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The independent source for study and review of camera ergonomics.

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    Automobiles with  internal combustion engines need a ‘running in’ period when new. Manufacturers advise against heavy acceleration or continuous work at high load or high revolutions in the first 1000 kilometers or so. This is to allow machined components moving in contact with each other to wear slightly allowing them to settle in and operate smoothly.


    I have recently tested  several lenses which when new showed evidence of decentering indicated by obvious unsharpness on one side of the image in a focal length range.  After repeated use, the unsharpness disappeared.


     The lenses in question were the 16x zoom in one of my  family’s Panasonic FZ1000 cameras, a PanaLeica 15mm f1.7 M43 lens and a Panasonic Lumix 12-35mm f2.8 M43 lens.


    As part of my usual routine I tested each of these lenses when it arrived in my household. I do this by making a series of general photos out and about at various focal lengths (in the case of the zooms) and apertures.


    Then I take the lenses inside and photograph my standard test chart with the usual protocols: tripod, OIS off, E-Shutter, timer delay, AF and MF for comparison.  The camera was carefully centered on the test chart as usual.


    With each of these lenses there was obvious loss of resolution on the right side of the frame, in one focal length range (in the case of the zooms).


    I wondered if one or some of the zoom or focus elements in the lenses might be moving slightly out of  position as the lens operated.


    In the old days the glass elements of a lens were mounted in a brass mount with a helical thread. To focus,  the mount was rotated thereby moving the glass element(s) back and forth.  


    This system is way too slow for modern contrast detect AF systems which drive the focussing elements directly back and forth on little rails. I imagine the manufacturing tolerances involved must be extremely fine.


    I also imagine that if there is a slight irregularity in the surfaces which slide against each other, it might be possible to rectify this by a process analogous to ‘running in’ an internal combustion engine.


    So, I put each lens through  a series of exercises.


    With the zooms I zoomed wide, then focussed at the closest possible distance then at infinity, 50 times. Then I zoomed out to the longest focal length and repeated the focus-close, focus-infinity cycle 50 times. I repeated all this at intermediate focal lengths.


    In the case of the FZ1000 I increased the number of  near-far focus cycles at each focal length to 500.  This was pure guesswork, I had no idea if  the strategy would work or how many zoom/focus cycles might be required.


    Results


    It worked.


    Each of the lenses is now performing perfectly, with no sign of decentering or unsharpness.


    Suggestion:   If your new lens appears not to be performing to specification try giving it a workout.

    You might get a pleasant surprise.





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    I made this picture today by scanning a 44 year old monochrome negative. Will any of our modern digital images stand the test of time this well ? Will any of our new hi-tech wunderkameras tell the story any better ?

    Most manufacturers have been busy this year rolling out products touted as new and improved.

    But my impression is that the whole camera market is to a substantial extent jogging on the spot with much huffing and puffing but for the most part only modest progress.


    The turn of the  Century saw widespread acceptance of digital imaging. This was a disruptive innovation requiring players in the industry to adapt or exit.


    But the concept of the camera changed little apart from replacing film with a silicon based sensor and circuitry.

    The paradigm shift came in the form of the smart phone, which completely changed everything about creating, storing, editing and sharing images.


    Camera sales have now been in decline for several years suggesting buyer disenchantment across the spectrum.


    Cameras generally are lagging far behind smartphones for connectivity and for ‘all in one’ capability; that is the ability to capture, store, edit and share images with one single device.


    When my grandchildren ask ‘what camera should I buy’ I say ‘get a smart phone’.


    But those very same grandchildren say they want lots of zoom so maybe there is a future for cameras after all and specifically ones with a fixed long zoom lens.


    Battles for dominance


    It seems to me there are two main contests right now.


    Considering Interchangeable Lens Cameras (ILC)the battle is between the ‘old guard’ consisting of the Digital Single Lens Camera (DSLR) and the ‘challengers’ consisting of Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras (MILC).


    DSLRs have the advantage of incumbency, but there is no direction in which the DSLR can evolve. Sure the sensors can improve but that technology can be used for any camera.


    Meanwhile there are specific areas of weakness in MILC technology which are impeding development of the genre.


    As I see it the main ones are


    * The mechanical focal plane shutter. These things cause vibration producing image impairment. The ‘final solution’ is a global shutter. Some video cameras have a global shutter but one has not yet been fitted to a consumer MILC designed for stills as well as video.

    There are workarounds including Electronic First Curtain Shutter (EFCS) and Electronic Shutter (E-Shutter), but both of these technologies have problems and limitations, making them a stop-gap technology.


    * Electronic View Finder (EVF) refresh rates. EVFs have improved considerably over the last few years but none can yet match the refresh rate of an Optical View Finder (OVF). In addition even the latest EVFs have difficulty displaying correct color in all conditions.


    * Continuous autofocus (AFC) on moving subjects with multiple exposures per second. This is sometimes called  ‘follow focus’.  MILCs are catching up to DSLRs but still have some way to go.


    I think that delay in moving forward with a solution to these three technological problems is the main reason that progress in ILCs is in the doldrums at the moment.


    DSLRs are going nowhere because they have nowhere to go.


    MILCs have not yet supplanted DSLRs as the dominant ILC because they have unresolved issues which require technological solutions.


    The second main contest within the camera world is that of  Interchangeable Lens Camera (ILC) versus Fixed Zoom Lens Camera (FZLC).


    I believe this contest is likely to be much more relevant for the great majority of people who decide to use a camera for making photos. 


    The reasons are simple and are all about the user experience: versatility, convenience, never having to change lenses, cost (never having to buy extra lenses), a ‘one-device’ solution to all photographic requirements.


    But FZLCs have their own issues  (some shared with MILCs)  and await resolution of these before they can convince ILC users to switch camp in large numbers.  


    As I see it the main ones are:


    * Follow focus capability

    Note: FZLCs use leaf shutters. I have not read any reports or claims of shutter shock blur with this shutter type.

    * Zoom lens technology. This has improved dramatically in recent years particularly with the availability of aspheric lens elements in consumer cameras, but there is plenty of room for further development.


    * Small sensor capability. This has also improved in recent years but more needs to be done.

    Again we see evolution of a camera type restrained by the pace of technological development.

    Just as ILCs are in the doldrums awaiting technological developments, so are FZLCs.  


    I believe that when the issues above have been resolved to the satisfaction of most camera users then ILCs will become the preferred camera type for a small group at the upper end of the market, with most opting for a FZLC.


    So on my analysis the whole industry is marking time awaiting technological developments.

    Hence the dearth of really convincing new cameras this year.


    Of course, this being the Camera Ergonomics blog I must say that all cameras of all types are still afflicted by ongoing ergonomic deficiencies. But the solution to this is conceptual not technological.


    Camera makers need to read this blog and take my excellent and carefully researched advice.


    Let us quickly run  through the current offerings by brand. I have used DP Review (dpreview.com) as data source.


    Canon  released 17 new still photo cameras this year, the most of any manufacturer.  Yet I find not a single candidate for camera of the year (COTY) among them. The DSLRs are just reiterating established themes. They are not bad cameras but none of them pushes the envelope. Some have lots of pixels which exacerbates the vibration problem with flipping mirror and mechanical focal plane shutter.


    The Powershots and MILCs are a mediocre, half baked bunch. Only one of them (the G5X) has a built in EVF but it has to have a little rest after each RAW capture. Is this the 21st Century ?


    Fujifilm  released 6 new cameras but I see nothing notable or really new here. The X-T10 looks like a recycled X-T1 with fewer features and a lower price. Same old sensor though, and I do mean old. Sensors four size levels smaller are now offering 20mpx yet the X-Cams are stuck at 16mpx.


    Leicareleased 4 cameras, two of which, the Q and SL were actually new. The SL manages the previously-considered-impossible by being a MILC larger than many DSLRs, with similarly huge lenses and terrible ergonomics thrown in for bad measure.  


    Reviewers raved about the Q presumably because it is a camera some wealthy people might buy to use.  


    The Typ262 gives new meaning to the ‘retro’ idea with manual focus and no live view. Will anyone buy and use this thing ? Why ? What century are we in anyway?


    Nikon  is second to Canon with 15 new cameras this year. Two of them look interesting.


    The P900 with its 83x superzoom lens reaching out to (35mm equivalent) 2000mm  caused quite a stir with so much buyer response that the factory in Indonesia was unable to meet demand. I bought one and reviewed it for this blog. I found it to be a sheep in wolf’s clothing.   The lens is difficult to use beyond about FLE1200mm. Getting and keeping a moving subject in the frame is very difficult. 
    Even with good VR achieving sharpness is difficult with camera shake and atmospheric distortion making their presence very obvious. The old Expeed C2 processor used is slow and precludes RAW capture. Lastly the ergonomics while not dreadful is just acceptable which is actually unacceptable on such a large camera which at no extra cost could have had a perfect ergonomic realisation.


    The 1 Series J5 is notable for several advanced technological features. It is a MILC with no mechanical shutter (it uses an E-Shutter) and therefore no shutter shock. It can follow focus at 20 frames per second with, according to the DPReview testers, no EVF blackout.

    It therefore appears, on the specifications and brief reports anyway, to have solved all three of the problems currently holding back MILC development.


    Unfortunately all that techno wizardry is concealed inside an entry level consumer model with no EVF and no way to fit one.


    Nikon continues to look confused about its intentions regarding the 1 Series camera system, housing what appears to be the fastest CAF performance in the entire camera industry inside a snapshooters compact.


    Olympus  listed 7 new models but most of them are essentially a recycling exercise with Mark 2 and –S variants of previous models.  The Air A01 is new, but not a new idea, which might amuse some people for a while until the silly ergonomics of the thing spoil the fun.


    Panasonic listed 9 new models but again most of them recycle existing sensors and other technology. Panasonic announced just this week that it will resume sensor development which had been on hold since 2011 following a series of disastrous financial results. Maybe this means the 20 Mpx sensor in the GX8 is the Sony IMX269. Unfortunately this is not a BSI type.


    It seems to me the whole Micro Four Thirds system is marking time at the moment awaiting new developments in technology of sensors, EVFs, shutters and processing speed.


    Panasonic says it wants to introduce 8K video which means 8000 pixels horizontal resolution. In 16:9 format that would give about 33 Mpx and in 4:3 format about 48Mpx. On a Micro Four Thirds sensor ????


    So, no COTY candidate from Olympus or Panasonic this year.


    Pentax/Ricoheach released 2 models, of little interest to COTY.


    Samsungvery significantly released only one new model in 2015,  the NX500, which I believe recycles the inner workings of the NX1. There are many rumors about Samsung’s intentions for its camera division. The fact that they presented only one  (not very) new product does suggest an exit strategy in the making.


    Sigmaas camera maker continues its eccentric ways with the addition of the dp0 to  existing  models in the very strange quattro range.


    SonyReleased 8 new models during the year.  

    The A7R(2) will probably be nominated as COTY by many review sites and blogs. It has the most bells and whistles of any new camera this year, including first ever BSI full frame sensor with on chip CDAF and PDAF, IBIS and numerous other advances in technology.  But  there have been many complaints from reviewers and users about ergonomics, battery life  and  the range and quality of  FE lenses.


    Did I buy one ? No. Would I buy one? No.


    For whom does this camera make sense ?


    It seems to me that professional photographers and most dedicated enthusiast amateurs will stay with tried and tested DSLRs mainly from Nikon but some from Canon. These people want reliability, an established lens selection with the pro staples such as 24-70mm f2.8 and 70-200 mm f2.8 plus long fast lenses. They want good battery life. They want an integrated, coherent system.  They want reassurance that their expensive new kit will not be rendered obsolete next week.


    Most amateur photographers will get more than adequate picture quality and much more bang for their buck from M43 which does have an extensive selection of lenses.


    Maybe the Sony A7 series cameras really do represent the dawn of a new age of full frame MILCs and I wish Sony the best of success with that.


    But they have some way to go and there are ongoing concerns about Sony’s predilection for failing to fully support (E-Mount, 28mm sensor) or apparently abandoning (A-Mount) entire camera systems.


    Summary


    I see no clear COTY for 2015.


    I think the entire camera industry is in prolonged crisis with buyers turning away in increasing numbers.


    Will new technologies rescue the camera industry ?


    I think so, yes, but at a much reduced level of sales to a discerning cohort of buyers who will not accept the many mediocre products and/or incomplete systems currently on offer.


    Camera makers would also do their customers and therefore themselves a great good by paying far more attention to ergonomic factors in design than is currently the case.




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    Five current model cameras each with a Panasonic LUMIX logo. Yet they represent a variety of ergonomic themes. You can see there are flat tops and hump tops, different handle types and different control types with the LX100 on the right having a 'traditional' layout (improved in this case by the addition of a custom handle), the GX8 with the silver top having a hybrid control system and the others having a modern control layout with Mode Dial and Control Dial(s). Some of these arrangements work better than others as I will detail in this 10 part series. 


    This is the first  of a new 10 part series of posts titled ‘Discovering Ergonomics’ consisting of a distillation of ideas and concepts which I have developed over the last five years. Most of the material has already been published on this blog. However I have gathered up and summarised my findings into a more condensed and easily accessible form.


    Ergonomics  is defined by Wikipedia as:


    The studyof designing equipment and devices that fit the human body, its movements and its cognitive abilities.


    Thus we can talk about ergonomics as a type of study or applied science.


    The word ergonomics is also used to describe characteristics of a device which are intended to maximise productivity.


    Thus a camera can be evaluated as to how well it  ‘fits the human body, its movements and cognitive capabilities’.


    Ergonomics is an important part of the overall user experience.  A camera might have good picture quality but if it has poor ergonomics it is likely to stay at home not making any pictures at all.


    I have been studying and writing about camera ergonomics for the last five years.


    I evaluate cameras  with reference to four sets of characteristics:


    1. Specifications, features and target user group.  It is easy for reviewers and prospective buyers to compare specifications and features.  In fact many reviews are little more than a regurgitation of the manufacturer's posted specifications.


    2. Picture quality.  There are now ways to evaluate image quality which enjoy reasonably wide acceptance. The basic underpinning of these is the signal to noise ratio which can be measured.


    3. Performance.  Performance is easy to measure. Items typically measured include shot to shot time with JPG or RAW capture, focus acquisition time, zoom speed time, OIS (VR, IS)  effectiveness, AF accuracy in single shot and continuous modes, burst frame rate, follow focus ability with moving subjects, EVF blackout time, buffer capacity, write to card time…..and so forth.


    4. Ergonomics.  This is by far the most difficult aspect of camera capability to characterise, describe and measure.


    I believe this is because the way forward to better picture quality and performance is fairly straightforward conceptually (for instance, less noise, faster processing) even though the technological challenges are considerable.


    The pathway to better ergonomics has the opposite characteristics. It is conceptually complex and poorly understood by camera makers (as evident by the atrocious user experience provided by some cameras) but presents no particular technological challenge. It is just as easy to put a dial in the right place as the wrong place.


    But  camera makers have a great deal of difficulty figuring out where that right place might be. The evidence for this is the many different locations where control dials can be found on modern cameras.


    It appears to me that they are not making good use of applied functional anatomy in their design processes.


    They are mostly good at solving technological problems**  but manage conceptual challenges very poorly, often seeming oblivious to the possibility that their cameras might be really frustrating buggers of things to use.  

    I say this because they often churn out successive models with the same egregious fault, be it an incomprehensible menu system, absence of a viewfinder, an awkwardly located control dial or some other frustrating impediment to a satisfying user experience.


    All the camera makers seem to me like travellers unaware of  their destination. Therefore they are always lost. They do not know which way to go and would not recognise their destination even if they accidentally fetched up there.

    (** Not always though. For instance the Canon G5X needs a little rest after each RAW shot and the Nikon P7800 a recuperative siesta.) 


    The study of camera ergonomics lacks a framework of concepts, principles, language and specifications.


    The word ‘ergonomics’ often appears in user reports and professional reviews of cameras.


    But nowhere do the authors of these reports and reviews explain what they mean by the word ‘ergonomics’.


    My work seeks to provide a framework on which such meaning can be constructed, leading to a method for evaluating and scoring a camera’s ergonomics.


    I work on the principle that ‘What you don’t count, doesn’t count’.  


    I have discovered that it is possible to write an ergonomic specification for each phase of camera use such that a camera can be evaluated and scored with respect to specific capabilities.


    In this series of ten posts titled “Discovering Ergonomics” I will describe how I do this.


    Before going further I need to raise some issues which might affect the reader’s engagement with the material.


    Communication modalities      Using a camera involves holding, viewing and operating, which is a tactile experience.


    This series of posts of necessity uses words and pictures, presenting the reader with a very different type of experience.


    I therefore urge the reader to supplement his or her reading with thoughtful handling of any camera(s)  to which they may have access.


    Personal experience of the reader  Every reader will come to this material from some kind of background, unknown to me. This will I suppose, often involve familiarity with some kind of camera(s) and ideas derived from experience about what works well in cameras.   


    Inevitably one is likely to like/dislike or agree/disagree with the material which I present.


    I just ask the reader to keep an open mind while reading and accept the possibility of new discoveries.


    Experience of the writer  I am an amateur photographer who has been using cameras for 62 years. 
    In that time I have used almost every type of camera available to consumers.


    I am independent.


    I have no affiliation with any organisation which makes, markets or sells photographic equipment. I buy equipment new at retail prices for testing and sell it on eBay when testing is completed.



    I have no partisan leanings towards or away from any brand or manufacturer. I have tried them all. 


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    This is my Mockup #13 with the lens removed so you can see how the fingers of the right hand lie in the natural  'half closed-relaxed' position when holding the handle. The shape of the handle and the location of all the control modules were dictated by the functional anatomy of  the hands and fingers.  This mockup is very comfortable to hold and the controls are all placed where the fingers want to find them so they would be very easy to operate.


    I propose a framework for describing, analysing and thinking about camera ergonomics as follows:


    There are four Phases of camera use


    1. Setup.   At home, with the Instruction Manual to hand and no time pressure, go through the Menus and make desired settings.


    2.Prepare.  This refers to the few minutes just prior to a photo session when the camera must be configured for new subject matter. This might be landscape, portraiture, sport/action, long night exposure and so forth. Typically items requiring adjustment might include Main Capture Mode, Focus Mode, Autofocus Mode, Drive Mode, Quality, Stabiliser and numerous others.


    3. Capture.  In this Phase the user is making photos. Any adjustments must be made efficiently without interrupting the capture flow.

    There are three ways in which the user interacts with the camera in Capture phase. These are


    * Holding

    Desirable characteristics are:

    That the shape of the camera on the right side encourages the user to hold it using the ‘half closed, relaxed’ natural hand position.  When thus held, the camera is firmly yet comfortably held without undue muscle effort. Key user interface modules (UIMs, buttons, dials, levers, switches)  for controlling primary and secondary exposure and focus parameters are exactly where the right index finger and thumb want to find them without having to shift grip.

