much better.
    Small camera projecting handle. Fingers in position required for operation. This forces the palm of the hand away from the camera and diminishes integrity of the grip.
    Same mockup as the one above. Fingers where they want to go. The grip is stronger and more comfortable but as you can see the index finger is not on the shutter button.

    Photo courtesy of Digital Photography Review
    Canon SX20 with projecting handle, shutter button right on the top front end. I bought one of these a few years ago. The handle looks like the real business but is not. It is thin, smooth and lacks any indentation or overhang under which the third finger can hook. The shutter button position forces the right palm away from the handle, weakening the grip.  Appearances can be deceptive. I always felt this camera was about to fall to the ground unless I gripped it tightly and even that didn't help much as it was so smooth.
    Photo courtesy of Digital Photography Review
    Sony RX10 with a problem similar to the SX20 above. The shutter button on the very tip of the thin projecting handle is too far to the right forcing the hand away from the right side of the handle. The problem is compounded by the thumb support also being far to the right side. The result is a weak  grip and poor support for the body from the right hand.

    Projecting handle  This is typified by the classic SLR/DSLR handle dating from the Canon T90 of 1986 and found on many cameras today.


    This has definite advantages over the no handle type, especially on a medium to large camera body.


    The medium/large projecting handle opens up the fingers, gives the user more grip and allows the shutter button to be relocated to the vicinity of the top/front of the handle.


    This in turn allows the hand to assume a posture closer to the desirable half closed relaxed position for strength and stability without strain.


    On small cameras, the projecting handle can be problematic.  The handle is not large or fat enough to allow the fingers to take up a comfortable holding position and the shutter button position requires the index finger to be pulled back. This in turn weakens the grip and destabilises the user’s hold on the camera.



    Small parallel handle mockup. This is a huge improvement on the same sized small projecting handle in the photos above. The hand is able to come closer to the desirable half-closed-relaxed position, the third finger can tuck under a small overhang and the index finger has much more freedom of movement.
    On the left parallel handle. On the right inverted L handle. In my mockup work this evolved from and is superior to the parallel handle. The main body of the handle is not quite as wide. The overhang is more pronounced. This is more comfortable, provides more support for the camera's mass and opens up the top of the handle area for a quad control set.

    Parallel handle   While working with my mockups  I realised that I could turn the projecting handle 90 degrees anticlockwise (looking down on the camera) and alter the shape to better fit the holding fingers.


    This gives a result ergonomically superior to both the no handle and projecting handle types. Better still, it is effective on small, medium and large bodies.


    The parallel handle brings the hand position even closer to the desirable half closed relaxed position, and gives very good purchase to the three gripper fingers, the action of which is now directed into the palm of the hand for improved stability.


    In addition the parallel handle opens up a small platform on top of the handle for the disposition of capture phase UIMs.


    The parallel handle makes the camera a little wider but less deep than the projecting handle.


    Holding the small parallel handle. This is a substantial improvement on the no handle and projecting handle, providing better support and freedom of movement for the index finger.
    Holding the inverted L handle. This is even better than the parallel handle with more support, a shape better matched to the holding fingers and more options for control modules on top of the handle.


    Inverted L handle   When I make mockups I work away at the handle shape until it feels right. This is a subtle thing as a shape can feel good enough initially but on further acquaintance be found capable of improvement.


    The inverted L shaped handle is an evolution of the parallel type which I arrived at by continuously improving the shape to best fit the hands which hold the device.


    The inverted L shape if optimally crafted, allows the hand to adopt the desirable half closed relaxed position, places the shutter button exactly where the index finger wants to find it and creates a platform on top of the handle for a quad control set of UIMs.


    It also creates a large and comfortable overhang beneath which the third finger of the right hand takes a natural position. When combined with a well  crafted diagonal type thumb support the inverted L shaped handle allows the right hand to hold and support the camera with no requirement to squeeze onto the body or apply clenching force with the finger muscles. If the left hand needs to leave the lens or left side of the camera to change grip as is often the case, for instance when shifting from landscape to portrait orientation, the camera is held securely throughout. There is no need for the user to juggle the camera back and forth from one hand to the next.


    This is mockup #13 with the lens removed. This has the inverted-L-canted-10-degrees-back handle. It is the best handle configuration I have yet done. It provides excellent comfort, stability, security, support for the camera's mass, freedom of movement of the index finger, half closed relaxed finger position and a neutral position of the wrist.
    This mockup has been my 'aha' moment, when everything came together to form a very satisfying  and coherent whole.


    Inverted L canted 10 degrees back     The great benefit of blogging in a public domain is reader feedback. It is clear from some of the feedback which I receive that some of my readers are thoughtful and analytical people who share my interest in good design.


    I was recently challenged by a reader to rethink my ideas about the ideal handle. He pointed out that a camera with the top/rear shutter button position and no handle or minimal handle allows the right wrist to be held almost straight when viewing through the EVF (or OVF in the case of a DSLR).


    But with a standard projecting handle, particularly on a large camera, the right wrist has to tilt forward which could be uncomfortable for some users.


    I realised that simply by canting the whole right side of the camera back about 10 degrees a user could  have the best of both systems.


    I applied this strategy to my 13th full camera mockup a photo of which appears at the top of this post.


    I  made up the basic camera body in plywood, sawed right through it at the right side of the monitor then re attached the right side with a rearward cant of about 10 degrees.


    The result has been so successful that I rate #13 as my best  mockup to date. In addition to the handle configuration, #13 incorporates much of that which I have learned about ergonomics over the last five years.


    Mockup #13 in hand. This camera is quite small, measuring 120mm width and 80mm height.
    Yet it is very fully featured with triple set and see  dials on the top plate for Prepare Phase adjustments,  twin control dials, JOG lever and a full suite of hard controls.
    Fully featured cameras can be quite compact as proven by this mockup.









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    This is Mockup #13 showing optimal location of front and rear control dials with adjacent control modules.  The author's hand is in the 'half closed relaxed' position with index finger on the shutter button.


    This post  is about Mode Dependent Control Dials. These are dials without inscription. Their function depends on the currently set capture mode.   I will call them Control Dials  in this post.


    In Capture Phase of use they are second only to the shutter button in the hierarchy of UIMs (User Interface Modules). Therefore all aspects of their design are of the utmost importance to camera operation.


