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Articles on this Page
- 03/03/14--01:28: _Canon G1X Mark II, ...
- 03/26/14--03:07: _Nikon 1 V3, Where i...
- 03/31/14--23:51: _Using mockups to ex...
- 04/05/14--17:13: _Ergonomic Camera De...
- 04/05/14--23:21: _Language and Taxono...
- 04/06/14--03:09: _Basic Design Decisions
- 04/06/14--20:02: _Hump top or Flat top ?
- 04/07/14--02:20: _Shutter button loca...
- 04/08/14--01:17: _Traditional or mode...
- 04/08/14--16:41: _Traditional or mode...
- 04/09/14--17:43: _Handles
- 04/11/14--02:54: _Front control dials
- 04/11/14--21:12: _Thumb supports
- 04/12/14--17:05: _Rear dials
- 04/13/14--16:53: _Quad control group
- 04/13/14--22:43: _Moving active autof...
- 04/14/14--03:35: _Lens based controls...
- 04/17/14--17:52: _Functional anatomy ...
- 04/18/14--19:16: _Functional anatomy ...
- 04/27/14--23:18: _Measuring Camera Er...
- 03/03/14--01:28: Canon G1X Mark II, Thoughts about the concept
- 03/26/14--03:07: Nikon 1 V3, Where is Nikon going with the 1 series ?
- 03/31/14--23:51: Using mockups to explore camera ergonomic design
- 04/05/14--17:13: Ergonomic Camera Design: The problem with likes
- 04/05/14--23:21: Language and Taxonomy of Camera Ergonomics
- 04/06/14--03:09: Basic Design Decisions
- 04/06/14--20:02: Hump top or Flat top ?
- 04/07/14--02:20: Shutter button location
- 04/08/14--01:17: Traditional or modern control layout Part 1 Discussion
- 04/08/14--16:41: Traditional or modern control layout Part 2 Worked examples
- 04/09/14--17:43: Handles
- 04/11/14--02:54: Front control dials
- 04/11/14--21:12: Thumb supports
- 04/12/14--17:05: Rear dials
- 04/13/14--16:53: Quad control group
- 04/13/14--22:43: Moving active autofocus area
- 04/14/14--03:35: Lens based controls and the left hand
- 04/17/14--17:52: Functional anatomy of the camera Part 1 Basic Characteristics
- 04/18/14--19:16: Functional anatomy of the camera Part 2 detailed description
- 04/27/14--23:18: Measuring Camera Ergonomics Part 1 of 3, Discussion
|Sydney, Circular Quay, early evening.|
Photo courtesy of imaging-resource.com|
G1X top view
Nikon 1 V3 |
Photo courtesy of Digital Photography Review dpreview.com
Nikon 1 V3 with accessory EVF and handle. |
Photo courtesy of Digital Photography Review dpreview.com
Rear view of the mockup beside the V2. They are actually the same height although the angle of view here makes the mockup seem taller. The mockup is much nicer to hold. It doesn't need to be orange, I just wanted you to notice it. It actually started life painted mid gray, but that was too dull and boring.
|Mockups 2014. I will discuss these in detail in subsequent posts. Older models towards the rear, most recent versions at the front.|
Background I have been using cameras for 60 years. The first was my father's Baldafix folding medium format rollfilm model which I was allowed to borrow sometimes when I was 10 years old. Since then I have owned and used almost every kind of camera ever invented. I became interested in ergonomics around 2009. I bought a Panasonic G1, the very first mirrorless interchangeable lens camera [MILC], after having used Canon SLR's and DSLR's since 1990. I could see that mirrorless was the future for interchangeable lens cameras but there were several problems with the G1's user interface (and image quality and performance, but this blog is mostly about the ergonomic issues). The G1 had the appearance of a scaled down L1, a 4/3 format DSLR. I realised that cameras are not scalable for the rather obvious reason that the hands which operate them stubbornly remain the same size no matter how large or small the camera might be.