    The shape of the left side of the camera and lens and/or lens barrel encourage a natural posture of the left hand and fingers without undue need for displacement at the wrist.  Key tasks such as zoom and manual focus can be easily performed by feel while continuing to support the mass of the lens. (See more on this in Part 5)

    * Viewing

    Desirable characteristics are:

    There is a clear, accurate preview of the subject via an eye level viewfinder and monitor. The same information is presented the same way in both for a seamless segue between them. Key camera data can be clearly displayed or not as user selected. (See more in Part 5)

    * Operating

    The two main considerations when operating the camera are


    * Tasks

    Typically items requiring adjustment in this Phase include primary and secondary exposure and focussing parameters.

    Desirable characteristics are:

    The user can adjust primaryand secondary exposure and focussing parameters while looking continuously through the viewfinder and without having to change grip with either hand.

    Primary exposure parameters are Aperture, Shutter Speed, Sensitivity (ISO).

    Secondary exposure parameters are Exposure Compensation, White Balance.

    Primary focus parameters are Initiate AF, Perform MF.

    Secondary focus parameters are Change position and size of AF area, Switch AF/MF.

    That does not mean every task on the list must be carried out for every exposure but the camera should be designed and configured so the user can efficiently carry out the tasks required for a particular exposure.


    * Haptics

    Desirable characteristics are:

    That all UIMs for Capture Phase actions lie readily to hand when the camera is held comfortably in landscape or portrait orientation. UIMs for Capture Phase are easy to locate, distinguish from each other  and operate by feel.

    UIMs should not be located where they are prone to unintentional activation.


    4. Review.  In this Phase the user reviews photos already captured.


    How not to do it. This is the original Sony A7 MILC. The upper yellow oval represents the index finger on the shutter button. The lower yellow oval is where the middle finger must be placed. the distance between them is about 50mm forcing an extreme displacement between the index and middle fingers.  The persons responsible for this camera need to read my blog. The Mark 2 versions of the A7 have a projecting  handle with the shutter button in the forward position. This is an improvement but still well short of ideal.


    Summary


    Each Phase of use requires the user to carry out tasks.  


    Desirable characteristics for each task group can be listed in the form of a specification.


    Completion of each task requires actions.


    The number  and  complexityof actions can be observed and recorded.  This is a type of motion study as pioneered by Frank and Lillian Gilbreth. 


    I do not directly observe the time taken to complete the various tasks. I take the view that economy of motion is the primary goal and that a device which can be operated with a small number of simple actions will be quicker to use than one which requires more and/or more complex actions.


    The task specification and motion study information can be used to develop an ergonomic score for that camera.


    Holding, Viewing and Haptics can also be evaluated and scored.  I note that an individual user’s assessment of a camera’s holding, viewing and haptics contains both objective (observation) and subjective (experiential) elements. 

    Some people have difficulty with the idea that subjective experiences might be evaluated and scored but in fact this can be a valid  and useful exercise if done with appropriate guidelines.


    The essence of camera ergonomics


    In one sentence, I propose that 


    Of two cameras, the one which can be operated with the fewest, least complex actions has the better ergonomics.


    I also propose that ergonomics is not about:


    * Individual likes and preferences.  These are of course a valid part of the user experience but are separate from and complementary to the ergonomic analysis. 


    The problem with likes and preferences is that they are idiosyncratic (relevant to one individual only)  transient (will change next week or  month  in response to the person’s experience) and often poorly formulated (‘I love/hate that camera but I can’t really say why’) .


    Feedback from clinics, consumer surveys and focus groups has the same problems. It may well be useful for marketing purposes but does not helpfully inform the ergonomic design process.


    An example: I have discovered that canting the handle back ten degrees is a really good idea. But this would be most unlikely to emerge from a focus group because people usually only talk about those things which are already within their experience.


    * Head logic.     Ergonomics is about finger logic.  This issue arises most often when considering the merits of the ‘traditional’ control system versus the ‘modern’ system. The traditional system with aperture ring, shutter speed dial and exposure compensation dial is simple and logical.


    One respondent to my posts said it is therefore “blindingly obvious” that the traditional system is the best.

    But operation of a camera with the traditional system requires more actions most of them more complex than is required to operate a camera using a well designed modern system.


    It occurs to me that some people might wonder if  voice control could provide a more efficient way to operate a camera. I think this is highly unlikely. The problem is that the intention to adjust something has to be sent to the part of the brain which codes that idea into speech, then on to the part of the brain which transforms speech codes into nerve impulses, then on to the voice musculature. It is much faster to just do something like, say turn a dial to change the shutter speed.  With practice muscle memory makes the process automatic.

    Imagine driving a motor vehicle by voice control. ….’Turn left now’…..oops……not that far….. crash…….sorry…………







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    Cameras over the years.  The humptop Panasonic Lumix fZ1000 on the left is a fixed zoom lens type.  Next is the GH4, a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, then a Canon SLR which takes film and a 50 year old Pentax Spotmatic SLR. The folding Baldafix on the right is over 60 years old and still working although the lens has succumbed to the ravages of fungus. 

    Over the years cameras have been made to a great variety of shapes.


    Around the beginning of the 20th Century the famous Kodak Box Brownie was, as the name suggests shaped like a box. This basic shape reappeared in many subsequent cameras such as the much more sophisticated Hasselblad V Series.


    Many compact film cameras of the 20thCentury had the form of a rectangular prism (a.k.a. cuboid) which happened to be the shape which most efficiently accommodated the film and lens.


    The 50 year old (and still working) Pentax Spotmatic shown in the photo has a  shape  which contains the internal components which must be laid out in a certain way. These include the lens mount, mirror box, prism, film roll, film rails, film take up spool and focal plane shutter with all the mechanical connections to make everything work.


    Almost all single lens reflex cameras of the era looked very similar and worked the same way.


    The shape of these film cameras embodied the solution to an engineering problem, namely how to efficiently package the component parts.  Ergonomic issues were a secondary consideration.


    From around the 1970s  handles started to appear on SLR cameras to make them easier to hold.

    Then in the 1980s Canon  put a big effort onto improving the operation and user interface of their SLRs culminating in the famous T90 of 1986 . This camera provided the basic shape and control layout  still used in modern DSLRs.


    At the same time the rangefinder rectangular prism shape found expression in the famous Leica M series cameras and a few others. This camera type was an alternative to the SLR for users for whom a small body form was more important than the ability to mount long lenses.


    It can still be seen today in Leica rangefinder cameras and many other flat top designs with fully electronic operation.


    With modern materials fabrication technology and control-by wire operation, cameras can be made to any shape. The lens, sensor, electronic viewfinder and other components can be located almost anywhere on or sometimes off the camera.


    Pocketable compacts. On the left a Sony RX100.  On the right is my marginally larger but ergonomically much more appealing mockup with a built in handle, top dial, built in EVF and fully articulated monitor.


    Given this new found freedom  designers experimented with a variety of shapes and configurations.


    The Sony R1 of 2005 had a prominent handle on the right side and a flip out monitor screen located above the EVF.  No follow up of this design ever appeared, suggesting the adventurous location of the monitor was not entirely successful.

    The Sony Handycam from about 1985 utilised yet another form, control layout and holding system.


    This was reprised by Canon in the early 1990s with its short lived  Autobody Jet series which looked like a handycam with a flip out lens cover-cum-flash unit.


    Still cameras of this shape were not successful.  There was effectively only one position in which the camera could be held and the concept did not lend itself to provision of a comprehensive suite of controls for the enthusiast/expert user.


    In the current era digital camera shapes have settled into three main groups with much less experiment  than was evident a few years ago.


    1. Very small ‘pocketable’ compacts  in the ‘bar of soap’ shape a.k.a. rectangular-prism-with-lens-housing-in-front.

    Larger cameras mostly come in two basic shapes, each of which reprises an earlier film camera type:


    2. Hump top, ‘SLR’ style or some variant thereof and


    3. Flat top, ‘Rangefinder’ style also in a range of variants.


    We have also seen in the last few years a ‘retro’ trend in camera control systems often associated with one of the flat top designs, presumably as manufacturers strive to find some selling point which might enliven buyers’ waning interest.


    I have been actively experimenting with camera shapes and layouts for the last five years, in the process making many handle mockups and 13 full camera body mockups, each designed to test some design concept.  When making mockups I build the shape in wood to fit my hands and the hands of volunteers of various sizes. This exercise has taught me a great deal about what works well and what does not.


    This work and my use of many actual cameras of different types from different makers has led me gradually to some definite conclusions about optimal camera shape.


    Very small (pocketable) cameras require some variant of the ‘bar of soap’ theme. The photo shows a Sony RX100 (original version) beside one of my mockups which is 2mm wider, 3mm higher and 6mm deeper.  


    Current versions of the RX100 are deeper than the original to accommodate the flip up monitor and they have a pop up EVF. No doubt this is a clever piece of engineering but it is an ergonomic kludge. 
    You have to pop up, then pull back the EVF for it to work. Then there is no eyecup, there being no way to incorporate one in the pop up design. So if you want an eyecup it has to be fitted separately, after popping up the EVF which means you have to buy one and carry it and find it when you want it….. ……in another pocket………maybe………somewhere…..and it’s just not worth the bother.


    The mockup  is still pocketable but has a built in handle, fully articulated monitor and built in EVF which is always ready for use. It also features much larger controls including big buttons, a top dial and a JOG lever to quickly move AF area. 


    I made this mockup to explore whether I could craft a design which retained the virtue of pocketability but with much improved ergonomics compared to any of the  RX100  variants.


    The mockup achieves this and I see no technical impediment to any manufacturer building a real camera to this design.


    Two approaches to the 'All day camera'. On the left a Panasonic LX100 with 'traditional' control layout featuring 'set-and-see' dials for aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation.  Some people have managed to convince themselves that this is a desirable control system. However every time I run motion analysis studies the 'modern' control system as seen on the mockup to the right, gets the job done with fewer actions, each less complex. This mockup also displays a nice little inverted L shaped handle with quad control set on top.


    I call the next size up the ‘all day camera’.  This is a bit too large to be pocketable but being larger it can have a proper handle making it easy to carry all day, is always ready for use and is able to have much better  holding, viewing and operating characteristics. It could work as an ILC with M43 (21.5mm)  or ‘one inch’ (15.9mm) sensors, but in my view is better suited to the FZL  (Fixed Zoom Lens) type with either of those sensor sizes.


    The photo shows a Pansonic LX100 beside my ‘all day’ mockup which is also a flat top, the same size to the nearest millimetre or so.


    But the mockup is much more pleasing to hold and has much improved controls. The handle is a full anatomical inverted L type, the thumb support is deep and actually is supportive.


    The monitor is of the fully articulated type.


    All the controls are larger with an efficient single dial  just behind the shutter button and a quad control set to the right of the shutter button. There is a JOG lever for instant control of the active AF position without having to shift grip with either hand. The lens shown on the mockup is slightly larger to allow either a wider aperture of longer zoom range.


    This size camera could also work well as a small  humptop with the EVF on the lens axis and slightly greater overall height.  The Canon G5X has this form, making it quite appealing apart from the tediously slow RAW shot to shot times and other performance issues.


    Here are two 'universal' camera candidates. On the left is a Panasonic GX8 with Lumix 12-25mm f2.8 lens.  This body has compromised ergonomics with a non anatomical handle, awkwardly placed dials and buttons and a strap lug which keeps digging into the base of my finger. On the right is my Mockup #13 which embodies much of  my current knowledge about camera ergonomics. 


    Going up in size we come to what I call the ‘universal camera’.  This could be an ILC with M43 or APS-C sensor or it could have a fixed zoom lens. 


    It is large enough to accommodate a full twin dial layout with a full suite of controls suitable for professional use if required.


    I have shown the mockup beside a Panasonic GX8 for comparison. The GX8 is a good example of a camera with built in ergonomic problems which are mostly a consequence of the flat top style but also  a result of poor button placements, poor dial placements, poor handle design and inappropriate use of a set and see dial for exposure compensation.


    The GX8 is a flat top.   The mockup is an advanced type of hump top with raised shoulders and a handle canted back 10 degrees.  It is, by chance,  the same size as a Panasonic G7.


    The G7  although smaller then the GX8  has much better ergonomics and the mockup goes further with  improvements to handle design, dial location, button layout and the provision of a JOG lever.


    In this size range the main determinants of actual dimensions are:


    * At  the rear, width and height of the monitor,  width of the control panel and height of the EVF and its eyecup.


    * At the front,  lens size and handle size and shape are key determinants of height and width.

    Sensor size influences overall body size via it’s effect on lens mount and lens size.


    In this size range the modified humptop shape has many functional and ergonomic advantages over the flat top style.  The EVF, flash and hotshoe occupy the same horizontal space. This allows the mockup to have three well separated Set-and-See dials on the top plate for Prepare Phase adjustments, full twin control (command) dial configuration and a quad control set.


    The GX8 is 10mm wider than the G7 or Mockup #13 but has no room for a built in flash, the top plate buttons are awkward to reach, the Mode Dial is stacked with an exposure compensation dial making both less efficient to operate than they would be if separate and there is no Drive Mode dial.


    My conclusion is that in this size range and larger the optimum configuration for a camera is the advanced humptop type as shown in the mockup.


    Scaling   Early in my voyage of discovery about camera ergonomics I realised that cameras are not amenable to scaling up or down. A moment’s thought reveals the obvious reason, namely that the hands which use cameras remain obstinately the same regardless of camera size.

    It is therefore necessary to create different shapes for small, medium and large size cameras so each fits the hands which use it.


    At this point some readers might think that big cameras would suit big hands and small cameras might be a better fit for small hands, the implication being that camera makers should  make models of various sizes to suit the range of hand sizes. But that is not what happens. They do make different sized cameras but the determinant of size is almost always price, with the smaller ones being less expensive and the larger ones more expensive, without regard for the user’s hands.


    My work with mockups has encouraged me to believe that within fairly broad limits it is possible and desirable to design small, medium and large cameras, all of which are quite suitable for users with a range of hand sizes.


    Strap lugs    I don’t know where else to put this so it goes here. Many cameras these days come with eyelet type strap lugs. I regard these things as an ergonomic curse. The right side one in particular seems determined always to dig into the base of my right index finger.

    Far preferable are the handle type lugs particularly if they are inset so they don’t protrude to dig into some part of the user’s anatomy.


    Summary

    My conclusions are that:


    In the pocketable size range the optimum camera shape is a modified rectangular prism with mini handle and built in always ready EVF.


    In the next size up, the camera to carry all day, the optimum shape is a small humptop with full anatomical handle, single dial configuration with always ready EVF and fully articulated monitor.  


    Moving up a size range to the universal camera, the advanced humptop with raised shoulders and canted back handle is the optimal shape.


    Cube and cylinder shapes have not proven viable.


    These findings are based on my ergonomic analysis. They are not determined by history, style or legacy design themes even though there is a superficial resemblance between the  preferred shapes identified by me and legacy styles.


    I will detail further  analysis and reasoning in support of  this position in subsequent posts in this ‘Discovering Ergonomics’ series.












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    Photo made with Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 camera. I believe that fixed zoom lens cameras like this are the way forward for the great majority of photographers.  This camera comes close to being truly 'universal' with good ergonomics and performance in a wide variety of situations.


    Unscored features


    From an ergonomic perspective  the worst part about using an interchangeable lens camera (ILC) is having to buy, carry and change lenses.  I deal with this problem in my protocols by not scoring it. I evaluate an ILC with, usually, a standard zoom lens mounted. I leave the reader to be aware that changing lenses is an experience which most camera users wisely avoid by either buying a FZLC or by mounting a zoom lens to their ILC and leaving it there.


    There are also ergonomic aspects to carrying camera gear however I do not score these as they are not locked into the design of the equipment.


    I do not score a host of features which modern cameras often have. These include art filters, special effects and a range of capabilities such as auto panorama.


    My evaluation and scoring is biased towards still photo capture. Someone using a camera mainly for video might have somewhat different priorities, such as for touch screen capability, see below.


    I do not score touch screen capability. I am aware that some reviewers and users rate touch screen ability highly and complain loudly when it is not provided.


    My own ergonomic work tells me that for still photos while looking through the viewfinder touch screen capability is not useful. I am well aware that many Panasonic cameras, several of which I own and have used extensively  have a feature called ‘Touch Pad AF’ and that some users say they really like it. That’s fine,  people can like whatever they choose. But ergonomic evaluation is not about likes and preferences and it is not about opinion polls.


    Legacy features


    Some readers might be a little surprised by some of the camera features which I regard as ‘legacy’. 

    But many cameras currently on the market suffer from impaired usability as a result of retaining or re-introducing features which have been superseded by new technologies which allow more efficient camera operation.


    I do try without apology to be forward looking unlike the designs of some current model cameras which seem to be stuck in a mid 20thCentury time warp.


    The list is a bit like apples and wheelbarrows as it mixes features, technologies and usage but with that in mind here goes: in no special order,


    * Mechanical focal plane shutters. These things are the curse of modern high resolution cameras. Their operation shakes the camera during sensor exposure leading to impaired picture sharpness. This is not of itself an ergonomic problem but it is impeding acceptance of mirrorless cameras which do have significant ergonomic advantages.

    The solution is a global shutter which starts recording light on all pixels simultaneously then stops recording all pixels simultaneously.  Global shutters exist but not yet in consumer still cameras with CMOS sensors.


    * Optical viewfinders.      Electronic viewfinders have many advantages. These include 100% accurate view, brightness indicates exposure variation, seamless segue from eye level to monitor view,  user selectable data which can be displayed or not as desired, histogram, peaking, zebras………..the list goes on.


    But EVFs are not yet universally used in cameras. This is largely because of data processing  issues, leading to EVF blackout after exposure and slow refresh times compared to optical viewfinders. 

    Presumably technological advances will solve these problems but it has not quite happened yet.  Soon, maybe.  I still regard the OVF as a legacy feature which has not quite been ousted yet.


    * Chimping on the monitor is not required if an EVF is used.


    * Flat top styles. Advanced hump tops allow a more efficient user interface and control system for cameras larger than pocketable size.


    * Top plate LCD screens. These were required in the SLR film days but are now redundant. More  information displayed more clearly can be presented in the EVF or monitor.


    How not to do it. Some camera reviewers and commentators are infatuated by all those dials and levers. But when it comes to actually using the thing a well implemented modern control system with mode dial and control dial(s) requires fewer actions, each less complex.


    * Traditional controls, particularly an aperture ring on the lens, shutter speed dial on the top plate and an exposure compensation dial on the top plate. I have extensively investigated this and found that operation of a camera with a  ‘retro’ style control layout requires more actions, each more complex than one with a well designed Mode Dial + Control Dial system.  Twin dial systems are even better if well implemented.


    There are plenty of cameras with badly designed Mode Dial + Control Dial systems which muddies the waters on this issue.


    The appeal of the traditional control layout appears to be mainly intellectual or at least cerebral. The idea of one control for the aperture, one for the shutter speed and one for exposure compensation is logical and conceptually simple. But cameras work by finger logic not head logic and when put to the test of motion analysis the modern system proves more efficient.