    They change  primary exposure parameters in Capture Phase and can be used for scrolling in Setup and Review phases. 


    They are distinguished from Set and See dials which are inscribed with various settings. The function of set and see dials is always the same and the current setting can be seen by looking at the outside of the camera (you don’t have to look in the viewfinder or at the monitor). Their settings can be seen even if the camera is switched off.


    Set and see dials are most useful for Prepare Phase actions, especially changing main capture mode, focus mode and drive mode.


    Traditional-vs-Modern Control Systems  This post refers to modern control systems based on the [Mode Dial + Control Dial(s)]  configuration.  Several modern cameras use some variant or hybrid of the traditional system based on the [Aperture Ring + Shutter Speed Dial + Exposure Compensation Dial] configuration. I have extensively analysed, compared and reported elsewhere on this blog the ergonomic effectiveness of the two systems and concluded that a well implemented modern system (many are not well implemented) is decisively superior.


    Panasonic GH1. The G1 has the same front dial location. This is how not to do it.   When holding the camera the upper part of the third finger of the right hand wraps around the control dial preventing access to it by the index finger. in order to work the dial the right hand must release its hold on the camera and shift position to work the dial, then shift back again to work the shutter button.


    Haptics  This post is mostly about the location and configuration of control dials but that is not to neglect the huge importance of haptic issues in dial design. Control dials need to be easy for the operating finger(s) to reach and  operate yet not be subject to unwanted operation, for instance by being bumped while carrying out some other action.

    Serrations on the dials need to be sharpish and ‘grippy’ for the operating finger(s).


    Dials need to stand proud from the adjacent body sufficient for easy operation without excessive risk of inadvertent movement.


    The required amount of turning force on the dial needs to be carefully calibrated to the finger(s) which are intended to operate it.


    I have owned and used cameras the dial(s) of which were so difficult to operate that I had to wonder if the maker had ever tried a working mockup prior to production. 


    Worst was the Panasonic G3,  the rear dial of which was almost completely buried in the body. To operate the dial the user had to pull the right hand away from the body of the camera, sharply flex the thumb so as to apply the tip of the thumb just below the nail onto the dial in order to turn it. It was nigh on unusable.


    The good news is that Panasonic’s designers are learning. The GH3/4 and FZ1000 have excellent rear dials.


    Photo courtesy of Digital Photography Review
    Nikon 750D. Another front dial in front of and below the shutter button. This one is easier to reach than that on the GH1 above but the index finger and middle finger are quite separated, restricting access to the buttons behind the shutter button unless the right hand shifts grip.  Shutter button and control dial are not at the same level and their finger press axes are about 60 degrees apart.  In addition the dial is almost flush with its surrounds having minimal exposure for gripping.


    The left hand and fingers     There are eight ways by which the left hand and fingers might interact with the camera/lens. These are defined by


    * Eye level vs monitor viewing


    * Landscape vs portrait orientation


    * Over lens vs under lens left hand position


    (2x2x2=8)


    This means the left hand/fingers could come in contact with and interact with the lens anywhere around its circumference.


    In consequence left hand controls for Capture Phase operation must be circumferential rings around the lens with lands or serrations all the way around.


    It is not feasible for the left hand to operate control dials in Capture Phase.  It can operate various levers, switches, buttons etc on the body or lens in Prepare Phase when the user can drop the camera down from the eye.


    On the other hand (literally) the right hand/fingers  are, or optimally should be, always in the same place in relation to the camera parts.


    Therefore I have and most camera makers also have allocated control dials to operation by the index finger and thumb of the right hand.


    Photo courtesy of Digital Photography review
    Sony A7. Here is another front dial in a very awkward place in front of the shutter button. The shutter button occupies the suboptimal top/rear position. The handle forces the index and third fingers apart. The control dial is a long way below the level of the shutter button. The finger press axis of the dial is at 90 degrees to the shutter button.  Fortunately Sony completely changed and improved the handle and control dial design with the Mk 2 version.


    Throughout this discourse  I assume the camera will have an ‘Auto’ mode forsnapshooters who do not care to be bothered by all this business of control dials.


    A study of functional anatomy  forms the basis of my work on control dials and their operation.


    The right index finger  is the only one of the ten fingers which has exclusively operator duties with no gripper duty.  Starting from the optimal ‘half closed relaxed’ position of the hand/fingers, it can flex by movement of the interphalangeal joints about 30mm and can move side to side at the metacarpo-phalangeal joint about 20mm. 


    Obviously  the actual amount of possible movement depends on the flexibility of each individual’s joints and the presence of arthritis or other sources of restricted movement.  But the figures given above are a working guide for design considerations.


    The right thumb  has to undertake both gripper and operator duties.

    The primary gripper function of the thumb is achieved by a movement called ‘opposition’. This allows the tip of the thumb to touch the ends of each of the other fingers and is enabled by rotation at the carpo-metacarpal joint.  Opposition allows humans to hold a camera and of course, many other things.


    Without unduly disrupting opposition the thumb can, while continuing to hold the camera, move side to side, about 25mm each way, at the metacarpo-phalangeal joint and can flex at the interphalangeal joint.


    These possible movements of the index finger and thumbhave guided my search for the optimal location and configuration of control dials.


    Photo courtesy of Digital Photography Review
    Olympus EM1 showing front control dial concentric with the shutter button. This is a workable arrangement particularly if as here, the pressing axis of the dial is only at 45 degrees to the pressing axis of the shutter button. Other models from Olympus have the control dial serrations vertical which is a less ergonomic arrangement as it makes the index finger press the dial at 90 degrees to the shutter button.  If this handle was of more inverted L shape and the shutter button over to the left, the designers could have fitted another button to the right of the shutter button providing shutter button, control dial and three other buttons all easily accessible to the index finger. 


    If you look  at the actual positions of front and rear control dials on various cameras you might be excused for thinking that ‘anything goes’, with dials scattered about like confetti at a wedding.

    The fact that users manage to make some of these creations work is a testament to human dexterity not laissez-faire design.   In many cases users make cameras work despite bad design, not because of good design.


    In the case of a single dial camera  should the dial be located in front, for the index finger to operate, or at the rear, for the thumb to operate ?  Perusal of existing cameras reveals there is no industry consensus about this at all.