I bought a Samsung NX10 which was the same size as the G1 but was much nicer to hold and operate. I realised that the problems with the G1 were not caused by it's small size relative to DSLR's but were due to design issues.
To investigate the nature of these problems I began making mockups.
The mockups I made these from scrap plywood lying about in my garage. I did complete cameras and also basic handle modules. I had very few preconceived ideas about the proper shape of a camera. The benefit of mockups is that nothing is disallowed, anything can be tried. I dreamed up and experimented with several avant garde shapes but none of these made it to completion, for the reason that none of them was practical. My most recent designs look very ordinary with hump top and handle like a small DSLR. I arrived at this shape because it works well ergonomically. The difference between my mockups and most actual cameras lies in the detailed realisation of the concept.
I now have 5 handle modules, 8 lenses (mostly peanut butter jars in various sizes) and 9 camera bodies. I also made a mockup of the Sigma dp2 Quattro just to discover for myself how one might hold and operate this odd looking device.
Ergonomics and camera makers I like to understand cameras in terms of product development, picture quality, performance and ergonomics. My impression is that camera makers are good at dealing with problems which are conceptually straightforward but technically difficult, such as picture quality and performance. But they often flounder when attempting to deal with problems which are conceptually difficult even though solving these problems may pose few technical problems. In this category I would put product development and ergonomics.
Ergonomics and camera users I am constantly surprised by the extent to which users appear to tolerate suboptimal or sometimes frankly dreadful ergonomics in their cameras. There are many well established metrics by which technical image quality and performance of cameras can be described and compared. But there is a paucity of words and taxonomy with which to describe ergonomics. So we read inane comments in camera reviews like "it feels good in the hand". I think that we are unable to describe, think about, discuss or analyse any subject such as camera ergonomics until we have the words and taxonomy with which to do so. Hence this blog which is one user's attempt to rectify the deficiency.
Next, Basic design decisions
In due course I discovered that logical it might be but useful it is not. Why ?
The problem lies in the nature of individual likes, wants and preferences.
These have five characteristics which severely limit their usefulness to a designer.
1. They are idiosyncratic. In other words they are particular to that individual and reflect that person's experience and predispositions, whatever they may be. For instance when Panasonic released the GH3 there was a storm of adverse comment about it from contributors to user forums and some bloggers. It was "too big", "too heavy", it "lacked a soul" (whatever that means) and so forth. Some people were presumably expecting something different and the GH3 may have taken them by surprise. I have one and find it to have the best ergonomics of any camera I have used in 60 years.
2. They are transient. People's likes change with experience. That which a person likes today may be out of favour next month when something potentially more appealing is discovered.
3. They are often unformulated. By this I mean that a person may say they really like or dislike some thing or person or movie or whatever but have difficulty putting the reason into words.
4. They usually do not represent the outcome of a systematic evaluation, rather a snap judgement.
5. They are essentially retrospective in nature. They reflect the present state of a person's experience, which by definition is in the past. Thus they are not very useful as an aid to planning new ideas for the future. They may have something to say about the value of old ideas however. Henry Ford is reputed to have said "If I had asked people what they wanted they would have said faster horses".
So I stopped asking people for their opinions about various cameras' holding, viewing and operating characteristics, because the answers I was getting were entirely unhelpful to the ergonomic design process.
I realised that I would have to proceed by developing an understanding of camera ergonomics based on human functional anatomy and physiology. I would have to develop a language and taxonomy so the subject could be clearly identified, discussed and analysed.
The three main descriptors of a camera are image quality, performance and ergonomics. There are many well known metrics by which image quality and performance can be measured, compared and discussed. But ergonomics lacks a system of widely understood, measurable descriptors, language and taxonomy (an organised method of classification). In consequence camera users and reviewers have difficulty talking or writing about ergonomics. If you can't name the thing you can't talk about it. If you can't measure something it is difficult to compare it with another thing.
If most modern cameras had excellent ergonomics this would not be a problem. But every camera I have used and/ or tested in the last five years could benefit from better ergonomic design. The worst are absolutely disgraceful but even the best could be improved with some attention to detail.