    * The myth of ‘direct controls’. This is often presented on user forums as a reason for someone preferring the ‘traditional’ control system. Manual zoom is still often a ‘direct’ control, with mechanical connection between the zoom ring and the cams which move the various lens elements. But just about everything else on a modern camera is ‘fly by wire’ with electronic connections and motorised actuation.


    * Fixed monitors. There is in my view simply no excuse for manufacturers to continue making cameras with fixed monitors. It is akin to supplying motor vehicles with solid rubber tyres after the invention of pneumatic ones. Unacceptable.


    * Monitors and EVFs using monitor style, with camera data superimposed over the lower part of the preview/review image. This just makes both the data and the lower part of the image difficult to see properly.  All cameras should provide the option to set monitor and EVF both to ‘viewfinder style’ with key camera data beneath the preview/review image in bright numerals on a black background.


    * Real metal construction, particularly on exterior surfaces. Structural polycarbonate in one of its many forms is much more durable, less prone to scratches, dents and marks.


    * Use of the 4-way module to adjust active AF area position. One of the benefits of modern autofocus systems is that the active AF area can be placed anywhere in the frame.  


    The best way to quickly and efficiently move the AF area is with a JOG lever (a.k.a. Joystick) .

    This is a module which can be pushed up/down/left/right to move AF area without the need to first press any other module or button.


    The best location for a JOG lever is just to the left of the right  thumb in basic hold position so the thumb can easily move the lever without disrupting grip with either hand. All three of my mockups presented in the previous post have this feature.


    The JOG lever also supersedes both the touch screen and the 4-way module as a control for moving AF area.


    * ‘Focus and recompose’  becomes redundant when the AF area can be moved quickly and efficiently.


    * APS-C (27-28mm diagonal) sensor size. This was a stop gap sensor size introduced in the early days of digital as early full sized (43mm diagonal) sensors were too expensive for consumer cameras.


    The problem for APS-C is that if you want substantially better image quality than Micro Four Thirds can offer you need to move up to ‘full frame’ (43mm diagonal sensor).


    On the other hand if you have a ‘full frame’ kit and want a substantially more compact kit comprising body and several lenses, you need to step down to Micro Four Thirds.


    This is not directly an ergonomic issue of course, but there are ergonomic consequences of carrying larger and heavier equipment than is required.


    Of course, one solution might be for camera makers to make their APS-C models their main professional line with full frame (43mm) sensor cameras relegated to the position currently occupied by medium format models.


    * Rectangular sensors.   From an ergonomic perspective, circular sensors make the most sense. The user never has to turn the camera 90 degrees for portrait orientation. Cropping decisions can be made post capture. UIMs for Capture Phase use can be efficiently located on the lens barrel. 


    * Interchangeable lenses are the 20thCentury way to provide a range of angles of view.  Increasingly the 21st Century solution to this problem is the zoom lens.  Carrying and changing lenses is a complete ergonomic kludge. I look forward to the day when the great majority of photographic requirements will be met by cameras with a fixed zoom lens.


    Feedback from readers about the camera ergonomic enterprise


    Over the years I have, as you might imagine,  received various kinds of feedback about my work on camera ergonomics. I have sorted  this feedback somewhat loosely into four categories:


    1. Constructive. Several respondents have provided valuable observations and insights about my reviews and  designs which have helped me to move forward in constructive ways.  Here is an example:


    In several posts on the blog I described why the shutter button forward on handle  was preferable to shutter button rearward on body top.    One respondent pointed out that the top/rear shutter button on body does in fact have one advantage which is that it allows the right wrist to be held approximately straight when the camera is at eye level, whereas the forward shutter button on handle forces the wrist to tilt forward.  After pondering this I realised it is possible to have the advantages of both arrangements by canting the handle back 10 degrees. The mockup in the photos has this feature.


    2. Narcissistic. These responses come in various forms. One is ‘ergonomics is subjective’. Another is ‘everybody is different’. Each of us is unique and special. The problem with responses of this type is that they provide no information or guidance of any kind to a camera designer.


    3. Nihilistic. Several respondents have put to me the view that I am, like Don Quixote, engaged in a noble but doomed enterprise. These people also provide no useful input to help a camera designer, or user or anybody else.


    4. Idiosyncratic. These people respond from their personal experience without considering much else. So I have been told in response to one of the mockups  ‘the control dial should go in front of the shutter button, not behind it’.  I have in fact investigated many relationships between the various control modules on top of a camera and found some arrangements ergonomically successful, others less so. 


    In the specific case of that mockup I put the shutter button where my index finger felt most comfortable and relaxed, on the basis that the finger will spend more time on the shutter button than the control dial. The dial went in the next most comfortable position. With all my mockups the fingers are made comfortable first, the controls come later, positioned where my fingers want to find them.  There is no general rule that ‘this’ should go in front of ‘that’.


    Nikon puts the control (command) dial in front of the shutter button but badly so, on a different level and different plane. Canon puts the control dial behind the shutter button but also badly, too high (usually)  and with excessive separation from the shutter button. Neither gets it right because the detailed implementation is poor.


    Next: Scoring specifications and schedules









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    Finishing in style (Lumix FZ1000)


    My  proposed approach to scoring a camera’s ergonomics is based on evaluation of:


    * Number and complexity of actions required to operate the camera.


    * Holding


    * Viewing


    * Haptics.


    The following specification list is designed to assist evaluation by working systematically through the Phases of use,  identifying and making explicit the ergonomic requirements at each Phase.


    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.


    *  In the 20th Century if you wanted to make pictures a camera was required.  There were two main groups of camera users.


    Snapshooters used a compact, enthusiasts used a SLR (later DSLR).


    Now snapshooters use smart phones.  Photography enthusiasts use cameras.


    Therefore all cameras should be fully specified and configured for expert/enthusiast users.


    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.

    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 Phase. 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


    All cameras are  evaluated using the same ergonomic specifications,  schedules and criteria. Only by this means will the better performers be distinguished from the also rans.

    Price is not scored. Well implemented control systems cost no more to make than poorly implemented ones.


    Summary of abbreviations used:


    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.


    At first sight this schedule of specifications might appear quite daunting.  It is certainly true that evaluating and scoring ergonomics is conceptually complex requiring a substantial investment of time and study both for the creator (me) and readers wishing to understand the process.


    I have been working with the schedule for a year and have used it to evaluate and score 14 cameras (real ones, not mockups). I have found that with familiarity and practice I am readily able to use the process to produce useful results.


    Here is a hand in the natural half closed relaxed posture ready to take hold of a Canon Powershot SX60 camera.


    And here is the same hand holding the camera. No change to the natural posture of the hand is required. This camera has a very nicely shaped 'inverted L' type handle which is ideal for strong, comfortable holding. The thumb support allows the thumb to angle nicely across the back of the camera.



    The evaluation specifications and schedule:


    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.  No  Q Menu  or 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.

    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 canted back 10 degrees 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 or monitor 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.


    Unfortunately almost everything else about the SX60 is poorly designed. The 4 Way module is flat and flush with the rear face of the control panel, making it almost unusable. This photo shows some blobs of epoxy resin on the control surfaces allowing me to find the module by feel, with some difficulty. The optimal shape for the 4Way controller is a 'rocking saucer' with raised, sharpish edges which can be located easily by feel. 


    Which way is  Value Up ?  When operating a camera the user has to adjust the values of many parameters such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO sensitivity, exposure compensation and zoom position.

    It is most helpful if all the wheels, dials, rings, levers or other controls move the same way for value up of each parameter and the opposite way for value down.


    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.


    Summary


    Ergonomic evaluation of a camera  requires attentive observation of  the actions required to operate the device.


    Anybody with a will can do this. There are no technological issues here. An understanding of quantum mechanics is not required.


    The ergonomic assessment has three essential elements:


    * Schedule and Process  This means understanding what the specifications and schedule mean and working through the assessment process guided by the schedule framework.


    * Narrative  This is a description of how well a camera performs against each specification with comment on effective and ineffective aspects of design and implementation.


    * Score  The subscores and final score provide a convenient means of comparing cameras. The scores are only useful if complemented by an understanding of the process and narrative.




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    Bones of the human wrist and hand


    Most cameras are hand held devices so it makes sense to begin a study of camera ergonomics with an exploration of the range of movements and capabilities of the hand and fingers. 


    I take it as self evident that a camera should be designed to fit the hand, not the other way around.


    Size    Wikipedia gives 189 x 84 mm as the average size for an adult male hand and 172 x 74 mm as the average for an adult female. Hands vary in length, width and finger thickness. However reasonably healthy hands all function the same way. 


    I have found that with thoughtful design is readily possible to make a camera which can accommodate most of the hand size/shape variation in the general population from children aged about 10 to adults.


    The skeleton of the hand and wrist has 27 bones.   There are 8 carpal bones in the wrist giving it flexibility in all directions without which operating a camera would be almost impossible.  Next come the 5  metacarpal bones, then the phalanges, of which the thumb has 2, the other fingers 3 each.


    Sensory capability    To operate a camera the fingers must detect touch and position to a high level of sensitivity.  This is particularly the case with modern electronic cameras with many controls. My reading of research on this subject would indicate that sensitivity increases towards the fingertips, being greatest just below the nail bed. It would also appear that the thumb is less sensitive to touch discrimination than the other fingers. These characteristics are important to the design of physical controls.


    Natural half closed relaxed hand posture. All human hands (assuming freedom from deformity or disease) find this posture natural, relaxed and a good gripping/holding position providing freedom to move the index finger and thumb in limited ways as described in the text.


    Basic Hand Posture        This is the ‘half closed relaxed’ posture which is a natural  position for the hand to adopt.  Muscle force is required to clench the fingers further,  straighten them, or move them into a different alignment.  A properly designed camera will be sized and shaped to fit easily into the relaxed hand, which can then grip the camera securely with minimal stress.


    Movements    Each finger has a range of possible movements which are critically important to the design of the shape, layout and controls of a camera. I find it useful to categorise fingers as "grippers" or "controllers".


    Right Index finger  This is a controller. It has good position and touch sense. It can curl and  straighten in the line of the finger. It can also angle from side to side at the metacarpophalangeal joint over a small but vitally useful range.  These movements can take place without the slightest change in the position of the hand or any other finger. You can demonstrate all this for yourself. These characteristics make the index finger the best choice for actions required to be made during the capture phase of photography, that is,  while one is actually in the process of making photos.


    Right middle, ring and little fingers.  These are grippers, usually operating together as essentially one gripping unit. They will function  best if the camera is designed so all three can get a proper hold on the camera's handle.


    Opposition of the thumb. This is essential to holding a camera.


    Right thumb  The role of the thumb in holding and operating a camera is complex. In most cases it has to perform both gripping and controlling functions. It requires good design to achieve both at once. 


    The thumb has three main movements: Opposition, Flexion / Extension and side to side movement.


    Opposition is rotation of the metacarpal bone at the carpometacarpal joint. This allows the tip of the thumb to simultaneously touch the tips of the other fingers. Opposition is essential to holding and operating a camera.


    Flexion / extension can occur at the metacarpophalangeal joint and the interphalangeal joint.

    Side to side movement occurs at the carpometacarpal joint. Note this is quite different from the index finger which uses the metacarpophalangeal joint for side to side movement. 


    So what ?? do I hear you asking ?? Well, so quite a lot as it happens. 


    You need to have the thumb metacarpal in opposition to be able to hold onto the camera with the right hand.


    There are lots of buttons and dials on the back of modern cameras. Some can be pressed / operated with the thumb held straight or almost so. This is desirable because with the thumb in this position opposition at the metacarpal bone is present and the user's grip on the camera can be maintained. 


    But other cameras have controls which require you to flex the thumb in order to operate them. Sometimes the controls are inaccessible to a  straight thumb, sometimes a semi submerged or high/forward dial can only be operated with the tip of the thumb.  In either case, flexing the thumb forces the metacarpal to derotate and opposition is lost. In this case you cannot hold the camera with the right hand  and operate the thumb controls at the same time. You must support the camera with  the left hand while the right thumb is operating the controls. During this process the index finger is sitting idle, when it could have been operating controls with no disruption to the right hand grip at all.


    Many modern cameras have a ‘4-Way controller’ module in the lower part of the control panel.  

    Operation of this module requires the thumb to drop down from its capture position. This disrupts opposition and forces the left hand to support the mass of the camera and lens while the 4-Way controller is being operated. This is not the end of the world and users get accustomed to it but there is a better way.


    Wrist tilt forward. Some cameras with a non anatomical handle force the wrist into this position when eye level viewing. Young flexible beings don't mind. Those of more mature years appreciate a better designed handle which allows the wrist to be held straight.


    Why does all this matter ?? 


    There are four phases of camera operation; Setup, Prepare, Capture and Review. In the Setup, Prepare and Review phases, it is perfectly satisfactory to fully support the camera and lens with the left hand while operating buttons, dials or even touch screen controls with the right thumb. But in the Capture phase that is not acceptable. While actually in the process of taking photos the operator needs to be able to adjust all primary and secondary exposure and focussing parameters while continuously viewing the subject  with both  hands firmly supporting the camera.


    Many modern cameras require derotation of the thumb metacarpal or in some cases complete removal of the base of the thumb from the camera in order to access the controls required during Capture phase operation.  Many also require the user to look at the controls in order to hit the right one. This destabilises the right hand grip, jiggles the camera, takes the user's eye off  the subject and disrupts the flow of taking photos.  Many of these camera work just fine in one of the fully automatic, snapshot settings, where the camera makes all the key exposure and focussing decisions. But they are  frustrating to operate in one of the user control modes, for instance one of the P,A,S,M shooting settings.


    Lateral dominance    I should raise the issue of dominance.  Most humans are right side dominant. This means they perform better  at writing and operating devices with the right hand.  Most also are right eye dominant.  These people have a left side dominant brain. About 10% of people are left handed, although about half of these also have left side brain dominance. Crossed and/ or mixed dominance is not uncommon.


    Cameras are designed to be operated by right handed people. Those who are left handed are not catered for. In this case the user has to adapt to the camera which is ergonomically suboptimal. However, most manage to train their non dominant side to do the job. They have little choice, until someone comes up with a right/left inverted camera shape.


    Left hand  

    Like the right hand, the left hand has to carry out holding, supporting and operating duties. However while the position of the right hand on the camera is usually fixed by the handle and principal controls, the left hand has a more roving type of assignment. The same wrist/finger movements allow freedoms and impose restraints on the types of actions which the left hand can perform.


    NextI will explore further the application of an understanding of functional anatomy to the design of a camera and its controls. 







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    Front view of the Canon Powershot SX60 handle. This is a nice implementation of an inverted L type handle. Note the middle of the shutter button is vertically above the inner side of the handle which is about 34mm wide. This handle is very comfortable and provide s a good grip without strain.  Note the inset handle type strap lug, very functional, no pressure on the hand.  
    Canon could have gone further. If the shutter button were to be elevated 2mm more and the profile of the top of the handle lowered about 2mm  then 2 buttons could be placed where I have put little yellow ovals. The front dial is further away from the shutter button than it needs to be, forcing the index finger to make more lateral movement than some users will find comfortable. This camera could easily accommodate a quad control set as depicted in the Mockup #13 photos below. If properly implemented this could dramatically improve operational efficiency.


    In their promotional material  some camera makers describe the way they approach the design of a new camera model. This starts with drawings which when approved are used to make a mockup by 3D printing.


    If they really do use that approach I think they are going about it the wrong way.


    When I make a camera mockup, (to date there are 13 of these)   I start with a basic shape concept (for instance flat top or hump top) and an envelope of width and height with an idea of body depth,  monitor size, EVF eyepiece size, lens size and approximate handle configuration. I then craft the shape in wood, using my hands and fingers to arrive at the detailed shape. Once the shape meets my ergonomic objectives I start adding control modules. These are located where my fingers want to find them.


    If the shape which I have created does not allow my fingers to move where they wish, I change the shape until it does. If some part is too large I trim it down. If some part is too small I bulk it up with polyester bog. Sometimes I chuck the whole thing and start over.


    This is an interactive process with feedback between fingers, hands and shape at every step of the way.  There is no ‘drawing board’.


    Every mockup is a little adventure, every one a bit different, every one a learning experience. 

    Mistakes are all part of the process of discovery.


    You can see that my mockups have evolved their own characteristic shape. This was reached through a process of  ‘form follows function’ and  ‘function follows fingers’.  They do not correspond to any preconceived ‘style’.


    Obviously if this were a process leading to a production camera there would have to be a point at which the engineers ask specific questions like  ‘will the battery fit in there ?’ and so forth. But such questions are part of every design process using any methodology.


    Right side of camera, right hand

    In this post I will highlight some major issues which illustrate the vital role of applied functional anatomy in the overall design process. Further topics and details of design implementation will be covered in subsequent posts.


    Handle shape and tilt

    I have spent considerable time and effort over the last five years investigating camera handles. I have used actual cameras and made many mockups of full cameras and handles. I have found that all cameras from about Sony RX100 size and up can benefit from a well designed anatomical handle.


    A good handle makes the camera easier to hold securely and also creates opportunities for the efficient location of controls.


    I have found that the ‘mini handle’ is optimum for a pocketable camera.


    For the next size up, the ‘all day camera’ an inverted L shape is optimal.


    Going up a size to the ‘Universal camera’ the ‘Inverted L shape, canted back 10 degrees’ is optimal.


    In each case I arrived at the handle which I believe to be optimal by shaping mockups to fit the hand, not by adjusting the hand to fit the camera. Confirmation that I am on, or not on the right path, has been achieved by using actual cameras with many different types of handle and some without a handle.


    I experimented with projecting handles, large, small, thick and thin.


    I investigated options for parallel handles.


    The inverted L shape evolved when I stopped thinking in terms of preconceived ideas and just allowed my hands and fingers to tell the shaping process where it needed to go.


    You can read more detail about this in Part 8 of this series.


    Here is a quad control set on Mockup #13.  The  index finger is on the shutter button.  during the build, the shape was fashioned first and the buttons located where the fingers wanted to find them.
    The front dial is far enough behind the shutter button that neither will be bumped accidentally but both are easy to operate. The index finger can easily drive the camera in Capture Phase using the shutter button, front dial and the two adjacent buttons. 


    Top of handle controls, Capture Phase

    The inverted L shape handle opens up space on top of the handle for a new approach to UIMs (user interface modules or controls) for Capture Phase adjustments. With careful design and a good understanding of the range of movements which the right index finger can easily make, I place four UIMs on top of the handle. These are the shutter button, front dial and two buttons.

    I call this the ‘Quad control set’.


    With just these four UIMs and by moving only the right index finger, without moving any other finger of either hand it is possible to efficiently drive the camera in Capture Phase. The shutter button as usual, controls AF and AE then capture, the front dial controls aperture or shutter speed (Mode dependent) and the buttons (press button, turn dial) can be configured to control exposure compensation and ISO (or something else if required). 


    The Samsung NX1 has a top-of-handle layout similar to my ‘quad control set’ but unfortunately they fixed the function of the two buttons which was an ergonomic error. The function of those and most other buttons on a camera should be user assignable.