    Even within the model line up of most  manufacturers, there is no consistent approach.


    Yet the answer is perfectly obvious when the question is analysed ergonomically.


    The index finger is the only one without gripper duty and it has the greatest range of free movement  provided an optimal handle design is utilised, as described in my previous post.


    So a single control dial is optimally located for operation by the index finger.


    Note:   Some commentators, bloggers and respondents to my posts and apparently some manufacturers (based on their actual products) take the view that the thumb should optimally operate the control dial while the index finger is poised over the shutter button ready to capture the picture.


    But that is brain logic.


    Ergonomics requires finger logic which says that shutter button and the control dial always operate sequentially, never simultaneously.  So if they are located close together (not too close) and correctly designed we have the ideal configuration.


    Next question: Is there a ‘best’ position  and  if so where ?


    Review of actual cameras shows control dials in three main locations in relation to the shutter button:


    1. In front of, high/low


    2. Concentric with


    3. Behind, near/far


    Please refer to the photos for examples of these dispositions.


    Photo courtesy of Digital Photograpy Review
    Canon EOS 70D. This is the standard Canon DSLR layout which has been in use for many years. The control dial could with advantage be closer to the shutter button and angled to match the line of the index finger. The line of near identical buttons behind the dial could be rationalised and moved closer to the shutter button for better access. Canon could easily improve this layout but they keep churning out the same thing model after model.


    Guiding principles 


    1. The right hand and fingers should be most comfortable and relaxed in the position in which they spend most time in Capture Phase. That is with the index finger on the shutter button.  When I make mockups I put the shutter button where my index finger wants to find it then figure out optimum positions  for the adjacent control modules.


    Look at the pictures of Mockup #13. That shows where my fingers told me the shutter button needs to go after I shaped the handle for comfort and secure grip.  Then I added the control dial and adjacent two buttons,  guided at each step by my fingers.


    2. The control dial should be positioned close enough to the shutter button that it can easily and reliably be located and operated by the index finger by feel, without any need to look at the controls.


    After much experiment I have settled on a horizontal distance of 12mm between the center of the shutter button and the center of the control dial. This to some extent depends on the width of the shutter button but 12mm is in the optimum range. Any less is likely to be insufficient for functional separation. Any more is just forcing un-necessary side to side movement of the index finger.


    Many cameras utilise excessive separation between the shutter button and control dial which serves no useful purpose but demands an uncomfortable amount of lateral movement which may for many users only be accomplished by shifting grip completely with the right hand.


    3. The top surface of the shutter button and the control dial should both be at the same height relative to the natural movement of the index finger. This does not mean relative to the ground or any other fixed reference. It means that the index finger travels across an inclined plane as it moves from the shutter button to the control dial and that inclined plane is the height reference.


    Sports car drivers will understand this. They want the accelerator, brake and clutch pedals at the same height so moving from one to the other is fast and reliable.


    4. The control dial should be positioned and aligned on an axis so that flexion of the interphalangeal joints of the index finger bears directly on the dial.  See the photos for further reference.


    5. The upper surfaces of both the shutter button and control dial should be quite large and strongly textured (each very differently) so they are easy to locate and operate by feel.


    Canon SX60. Canon has at last decided to give its SX line a front control dial just like an EOS DSLR.  This one is on the same level as the shutter button, which is good, but the distance between the centers of each is 18mm. I find when using this camera that is too far.  The control dial could easily come closer to the shutter button and angle a bit for better access by the index finger.


    Bring all this together and what do we get ?


    Basically, mockup #13.  The shutter button is located forward just where it wants to be.  The control dial is close, but not too close, behind.  In addition this configuration of shutter button and control dial on top of an inverted L style handle enables the provision of the highly efficient quad control set.


    Photo courtesy of Imaging Resource
    Samsung NX1 showing near optimal positioning of shutter button, control dial and two adjacent buttons. If the function of those buttons can be user assigned this quad control set can provide very efficient operation.


    Does any existing (actual real working) camera  utilise this optimal front dial position ?


    Some get quite close. The Panasonic GH3/4 almost make it but there is un-necessary separation between the third and index fingers due to the shape of the upper handle. This makes the buttons behind the control dial very difficult to reach without shifting grip with the right hand.


    Some Sony and Pentax DSLR style cameras with the control dial in front of the shutter button almost make it but again there is un-necessary separation requiring a stretch between the index and third fingers. In addition the two are at different heights and the control dial is on an axis away from that which would line up with the index finger.


    I have trawled through many cameras present and past on the Digital Photography Review website and have managed to locate only two which come very close to the optimal configuration for shutter button /front dial design. As a bonus each has a quad control set.


    Samsung’s first ‘all designed/produced in house’ entry into the ILC market was the NX10 of 2010. I bought and used one for two years.  The designers of this camera got the relationship between the handle, shutter button and front dial just about right.

    Samsung followed up with the NX20 which is similar to the NX10 but larger. 


    The NX30 and NX1 are the two cameras which I nominate as having the handle, shutter button, front control dial and adjacent buttons very close to the optimal as determined by my research. 


    Yes………...Samsung.


    This is Mockup #13 again showing how easily the index finger can operate the shutter button, control dial and two adjacent buttons with user assignable function. This can happen without the need to move a muscle of any other finger.


    Now to the rear dial   Although not optimal as a single dial,  a well executed rear dial is very useful to have on a twin dial camera.  A camera with twin control dials can allocate one to aperture and the other to shutter speed for quick adjustment in Manual Exposure mode. One dial can be allocated to direct control of  Exposure Compensation in P, A or S Modes.  Twin dials greatly speed up scrolling zoomed files in Playback.


    Rear dials diagram referred to in the text below. The orange blob is intended to represent the thumb in neutral position.


    Existing cameras  have rear dials all over the place.  My research has led me to the view that there is one optimal location for a rear dial with the rest being suboptimal or worse.


    Please refer to the diagram  with my apologies for its poor quality. I find it easier to make things than draw them.  But it illustrates 6 locations where rear dials can be found on various cameras.