Taxonomy of camera ergonomics
The following description applies to a fully featured proper camera, not a low spec beginner's model. My concept of a Proper Camera requires an inbuilt electronic viewfinder, a full anatomical handle, a fully articulated monitor and a full suite of external controls for the expert/enthusiast user. Novices can leave Menus and Function buttons at default settings, turn the Main Mode Dial to the novice's fully automatic setting and use the camera as a point and shoot.
* There are four Phases of camera use, Setup, Prepare, Capture and Review.
* There are three engagement modalities, Holding, Viewing and Operating.
* There is a Task List applicable to each Phase of use.
* Completion of each Task requires one or more Actions. Actions can be counted and also evaluated for complexity.
Each Phase generates a different task list and utilises different aspects of the user interface. The task lists which follow are for basic still photo camera operation. I have not considered the requirements of video, off camera/multiple flash, time lapse and numerous specialised functions. I have also written the task lists for a mirrorless camera, with fixed or interchangeable lens. The lists are essentially the same for a DSLR but the optical viewfinder (OVF) replaces the electronic viewfinder (EVF).
Setup This is the Phase prior to setting forth to make photos. It is negotiated at leisure, probably with the Instruction Manual to hand. Typical tasks of Setup Phase include
* Make Main Menu selections.
* Allocate My Menu selections if available.
* Allocate Quick Menu items if available.
* Select Function button assignments if available.
* Select dial operation/function.
* Setup Wi-Fi and other special functions as available.
* Setup Custom Modes if available.
Some modern cameras have nice, straightforward menus which are logical and easy to negotiate. Others are frustratingly obtuse and convoluted. Some cameras allow a high degree of user configuration. This is a wonderful thing as it allows the user to effectively build his or her own user interface but novices might find the learning curve rather steep.
Prepare This Phase occurs in the few minutes before staring to make photos. Several types of user interface work well in this Phase. These include set and see dials (where you make and can see a setting on the dial), Quick Menu items and Function Button items. In each case you typically have the camera held away from the eye and are able to see dials, press buttons and scroll wheels by sight with selections and settings appearing on the monitor screen. With a modern camera using Mode Dial and Control Dial(s) layout typical tasks of this Phase are:
* Set Mode Dial to Auto, P, A, S, M, C or whatever is available.
* Set the most frequently used Modes. These would usually be Focus Mode (For instance AFS/AFC/MF) , Autofocus Mode (For instance Face detection, AF Tracking, 23- Area, 1-Area, Pinpoint) and Drive Mode (For instance Single shot, Continuous shooting, exposure Bracketing, Timer Delay). Ideally these frequently accessed Modes will be located on set and see dials/modules. This is the most efficient use of such dials or similar modules as it relates to items which you do need to adjust in Prepare Phase but do not need to adjust in Capture Phase.
* Set less frequently used Modes and other adjustments. These might include Flash Mode, Metering Mode, Recording Quality, Image Size, ISO (if it is desired to set this in Prepare Phase), Shutter type, Image stabiliser, Display, Burst/continuous rate, Electronic level, histogram.....etc....etc. modern cameras are loaded with such items. These are best located on a programmable Quick Menu and/or programmable Function buttons.
Capture Now you are in the process of making photos. This phase imposes the highest ergonomic demand on camera and user as all adjustable parameters must be visible at a glance while using the viewfinder and quickly adjustable without having to shift grip with either hand. Tasks of this phase are:
Holding Hold the camera in a relaxed but secure grip with both hands. Maintain this grip while making the adjustments below.
Viewing Easily view in the EVF (or monitor)
*Subject preview (live view)
* Primary Camera data, ideally on a black strip beneath the subject preview (not superimposed over the preview image) in either landscape or portrait orientation. This typically would consist of Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO, Exposure Compensation, White Balance, Battery Status, Capture Mode in use, Remaining exposure on card.
* Secondary camera data, superimposed over the preview image. This would usually consist of active AF area position and size, Grid lines, histogram, manual focus guide indications and others as available and/or desired.