    Same mockup and hand as the upper photo, showing how the index finger can easily move to bear on any one of the control modules in the quad control set and do this by feel while looking through the viewfinder.


    Thumb support

    The thumb has both holding and operating duties in Capture Phase. The arrangements described below allow it to efficiently carry out both simultaneously.


    The handle in front needs to be balanced by a thumb support at the rear. Without a thumb support the camera is forever wanting to fall out of the right hand. With a good handle and thumb support the mass of the camera can be comfortably supported with little muscle effort.

    I have experimented with several types of thumb support and concluded that the type which allows the thumb to lie diagonally across the back of the camera allows the hand to adopt the ‘half closed relaxed’ posture which provides the strongest hold with least muscle effort.


    Mockup #13 thumb support and thumb controls for Capture Phase. This is the neutral position with the hand comfortably in the half closed relaxed posture. The thumb can easily swing right or left without disrupting opposition.


    Thumb controls, Capture Phase

    The thumb can swing left and right from the basic hold position by movement at the carpo-metacarpal joint. Provided this movement is not excessive, thumb opposition and therefore a firm grip on the camera can be maintained.


    Using this understanding of functional anatomy I evolved an arrangement of UIMs with the rear dial embedded in the thumb support to the right of the thumb in basic hold position and a JOG lever to the left, both positioned so the thumb will not have to flex to reach and operate the UIM.

    The rear dial is mode dependent. It can be tasked to change aperture or shutter speed or exposure compensation or other function as desired.


    Here the thumb has swung right to operate the rear dial. It is a difficult to demonstrate in pictures but the user's hold on the camera remains intact during this operation.  Note the thumb stays straight, it does not have to be flexed which would disrupt grip.


    The JOG lever moves left/right, up/down and can be pushed in, towards the body of the camera.  In Capture Phase it is the most direct way to provide fast control of AF area position.  In other Phases of use it can be used for scrolling through menus or moving around a display screen.


    On Mockup #13 the JOG lever is located in a very specific position which is where my thumb wants to find it. This requires clipping the top right corner of the monitor assembly. I am assuming this is technically feasible. On my Panasonic GX8 a 4:3 still image preview occupies only 53% of the horizontal dimension of the monitor assembly.


    Every camera should have a JOG lever (a.k.a. Joystick) for direct control of AF area position. This one has been positioned exactly where the thumb wants to find and operate it as shown here. I had to chop off the corner of the monitor housing to get the JOG lever in the right place.


    With this arrangement the controls directly available to the thumb are required for Capture Phase adjustments which can be made without disrupting grip with the thumb.


    Left hand

    The left hand has both supporting and controlling duties which must be carried out simultaneously and continuously particularly in Capture Phase.

    UIMs on the lens or lens barrel can be used for Capture Phase or Prepare Phase adjustments.


    In Capture Phase the UIMs must be easily located and operated by the fingers of the left hand by feel, in landscape or portrait camera orientation and ‘left-hand-under-lens’ or ‘left-hand-over-lens’ holding position.


    Prominent circumferential rings with easily located lands or ridges which extend around the whole circumference are best for this.


    For Prepare Phase actions other types of UIM on the lens such as buttons, levers, sliders and switches are acceptable. These are usually located on the left side (as viewed by the user) of the lens or lens barrel. This is generally acceptable when the camera can be dropped down from the eye so the UIMs are visible.


    The main problem in Capture Phase with these types of UIM on a lens/lens barrel is that they are difficult to locate by feel and often require substantial disruption to the holding/supporting function of the left hand in the process.


    Worse, those UIMs are usually located on the left side of the lens barrel in landscape orientation. When the camera is turned to portrait orientation they disappear beneath the lens/barrel, never to be located by feel or sight.




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    Here I have made a handle without the body (represented schematically by the grey bordered black rectangle) to show how canting the handle back 10 degrees allows the wrist to be held straight with eye level viewing. This is secure and comfortable. The yellow arrows show where the index finger wants to move side to side to shift from the shutter button to a front dial. If these controls are on the same plane the shift from one to the other is smooth and efficient.


    The handle in front and thumb supportat the backshould work together to provide a comfortable, secure hold on the camera while placing the fingers of the right hand ready to operate Capture Phase controls.

    A review of existing cameras shows that there is no industry consensus about the need for a handle or a thumb support.


    There is no agreement about whether a handle should be an accessory or built in and in either case what might be the most effective shape and configuration.


    I have no inside knowledge about the design process used by any camera maker but from my perspective as a consumer it sure looks as though some of them are treating the handle as a styling accessory and the thumb support as an afterthought with little regard for their actual or potential ergonomic function.


    My hypothesis, guess, hunch, call it what you will, is that camera designers lack a good  understanding of functional anatomy.  They may also be going into the design process asking what I suspect might be the wrong questions. Their designs appear very camera centric (What shape will we make this camera ?) when they should be  user centric (How can we best shape a camera of about the selected size to best fit the hands which use it ?)  


    I am well aware that some consumers and reviewers express strongly phrased opinions about the appearance of cameras, using words like ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’ and phrases like ‘it has no character’ (whatever that means),  and ‘it looks like a consumer electronic product’ (which it is) and so forth.


    In my work with mockups I never start the design process with a camera. I always start with the hands which will work it and build a camera to fit the hands.


    I hope that as camera makers, reviewers and users become more aware of and literate about ergonomics they will become less fixated on  appearances and more attentive to functional capability. 


    Cameras designed this way have their own style, the desirability of which is in the eye of the beholder.


    Hand position with no handle or mini handle. This mockup actually has a mini handle. The wrist  is straight which is nice but you can see the camera has to be gripped tight or it will fall on the floor. 


    No handle   Light, compact cameras with a short zoom can be managed reasonably well without a handle. However my work has convinced me that even these little cameras can be more comfortable and stable to hold with a mini handle.

    For many years in the 20th Century SLR and rangefinder cameras had no handle. My 50 years old Pentax Spotmatic is an example of this type.  But even with a small 50mm lens the Spotmatic weighs 815 grams. The left hand has to support most of that mass and simultaneously work the aperture and focus rings to free up the right hand for operating the controls on the top right of the body. This is not the end of the world ergonomically, millions of photos were made using this system.


    But users and manufacturers came to realise that the right hand could obtain better purchase and a more stable hold if a handle was provided.  So SLRs started to appear with some variant of the mini handle, but with the shutter button still on top of the body.


    No handle on the left, mini handle on the right as shown in the photo above.


    Mini handle   This takes the form of a vertical or curved post or shape on the front panel of a camera with the upper/rear shutter button position. The third finger of the right hand wraps around the mini handle. The actual posture of the right hand and fingers is basically the same as that with no handle.


    This is better than no handle and has the advantage that the right wrist is held straight with the camera held to the eye. But there is not much purchase for the fingers to prevent the camera falling to the ground so the muscles have to squeeze to support the mass of the device. Contrast this with the inverted L handle and diagonal thumb support described below which allow the mass of the camera to be supported with little muscle effort. 


    Projecting handles small and medium/large. This handle type works reasonably well at the larger size, but not at all well at the smaller size.


    This is what happens when the user tries to hold a small projecting handle. With the hand in the most effective position for holding, the index finger is nowhere near the shutter button. If the index finger is pulled back so it can bear on the shutter button the palm of the hand drops away from the handle and the grip is weakened.


    Projecting handle   In due course the projecting handle appeared on SLRs led by the Canon T90 of 1986. At the same time the shutter button moved to the forward position top/front on the handle and a control dial was added behind the shutter button.


    This type of handle continues to dominate DSLRs. It works well on mid size to medium large bodies. The handle opens up the fingers and if a well designed thumb support is provided a secure grip can be had for the right hand with the index finger free to operate controls.  


    But cameras do not scale up and down. In particular the projecting handle does not work well on small bodies. If the index finger is to find the shutter button, as it must, the hand is forced away from the body of the camera weakening the grip. Early Panasonic G and GH cameras exemplified this.


    Projecting handle with notch for the third finger.       Some variant of this configuration is now popular on DSLR style cameras be they DSLR, MILC or FZLC.  The notch or indentation serves two purposes:


    * The most obvious is that the third finger can tuck into the notch making for a stable secure grip with the third finger supporting a portion of the mass with very little muscle effort.


    * The second is a little less obvious but still important. The indented notch effectively allows the right hand to rotate back about five degrees. This allows the right wrist to be held straighter with the camera to the eye than would be the case without the notch. Young people with flexible joints might wonder why this might matter but those of us with a few more years on the clock will appreciate the straighter wrist posture.


    Mockup #13 with the lens removed so you can see the hand position. The wrist is straight, the middle finger tucks under the inverted L overhang. The mass of the camera is easily supported with very little muscle contraction. The fingers all lie where they want to be because I put the fingers there first then shaped the handle to fit the hand and fingers.


    Accessory handlesand thumb supports    Several manufacturers (including Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus and Panasonic) offer one or several models with a no handle, flat front style or some version of a low profile mini handle. These cameras foster a niche manufacturing industry making accessory handles. Some of these are made by the original manufacturer and may feature an accessory shutter button and various other controls.  Some are from third party producers, usually without controls or electronics.


    Many of these cameras also have a minimal thumb support which has fostered the development of  accessory thumb supports many of which slot into the hotshoe. This of course renders the hotshoe unavailable and in addition often impairs access to top plate controls.


    I have to assume that styling considerations are the motivation for these cameras. Apparently camera makers are fond of the ‘flat front’ style.


    I also have to assume that the reasons for this are grounded in some kind of romantic quest to rekindle the glory days of cameras, in the middle and latter part of the 20th Century. In those days ownership of a 35mm SLR or rangefinder camera was an entry into the arcane and mysterious world of apertures, shutter speeds and ASA settings.


    Those who could effectively operate an all manual camera formed an elite group with a close bond to their equipment which was by modern standards quite difficult to use.


    Ergonomically, these modern cameras with flat-front-and-accessory-handle are a complete kludge.

    Without the handle they are not as easy to hold or efficient to operate as a camera with a proper handle built in at the design stage.


    With the accessory handle they often waste camera real estate by duplicating the shutter button and other controls, cost extra money and often require removal of the accessory to change battery or memory card.


    Parallel handle  I spent some time experimenting with  parallel handles as a way to avoid the problems of the small projecting handle. The parallel handle is better than the projecting type for small cameras as it allows a more natural disposition of the fingers of the right hand. It can also work for medium and larger cameras but without any clear advantage over the projecting type.


    Some modern cameras such as the Sony A6000 have a variant of this handle type although it is not optimally implemented. The shutter button would be better located about 10mm to the left as viewed by the user for a more natural hand/finger position.


    Inverted L handle  I developed this in my mockups by shaping the handle to conform to the position my fingers wanted to adopt.


    I have found that for cameras above pocketable size, it  provides the most stable grip with low muscle effort, best hand and finger position and best potential for Capture Phase controls on top of the handle.


    Among actual cameras, the Canon SX60 has a nice inverted L handle which is comfortable for users with small medium and large hands. Other aspect of that camera such as the 4 Way controller are something of an ergonomic disaster, unfortunately.


    The Canon EOS M3 and EOS 100D both have a variant of the inverted L handle but in each case the vertical part of the handle is too thin and cramped by the adjacent lens.


    Several DSLR style cameras have a shutter button located to the left side of the top of a projecting handle. If these shutter buttons were to move another 10mm or so to the left an inverted L handle would be achieved.


    Inverted L handle canted back 10 degrees   This is my interpretation of the optimal handle. It solves all the issues related to holding, supporting and operating in one configuration. It can be crafted to be usable by people with small, medium and large hands. Those with large hands drop down the vertical part of the handle. Those with small hands come up the handle.


    It allows the right wrist to stay approximately straight with eye level viewing.  It provides passive supports for the hand to carry the mass of the device while leaving the index finger and thumb free to operate Capture Phase controls.


    As far as I am aware, to date the only camera in the universe with a fully realised expression of this handle configuration is my Mockup #13.


    Thumb supports  

    A well implemented thumb support complements the handle, allows the camera to be held and supported with little muscle effort (tense muscles are undesirable because they shake) and sets up the camera for ideal Capture Phase controls for operation by the thumb.


    Modern cameras have three main types of thumb support:


    * None or tiny and offering little actual support.  My work with mockups shows that even small cameras can be more securely held and operated with a well implemented thumb support.


    * Vertical, at the far right side of the control panel.  This appears quite often to be forced on designers when a large monitor leaves very little horizontal space on the right side of the camera for the control panel. This type of thumb support is better than none but the angled type (below) is more effective.


    * Angled, allowing the thumb to lie diagonally across the back of the control panel.  If complemented by an inverted L type handle at the front, this allows the hand to adopt the optimal half closed relaxed posture for maximal stability and camera support with minimal muscle effort. At the same time the angled thumb support allows the thumb to swing left and right to operate controls optimally designed for use in the Capture Phase of use.


    How not to do it.  Canon SX20. I owned one of these for a short time but the camera forever felt as if it was about to fall to the ground. The handle is smooth all over and slippery. There is no notch for the middle finger. The shutter button should be about 20mm to the left to allow the index finger to fall naturally on the shutter button and follow the contour of the right side of the handle. The thumb support is inadequate.


    Next: Capture Phase controls for the right index finger and thumb.





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    Two fully featured current model cameras from the same maker. I own both and use them regularly. The one on the right works much better ergonomically. Everything is better. The handle shape, thumb support, rear dial position and configuration, cursor button module (4 way controller) design, button position and design, Focus Mode lever position and more.  


    There are four phases of camera use   Setup, Prepare, Capture and Review. This has implications for the design and location of hard controls on the camera body, lens barrel and lens.


    There is a hierarchy  by degree of urgency of  tasks to be completed in each Phase.


    Capture Phase  tasks have the highest urgency level. Therefore controls for Capture Phase are optimally located in the highest value camera real estate locations.  


    * The right hand has the same relationship to the camera in landscape or portrait orientation. It is also substantially the same whether the camera is held to the eye or out in front for monitor viewing or above the head with monitor viewing. For waist level and lower viewing a different  holding position of the right hand is required.


    * The left hand has a more complex relationship with the camera. There are four basic positions, landscape orientation hand over/under and portrait orientation hand over/under. Variations will be required when the camera is held above or below eye level.


    My analysis shows that Capture Phase tasks are best carried out by the right index finger and thumb and the fingers of the left hand acting together for simultaneous supporting and operating duties.


    In Part 5 of this series ‘Discovering Camera Ergonomics’ I described a specification for Capture Phase requirements. In summary this is: All primary and secondary focus and exposure parameters can be efficiently adjusted without taking the eye from the viewfinder and without shifting grip with either hand’.


    How not to do it. Canon G1X. The white arrow points to a front dial, hiding behind the middle finger. To operate that dial the user has to release grip with the right hand, shift the hand downwards, work the dial and return the hand to the normal position. 


    Let us see how this can be accomplished.


    The Right index finger  is the only one allocated entirely to controlling duties with no gripping  role.  It is therefore universally tasked with pressing the shutter button. But there is no agreement at all among users or manufacturers as to what other tasks should optimally be allocated to the index finger. 


    When I look at existing cameras, I see so many different types and locations of user interface modules (UIM) for the right index finger that I find little useful in the way of themes to discuss.


    So I offer what I have worked out to be an optimal configuration with my reasoning.


    As shown in the photos, this is the ‘quad control set’ on the top plate of an inverted L type handle.


    The index finger can move from side to side at the carpo-metacarpal joint over a  range of about 15- 20mm for an old guy like me and a bit more for younger, more supple people. The finger wants to stay in the same plane (relative to the other fingers) while doing this.

    The index finger can also flex/extend at the carpo/metacarpal and interphalangeal joints over a greater range.


    The inverted L handle plus quad control set make optimal use of these anatomical capabilities.

    In my mockups I put the shutter button in front of the control dial. After sculpting the shape I let my fingers lay where they wish. I figure I will want my finger on the shutter button most of the time so I put that button where the index finger most wants to be. That is quite close to the middle finger, not separated from it as required by many camera handle implementations.


    The mode dependent control dial goes in the secondary (rear) location with its center 12-13mm behind the center of the shutter button. That is closer than most cameras provide.  However I find that degree of separation facilitates efficient operation but still prevents inadvertent operation of either module.


    The shutter button is oval in shape to accommodate longer and shorter fingers.


    Both shutter button and control dial are raised  4mm above the top plate of the camera and are rough textured for easy location by feel.


    The two buttons each with user allocated function sit lower so they will not be bumped accidentally and each is also prominently textured on the top surface (the mockups use Phillips head screws) for ease of operation by feel.


    I note that many cameras feature smooth, rounded buttons which I suppose are designed to look sleek or something like that but they are difficult to locate by feel and are therefore an impediment to efficient operation. 


    The index finger can easily and quickly move from any of the quad control set modules to any other by feel, without moving any other finger.

    It can therefore carry out the following tasks:  Start/lock autofocus, Start/lock auto exposure, change aperture or shutter speed (depends on Mode Dial setting), change ISO (or other parameter as desired), change exposure compensation (or other parameter as desired).


    Here is another example of how not to do it. Canon G1X again. There is no proper thumb support. There is a video button right where the thumb support should be. Consequently the user is forever accidentally starting video clips, while failing to hold the device securely.


    The Right thumb  has both gripping and controlling duties. It needs to maintain opposition (refer back to Part 6 of this series) and simultaneously work several user interface modules.


    The thumb can swing side to side by articulation at the carpo-metacarpal joint. It can also flex a small amount at the interphalangeal joints without unduly disrupting opposition.


    If we look at a range of existing cameras we will quickly see there is no general agreement about what types of UIM should be worked by the thumb nor precisely where they should be located. In particular we see rear dials scattered about in the approximate vicinity of the thumb in what appears to be random fashion.  So rather than trying to discuss the merits or otherwise of various existing arrangements I present a configuration which I have found to be optimal.


    This is based on a substantial diagonal type thumb support with a rear dial embedded in the thumb support and a JOG type lever (a.k.a. Joystick) to the left of the thumb.  If they are optimally located and shaped , with strong haptic qualities, both these UIMs are easily reached and operated using the ability of the thumb to move side to side and be pressed inward into the body of the camera without disrupting grip.


    There is also the possibility to locate a small AF-ON button beneath the ball of the right thumb, activated by flexing the distal interphalangeal joint, as seen on some high spec Canon DSLRs.


    Now the thumb can: hold the camera securely while shooting, quickly move active autofocus area anywhere on the frame, start/lock AF separately from AE if desired, control whatever parameter has been allocated to the rear dial.


    Panasonic FZ1000. Good design of cursor buttons (4 Way controller) and adjacent buttons. The 4 way controller is easy to locate and operate by feel. Look at the rear dial. It is well shaped and positioned so it is easy to operate by swinging the thumb to the right without bending. The cutaway thumb support is a bit odd, they should fill in the shape with the next version.