    Referring back to my little discourse on functional anatomy the diagram shows that the thumb can move side to side as shown by the arrows, without unduly disrupting the base of the thumb and its grip on the back of the camera. The end of the thumb (terminal phalanx) can also flex forward into the area occupied by #4 dial in the diagram.  The movement more relevant to rear dial position is the side to side one.


    Notice that the thumb cannot move up or down without  releasing grip on the camera.


    Analysing the benefits or otherwise of  each rear dial position:


    Photo courtesy of Digital Photography Review
    Olympus EM1 with rear dial in position 1. The right hand has to release grip and move up to operate this dial.


    1. Several cameras have a rear dial here.  I have owned several of them. In order to prevent the thumb from bumping into it all the time it must be set forward.  Thus located it cannot be operated unless the thumb rises up to get a purchase on it. But for that to happen the user must release grip on the camera with the right hand, support the camera with the left hand, move the right hand up, work the dial then put the right hand back down again.


    I call this juggling. Support for and control of the mass of the camera has to be juggled from one hand to the next while shifting grip with one or both hands.


    Photo courtesy of Digital Photography Review
    Nikon D5300 with rear dial in position 2. Notice the small thumb support pushed over to the right as required by this dial location.


    2. Again, several cameras have a dial here.  I have owned a few. The problem is that you cannot have both a decent thumb support and a dial in this location.  In order for the thumb to bear effectively onto the dial it must lift over the thumb support, which therefore must be very small and located way to the right side which, as I discussed in the previous post, provides a suboptimal thumb position.


    Photo courtesy of Imaging Resource
    Samsung NX1 showing rear control dial in position 3. This is not bad but there is plenty of space on this camera to put the dial in the optimal position 6.  

    3. Here is a somewhat favourite spot also. This position is not as ergonomically problematic as the previous two but is not optimal either. I have owned several cameras with a UIM here.

    It is rather too high and wide to the left for comfort. The round module marked  X on the diagram is located where the thumb wants to go. There is no space for a control dial here but I used the spot for a JOG lever  in Mockup #13.


    In practice operating a control dial in position #3 means moving the right hand position a bit. That’s not the end of the world but there is a better way…..read on.


    Photo courtesy of Digital Photography Review
    Sony A7 with rear dial between positions 1 and 4. It is set forward so it won't be bumped all the time but the right hand still has to shift up to operate the dial.


    4. I have seen and used some cameras with a dial here. This location is ergonomically absurd. The dial cannot be used for functions in Capture Phase as the thumb is on it all the time.


    Several cameras, mostly from Fuji,  which do have a dial here benefit from an after  market thumb rest which slots into the hotshoe,  keeps the thumb off the dial and allows the thumb to take on the desirable angled position. 


    Fuji would do its customers a huge service by simply designing its cameras properly in the first place so owners don’t have to resort to aftermarket handles and thumb rests to achieve some level of ergonomic  integrity.



    5. Lots of cameras have a dial down here. It works just fine for Setup, Prepare and Review Phase tasks but is not desirable for Capture Phase as the thumb must be released completely from the camera in order to access the dial.


    Panasonic FZ1000. This is a good rear dial.  It is optimally positioned and has excellent haptics. The thumb can swing across to reach and operate the dial easily. The cutaway shape of the thumb support below the dial is a bit strange though.


    6. At last we have arrived at the optimal location. The control dial is embedded in a moderately prominent angled thumb support. The dial has sufficient projection and serration that it is easily operated by the thumb.


    The thumb can easily swing right to operate the control dial or left to operate the JOG lever without disrupting grip with the base of the thumb.


    Easy. Very small cameras probably lack the horizontal width to incorporate a dial here but the solution to that is to use a front dial, not a rear dial in a suboptimal position.


    Here is Mockup#13 again showing the thumb in neutral position. It can easily swing right to operate the rear dial or left to bear on the JOG lever in the cutaway top right corner of the monitor area.  Neither action disrupts the hold gained by the base of the thumb.


    How many cameras  have this rear dial location ? Not many as it happens.


    Sony’s A77 and A99 do although the control panel on both these cameras is very cluttered with buttons. 


    The enduring mystery at Sony is that some model lines have a completely different control system from others. All models are used by humans with the same hands and they all have to perform the same functions so why the difference in controls ??


    The Panasonic GH3/4 and FZ1000 have well positioned rear dials which operate nicely. The A77 and FZ1000 have a strange cutaway thumb support beneath the control dial for reasons which elude me.


    Nothing I could find at Canon or Nikon fits the bill.


    Summary    Existing cameras have front and rear dials scattered about as if the chosen location were the consequence of whimsy or habit.


    Ergonomic analysis shows that there is in fact an optimum location for a front dial and an optimum location for a rear dial, just as there is an optimum design for the handle and thumb support.


    Many recent market reports are describing a dramatic and accelerating fall in sales of all kinds of cameras over the last few years.


    A major problem with many cameras is their ergonomics. Some are quite good, many are suboptimal and some are horrible.


    Camera makers, designers and product development personnel need to get serious about ergonomic issues. They need to stop dithering around with model variations which make no sense ergonomically and start making cameras which are a pleasure to own and use.








     





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    Mockup #13 General View

    Bringing the elements together


    I have been building mockups  to develop and refine my ideas about camera ergonomics for the last five years.


    Mockup #13  brings together  many of these ideas  in one place.


    To the casual observer  Mockup #13 might look like just another DSLR shaped camera. Some might notice the unusual backwards cant on the handle.  However I have discovered that good ergonomics is made up of many details which must be configured so they come together as a coherent whole.


    Mockup #13 is a proper camera  This has all the features required by an expert user for full control over the image capture process. Specifically it has an EVF optimally positioned above the lens axis which is well to the left (as viewed by the user) to make space on the right side for a fully anatomical handle of inverted L shape canted back 10 degrees. There is a built in flash unit which can operate as a commander for off camera units. The monitor is fully articulated. The control layout is based on the modern [Mode Dial + twin Control Dials] system with two additional set and see dials for Focus Mode and Drive Mode. The AF box can be moved instantly with a JOG lever in the upper right corner of the monitor area.  The function of all buttons is user assignable from a long list of options covering Setup, Prepare, Capture and Review Phase actions.


    Novices and snapshooters can leave all UIMs (User Interface Modules, buttons, dials etc) at default and the Main Mode Dial on Auto for immediate use with fully automatic function.