Operating While continuously looking through the EVF and without shifting grip on the camera, Capture Phase requires that the following tasks be carried out quickly and efficiently, without impeding the flow of camera work. Not every exposure requires each and every one of these tasks to be performed.
* Adjust primary exposure parameters: Aperture (f stop), Exposure Time (Shutter Speed), and Sensitivity (ISO setting).
* Adjust secondary exposure parameters: Exposure Compensation, Program Shift, AE Lock, White Balance.
* Adjust Primary Focus parameters: Initiate /lock autofocus, Manual focus.
* Adjust Secondary Focus parameters: Change position and size of active AF area, manual over ride AF, AF Lock.
Review Now you want to review your photos after capture. This could be via the EVF or monitor. Individuals have their own ideas about review requirements but some typical tasks of this phase would be:
* See the last 1-9 photos made and select one.
* Zoom in to and move around a review image.
* Jump from one image to the next or previous at the same zoom level and position in the frame.
* Delete one/many.
The smart phone is
* largely automatic in operation. It does not engage the user much in the process of making pictures.
* Held out in front of the operator who previews the picture on the monitor.
* Not fitted with a real optical zoom lens.
* Uses touch screen controls not a comprehensive set of hard user controls.
The Proper Camera needs to provide a far more engaging experience for the user. It needs
* An anatomical handle and thumb support
* A built in EVF
* Fully articulating monitor
* Long range zoom lens (or the capacity to mount one)
* Fast, responsive performance
* Comprehensive set of hard (dials, levers. buttons) control modules suitable for the expert or enthusiast user.
* Ability to shoot RAW files
It should also have good enough picture quality although many cameras and some smart phones already have this. What I am driving at here is that the key difference between the proper camera and the smartphone lies in the level of engagement of the user. Picture quality differences are secondary in my view.
Touch screens, Wi -Fi Many cameras these days seem to be trying to offer the user features which are characteristic of smart phones. One of these is touch screens which I have found to be useless on a hand held camera with eye level viewing. I posted a detailed piece about this in June 2013. Another is Wi-Fi connection to a smart phone which could be useful as a means of remote control for the camera but less useful as a conduit for uploading files due to the large size and proprietary characteristic of many RAW files.
Fixed lens or interchangeable (ILC) My ergonomic analysis is equally applicable to cameras with fixed or interchangeable lenses. With improvements in the imaging capability of small sensors I would not be surprised if one day superzoom types supplant interchangeable lens types.
DSLR or MILCDSLR's have been undisputed rulers of the serious camera realm for many years but I believe that MILC's will become dominant in due course. I got fed up with the inaccurate focussing, overweight, oversize lenses and clunky user interface of DSLR's years ago. So my ILC's are now mirrorless and most of my ergonomic work now concentrates on MILC's.
Holding You would not think that the two would be any different to hold. Indeed if both are fitted with a full anatomical handle there is no difference. However all the actual flat top cameras in my experience also have the shutter button in rearward position, on top of the body. This makes provision of a full handle impossible. I will discuss this further in the next post. So considering actual cameras in production, hump tops with full handles are more comfortable and secure to hold.
Viewing Flat tops have the viewfinder top left. Humptops have the viewfinder on the lens axis, closer to the midline of the camera. For right eye viewers one might think the flat top would be preferable. In practice however, with actual cameras, I have not found this to be necessarily the case. I am a natural left eye viewer but have trained myself to use the right eye so I can appreciate the requirements of both. With the Panasonic GX7 and Fuji X-E1 I found myself squinting more than I would with any hump top camera. This was due to stray light entering the viewfinder area to a significantly greater extent than occurs with hump tops.
With left eye viewing both types can be awkward, in both landscape or portrait orientation.
Overall I find a slight advantage to the hump top provided the viewfinder eyepiece extends rearward from the face of the monitor by about 15mm, no less, so one does not have to twist the head sideways to see in the viewfinder.