    Push-click-dial function  There already exists well tested and proven technology for obtaining two functions from each of the front and rear (mode dependent) dials. This is push-click. Push the dial once until it clicks, it performs one function. Push the dial in again until it clicks and it performs an alternative function. This works just fine on several Panasonic cameras owned by me.


    It should be feasible to design a Main mode Dial with a ‘K’ (or whatever) setting such that with the Mode Dial on this setting the shooting mode could be changed directly with one of the front or rear dials after push-click.


    This would allow the user to upgrade  Mode switching, usually a Prepare Phase function requiring two fingers and release of the right hand grip to access the dial, to become a Capture Phase action, without shifting position of either hand.


    Panasonic FZ300. How not to do it. Zoom and focus controls on the left side of the lens barrel. These are awkward to locate by feel in landscape orientation with still or video capture, and impossible with portrait orientation. 


    The Left hand  as indicated above has a complex relationship with the physical structure of the camera body, lens barrel and lens. The left hand and fingers work together as a unit engaged simultaneously in  support, gripping and controlling duties.


    The only kind of user interface module which the left hand can always find by touch and work properly in landscape/portrait orientation, hand over/under and camera at/above/below eye level is a full circumferential ring with prominent grooves, lands or serrations all the way around. 


    This type of module is used for zoom and manual focus duties.


    Some cameras/lenses also use a ring type control for setting aperture. However I regard this as a legacy feature which my motion studies have shown to be ergonomically less efficient than a well configured control (command in Nikon speak) dial. 


    Fixed UIMs such as buttons, dials, levers, switches and similar on the lens barrel are suitable for 
    Prepare Phase adjustments when the camera can be lowered from the eye and the buttons etc. inspected visually for adjustment. Parameters which might find themselves here could include OIS (IS, VR), Stabiliser mode, AF/MF, Focus limiter, Macro setting.


    SummaryWith good ergonomic design  my ergonomic specification for Capture Phase is readily met, allowing the camera to be driven like a sports car, controlled by the right index finger and thumb and the left hand and fingers acting together.



    Next: Controls for Setup, Prepare and Review Phases


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    Panasonic Lumix G7 control panel. See the ridge on the right side of the control panel area. This prevents the user from accidentally pressing the Disp or WB buttons while handling the camera, yet allows those buttons to be easily pressed when required. Unfortunately the cursor buttons (4 Way controller) are poorly designed. As you can see they are flat, have a bevelled outer edge and sit atop a little platform the edge of which is also bevelled. It is not obvious from the photo but certainly is as soon as you start using the camera that the cursor buttons are difficult to find and operate by feel. The most annoying thing about this is that Panasonic uses a better design on other current models like the GX8 below and the FZ1000 featured elsewhere in this series. Why the difference ?


    Capture Phase   tasks have the highest ergonomic priority. They must be carried out while the user is looking through the viewfinder. Therefore the controls for Capture Phase must be easily located and operated by feel, using the right index finger and thumb and the fingers of the left hand. There is no point in allocating user interface modules (UIM) with icons, numbers or other visual information to Capture Phase tasks as the module is invisible during capture.


    Next down the ergonomic priority list are Prepare Phase tasks. These are completed in the minutes prior to capture. The camera can be lowered from the eye so UIMs can be located and adjusted by sight.  Modern cameras have lots of modes and Prepare Phase is the time to change these as required by new photographic circumstances. We have main capture (exposure) mode, drive mode, focus mode, autofocus mode, shutter type, stabiliser mode…………and many more.


    There are three main types of UIM suitable for Prepare Phase tasks:


    * set-and-seedials, as my made-up name suggests have inscribed settings or positions which are visible. Typically the main mode dial, drive mode and focus mode UIMs are of set-and-see type.

    My motion analysis shows that this type is not optimal for Capture Phase tasks. Despite this,  some camera makers persist in putting  shutter speed dials and exposure compensation dials on the top plate and aperture rings on lenses. The opportunity cost of this is that set-and-see modules for Prepare Phase are excluded from those locations.


    * Some type of quick access mini menu, Q Menu or similar, with user selectable items. The UIM which accesses this Q Menu needs to be reached reasonably easily by either hand but should not be so high on the camera real estate hierarchy that it displaces a Capture Phase control.


    * Programmable buttons with user selectable function, often called ‘function buttons’. These also need to be reasonably easy to access but again not placed so as to displace a UIM required for Capture Phase.


    These UIMs  need to be designed so they:


    1. Are not pressed accidentally while operating the camera


    2. Are easy to locate and operate when desired.


    I have lost count of the number of buttons and other UIMs on cameras owned by me over the years which fail both these criteria. Camera designers are just not learning.


    This is the control panel of the Panasonic Lumix GX8. See that Disp button ?  I hit that accidentally almost every time I pick up the camera. But this is totally preventable. If this camera had a little ridge on the right side like the G7 those accidental actuations would be no more.  Now look at the rear dial. You can just see it peeking out from behind the thumb support.  The rear dial is set too high and forward for ready access by the thumb. The thumb support although  barely adequate is just large enough to further impede access to the rear dial.
    However the cursor buttons (4 way controller) are better done and better than those on the G7 above. You can see that on the GX8 the outer edges of the cursor buttons are raised and sharpish making them easily located and operated by feel.
    The handle on this camera is a non anatomical shape with no indent and in fact no shaping to conform to any human hand. Some people say they 'like' it. But I used the GX8 and G7 back to back and apart from the unsatisfactory cursor buttons the G7 provides a more streamlined user experience.
    And see that strap lug ? That damm thing digs into my hand every time I use the camera. So I stick a foam pad on there which also reduces the number of accidental Disp presses.
    Wouldn't it be nice if the manufacturers got everything right in one camera ?


    The priority level of Review Phase  tasks depends to some extent on the user. I often see photographers  chimping on the monitor so for some people quick access to image review is a priority. Presumably aware of this,  camera designers often locate a Playback button right up in a high value real estate position on the camera.


    The problem is that a module for Capture Phase action is displaced down the access hierarchy.  One solution to this is to set Auto Review ON in the menu and allow Playback button function to be reassigned by the user.


    Last in the action hierarchy come Setup tasks which usually involve entering the main menu system and making selections which should not need to be revisited while out and about with the camera.


    The UIM which initiates access to the menu system can be in a relatively out of the way place on the camera. However the method for scrolling around menus and for making selections needs to be easily accessible and quite streamlined.  The 4 Way controller or equivalent is often used for scrolling around and the button in the center of the 4Way module is often the one used to enter the menu system or some part thereof.  This is probably reasonable in cameras lacking a JOG lever (a.k.a. joystick). However a well  designed JOG lever will probably do the job more efficiently.


    User selected UIM function  The function of most UIMs is determined by the camera’s firmware which is a type of software.  Therefore UIM function can be assigned in accordance with user preference. Modern cameras have so many features, functions and modes that it is impossible for any manufacturer to predict what preferences any individual user will have.


    Unfortunately many camera manufacturers persist in telling users what function should be controlled by each button, dial, lever, switch etc. In some cases this is probably reasonable, for instance an IS On/Off switch on the side of a lens. But often this is just a case of the maker shutting of user options which could easily be provided.


    Optimally users will be able to select the function of each button from an extensive list of options.



    Beginners and snapshooters can leave all settings at default, experts can select camera functions to suit personal preferences. 


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    Iceland is a landscape photographer's playground. The hill which I climbed to make this panorama is entirely green, presumably due to its mineral composition as there is not a blade of grass or other plant life to be seen. This is an in camera auto panorama made with the Panasonic LX100.  The original (JPG) is hugely detailed and sharp with good highlight/shadow detail. I no longer have the slightest interest in any camera which cannot do this. Yes the same panorama can be stitched together in Photoshop and I did that as well. But the in camera result is excellent and in many situations makes post capture stitching un-necessary.


    This is not a review, just some observations and comment based on specifications, published reviews and user feedback on forums.


    Our family has over the years owned and used  Powershot G7, G10, G12, G16 and G1X cameras.  There were also several EOS SLRs and DSLRs. For many years I considered myself a Canon buyer.


    I became disenchanted with the Powershot G/GX lines due to Canon’s failure to fit an inbuilt EVF to any of them (until the G5X) and persistent issues with performance especially using RAW capture.


    Even the otherwise interesting G3X with its 24-600mm (equivalent) lens lacks a desperately needed built in EVF and is reported to have poor follow focus performance on moving subjects.  So no G3X for our household.  We like to photograph birds not statues so the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000s (three of them)  remain in service.


    Then along comes the  G5X.


    Well, goodness me, after 15 years Canon finally brings its G/GX line into the 21st Century with a built in EVF and an appealing set of features.


    The G5X has a fully articulated monitor.


    The EVF is in the optimal position over the lens axis.


    There is a handle, just a little one but it’s there.


    There are three dials with user assignable function, one in front with somewhat unusual configuration but hey, it has one, plus one around the lens barrel and one around the 4 way controller.  


    It uses the well proven Sony 15.9mm diagonal 20 Mpx BSI sensor which appears on numerous cameras from Sony, Canon and Panasonic.


    It has a lens of decent specification, said to be the same as that on the G7X, with a 4.2x zoom range and f1.8-2.8 aperture.


    There is a built in flash.


    I am always on the lookout for a really good ‘all day, walkaround’ small fixed zoom lens camera. One which is compact but has high specification, good performance, good picture quality and good ergonomics.


    The Panasonic LX100 has been my choice in this category for the last year or so and I am mostly happy with it but I do have a preference for cameras with the ‘modern’ Mode Dial/Control Dial control system as found on the G5X. A built in flash would also be useful on occasion.


    So I looked for reviews and user reports about the G5X with more than usual interest.


    And in they came:    interesting camera with many good features……...but……..


    * Poor battery life.


    * Sluggish performance with RAW capture. Shot to shot time about 2.5 seconds. EVF blackout of about 1 second after each exposure. Slow frame rate with servo AF.


    * Confusing AF system with poor follow focus and a disappearing AF box with servo AF.


    * Lens not so sharp at the wide end.


    * No auto panorama in camera.


    I want to photograph grandchildren who run around all over the place, never still. I use RAW capture most of the time and I want a camera which can focus and shoot single shot RAW files just about as fast as my finger can repeatedly press the shutter button.


    Unfortunately the G5X doesn’t come close to my performance requirements.


    For users who are happy to photograph still subjects the G5X will probably be just fine.


    But for me the performance limitations are a deal breaker.


    So, no G5X for our family either. The LX100 stays in service until something better comes along.


    Price vs capability


    Here are some retail prices today at my usual camera seller in Sydney after the Boxing Day sales have ended.


    G5X $849  (early in the product cycle)


    LX100 $818  (well into the product cycle, they were more expensive initially)


    EOS1200D with 18-55mm zoom $603 but often available for $500 at supermarkets.


    EOS 700D with the same 18-55mm kit zoom $841.


    I wonder what might be Canon’s product strategy here. The G5X is pitched at a price considerably higher than an entry level DSLR with reportedly decent kit zoom and right in line with a 7xx EOS DSLR with the same zoom.  The EOS 7xx DSLRs can zip along at 5 fps with RAW capture and do not need a rest after each single RAW shot.


    So why would one choose a G5X in preference to one of the much better performing EOS DSLRs ?


    I guess the answer to that is the much more compact size of the G5X.


    But why hobble it ? Why deliberately inflict poor RAW performance and poor continuous AF on the thing ?


    This is a camera which will appeal to enthusiasts, until they discover it needs to have a rest after each RAW shot and is not suitable for follow focus on a moving subject.


    Other manufacturers (Sony and Panasonic) can get much better performance out of the same sensor and top tier Nikon 1 series cameras can run up to 20 fps with AF on every frame using a similar 15.9 mm sensor.


    My Panasonic LX100 can shoot at 5 fps in Burst Mode M with AF and live view on every frame using RAW capture and AFC. It can shoot RAW in single shot mode with AF on each frame at about 2 frames per second, pressing the shutter button for each shot.


    I continue to be puzzled by Canon’s product /pricing /performance strategy with its GX series models.


    I remain disenchanted with the sluggish performance of Canon’s Powershot models including the GX line and will continue to buy other brands until Canon  decides to make Powershots, with decent RAW performance and focussing.








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    Shanghai 2011


    I hate changing lenses.  I find the whole business of having to buy, carry and change lenses to be the least appealing feature of interchangeable lens camera (ILC) ownership.


    I look forward to the day when all my photographic requirements will be met by one or a few cameras each having  a fixed zoom lens.


    If there was just one camera which could do it all that would be a welcome miracle or maybe an achievement for future technologies.


    In the meantime I think that with existing technology, there are three cameras which might keep me happy.


    The basic technical challenge can be summarised easily enough in two simple statements:


    1. For better image quality  use a larger sensor.


    2. For more zoom range and wider lens aperture use a smaller sensor.


    So we have the Nikon Coolpix P900 with an amazing 83x zoom range. But the sensor has a diagonal of 7.7mm, about the size of one of the buttons on the same camera. So  image quality is one of the limitations of this camera (the other being performance) and many other superzoom models.


    The Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 tries with some success to strike a balance between sensor size and zoom range. The sensor made by Sony has a diagonal of 15.9 mm, for substantially better image quality than the P900. But the zoom range is much less at 16x. 


    Each of these cameras is trying in its own way to be a ‘universal, do everything ‘ model. Neither is particularly compact so they are not looking to occupy that space in the market.


    But I want some thoughtful camera maker to take a slightly different approach based on a ‘two model’ concept.  Each model complements the other.


    Model 1  is the indoor/low light/general purpose model with a large aperture (small f numbers) lens spanning very wide to slightly long normal range, say 20-100mm focal length equivalent (5x zoom) and f1.4-f2.  The sensor would be about ‘four thirds’ size (diagonal 21.5mm).   

    I expect this model would be about the size of a Panasonic FZ300.  Performance and operation would be geared to the expert/enthusiast/professional user.


    Model 2  is the outdoor/sport/action/wildlife/birding model with a lens spanning about 35-800mm equivalent  (23x zoom range) and an aperture of about f2.8-f4.   This might have a ‘1 inch’ (15.9mm) sensor resulting in a camera larger than the FZ1000 or a smaller sensor around 11mm diagonal (the so called 2/3 inch size, currently used by Fuji X20 and X30 cameras) allowing for a physically smaller and/or larger aperture lens.  

    This model would also have performance and operation suitable for the expert/enthusiast/professional user.


    A day out with the camera would usually involve taking one or the other but both would fit readily in a moderately sized camera bag.


    I did say three cameras  because sometimes I just want  one compact sized, unpretentious camera which I can take anywhere, carry all day and with which I can get a decent photo just about anywhere.


    There are in fact several existing cameras which might come close to fitting this specification.


    The Panasonic LX100 has good picture quality in a compact package but would benefit from a fully articulated monitor, built in flash and maybe a few more pixels. Also I find the modern Mode Dial + Control Dial user interface ergonomically preferable to the ‘traditional’ layout found on the LX100.


    The Canon G5X would come close but for its sluggish RAW and continuous focussing performance.


    The Sony RX100 (3) or (4) have good image quality and a large lens aperture but their diminutive size makes them easier to carry than use. That pop up EVF would really irritate me.


    The just announced Panasonic TZ100 with the same sensor as the G5X and RX100(3) but greater zoom range might also be considered in this space although the lens aperture is rather small at f2.8-6.5. At least it has a built in flash for indoors/low light.


    It seems to me that each of these cameras is circling around the realisation of my ideal third camera but none has quite put it all together yet. Not to my satisfaction anyway.


    We shall see what the future brings.






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    Micro Four Thirds (M43) is the name of a System. All  M43 lenses will mount and work on all M43 bodies.


    Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras range in size from  the compact but substantial GH3/4 and GX8 to the diminutive GM1/5. Some lenses are better suited to the larger bodies, the smallest lenses are more suitable for the GM1/5 and GF series. The question is both aesthetic and practical.


    Aesthetically only the 14mm f2.5 and the 12-32mm kit zoom look in proportion on the GM1/5 to me.


    A practical issue is that many lenses protrude below the baseplate of the GM1/5 leading to difficulty mounting on some tripod plates. The diameter of many lenses leaves insufficient space to comfortably fit one’s fingers between the accessory handle and the lens.


    Note on sample variation  In a perfect world every lens off the production line would perform exactly the same. Alas our world is decidedly less than perfect and sample variation is part of the rich fabric of life. I have encountered significant sample variation at every price level across all makes and types of lenses over a 40 year period.  


    All the lenses in this comparison have a metal mount although I believe some versions of the 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 (II) have a polycarbonate mount.


    Prices quoted are for comparison. I used the retail price in Australian dollars from my usual supplier in Sydney, December 2015.


    I also list the number of copies of each lens which I have used over the years.


    I always use and test lenses with the best quality protect filter I can buy, usually one of the top of range B+W models.


    Here is a brief review of lenses which I have owned and used over the last few years, listed in approximate order of sharpness/resolution.


    PanaLeica 15mm f1.7   ($648)  (One copy)


    This is an excellent lens delivering very good sharpness.  It was designed to fit the GM1/5 cameras and be compatible with tripod mounting, however it works perfectly well on any M43 camera.


    I find the hard controls on this lens a bit puzzling. There is an AF/MF switch on the barrel of the lens but there is also a Focus Mode dial on top of the GM5 body and a Focus Mode lever on other Panasonic M43 bodies.


    The lens also has an aperture ring with which aperture can be changed in A and M  Modes. But you can also change aperture with the rear dial on the GM5 in A and M  Modes and on other M43 cameras either the front or rear dial can be used to change aperture.


    None of the other lenses in this round up have the same controls.


    In front of the Aperture ring there is a bayonet mounted ‘decoration ring’. With this removed the lens hood can be fitted.  This hood does not reverse back over the lens possibly because of the Aperture ring. Anyway whatever the reason the hood with its dedicated cap adds 19mm to the length of the lens, somewhat defeating the compact concept.


    Autofocus speed is so fast as to be almost instantaneous. The lens will focus from the nearest possible distance (which by the way is very close, only 150mm from the focal plane  and 90mm from the front of the lens hood)  to infinity and back in the blink of an eye.


    Optically I found the lens very sharp right across the frame right from f1.7, with some improvement up to the f2.8-4 range where it is excellent.  It allows M43 cameras to reveal a huge amount of fine subject detail.


    Distortion and chromatic aberration are minimal. The out of focus rendering is generally smooth with no obvious nisen bokeh.


    There is obvious corner shading at f1.7 becoming much less evident by f2.8. This is easily corrected in a Raw converter if required.


    Optically the only downside I can find is a moderate tendency to flares of various types with the sun or other bright light source near (inside or outside) the frame edge.  Broad light sources such as hazy-bright-sun-in-light-cloud are more problematic than sharp, concentrated light sources such as sun-in-clear-sky. The hood does not appear to be terribly effective in preventing these flares.  I found that a small change of camera direction could produce a big difference in the amount of flare.


    The 15mm f1.7 is sharper across the frame to the corners at f1.7 than the 12-32mm zoom is at any aperture, and is marginally sharper at f2.8 than the 12-35mm f2.8 zoom at f2.8 and 15mm but I had to enlarge the test chart frames to 200% and pixel peep to pick the difference..