    Mockup #13 showing canted back handle


    The size  of Mockup #13 has been carefully considered. It is large enough to be held and operated easily by an adult with large hands. But it is overall quite small being 120mm wide and 80mm high.  

    The effective depth is lens dependent.

    The design of the handle and controls have been developed so it can be used easily by children and small adults.


    The small size allows it to be easily carried in a compact shoulder bag.

    It would be suitable for a MILC (Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera) with sensor from diagonal 11mm to 28mm in size. It would also be very suitable for a range of FZLCs (Fixed Zoom Lens Camera)with different sensor sizes in the range of  11-21mm diagonal.


    It allows a full sized EVF and a full sized handle with a monitor large enough for framing and review but not so large it overwhelms the back of the camera.


    Back of Mockup with labels


    Photo: Rear view with labels

    A total width of 120mm provides sufficient room for an monitor large enough for its purpose and a control panel (the rear of the camera to the right of the monitor)  42mm wide. This provides enough space for a moderately prominent diagonal type thumb support with embedded rear dial and enough clear space between the rear dial and the JOG lever for an average to large thumb without it impinging on any UIM (User Interface Module).

    This ratio of monitor to control panel is smaller than you will find on some recent cameras. In the early days of digital,  monitors were much smaller. Over the years they expanded to the point they now completely dominate the back of some cameras to the exclusion of a workable control panel.

    Mockup#13 restores a more ergonomic balance.


    The shape of the rear part of the handle has evolved over the years to provide a very comfortable hold, diagonal thumb support, protection from unwanted activation of the 4Way pad and adjacent buttons and a rounded shape which fits the palm.


    The monitor is of the optimal fully articulated type.  Having used fixed, swing up/down and fully articulated monitors I can say with confidence that the fully articulated type is easily the most versatile in landscape and portrait orientation and also when carrying ( the monitor can be turned in for protection).


    There are 5 buttonsand a 4Way pad of rocking saucer design with raised edges for easy location and operation by feel with the thumb. The 4Wy pad shown on the mockup is just to indicate position not the fine details of shape which are beyond my construction skills.


    There are enough buttons for the job, without cluttering the operating environment with more than required. Each button (which is a phillips head screw on the mockup) is sufficiently prominent to locate and operate easily by touch, aided by the roughly textured surface which is easy to feel. The buttons are larger than you find on many cameras, ranging from 8mm to 6mm in diameter.


    The function of each button is user assignable from a long list of options  although there is a default function which would be inscribed on or adjacent to the button on a production model.  


    Rear of mockup in hand. The thumb can swing right onto the rear dial or left onto the JOG lever without disrupting grip.


    The JOG Lever deserves some explanation.  Its main function is to provide immediate control over the position of the AF box in Capture Phase, by pushing the lever up/down, left/right.  It could  reset the AF box to center with a short push directly forward or activate a ‘change size of box’ function with a long push directly forward.  


    The thumb can move easily to the left to operate the JOG Lever without disrupting grip and without having to drop down to the 4Way Pad as is the case with many cameras these days.  

    It could also be used for scrolling around menus or images in Setup, Prepare and Review phases.


    Every time I make a mockup around this size my thumb wants to find it exactly where it is shown in the photo, right on the corner of the monitor. So that is the optimal ergonomic location.  The diameter of the top of the lever is 14mm which is also ergonomically optimal.


    But I am not entirely sure about the technical feasibility of this design and position. 


    First the top right corner of the monitor housing has to be clipped. That might reduce the effective size of the preview/review image.   


    Second the size of the module is smaller than I have seen on some high spec DSLRs.


    I have assumed that clever  engineers can solve these technical problems.  Camera designers usually have much more difficulty with conceptual than technical problems.


    Left eye viewers may find the right thumb bumps their nose when operating the JOG lever. The solution to that should it be a problem is to make the monitor and the whole camera wider.


    General view front right side


    The Rear Dial  is easily operated by the thumb simply by swinging the thumb to the right, without having to bend the thumb and without  disrupting the right hand grip.  The dial has sufficient rearward projection and is of sufficiently toothy shape that the thumb can turn it readily.  It will not turn accidentally if the detail design is optimal.


    So the thumb can move easily to the left for the JOG Lever or Right for the rear Dial while maintaining grip with the right hand.


    The EVF eyepiece  is large and the rubber eyecup is soft, deep and rounded in shape to match the shape of the human eye socket in landscape or portrait orientation.  Some cameras have a little round eyepiece cup which allows excess stray light entry. Some have a rectangular eyecup which suggests the designers need to get out and about a bit more to check how many humans have a rectangular eye socket.  Lets see……………..that would be………..none………….


    The lower right corner  of the body is rounded so it sits comfortably into the junction between the ball of the thumb and the mid section of the palm.  Many cameras have a rather sharp corner here. Do the designers not hold and operate their creations ??


    Look at the height of the top plate to the right of the EVF/flash housing. That is as high as I could make it and still have the tops of the dials fall below the top of the flash housing.


    Why ?  To provide the maximum possible handle  and shutter button height.


    And why did I want that ?  To provide a full five finger grip with the right hand for maximum comfort and stability.


    You will note that DSLR designs in particular go for the ‘sloping shoulders’ look presumably to minimise the appearance of bulk. This is successful but at the cost of handle/shutter button height. On the smaller models the consequence of this is a smaller handle and weaker grip than could be provided within the overall dimensions of the device.


    Top with labels


    Photo: Top View With labels:

    The key item here is the location of the shutter button. It is set forward and the center is 32mm inboard from the right side of the handle.  This is where my index finger wanted to find it. I shaped and reshaped the handle and entire top of the right side of the camera until that shutter button was in the right place for my index finger with all the other fingers arranged comfortably with no strain and the hand in the ‘half closed relaxed’ position.  The shutter button is oval in shape to accommodate hands of different sizes. It sits up 4mm from the top of the camera and has a textured upper surface so it is always easy to locate and operate by feel. 


    Many modern cameras have the shutter button so smooth and so continuous with the surrounding skin of the body (presumably for reasons of styling)  that it is un-necessarily difficult to locate by feel.


    All the other UIMs (User Interface Modules) came in after the shutter button.