    Lumix 20mm f1.7 (II) pancake   ($395)  (Two copies)


    This lens has been available for several years and has acquired a very good reputation. I believe it is deservedly one of the most popular Panasonic lenses. The Mk 2 version is optically the same as the original and has the same focus operation but is said to use a different outer barrel.


    It delivers very good sharpness right across the frame from f1.7, with peak sharpness at the edges and corners at about f2.8-f4. In low light it can be used with confidence at f1.7 producing  very good results.


    There is obvious corner shading at f1.7. Distortion and chromatic aberration are minimal. The out of focus rendition is generally smooth.


    It is possible to induce flares with the sun or other light source at or near the frame edge but this is usually easy to avoid in practice.


    Physically the lens is quite spartan with a focus ring but no lens hood and no other controls.


    There are three downsides to the 20mm f1.7.


    The first is slow autofocus. The lens focusses by moving the entire optical unit and inner barrel back and forth. Focussing from infinity to the closest available distance (which is 180mm from the focal plane and 130mm from the front of the lens) takes about a second, and back to infinity almost that long. When this lens was introduced in 2009, a one second focus time probably seemed fast enough. But compared to the latest M43 primes and zooms it seems quite slow. In addition there is a tendency for hunting near the close focus distance.


    The second only affects very small cameras like the GM1 and 5. The lens has a diameter of 63mm which means it overhangs the baseplate of the GM5. This can interfere with mounting on many tripods.


    Third,  there are many reports of banding when this lens is used on some Olympus cameras. I have no idea why this occurs.


     Lumix 12-35mm f2.8  OIS  ($808)    (Five copies)


    This lens is not exactly small by M43 standards but is diminutive when compared to the equivalent CanoNikon 24-70mm f2.8 for the 24x36mm format.


    It will mount and work on the smaller bodies such as the GF and GM series but it seems huge on those  tiny bodies and will not fit on some tripod plates.  It is more at home on any of the larger M43 
    bodies.


    It covers focal lengths 12mm, 14mm, 15mm, 17mm, 20mm, 25mm, 30mm, 35mm.

    It has OIS which the primes do not. This allows the user to avoid camera shake at a slower shutter speed than is possible with the primes, thus partly offsetting the advantage of their wider aperture. 

    With the 1.3 lens firmware dual IS is available on the Panasonic GX8. This works as advertised and allows about one EV step slower hand held shutter speeds than the in lens OIS alone will permit.


    It has excellent ability to resolve fine details and textures in subjects at all focal lengths and apertures.  Sharpness is maintained across the frame with slight loss of fine detail in the corners at the widest aperture.


    It focusses closer than the (standard, non macro) primes.  At 35mm focal length the closest focus distance is 100mm from the front element and 220mm from the focal plane.


    As with all Panasonic M43 lenses distortion and chromatic aberration are corrected in the camera firmware leaving slight barrel curve at 12mm and slight pincushion at 35mm.


    There is obvious corner shading at 12mm easily correctable in processing.


    The lens is somewhat susceptible to flares when working against the sun or other very bright light source. However in practice it is usually easy to avoid flare by adjusting camera position and/or direction and/or keeping sun off the front element.


    Out of focus rendition is generally smooth but I have seen some double line effect at some focal lengths and apertures.


    Autofocus is very fast and accurate.


    There is a reversible petal type lens hood.


    There is an OIS on/off switch on the lens barrel.

    The zoom and focus actions are very smooth and damped.


    Panasonic advertises the 12-35 as having ‘splash and dustproof design’. The mount is surrounded by a thin rubber gasket to prevent moisture ingress.


    Disadvantages of the 12-35mm f2.8 are:


    * It is larger than each of the primes individually but smaller than  2 or more of them in a camera bag, unless those 2 are the 14mm and 20mm  pancakes.


    * It provides less opportunity to achieve blurred backgrounds due to f1.7 being unavailable.  But if you do ‘documentary style’ photos and want those backgrounds sharp then the 12-35 is ideal.


    Overall this is one of the best and most versatile lenses in the whole Micro Four Thirds system or indeed any camera/lens system that I have ever used.


    Lumix 25mm f1.7   ($288)   (Two copies)


    This lens is a recent addition to Panasonic’s prime M43 offerings.  For a time it was offered free by Panasonic Australia with a camera purchase as part of a national sales promotion.


    I acquired two copies this way. It is available for separate purchase at a variable price.

    The lens is of moderate dimensions. It is very light, being made of some kind of polycarbonate with a metal mount.


    There is a smooth turning manual focus ring in front of which is a ‘decoration ring’ which bayonets off to allow the substantial lens hood to be fitted. This can be reverse mounted for carrying.


    The lens occupies a similar place in the M43 system as the classic ‘nifty fifty’ 50mm f1.8 lenses from Canon and Nikon have done for many years.


    It is however better optically than these SLR/DSLR lenses especially at the maximum aperture where the 25mm Lumix performs decently well. In contrast the CanoNikon full frame equivalents are hardly worth using until stopped down to at least f2.8 and preferably f4.


    The 25mm f1.7 is sharp in a large central area of the frame right from f1.7 with moderate softening toward the corners which become sharp by f2.8-f4. 


    There is obvious corner shading at the widest aperture but negligible distortion and no significant chromatic aberration that I could see.


    The out of focus rendition is generally smooth although I did see a few double lines in some frames in the out of focus background.


    It is easy enough to produce flares of various kinds with the sun or other bright light near the frame edge, but it is generally also easy to avoid flare with judicious framing and protection of the front element from direct sunlight.


    Autofocus is quick although not quite as lightning fast as the 15mm f1.7.


    The minimum focus distance is 150mm from the front of the lens hood and 240mm from the focal plane. This makes the lens quite suitable for closeups of flowers, large insects and similar.


    The aperture stops down when the lens is unpowered, unlike other lenses which hold the aperture open when unpowered.


    The maximum aperture of  this lens is only 1/3 stop slower than the considerably more expensive 25mm f1.4, making the new f1.7 version an attractive budget alternative.


    There are reports on user forums of sample variation with early product runs of this lens. My experience with two copies is that one is excellent the other good but clearly not as sharp wide open. 

    My evaluation refers to the better of the two samples which I had for testing.


    Lumix 14mm f2.5 (II)  ($538)  (Two copies)


    This is the smallest Panasonic M43 lens and has been available for several years. Without front and rear caps it weighs just 50 grams.  It is so small it can be slipped into a pocket, provided it is protected from dirt and dust by a soft pouch (not supplied in the box).


    It has been somewhat ignored by M43 buyers probably because of the relatively small maximum aperture of f2.5 and some luke warm reports about sharpness.  However I think it could work well with the 20mm f1.7 as a very compact two prime lens kit for GM5 users. It is stop faster at 14mm than the typical 14-42 mm or 12-32mm kit zoom.


    Like the 20mm, the presentation is spartan with a focus ring but no lens hood.


    Autofocus is quick.


    Optical performance is good with excellent sharpness across the frame right from f2.5.


    The field of view is only marginally more than the 15mm  f1.7 as you would expect.


    There is mild barrel distortion and negligible chromatic aberration.


    Lumix 14-45mm f3.5-5.6 OIS  (Two copies)  This is the original Panasonic M43 kit zoom lens and is still one of the best. It may no longer be available new but would be of interest to used equipment buyers. I rate it about the same as the 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 (II) described below with a little more reach at the long end.


    Lumix 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 OIS (II)  (Not listed separately in Australia at the time of writing but adds about $100 to body only price)  (Two copies)  


    This is often bundled with mid range Panasonic M43 bodies as a kit. It is an excellent lens especially considering it adds only about $100 to the price of a body.


    The body appears to be mostly polycarbonate but is well made with smooth turning zoom and focus rings. In general photography I have found this lens to be very sharp with minimal distortion and negligible chromatic aberration. There is a bit of purple fringing at high contrast edges towards the corners at the wide end.


    Autofocus is very fast and accurate.


    OIS enables hand held shutter speeds about one stop slower than are possible without OIS.

    There is a petal type lens hood which reverse bayonets for transport.



    12-32mm f3.5-5.6 OIS    ($467)  (Two copies)


    This is the standard kit zoom usually bundled with the GM1/5 body.


    It is a collapsing type which is quite tiny and a good match for size with the GM cameras.

    There is a manual zoom/extension ring but no focus ring.  Manual focus is possible on the GM5 body using the rear dial but for general photography autofocus is more satisfactory.


    There is no lens hood.


    It gives good results at all focal lengths and apertures. The edges are slightly

    soft at all focal lengths with some improvement when the aperture is reduced a stop.


    Barrel distortion is readily apparent at 12mm.


    There is corner shading and a bit of mild chromatic aberration and purple fringing in the corners particularly at 12mm.


    The lens focusses very quickly.


    At a focal length of 32mm the closest focus distance is 220 mm from the front element.


    The 12-32mm is a good partner for the GM1/5 particularly outdoors or otherwise in good light.  The small maximum aperture towards the long end does not encourage work in low light levels.


    Panasonic also makes a diminutive 35-100mm f 4-5.6 zoom, clearly intended as a companion to the kit zoom for the GM5. I have not tested it.


    Suggestions


    * Overall most versatile.

    If I had to choose just one lens, it would be the 12-35mm f2.8.

    This is the most versatile lens of the group with good construction, weather sealing, OIS, Dual IS on the GX8, very good image quality right from f2.8, fast focus, close focus if required and no real negatives. Some people have complained about the price which might have been a bit high when it was introduced but is now very reasonable. Add up the cost of two or three primes and you will soon see the price of the 12-35mm f2.8 as looking quite attractive.


    * Best optically is the 15mm f1.7.  This lens is almost as good at f1.7 as the 12-35mm at f2.8. I had to view my test photos at 200% to see the difference. It would make a very good low light/available light/candid/documentary lens for any M43 body. It delivers very good results right from f1.7.


    * Most versatile prime Some people like to work with wide angle others prefer a more conventional angle of view.  If I wanted to venture forth for the day with just one prime, it would be the 20mm f1.7. It provides a versatile angle of view, very good optical quality and compact dimensions. The only real downside is slow focus relative to all the other lenses in this roundup.  A wider angle alternative would be the 15mm f1.7.


    * Best for small bodies (GM/GF series)   Outdoors and in good light the kit 12-32mm OIS kit zoom is fine. Indoors and in low light the 15mm f1.7 delivers excellent optical quality without hanging down below the bottom plate of the GM cameras. The 14mm f2.5 is smaller and is worth consideration particularly paired with the 20mm f1.7 as a two lens prime kit.

    However small kit aficionados should also consider the LX100 which I find more versatile within its focal length range than the GM5 with several lenses.  


    * Best bang for your buck  I give this to the 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 (II) OIS  It is almost free when purchased with a mid range Panasonic M43 body and delivers very good results at all focal lengths and apertures. The OIS allows it to be used effectively even indoors particularly at the wide end as long as there is a moderate light level.


     





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    Seal show at the zoo. More interesting than the camera show this year.


    At the end of the year  or in this case at the beginning of the next year, I usually post some personal musings about those cameras or systems which I think have the most and least promise for the near future.


    All categories of digital still camera have seen declining sales over the last few years, ensuring that the entire industry is in a prolonged state of crisis, the resolution of which seems unclear at present.


    Apparently the biggest selling camera in the world last year with about 4 million units,  was the Fuji Instax, a budget snapshooter’s still camera which uses film (!!!!) and produces very small instant prints. Not only is the Instax the top seller it also posted a dramatic increase in sales year-on-year.


    Next in sales was the Go Pro point of view (POV) video camera for recording everything you do on this earth in real time.


    It seems to me that the very concept of a digital still camera is under assault from instant film,  smartphones, POV video devices, expectations of instant communication, instant results and changing lifestyles.


    The response of the camera-centric section of the photo industry has been mixed.


    I would guess the Fuji people can hardly believe their luck  in finding the Instax magic pudding** which just keeps on giving and good luck to them.


    Fuji is having another bet on ‘retro’ with its X-Pro mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (MILC) with less success. The Instax cameras are easy to use and deliver a tangible, instant result. But the X-Pro cameras are so loaded with buttons and dials many people find them really difficult to use so they don’t.


    GoPro listed on the NASDAQ in 2014, valued at 2.95 billion US dollars at the IPO.


    The camera companies, even Sony and Panasonic with a heavy involvement in video, missed the POV revolution. Ooops.


    My best bet is that photography with conventional digital still/video cameras will shrink to a small market for enthusiast and professional photographers who are engaged by the process of capturing and outputting high quality photographs for commercial, artistic or personal usage.


    These people are basically the same ones who for many years used advanced film cameras, mostly 35mm film single lens reflex (SLR) types. 


    The masses and snapshooters who previously used point and shoot compact cameras now use smartphones, Instax and POV devices.


    If my thesis is correct, most buyers of digital still/video cameras will be at the expert/enthusiast/professional level or will have an ambition to reach that level.


    This has implications for product development. It means camera companies need to produce highly specified products with very good image quality, excellent performance with still photos and video  of static and moving subjects and excellent ergonomics.


    There is no place for half baked, underspecified or underperforming  products.


    Neither in my view is there any place for MIL and FZL cameras without a built in EVF of good quality and an integral anatomical handle.


    Some camera makers seem to regard handles and EVFs as optional extras. I regard this as an insult to the people who buy and use those cameras and shows disregard for good ergonomic practice.


    Sure, some users say they don’t want or need a handle or an EVF.


    But the right way to manage this is to include these features and fit every camera with a properly designed anatomical handle and built in EVF. Those users who thought a handle was un-necessary will get a pleasant surprise when they discover how much better  a camera handles when it does have one.


    Those who thought they did not need an EVF will discover one bright sunny day that the built in EVF is actually a really good idea which enables the user to see the subject when the monitor is not adequate for the conditions. They might also discover that they can make sharper photos at the long end of the zoom when viewing through the EVF.


    As I see it the market for traditional digital still/video cameras has resolved itself into three main types: Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR), Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens (MILC) and Fixed Zoom Lens (FZLC).


    The DSLR type has just about reached the limit of its capacity to evolve. It will soldier on until the MILC type can overcome its current limitations.


    Development of MILCs is being held back by EVF refresh rates, problems achieving excellence in follow focus on moving subjects and shutter shock, the final solution for which is elimination of the mechanical shutter.


    Both DSLR and MILC types have interchangeable lenses which are either a blessing or a curse depending on your tolerance for buying, carrying and changing lenses.


    I think the FZLC type has the greatest potential for evolutionary development. These cameras use leaf type shutters which are not associated with shutter shock. Modern zoom lenses have reached a level of excellence unimaginable just a few years ago.


    If my analysis is correct I would expect to see camera makers moving in two main directions:


    1. In the ILC realm, making a robust transition from DSLR to MILC.


    2. Developing a selection of  advanced  FZLCs covering the wide to super tele focal length range and with a feature set suitable for enthusiast, expert and professional users.


    Let us see how each of the camera makers is doing:


    If  Canon  has been working on some secret strategy to regain  its former place as leader and innovator in the industry, right now would be a really good time to announce it, with some convincing products to demonstrate a revitalised approach.


    In the DSLR realm, Canon has gone for more pixels. The resulting pixel dense sensor is revealed as prone to image degradation from mirror slap and shutter shock requiring workarounds if full resolution is to be achieved.


    If Canon had some really outstanding MILCs in the works their ‘more of the same, steady as she goes’ approach to DSLRs might be understandable.


    But the EOS M (Mirrorless) ILCs to date have been depressingly mediocre, underspecified and underperforming little things pitched downmarket to a user group which I suspect has moved on to other gadgets.


    What about FZLCs ?  In Canon world these gather in the Powershot tent and like the MILCs  are relentlessly pitched downmarket with mediocre, half baked specifications, performance and ergonomics.  Canon has done very well with this product line in the past but times are  changing and I think the erstwhile cohort of Powershot users is moving elsewhere and not necessarily to other camera brands.


    I think that if Canon continues its ‘half baked’ strategy with the MILCs and FZLCs  then their products will become irrelevant to most consumers who actually decide to buy a camera. 


    Presumably if you want a proper camera they expect you to buy a DSLR. But the days when Canon could tell its customers what they should buy are gone and Canon needs to wake up to this, by yesterday.


    Leica has announced the SL,  which I think is a small step in the right direction namely


    a)  The 24 x 36 mm ‘full frame’ sensor and


    b)  MILC.


    But the implementation is terrible with a large heavy body, even larger and heavier lenses, poor ergonomics, a user interface borrowed from the medium format S model where it was not a great success, low pixel count, no E-Shutter, no EFCS and a price for the body and one lens which would buy a rather nice new motor car.


    One commentator suggested that Leica buyers are amateurs “caught in the Leica reality distortion field”.   That sounds about right to me.


    Nikonhas just announced the D5 and D500 DSLRs which look to me to be the ultimate expression of the DSLR genre, with excellence at just about everything a DSLR can do.  But ‘ultimate expression’ also means ‘end of the line’, so what is next ?


    Maybe Nikon has also been working on a secret strategy for future product development and if so now would be the time to demonstrate it, like real soon, ASAP.


    Nikon chose the ‘one inch’ sensor, (actually 13.2 x 8.8mm, diagonal 15.9 mm) for its entry into the MILC world (hence the name ‘1 Series’).


    Not to mince words I call this as a mistake.  The  15.9 mm sensor is much better suited to the FZLC style of camera. How can I say this ? 


    Look at the Sony RX100, and RX10, Canon GX series and Panasonic FZ1000 and TZ100.

    These are all FZLCs wrapped around a 15.9 mm sensor.


    Look at the photo of a  Nikon V3 with 10-100mm lens adjacent to a Panasonic TZ100. Each uses the same sensor size. Each has a 10x zoom with very similar focal length range. The TZ100 has a built in EVF, the Nikon V3 does not.


    The ‘1 Series’ is not a convincing MILC platform.


    But that sensor size can form the guts of an excellent and versatile set of FZL type cameras.


    Picture courtesy of photosize.com   Photosize did not have the manual zoom 10-100 mm lens for the 1 Series in its files so I mocked up approximately the correct size using the 30-110 mm lens as a starting point.
    The picture which says more than words. On the left the recently announced Panasonic TZ100. On the right the Nikon 1 V3 with 10-100mm lens.  Same sensor size, same 10x zoom range. The smaller TZ100 is better specified than the V3 in having a built in EVF.
    The V3 with 10-100 mm lens is more than twice the size (as length x width x height) and costs more than twice as much.
    Game over for the 1 System I think.


    I think Nikon needs to abandon the ‘1 Series’ and either join the Micro Four Thirds consortium or come up with a MILC using an APS-C (diagonal 28 mm) or ‘Full Frame’ (diagonal 43 mm) sensor which can take Nikon forward into the mirrorless future.  I think they need to do this pretty darn quick or there might not be any future for Nikon.