    Next I positioned the Front Dial. This is behind the shutter button, at the same height and angled to match the natural line of the index finger.  The center of the front dial is 12mm behind the center of the shutter button.  This feels right to me although some users might believe they are too close.


    Most cameras with a front dial behind the shutter button (typically Canon DSLRs) have excessive separation between the two which forces the index finger  and third finger apart.  This in turn makes reaching the buttons behind the control dial impossible without changing grip with the right hand.


    In fact in the ‘half closed relaxed’ position those two fingers want to lie quite closely together, so that is what I allow them to do when designing my mockup handles.


    Mockup #13 in hand top view. 


    Buttons 1 and 2  are located to the right of the shutter button and Front Dial. I experimented with the actual position until it was just right, not too close, not too far.


    They are set down below the height of the adjacent UIMs so they will not be bumped accidentally. 

    Yet they are easy to reach and operate simply by pulling back the index finger.


    The Shutter Button, Front Dial and Buttons 1 and 2 together create the ‘Quad Control Set’. If the buttons are used for ISO Sensitivity and Exposure Compensation the camera can be driven from the Quad Control Set for most photos using just the right index finger.


    There are three set and see dials on top of the camera. These are used for the most commonly required Mode settings in Prepare Phase of use, generally Main Capture Mode, Drive Mode and Focus Mode.


    Note that set and see  dials are used for adjustments in Prepare Phase when you can drop the camera down from the eye to see the dials.  Set and see dials are not used for adjusting primary and secondary exposure parameters in Capture Phase when you are looking through the viewfinder and, obviously, cannot see the dials on top of the camera.


    On the lens  the zoom and focus rings are continuously serrated right around the circumference to allow the left hand and fingers to operate the rings in any of the 8 possible engagement positions of the left hand on the lens.


    The EVF eyepiece  projects back 16mm from the plane of the monitor so the operator can look straight ahead when viewing with either eye.


    About the handle  I have done a lot of work over several years on handle design. You see here the optimal ‘inverted L’ type the precise dimensions of which have been developed ‘in the wood’.   Note there is minimal  separation between the right index and third fingers. The width and projection of the handle have been arrived at after many trial versions.  The third finger slips comfortably beneath the shutter button, which is located vertically above the left face (as viewed by the user) of the handle.


    At least one camera maker (Canon) appears to have gotten the message about the inverted L handle,  a rather nice implementation of which appears on the Powershot SX60.  Its not perfect, the whole handle could easily be higher with advantage and the control dial needs to come forward about 5mm.  
    But still…. definitely a move in the right direction in the handle department.  Other aspects of the SX60 ergonomics such as the 4 Way pad which is flush with the surrounds and therefore incapable of being located by feel, are to put it mildly,  totally frustrating.


    Holding at eye level both hands in comfortable position. Slight forward tilt of the right wrist. Right index and middle fingers close together laterally. Strong, comfortable relaxed hold on the camera ready for capture


    But wait, there’s more  about the handle. That on Mockup #13 is canted back 10 degrees. 


    When a DSLR, MILC or FZLC with standard projecting or inverted L handle is held to the eye, the right wrist must be tilted forward. Camera users have been doing this for years without breaking anything so what’s the problem ?


    Well, maybe not really a problem but there is a better way. A feature doesn’t have to be broken for a better design to be worth implementing. 


    One, possibly the only, advantage of the ‘top rear shutter button, mini handle’ style of layout seen on, for instance, Fuji X cameras and the Panasonic LX100 is that the right wrist does not have to tilt forward, or at least very little, when holding the camera to the eye.


    So I figured to have the advantages of both control layout styles simply by using the inverted L and canting it back 10 degrees.  It works. Perfectly.


    The idea is not entirely new. You can see slightly canted back handles on current model Hasselblad cameras. However I have not previously seen a fully integrated version like that on Mockup #13.


    All cameras above compact size should be using this handle design as demonstrated on Mockup#13.


    Summary  Mockup#13 brings together the fruits of several years work on camera ergonomics. It is my best mockup yet.

    I hope you enjoy reading about it and thinking about the concepts which it embodies.













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    Oystercatcher: Canon SX60 at full zoom

    Yesterday this blog   recorded a million page views.

    I started the blog  in February 2012 thinking that maybe 5000 people in the world might have some slight interest in reading about the rather arcane topic of camera ergonomics.


    As it happened, readership has slowly grown to the present level of about 1200 page views per day.


    This of course is a tiny figure compared to the more popular photography blogs and websites, but is quite gratifying to me given the heavy going presented by some of the posts, the more challenging of which read like extracts from a textbook.


    The blog would have attracted much less traffic had I concentrated entirely on ergonomic issues.


    In fact the all  time most popular post has been  ‘Micro Four Thirds Shutter Shock Revisited’ .


    The behaviour of the various camera manufacturers with regard to the shutter shock issue has in my view been counter productive. They know shutter shock is an issue and most now have some kind of strategy in place to prevent it but I have never seen acknowledgement by any camera maker that the issue exists.


    That can only alienate actual and prospective customers.


    They would earn many friends by openly acknowledging the issue,  publishing guidelines for its management with various camera/lens combinations and posting regular bulletins with updates about the problem as new technologies become available.


    They do not do these things. In fact they make very little effort to reach out to their customers in any way whatsoever.


    They do not invite feedback about their products from customers either.


    Then they wonder why camera sales are falling precipitously.


    But, back to the blog…..


    The next most popular posts are camera reviews and comparisons.


    Posts about setting up various cameras have also proven enduringly popular, even years after a camera’s release.


    Posts about ergonomics are less popular in numbers but generate responses from readers many of whom think carefully about the issues involved. Their feedback has been very helpful to me in my quest for better understanding of camera ergonomics.


    Most readers of the blog are in the USA, followed by UK, Germany, Australia, Canada then most of the Euro Zone countries (East and West), Russia and a long list of ‘others’ including Indonesia, Taiwan, Japan (occasionally) and a few more in small numbers.


    The main current project  of the blog is to advertise and promulgate my scoring system for camera ergonomics.  I have now applied this to 10 cameras and am starting to gain confidence that it is sufficiently robust to be useful across the spectrum of camera types.


    My ongoing campaign to promote better understanding of camera ergonomics continues.


    Camera makers and reviewers continue to disappoint me with their lack of understanding about ergonomic issues in camera design.


    Lastly I want to thank all the readers who point out typos, correct my silly mistakes and challenge my ideas. Please keep up the good work.

    Andrew.



      


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    Flowers by the wayside. Canon SX60. While out for a walk, I made this photo of flowers growing at about waist height by setting Macro Mode on the SX60, moving the camera close to the subject and firing hand held using autofocus, viewing on the fully articulated monitor. The process took about a minute, with me grabbing shots inbetween gusts of wind.  If I had been using  full frame camera this photo would have required a tripod, macro lens, 15 minutes of setup time and  lots of luck because the lens would have to be stopped down leading to slow shutter speeds and mostly blurred pictures because of the wind. 



    ILC:   Interchangeable Lens Camera


    DSLR:  Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera


    MILC:  Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera


    FZLC:  Fixed Zoom Lens Camera


    In November 2013  I posted a 4 part series entitled ‘The Future of Cameras’.  This was part fact, part analysis, part conjecture. 


    Since then dramatic changes have continued to shake the camera industry.   Overall sales have further declined,  the fall now affecting DSLRs as well as compacts.


    Despite falling sales,  camera makers have continued to pump increasing numbers of models onto the market.  I checked the Canon Australia website today. Canon lists 15 current models of ILC, 13 of which are DSLRs and 2 are MILCs.  Ten have a 27mm diagonal  (APS-C)  sensor,  five a 43mm diagonal (full frame) sensor.  


    In retail outlets even more camera models are available as unsold stocks of the previous two or three generations of models are still on the shelves.


    On the same website 84 lens models are listed.


    It might be time for camera makers to consolidate their product lineups. But consolidate to what ?


    White Faced Heron. Canon SX60.  a few minutes after making the flower photo above I spotted this heron on the intertidal rocks about 30 meters away. I changed from Macro to Normal focus setting, zoomed out the lens and got the shot. I had no need to change lenses, no need for a tripod or even a monopod. The photo will not win any awards but is of sufficient quality for printing up to about A3 size.  The FZLC is very versatile.


    There has for several years  been a debate on camera forums about whether MILC s will supplant DSLRs as the preferred camera type for enthusiast photographers.  But this debate may be rendered of limited relevance by advances in small sensor technology and aspheric elements which allow lenses to be made much more compact than was the case with spherical elements.


    It seems to me there are basically two groups of camera users.  


    1. Professionals and some dedicated semi professionals and


    2. The rest, consisting of a motley congregation of  enthusiasts, expert amateurs, want-to-be experts, snapshooters and anybody else who elects to make pictures with a camera instead of the more usual smartphone.  This group is, or has been until very recently, the backbone of the camera industry, buying by far the greatest number of cameras.


    Until the last year or so  there has been a largely correct view among camera sellers and buyers that if you wanted good quality pictures you should get  an ILC and some decent lenses.


    Canon SX60 on the left, Panasonic FZ1000 on the right


    But the Sony CMOS BSI 15.9mm diagonal (‘one inch’, 13.2 x 8.8mm) sensor  first seen in the RX100Mk2 changed all that.  


    This sensor has since appeared in the Sony RX100(3), Sony RX10, Canon G7X and Panasonic FZ1000.


    These cameras have excellent image quality allowing very big enlargements. The RX10 and particularly the FZ1000 can replace an entry to mid range ILC and a bag full of lenses.


    So here is my vision of the future of cameras:  My crystal ball is a bit fuzzy as there are so many unpredictables in the mix, but here goes anyway:


    1. Professionals and dedicated amateurs who want nothing but the best will keep on doing what they are doing now which is using full frame ILCs.  These are mostly DSLRs at present but the move to MILCs started by the Sony A7 will likely gain momentum.  Or not, depending Canon and Nikon’s capacity for obduracy.


    2.’The Rest’ will likely find their needs well met by a FZLC and/or an advanced compact.  Some members of this group may well continue to buy ILCs perhaps believing they will get better pictures or better something by so doing.  But my experience of using the FZ1000 over the last 9 months is that ILCs have become irrelevant to me. And I am very fussy about picture quality.


    3. What about all the entry/upper entry/midrange ILCs with 27mm (APS-C Canon), 28mm (APS-C Sony, Nikon etc) and 21.5mm (Micro 4/3) sensors ?   Well, I think they are drifting towards obsolescence.


    Why? Take the 27/28mm sensor size. By the time you add a couple of pro grade f2-2.8 zooms, the resulting kit is almost as large as full frame with two f2.8 zooms and maybe even larger than full frame with f4 zooms.  So I just don’t see why professionals or dedicated expert amateurs would bother with the smaller sensor size.


    What about ‘the rest’ many of whom are currently using an APS-C DSLR or MILC ?  As I opined above I believe their needs can already be met by one of the better FZLCs and in the next few years the improving capability of FZLCs will make their appeal even stronger.


    There might I suppose be a niche for professionals and enthusiast amateurs who want quality but a substantially more compact kit than full frame can provide. Micro 4/3 could fill this. Maybe. But so could a top tier FZLC with a fast lens.


    Advanced compact mockup. This is 2mm taller than a Sony RX100(3) but has much better ergonomics with a decent handle and built in EVF always available (no need to pop it up).
    Small size is compatible with reasonably decent ergonomics.


    4. I think there a place for a really capable advanced compact, also with fixed zoom lens.
    Sony’s RX100 series has been a proof of concept for this type of camera, they just need to get the ergonomics right. My compact mockup shown in the photo illustrates how I think that could be done.


    5. Now let’s talk FZLCs. 

    Some people refer to this type as a ‘Bridge Camera’ as if it were a bridge spanning a gap between something (maybe a compact) and something else (maybe a DSLR). But the modern FZLC is not a bridge from anything to anything else, it is a fully independent stand alone camera type which can in fact replace an ILC and a set of lenses.


    This morning I was reading a post by a well known photographer who said that when asked what lenses one should take on a photographic expedition his response would be …”everything from 16mm to 500mm”.  Precisely.  And if you could have all that range or close to it in a camera with one fixed zoom lens that might be a very appealing proposition, provided the image quality was good enough.