    Nikon’s Coolpix line has been enjoying some success in the last year especially with the P900 and its amazing 83 x zoom. But Nikon needs to get serious about the Coolpix line just like Canon needs to get serious about the Powershot line. Both lines need a very big upgrade to their specifications, features, speed, performance and user interface. They need to become front line products not second stringers to the DSLRs.


    There are plenty of rumors that Nikon will make several, maybe three FZLCs using the ‘one inch’ sensor. We shall see.  I hope they do this properly and make these premium products with built in EVF and fast processor for excellent performance.


    Olympus  has a nice and well regarded line of Micro Four Thirds MILC models, a well reviewed waterproof/shockproof compact and not much else. Maybe they will survive if M43 becomes the default ILC format for amateur photographers.


    I think they need to rework the Stylus 1 with a ‘1 inch’ sensor to at least keep up with the whole ‘1 inch’ FZLC movement.


    Panasonichas been firing off M43 and FZLC models in profusion with a POV device and a smartphone with 1 inch sensor thrown in for luck. I wish they would steady the ship, settle on just three M43 lines and get more selective about the FZLCs which I think could be the main camera type for Panasonic.


    My prescription: fewer lines, fewer models, better, more user oriented products.


    Samsungappears to have decided that the return on cameras is not worth the considerable investment.  Probably a smart decision.


    Sonyis making waves with the A7 cameras, or more precisely with one of them, the A7R2.  They don’t seem to be moving forward much with other lines though so who knows what Sony has in store for the future.


    Notwithstanding the uncertainty which always accompanies Sony’s adventures in camera world,  one would have to say the A7 project is ‘promising’. We shall see if it  eventually grows into a mature product line with a full set of professional calibre zoom lenses.


    So which cameras or systems do I think are the ‘most promising’ this year ?


    Well frankly, I have difficulty nominating any of them.


    Micro Four Thirds (mainly Olympus and Panasonic) might carve out a niche for itself with enthusiast amateurs and a few pros if they can sort out the usual MILC issues: shutter shock, EVF refresh, follow focus on sport/action.


    Panasonic might do all right with its FZLCs. Canon, Nikon and Sony could do likewise if they presented the market with fully specified products delivering excellent performance.


    Sony might build momentum with the A7 series full frame MILCs and I hope they do.


    But I wouldn’t bet on any of them.


    Which are the ‘most puzzling’ ?


    Apart from Leica the continued existence of which I find completely baffling, I would have to say the profusion of  half baked products from all the manufacturers in all categories is really puzzling. 


    What are they trying to achieve ?


    Which group of consumers are they trying to attract ?


    It seems to me they are all excessively preoccupied with ‘the product’ when they should be paying far more attention to ‘the customer’.


    As usual we shall see what the coming year brings.

    ** ‘The Magic Pudding’ is a reference to a classic book by Australian author Norman Lindsay published in 1918.






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    This former lunatic asylum is a bit out of the left wing in a photography blog.
    In the 19th Century it was thought that this type of architecture would be conducive to recovery from mental illness. It was not. I use this photo as an example of a design chosen for a particular 'style' which did not suit its intended purpose.
    The GX8 design appears also to be a 'styling' exercise which is not well suited to its intended purpose.


    I recently watched a video review of the Panasonic Lumix GX8 camera, in which the reviewer described the exposure compensation dial on that camera as  “a masterpiece of ergonomics”.


    Unfortunately the reviewer did not give his reasoning for this fulsome praise.

    In this post I examine the ergonomics of exposure dials and explain why I come to the opposite view, namely that the GX8 exposure dial is an ergonomic kludge.


    The word ‘kludge’ has been attributed to Jackson W Granholm (1962) and refers to ‘An ill assorted collection of poorly matching parts forming a distressing whole’, or with reference to a device,  ‘a poorly thought out solution to a problem’.


    Three current model Panasonic cameras. On the left G7, in the middle GX8, on the right FZ1000. Each was presumably intended to be used by the same humans with the same hands. Yet each has a quite different control layout. The G7 works very well apart from the badly implemented 4 Way (cursor button) pad. So does the FZ1000. Even though it only has one proper dial the zoom lever around the shutter button can be purposed as an exposure compensation controller.  The GX8 has a mash up of  ill assorted holding and operating controls all presumably in the service of some styling objective. 


    Some basic principles and concepts of  camera ergonomics


    1. A camera is a hand held device which should be designed to fit the hands which operate it.  An understanding of  the functional anatomy of human hands and fingers is essential for this.


    2. There are four phases of camera use: Setup, Prepare, Capture and Review.


    3. In each Phase the user has to complete tasksin order to operate the device. This requires actions which can be evaluated for number and complexity.


    The exposure compensation dial  is a ‘set-and-see’  module. You look at the dial to change the setting and see the setting right on the dial.

    Set-and-seemodules work best for Prepare Phase adjustments which are required in the minutes prior to capture while preparing the camera for a new set of conditions.


    In Prepare Phase the operator holds the camera down where the dials on top of the body are easily seen and adjusted.  


    In Capture Phase the user is looking through the viewfinder at which point any dials or other user interface modules on top of the body are invisible.


    Exposure Compensation is a secondary exposure parameter (primary exposure parameters are aperture, shutter speed and ISO sensitivity) which is adjusted in Capture Phase of use, while viewing through the viewfinder.


    This is my Mockup #13. I made this before the G7 was released, but by chance it is the same size and there are  similarities in the layout. Considerable thought has been put into this control layout.


    In principle  the optimum way to adjust exposure compensation is with the front or rear (as determined by the user) control/command dial in a twin dial configuration. One dial changes aperture or shutter speed depending on the current mode. The other dial can be configured to adjust exposure compensation.


    This represents optimum use of the twin dial setup. The user decides the amount of exposure compensation while looking through the viewfinder with reference to zebras, histogram, overall EVF brightness or all three.


    The exposure compensation dial is redundant. The space it occupies on top of the camera would better be used by a Drive Mode Dial for Prepare Phase adjustment.


    On the GX8 operation of the exposure compensation dial is further compromised by additional  ergonomic problems:


    * It is in the wrong place, too far to the left for comfort. The right hand has to do a little hitch up for the thumb to bear onto the EC dial while eye level viewing.


    * It is stacked with the main Mode Dial, risking unintentional movement of the Mode Dial when the EC dial is moved.



    * The presence of the EC dial forces the Focus Mode lever to be displaced about 20mm to the left of its optimal position, where it cannot be operated by the thumb without changing grip with the right hand.   

    * The separate EC dial cannot be configured to reset to zero when the camera is switched off  or the Mode is changed.


    Conclusion  The Exposure Compensation Dial on the Panasonic GX8 camera is not a masterpiece of ergonomics. It represents an inappropriate use of a ‘set-and-see’ dial on the top plate and is in addition poorly implemented ergonomically.  It is a kludge.


    It is passing strange to me that Panasonic simultaneously released the G7 which makes excellent use of top plate real estate and controls with a well implemented twin dial design which allows efficient and streamlined control of primary and secondary exposure parameters while continuously viewing through the viewfinder and without the redundant Exposure Compensation Dial.



    I can only conclude that the shape and control layout of the GX8 were driven by styling considerations. Unfortunately the ergonomics of the device have suffered in the process. 


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    GX8 with CGK33 fitted


    January 2016:  Right now Panasonic is offering its customers some frustrating and to my mind decidedly unappealing Micro Four Thirds camera choices.


    In the enthusiast/mid range G/GX section of the market you can have the G7 or the GX8. I bought both.  I kept the GX8 and sold the G7.


    The G7 is said to have the same (or very similar) sensor as the GH4 and most of that camera’s functionality at about half the price. That sounds like a really good deal and it is but with two caveats:


    1. RAW files made with the E-Shutter are only 10 bit depth. With the Mechanical shutter you have 12 bit depth.


    It is often necessary to use the E-Shutter to avoid shutter shock with some lenses.

    The 10 bit files are very prone to developing a mottled green appearance in dark tones pulled up in Photoshop or other RAW converters.


    2. The G7 is mostly well designed with generally good ergonomics except for the 4 Way pad (a.k.a. “Cursor Buttons’ in Pana-speak) which is badly designed. The buttons are flat with a bevelled edge which makes them difficult to find and operate by feel.


    For me these two issues are deal breakers for the G7.  


    I often want to pull up dark tones in Adobe Camera Raw and I use the E-Shutter most of the time for general hand held photography.


    I use the ‘Direct Focus Area’ function with the Cursor Buttons and often move the active focus area around the frame.



    Rear view


    The GX8 has the newer, presumably Sony made sensor which gives 12 bit RAW files with the E-Shutter and has  better designed Cursor Buttons with raised edges which are easier to find and operate by feel.


    That sounds pretty good and it is but…….

    Most aspects of the GX8 ergonomic realisation are poor.  The handle is a strange, non  anatomical shape with no notch for the middle finger. The front dial is small and not optimally positioned. The rear dial is too high and too far forward. The Exposure Compensation dial is un-necessary (its function would be better allocated to the front or rear dial), it is hard to reach, it displaces the Drive Mode dial which would be a better use for that module and its presence forces other user interface modules such as the Focus Mode lever and the AF/AE-L button into suboptimal positions.


    Oh, yes, and the strap lug digs into my hand with great frequency. And I keep bumping the Disp button accidentally.


    In an attempt to improve functionality of the GX8 I bought and fitted a Panasonic CGK33 Leather half case as shown in the photos.

    This is quite well made (in Vietnam). It is attached by screwing into the tripod socket of the camera with a coin.


    Once fitted with the half case the camera can be tripod mounted normally.


    There is a flap which opens to give access to the battery/memory card hatch. Getting the card out is a bit tricky, I had to tip the camera upside down to get it out, but at least you don’t have to remove the half case.


    The half case increases the height of the handle (and the camera) by 10mm. It also increases the handle width by about 5mm and depth by about 3mm. This might not sound like much but the overall effect is to provide a taller, fatter handle which is easier to hold.


    It also reduces accidental pressings of the Disp button and reduces the number of times the strap lug digs into my hand.


    The CGK33 does not magically transform the poorly designed GX8 handle into a paragon of ergonomics. It does however provide a modest improvement to the user’s ability to get a decent grip on the thing.


    Underside


    Recommendation  If you are a GX8 owner and are perfectly happy with the camera’s handling then don’t bother with the half case.


    But if you are like me and many other reviewers and owners and find the handling of the GX8 not to your liking, I do recommend the CGK33.


    I got mine from B&H in New York, shipped out to Australia.


    There are some thing about this business which really annoy me.


    * Panasonic makes the half case. This means they already know the GX8 has compromised ergonomics. So why not make the camera with a proper anatomical handle in the first place ?


    I don’t know the answer to this question but can only assume the basis for the GX8 design is a styling conceit.


    * Right now you can have the new, good sensor with the 12bit RAWs all the time (and 20 Mpx and IBIS and other stuff) but only in the ergonomically deficient GX8…..OR…


    * You can have the ergonomically good (apart from the unsatisfactory Cursor Buttons) G7 but only with the older, 10-bit-with-e-shutter sensor inherited from the GH4.


    I think Panasonic would do their customers and eventually themselves a great power of good by doing the job properly. Put the good sensor in the good body and present one product which gets everything right.


    Is that too much to ask ???



    Apparently so. 


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    GX8 + 12-35mm

    Users who are familiar with   other Panasonic micro four thirds cameras will have no trouble setting up the GX8 as the menu system and operation follow established themes.


    However newcomers to PanaWorld might be daunted at first by the number of choices and options available. 


    So here are some setup suggestions. They are biased towards still photo usage not video, although many of the setup decisions will likely be the same for both.


    As always with my setup guides I describe the options available, why you might select one over another, what I opt for and why.


    The GX8 and similar recent model Panasonic M43 cameras are highly configurable. This means each individual user can basically design their own camera.


    This is a wonderful thing but it does mean coming to grips with many this-or-that type decisions.


    Fortunately you can go back later and change any setting which you deem not to be working for your particular needs.


    Complete beginners

    It may be that some beginners to ‘camera photography’ (as distinct from ‘smart phone photography’) might find themselves with a GX8 and 12-35mm or 14-140mm lens in hand.


    I recommend that these users set the Mode Dial to the [iA] position, set the time and date when prompted by the camera, leave all menu settings as found or reset them to default with a used camera, make sure the OIS switch on the lens is pushed up (ON) then go out and make lots of photos.  You will find the camera does an excellent job in a wide variety of conditions.


    Creative Control 

    The artist’s palette icon next to the [iA] icon on the Mode Dial brings up the ‘Creative Control’ settings. You can play with these for a while. They include ‘Expressive’, ‘Retro’, ‘High Key’ …..etcetera.  In my view these features are just gimmicks, not creative and certainly not giving the user any control over the camera’s output.


    Panorama


    The GX8 has a dedicated setting on the Mode Dial for Panorama. I find this setting very useful. With the right subject and technique excellent panoramas can be achieved. Please see my post on this here.


    To set up for panoramas:


    1. Move the Mode Dial to the Panorama icon.


    2. Press the Menu/Set button to enter the Menus,  scroll to the Rec Menu then down to the [Panorama Settings] on screen 5/8.


    3. Scroll to [Direction]. Now things get a bit confusing. You are offered four options. The camera can do a sweep panorama left-to-right or down-to-up in either landscape or portrait orientation.


    The setting which I use and recommend is the bottom one of the four displayed. This allows you to hold the camera in portrait orientation and sweep from left to right for a horizontal panorama which is the most common type. Using portrait orientation gives you more height to the final image than is available with landscape orientation. Try it, you will see what I mean.


    4. On the GX8 you are offered a [Picture Size] option, Standard or Wide. I find the Wide option quite extreme so I set Standard which still gets you an impressively wide panorama.


    Moving up


    After you press the [Menu/Set] button to access the menu system you will see an option to set [iA+]. 
    This provides more options and functions than [iA]. For instance there are 3 screens of Rec Menu options in[iA] and 8 screens in [iA+]. You can use RAW capture in [iA+] Mode.


    In effect the camera is prompting you to try [iA+].  Which you can do.


    However I find [iA+] more confusing than helpful and you still don’t have full control of the focus box size and position in [iA+] so I recommend moving right on to the P (Program) setting on the Mode Dial and from there to the A, S and M settings.


    For the remainder of this post I will assume one of the P, A, S, M   Mode settings.


    Autofocus control


    I think the first big decision is about your preferred autofocus control interface.


    Panasonic cameras including the GX8 have a very sophisticated auto/manual focus system with many options. Some of these are detailed on pages 144-155 of the advanced Operating Instructions.


    My personal view is that Panasonic has gone over the top with AF options which are so numerous as to confuse.


    1. You can let the camera decide where in the frame and on what subject element to focus. You get this automatically in [iA].


    In one of the P, A,S or M modes you need to find [Autofocus Mode = AF Mode]. By default this is accessed via the left cursor button, but it can be allocated to any Function button. 


    The options in AF Mode are Face/Eye Detect, Tracking, 49 Area, Custom Multi, 1-Area and Pinpoint.


    If you set 49 Area then AF will work just as it does in [iA] Mode.


    This is nice and easy but you have no control over the selected AF point(s).


    2. You can set Face/Eye Detect which can be useful with, say, a portrait session or a person-in-landscape or similar where you know there will be a face looking towards the camera. It works fine as long as you understand the limitations of face detect.


    3. You can set 1-Area, locate the AF box in the center of the frame and use the focus-and-recompose technique. Some people prefer this, having become accustomed to it from past experience. This also works but may be subject to errors with wide angle lenses used close up and may give an incorrect exposure as AF and AE are by default evaluated and locked together.


    If you want to use focus-and-recompose, I suggest focussing with the AF/AE Lock button (the one on the thumb support). First go to the Custom Menu, screen 1/9, [AF/AE Lock] and set the [AF Lock] option. Then back in the Custom Menu scroll down to [AF/AE Lock Hold] and set this ON.


    Now you have separated AF from AE. You can lock focus anywhere in the frame and recompose with AE measured just before the exposure.


    4. You can move the active AF box anywhere in the frame with the 4 Way pad (called Cursor Buttons in Panaspeak). There are basically three ways of doing this. 


    Yes I know, too many options………………..


    If the camera had a JOG lever to move the AF box none of this messing about with other buttons would be required, but there is no JOG lever so we must press on with the options which are available…. 


    4.1 With the Cursor Buttons at default settings you:


    * Press the left cursor button which brings up the AF Mode.


    * Then press the down cursor button which changes the AF bounding box from white corners to a yellow box with a yellow arrow on each side.


    * Now press any cursor button to move the box anywhere you like, up/down/left/right.


    * Change the size of the AF box in little steps with the front dial or big jumps with the rear dial.


    * Recenter the box with one press on the Disp button.


    * Resize the box to default with a second press on the Disp button.


    * Return to shooting function any time with a half press on the shutter button.


    4.2  You can assign to any one of the Function buttons the task of bringing up the active AF box. In the Custom Menu, screen 7/9 scroll to [Fn Button Set].


    You will see that each Fn button can be assigned one of 56 functions. On screen 3/14 of these is [Focus Area Set]. When this is assigned to a Function Button then pressing that button brings up the active AF box with yellow border and bounding arrows.


    But which Fn button ?


    I am unable to nominate a suitable one.  Ergonomically it should be the Playback button but 

    Panasonic never lets you retask this button. So I do not recommend this option.


    4.3 Direct Focus Area.  This is the option which I use and recommend.


    The advantage is you get direct control of the AF box position.


    The disadvantage is you have to find alternative access to AF Mode, ISO, WB and Drive Mode. 

    Some users are daunted by this prospect but it is easily done via the many Fn buttons and the Q menu. Thus I find the advantages of Direct Focus Area outweigh  the disadvantages.


    In the Custom Menu, screen 3/9 set [Direct Focus Area] ON.


    For the record I allocate:


    * Drive Mode to the LVF/Fn 6 button


    * AF Mode to the Fn 5 button in the Focus Mode lever module, this being a logical place for it.


    * ISO to the Q Menu/Fn 2 button.


    * I set White Balance in the Q Menu (allocated to Fn 1).  I rarely find I need to use the specific white balance options. I almost always set auto white balance and make any required corrections later in Photoshop.  


    But wait !  There’s more:


    You can drive yourself completely potty with all the autofocus options in the AF Menu. There are too many variables here for the comprehension of ordinary mortals trying to use the device for the purpose of taking photographs.


    * Face/eye detect can be useful sometimes but you have to press buttons to access that function.


    * Tracking might sometimes be useful especially for video where you want to hold focus on a person/dog, whatever, which is moving around the frame.

    For a series of still photos using Burst Mode and AFC to follow focus on a moving subject plain old 1-Area AF is more reliable in my experience.


    * 49 Area prevents you from having control over AF point selection.


    * Custom Multi is for the tragically tech addicted user more interested in fiddling with the options than taking photos.


    * 1-Area is the option which I use 99% of the time and recommend.


    * Pinpoint can be useful on occasion for the ‘small-bird-in-a-tree’ type of subject.


    To repeat myself


    Panasonic and other camera makers need to fit all cameras in the expert/enthusiast section of the market with an ergonomically located  JOG lever of good  haptic design.