    Smaller, lighter, much less expensive, no need to buy and change lenses.  Sounds like a good idea.


    In the 20th Century the way to  provide  multiple focal lengths was interchangeable lenses.


    In the 21st Century long zoom lenses  provide the same capability without the need to buy, carry and change lenses.


    There are FZLCs on the market right now with remarkable zoom ranges. For instance the Canon Powershot SX60 which I am reviewing at the moment has an astounding 65x zoom range from  E21-1365mm.


    The camera can make surprisingly good images in ideal conditions but in low light and/or at the long end of the zoom, neither the tiny 7.7mm diagonal sensor nor the lens are capable of delivering sufficient image quality to satisfy a discerning user.  Several cameras with similar specification are in the same boat.


    Aperture-Sensor size-Zoom range diagram. If one of the three becomes larger then one or both of the other two must become smaller to maintain overall size.


    A larger sensor is required, along with a lens of more modest zoom range.


    It seems to me there could be a place for three FZLCs which might appeal to the discerning amateur photographer.


    #1. Sensor about 20mm diameter (cropped 4/3);  about 16Mpx;  lens wide angle to medium tele, say Equivalent 22-150mm;  wide aperture, say f1.5-2.0. This is a general purpose camera which would cover the needs of most users most of the time and might be the only camera many owners would ever need.


    #2. Sensor about 11mm diameter (the so called 2/3inch size); about 10Mpx; lens medium to long tele, say Equivalent 100-800mm;  aperture f2-2.8. This is a sport/action/wildlife/bird/nature camera with fast focussing and high frame rate.


    #3. Sensor same as above, about 11mm diameter; about 10Mpx; lens wide to long, say about Equivalent 24-600mm; f2.5-2.8. This is the all purpose model for the user who wants just one camera which can do most photographic jobs.


    As I envisage this three camera scenario, each of the three cameras would be about the same size, have the same system of controls and a very similar sized lens.


    A camera built to the design of my Mockup #13  would be just about right I think.


    There are no ‘levels’ of cameras in this scheme of products. Each has the best available sensor and operating system. Each is fully specified. Beginners have only to set ‘Auto’ Mode on the dial to start taking photos immediately. More experienced users can explore the full range of the camera’s capabilities.


    Could these three FZLCs  be made with existing technology right now ?


    I suspect the answer to that is very likely ‘yes’. Look at the lens on the Panasonic LX100.  With a larger body at Mockup #13 size I am sure they could readily double the zoom range and keep a wide aperture.


    Some cameras notably from Fuji, have been using the 11mm sensor for several years, albeit in the idiosyncratic EXR formulation. . With further development and a more conventional architecture this size could deliver very decent image quality.  10 Mpx is plenty for good image quality, even with substantial enlargement.


    So yes, I think camera makers could make the FZLCs which I suggest right now.


    So, why do they not  do so ?  Of course I have no idea what goes on in the corridors of camera development at the various manufacturers.


    But here is my guess for what it is worth: If they did make those cameras, did the job with full force, put all the top technology into each one, then I suspect buyers would wonder what might be the point of getting an ILC.

    In that case the market for ILCs might collapse and the total number of cameras and lenses sold each year might fall to some small fraction of the present level.


    And that would make life very difficult for several, maybe all the camera makers, some (most ?)  of whom  I suspect would decide to exit the imaging business.


    But the survivors would end up making cameras which customers want to buy and use, and that would be very good thing.


    What about the Panasonic FZ1000 ?  This is currently the best multi purpose, do (almost) everything FZLC on the market and is my regular camera. Panasonic could stay with the current formula for sensor size and lens zoom range /aperture range and just update sensor capability and AF follow focus capability at intervals. Nothing wrong with that. But if the formula is to change in the direction of greater zoom range/aperture then the sensor size needs to be smaller.


    What about the Panasonic LX100 ?  I have one of these and it makes fine pictures. At least it did until it didn’t. It is in the workshop for a new main board having stopped working suddenly. But I digress. I see this size camera as a ‘betwixt-and-between’.  It is not really compact like a Sony RX100 so it has to be carried in a bag just like a larger model. So why not make it larger with more zoom range and better ergonomics. The slightly larger bag required is no more bother to carry all day.


    For any given overall  camera size, there is a nexus between sensor size, lens zoom range and lens aperture range  as depicted in the diagram. The designers can increase, say,  the zoom range but doing so requires that the aperture range and/or sensor size be reduced.  The key to good design is to get the balance right so that the camera is able to make good pictures in a wide variety of conditions.


    Look at the Panasonic FZ1000 and Canon SX60 together. They are roughly the same size. The FZ1000 is a bit larger, particularly in the lens.  They have the same proper camera layout with hump top, EVF, full handle, built in flash and fully articulated monitor.


    The SX60 has an Equivalent 21-1365mm f3.4-6.5 lens (65x zoom) and 7.7mm sensor.


    The FZ1000 has an Equivalent 25-400mm f2.8-4 lens (16x zoom) and 15.9mm sensor.


    The FZ1000 makes really good pictures in most conditions, the Canon has a much more limited envelope of reasonably good imaging capability.


    The FZ1000 has a good balance between lens zoom range, lens aperture and sensor size.


    The SX 60 is unbalanced. The zoom range is extreme, presumably for marketing reasons, forcing the lens aperture range to be very small (large f numbers) and the sensor to be very small.

    The pictures which emerge from it have excess digital noise from the small sensor with more pixels than it needs and softness from the over ambitious lens.


    Summary  Over the last few years the camera industry has been buffeted by many changes which challenge the survival of many makes, models and concepts of the good camera.


    The future is notoriously difficult to predict but it seems highly unlikely that ‘business as (currently) usual’ is likely to continue.  All the players are pushing out too many models which are almost the same as last year’s version and/or are half baked with desirable features such as a viewfinder and handle  missing.


    They keep churning out the same old stuff when the market is telling them to change and do it fast.


    It seems to me that one possible way forward is that detailed in this post, namely a shift from ILCs to FZLCs for the majority of  non professional camera buyers/users.


    The market will decide, but I would  like to see more high grade FZLCs available from which to choose.   
    I think manufacturers are quite capable of making these cameras with present technology but some appear reluctant to produce them.


    We live in interesting times.



      


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