    You will find such a control module on high end Canon models such as the 7D (2) and 5D, Nikon D500 and higher models. The technology is well established over several years of use. Even my old Canon EOS 40D of 2007 had one.


    A well located and configured JOG lever completely invigorates the ergonomics of AF point selection. The best location is just to the left of the right thumb in rest position. All my mockups have one, to demonstrate that a JOG lever can be fitted even to small-ish cameras with thoughtful design.


    Touchscreen


    The GX8 has some very sophisticated touch screen functions. Some users say they really  like touchscreen functions and get very critical of any camera without them.  Others have no use for the touch screen and switch it off.


    The problem is that with eye level viewing you are unable to see the screen and thus most touch functions  are unavailable.


    There is one touch function which can be used with EVF viewing, however. It is called [Touch Pad AF]. It is set via the custom Menu, screen 8/9, [Touch Settings]. You need to set [Touch Screen] ON then the next options, Touch Tab, Touch AF and Touch Pad AF become active.


    The idea of [Touch Pad AF] is that while looking through the EVF you touch the monitor with a finger and thus move the AF box about the screen, with the position of the box displayed in the EVF.


    Some users say they really like this feature. I have tried it on many Panasonic cameras and find that I can control the position of the AF box with [Direct Focus Area] and the cursor keys much more reliably and efficiently.


    I imagine that some situations such as video with a tripod mounted camera might benefit from touch screen function.


    But for hand held single shot photography I find touch screen a nuisance and switch it off.


    Dial Function


    On Page 51 of the Operating Instructions you can find a list of options for the Front and Rear Dials.


    The [Dial Set] tab is found in the Custom Menu, screen 7/9.


    In P, A and S Modes the dials have the same function.


    In M  Mode you can set one to change Aperture and the other to change Shutter Speed.


    If you want to confuse yourself completely you can configure the dials to work the opposite way from default. I strongly recommend leaving them at the default setting in which each dial delivers ‘value up’ when the finger working the dial is moved to the right. This is what I and I suspect many people expect to happen.


    You cannot set one of the dials to adjust  Exposure Compensation in P, A or S Mode.  This is presumably because the camera has a separate, set-and-see type Exposure Compensation Dial stacked beneath the Mode Dial.


    But the EC dial can only do +/- 3 stops. So to get up to 5 stops you have to turn the EC dial as far as it will go then turn either the front or rear (whichever one you set, I use the rear one) to get the extra 2 stops.


    I regard this arrangement as a complete ergonomic kludge,  presumably the result of someone high up in  product development command insisting on putting that redundant  Exposure Compensation Dial on top of the camera. Never before have I seen one dial cause so much trouble. If they allowed exposure compensation to be assigned to the front or rear dial there would be no need for the separate EC dial at all or the dial could be used for Drive Mode.


    Next in this litany of dysfunctional dial options we have [Dial Operation Switch Setup]. This has recently appeared on Panasonic M43 cameras.


    A bit of history and background to this might be helpful.


    The basic idea is that there are many more functions  than control modules (buttons, dials etc).


    Therefore it might seem desirable to squeeze two functions out of each module.  Or it might  just be confusing, I will get to that.


    Panasonic has a long established, tried and effective method for providing this in the form of the ‘push-click’ dial.


    For instance, the rear dial on the FZ1000 does a very nice ‘push-click’. It usually adjusts Aperture or Shutter speed, depending on the selected Mode. But push it in until it clicks and it switches to Exposure Compensation with a clear indication in the monitor and EVF letting the user know what is being adjusted right now.


    Notice that the rear dial on the FZ1000 is of the semi submerged type. But the dials on the GX8 are open type which cannot be configured for ‘push-click’ operation.


    Why are they open type ?


    I have no idea. If pressed I would have to guess it is a fashion.


    The semi submerged type have several practical and ergonomic advantages.


    So ‘push-click’ is not possible on the GX8 (or the G7 by the way and for the same reason).


    So the designers had to come up with an alternative and the [Dial Operation Switch] is it.  Olympus has the same issue for the same reason with its OM-D cameras. They elected to use a little lever to make the switch.


    The idea is you press a programmed Function button to switch the dial to a prearranged alternative function and press it again to return the dial to the original function.


    By default the operative button is Fn 13 (the one in the middle of the rear dial) although any Fn button can be used.


    There is a list of assignable functions on Page 51 of the Operating instructions.


    You might want to give [Dial Operation Switch] a try but please not while you are trying to make any photos deemed important such as a family wedding or other unrepeatable occasion.


    The problem is that [Dial Operation Switch] is really awkward to implement, it is difficult to remember what function you assigned as the alternate and the opportunity for mistakes is high.


    I avoid the whole thing like the plague. The GX8 is complicated enough without adding another layer of functions to forget.


    The other problem is that you don’t gain much. Sure there are two new dial functions if you can remember which ones you set. But you lose the function of the Fn button assigned to Dial Switch. So you really only gain one function which could just as easily have gone to the Q menu, leaving the dials with just one function.


    All right, enough with the dials.


    Function Button task allocations


    Pages 70-71 of the Operating Instructions have the details.


    Go to screen 7/9 of the Custom Menu to find [Fn Button Set]. You will see there are different options for Rec and Play Modes.


    There are 8 hard buttons on the GX8 with user assignable function plus the AF/AE-L button which also offers user selectable function options. In addition there are 5 soft Fn buttons available if Touch Screen is enabled.


    Each Fn button can be assigned one function from a list of 55 available.


    So the total number of combinations of functions is mind boggling and beyond the capacity of my calculator.


    Each user will have his or her own idea about Fn button allocations and I would imagine these will change with experience. I have no idea what your personal preferences might be so I will just describe the Fn function allocations which I use with my reasons.


    First up let us deal with the hapless Fn 7 button. That’s the hidden one on the front of the body, flush with the surface so you can’t find it when you want to but located where you will always bump it accidentally when picking up the camera.  I score a complete fail for the design team there.


    Fn 7 is by default assigned [Preview] see Page 102 of the Instructions. But [Preview] puts irritating little signs on the screen when the button is pressed so I want to get rid of that.


    You cannot disable it so I assign [Flash Adjust] function to it. There being no flash on the camera this effectively renders the button function-less.


    For the rest, here are my selections with reasons:


    Fn1, just to the right of the rear dial on the top plate. I put the Q Menu here. I put Prepare Phase adjustments in the Q menu. These are things I might want to adjust in the minute or so before taking photos but not during the Capture process. So I don’t need the Q menu in a high priority position.


    Fn 2 is the one labelled Q menu. This is in a high priority location so I put ISO Sensitivity here because I want to change ISO during Capture Phase of use.


    Fn3 is the Delete/Return button lower left on the control panel. I put Quality (JPG/RAW) here. It is not a top priority location but I still want ready access to Quality sometimes in Prepare Phase.


    Fn 4 is bottom right on the control panel. I put Level Gauge here.


    Fn 5 is the button in the center of the Focus Mode lever. This is a logical place for Auto Focus (AF) Mode.


    Fn 6 is the LVF button to the right of the EVF (LVF). I put Drive Mode Here. This is a Prepare Phase adjustment. So I put it where I can access it easily enough but not to use up a high priority control button.


    Fn 7 has been dealt with. Severely.


    Fn 8-12 are soft and since I have the touch screen off so are they.


    Fn 13 is the one in the middle of the rear dial. I put M-Shutter/E-Shutter/Auto there.


    If at first you find all this overwhelming I suggest you just leave everything at default for a while until you become familiar with the camera.


    Q Menu


    This is an ideal place to collect some Prepare Phase functions which have not yet been assigned to a Fn button. Each user will have their own ideas about what best to locate here.


    There is a set of default functions on the Q Menu but I suggest you create a Custom set to suit yourself.


    First go to the Custom Menu screen 7/9 and scroll to [Q Menu] then set Custom.


    Now press whichever button you assigned to Q Menu then the down cursor button to highlight the [Q+Wrench] symbol bottom left on the screen. Press Menu/Set to bring up the Q menu Customise screen.


    You can have up to 15 items on the Q Menu but not more than 5 are visible at a time so I try not to exceed that number.


    All 33 available options can be seen on the 5 pages of the Customise screen, you can also peruse pages 66-69 of the Instructions for further details.


    There might be a temptation to load lots of things onto the Q Menu but I suggest that lean is good and restricting items to those which require adjustment in Prepare Phase is efficient.


    For the record I have Stabiliser, E-Shutter and White Balance on the Q Menu.


    Next: Custom Menu









      




      




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    Lambertia formosa   GX8 + 12-35mm

    The GX8 Menu system  is basically the same as other recent Panasonic M43 and  high spec fixed zoom models such as the FZ1000.


    I think it is high time Panasonic revised their menus to group like items together in a more coherent fashion so they are easier to find.  Panasonic menus are not as obscurantist as those of Olympus or as muddled as those of Sony but they could still do with a serious reworking. 

    Hint to Panasonic: look at Canon menus, they do get some things right, or at least better than most of the others.


    They also need to include a ‘My Menu’ Canon style with user nominated items.


    Until then we must make do with the existing slightly ramshackle arrangements.


    I refer frequently to the Operating instructions. The problem with these is that they describe in great detail the various settings you can make but not why you would.


    In this post I will describe what each item allows you to do and try to offer some hints on why one option might be more useful than another. Of course this all depends on individual  preferences which are all different and all unknown to me.


    So I will indicate my choices with reasons. Your priorities may be different leading to different choices.


    Custom Menu


    Cust. Set Mem.  The Mode Dial has three positions for Custom Modes with the possibility to allocate three Custom Mode settings to the C3 position, making a total of 5.

    These are handy for quickly switching from one group of settings to another when subject requirements change, for instance when moving from landscape to sport/action.


    Pages 121-122 of the Instructions have the details, including a list of items which cannot be registered with a Custom setting.  You also cannot register a set-and-see module setting with a Custom Mode. On the GX8 this includes the Focus Mode lever setting and the Exposure Compensation dial setting and the OIS lever setting if there is one on the lens.


    When making a Custom Mode setting make sure you have all Menu items, Q Menu items and Fn button settings exactly where you want them before committing to the Custom Mode.  You can go back and change it any time of course but doing so can be a chore.


    Silent Mode  This sets E-Shutter on and all beeps off. Operation really is silent unlike the pseudo-silent mode on some DSLRs which still have the flipping mirror. This is a good one to include with a Custom Mode for special occasions when completely silent operation is desirable.


    AF/AE Lock   This controls what happens when you press the AF/AE-L button on the back of the thumb support. There are 4 options: AE Lock, AF Lock, AF+AE Lock and AF-ON.


    Remember that you get AF+AE Lock with half press of the shutter button in normal operation. So the best use of the AF/AE-L button is strongly influenced by individual shooting preferences.

    I set AF Lock. This allows me to lock focus on a particular part of the subject then have the camera evaluate exposure just before the shutter fires. But some people like to do this the other way around, lock exposure first then establish focus at the last moment.

    AF-ON is useful for ‘back button focus’ on moving subjects with AFC set on the Focus Mode lever. 

    You can follow the subject in the viewfinder with the AF-ON button held down to get follow focus rolling then press the shutter button when you want to start capture. This is also a useful option to include in a Custom Mode.


    AF/AE Lock Hold  works with the AF/AE-Lock button. I set AF/AE Lock Hold ON so focus stays locked after one press of the AF/AE Lock button. A second press unlocks focus.


    Shutter AF  ON is the normal shutter button operation. AF is initiated and locked by half press of the shutter button. You might set this OFF if for instance you want exclusive back button AF.


    Half Press Release   I find this one a bit disconcerting. Half press on the shutter initiates AF, AE and shutter firing. Presumably for the photographer in a desperate hurry.


    Quick AF  When ON this setting has the camera continuously trying to find focus. On my tests it is actually not all that quick and it eats up battery power. I leave this one OFF.


    Eye Sensor AF  This is another one for the speedy set. The camera focusses as soon as you bring your eye to the EVF. I leave it OFF.


    Pinpoint AF time  When Pinpoint AF is used a picture-in-picture (PIP) enlargement (or full screen if set) of the AF area pops up on the screen for a period of time determined by this setting. I use [Mid] which gives about 1 second of PIP display. I suggest using [Short] for birds as they rarely sit still for long.


    Pinpoint AF Display  Select PIP or Full. Personal preference, I use PIP.


    AF Assist lamp  Switch this OFF. Panasonic low light AF is so good you never need the assist lamp even in very low light levels.


    Direct Focus Area  This was discussed at length in the previous post.


    Focus/Release Priority  I have not actually seen much definite difference between the [Focus] and [Release] settings. However on the basis that I have no interest in out of focus shots I set [Focus].

    AF+MF  When ON you can autofocus then while holding the shutter button half pressed, rotate the focus ring on the lens. This automatically switches the camera to MF allowing you to refine focus to preference.  This is a sophisticated function which automatically brings up an enlarged PIP display with peaking if set. You can change the degree of enlargement of the PIP display by rotating the rear dial while maintaining half press on the shutter button. This requires some dexterity.


    MF Assist  This allows you to select the display method for MF assist. Most lenses have a focus ring so the [Lens symbol+Focus] option is the one to set (second from the top). But a few lenses lack a focus ring and require pressing whatever button has carriage of the AF Mode to bring up the MF assist display. For this case set the top or third down option. You can also set OFF but the AF + MF  feature is very useful so I recommend it be active.

    DSLR users who view through the OVF have no access to this useful feature.


    MF Assist Display  This refers to the two items above. I use the PIP display but you can set full frame. I think this is overchoice, one of those items Panasonic has included because they can, not necessarily because it is useful.


    MF Guide  This is an analogue display which pops up in the lower part of the screen when MF is engaged. It features a mountain on the left and a flower on the right. It might provide some help to prompt the user about which way to turn the focus ring, (top to the right to focus towards the flower).


    But it does not have any indication of actual distance. This is a long standing deficiency in Panasonic’s otherwise excellent focus offerings. You cannot use the guide to preset a focus distance by scale.


    Peaking    Page 163 of the Instructions.     This is another useful feature which the OVF of a DSLR cannot offer. Peaking is a form of MF assist and is useful. You can set the Detect Level, (I use [High]) and Display Color (I use the top option, blue). Panasonic says that [High] gives greater accuracy. You can experiment with the colors available.


    Histogram  I regard this as something of a legacy feature since Zebras became available on Panasonic cameras. You can set the Histogram On or Off and if On, move it around the screen using the touch screen. Turn the touch screen on to do this. I do not use the histogram any more as it clutters up the EVF/monitor screen view and is more difficult to interpret than the Zebras, at least for highlight clipping.


    Guide line  You get three options or Off. Take your pick. I use the third option with the lines both running through the center of the frame. This is very handy for lining up verticals on buildings and similar at the center of the frame.


    Center Marker  This is not really necessary and Panasonic could delete the option but since it is there I set it ON which just makes identification of the frame center a bit easier.


    Highlight  This flashes ‘blinkies’ in overexposed highlights on playback. I always have it ON.


    Zebra Pattern   Very Useful !!   Page 213 of the Instructions.  This feature has been available on pro video gear for some time but has also recently become a regular feature of Panasonic’s still/video cameras such as the GX8. The purpose is to indicate before making the exposure  when part of the subject will be overexposed against a pre set brightness criterion. In still photography it is most useful for warning of overexposed highlights so exposure compensation can be applied prior to capture.


    You get two zebra sets, one leans to the right one to the left and each can be set to a different level. I just use one set and select a level of 105% for RAW capture and around 100% or a bit less for JPG capture. I got to these figures by trial and error. I don’t know if the numbers themselves have much meaning.


    You should definitely use and experiment with the Zebras and apply negative exposure compensation when they tell you that highlights will be blown.


    Monochrome Live View  This does what it says. Note that although the view in the EVF and monitor is monochrome the picture is your regular standard color version. Still it could be useful for users planning a subsequent monochrome output in an image editor.


    Constant Preview  Page 101.  This only applies to Manual Exposure Mode (M on the Mode Dial). The EVF and monitor will gain up or down as aperture and shutter speed are changed to emulate the brightness of the final output. Set this ON for general photography and OFF for studio type flash work where your result will be determined by the flash.


    Expo. Meter  I wish Panasonic would delete this feature which parks a huge analogue aperture/shutter speed display all over the lower part of the screen.


    LVF Disp. Style/Monitor Disp. Style  Both the EVF (LVF in PanaSpeak) and Monitor can be configured in ‘Viewfinder’ style with camera data displayed on a black background beneath the preview image,  or ‘Monitor Style’ with camera data overlaid on the lower part of the preview image.  
    I use and recommend the ‘Viewfinder’ style as although the preview image is slightly smaller the camera data is much easier to read in all conditions and with any subject.


    Monitor Info. Disp.  If you set this ON and press the Disp button repeatedly you will come in due course to a screen with 17 data types. It somewhat resembles an Olympus Super Control Panel but with less functionality. The items are not user selectable which reduces usefulness of the feature. If you had Direct Focus Area set then you must press whichever button was assigned to Q menu to make the Monitor Info. Disp. Screen active and navigable with the Cursor Buttons. Values can be altered from this screen.


    I would like to see Panasonic turn this into a fully functional control panel or delete it. Anyway you can opt not to have it.


    Rec Area  This selects whether to use the still photo area or the video area.


    Remaining Disp.   Can be minutes for video or shots for stills.

    I don’t really understand why the above two items are not automatic, depending on the capture type selected (still/video).


    Auto Review  Some users like to chimp every shot so these people will likely want Auto Review ON.  But the GX8 has a good EVF and monitor so WYS is pretty much WYG so many users find Auto Review un-necessary. You can always push the Playback button at any time.


    Fn Button Set and Q Menuand Dial Set.   were covered in the previous post.

    Video Button  This is one of the few buttons on this camera which I never bump accidentally so it can be left ON.


    Power Zoom Lens  Page 224 of the Instructions. This is relevant only to lenses with power zoom.


    Eye Sensor  There are two sub menu items, sensitivity and LVF/Monitor Switch.

    Most GX8 users will, I think use the eye sensor to switch between monitor and LVF. For this I have found that a LOW sensitivity seems to work best.


    If you press the LVF/Monitor Switch tab, three more options appear.


    Likely [LVF/Mon Auto] will be the most popular. Look at the monitor see the monitor, look in the LVF see the LVF. Fair enough.


    If you set [LVF] that is what you get. Just the LVF, no monitor for preview or review.


    But if you set [MON]  things get a bit more interesting. Now the monitor will display if it is visible. 
    But when you  fold the monitor in to face the camera LVF view automatically becomes active.


    This is the setting which I use. I mostly use the LVF with the monitor folded in facing the camera.


    But when I do swing out the monitor  it automatically becomes active.


    Touch Settings  were discussed in the previous post.


    Menu Guide  Newcomers to PanaWorld can likely leave this on for a while until they become familiar with things then switch it off to clean up the live view screen.


    Shoot W/O Lens  You might need this ON if you mount a lens not recognised by the camera.


    Next: Setup and Rec Menus











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