Operating The main difference between the two is the amount of real estate available on top of the body for user interface modules, EVF, hotshoe and built in flash. The hump top locates the EVF, hotshoe and built in flash fore and aft in a line. This frees up space on either side of the hump for set and see dials and other UI modules, be they dials or buttons. Some flat tops fit the built in flash in front of the EVF but this is possible only if both are small.
Some users may find an advantage in having the viewfinder on the lens axis particularly in portrait orientation where the hump top provides a more balanced hold/view position. Some users might also find the hump top hold/view position more secure and balanced with long lenses which require a high level of stability.
On balance I give this to the hump top, by a small margin, even when the viewfinder is electronic and could be located anywhere.
|0||0|Coastal Scene. Panasonic GH3 with 12-35mm f2.8 lens.
There are basically two options,
1. Shutter button rearward, located on top of the camera body. This is the classic traditional camera location, used by millions of film SLR's and rangefinders throughout the mid part of the 20th century. There has been a recent and in my view ergonomically retrograde trend for new camera designs to reprise this shutter button position.
2. Shutter button forward, located on the handle. This has been the standard SLR/DSLR shutter button position since the Canon T90 of 1984.
Why it matters The shutter button is universally operated by the pad of the distal phalanx of the right index finger. Therefore, obviously, the index finger has to go where the shutter button is located and the rest of the hand is connected to the index finger and also to all the other fingers so the position of the shutter button directly controls the possible positions of the right hand and all the fingers. This has major ergonomic and functional consequences.
Functional anatomy Human hands vary in length, width and thickness but reasonably healthy ones all work the same way. The starting point is the half closed relaxed posture as shown in the photo. In this position the hand is ready for action. Hardly any muscle effort at all is required to take up this position. A well designed camera should have a handle and body shape and shutter button position which:
* Allows the right hand to adopt the half closed relaxed posture while holding the camera ready for action. The hand is ready for action and so is the camera.
* Allows the index finger will fall naturally onto the shutter button without strain.
* Locates high value user interface modules (UIM's, buttons, dials etc) adjacent to the shutter button such that they can be operated using the index finger without having to move any other finger. Most cameras fail to meet this requirement, which is disappointing as it is actually quite easy to achieve with good design.
Hand position with top/rear located shutter button The photo illustrates the position which the right hand must adopt when holding a camera with rearward shutter button position. You will notice this is not the half closed relaxed position. The index and third fingers have been pulled apart into an unrelaxed, joint stretching position.
Benefits of a well designed shutter button forward position
* Relaxed yet strong basic hand/finger posture.
* Shutter button can be (but in actual camera is often not) located exactly where the index finger wants to find it.
* Handle can be designed to wrap over the third finger so the camera can be supported without the need to tense gripping muscles.
* Allows UIM's, particularly a control dial adjacent to the shutter button to be reached and activated by the index finger with no movement by any other finger.
* Right side neck strap lug fits between index finger and thumb, does not intrude on holding.
Disadvantages of shutter button forward position
I can't think of any. You do need a handle on which to locate the button but that is an ergonomic advantage not a disadvantage.
Benefits of shutter button top/rear position
I can't think of any. Really. None. Old style 20th Century cameras had the shutter button there because it connected mechanically with a mechanism beneath the button. Manufacturing technologies of the day did not permit a different location. Today the connections inside the camera are electronic and the shutter button could literally be anywhere on or off (remote release) the body. I have no idea why the makers of some new cameras stick the shutter button on top of the body. Nostalgia ?? Reprise the good old days ?? ???
Disadvantages of the top/rear shutter button position
* A full ergonomic handle cannot be incorporated into the design. Only a reduced handle can be fitted due to the position of the fingers. This cannot incorporate an overhang beneath which the third finger could fit. In consequence the right hand has to grip the camera by force of muscle. If the hand relaxes the camera will fall immediately.
* It is difficult to find an appropriate location for a front control dial. Cameras with top/rear shutter button and a front dial usually position the dial on the front face of the body, beneath the shutter button. But in that position it cannot be operated by the index finger without shifting grip with all the fingers of the right hand. Some makers locate the dial like a collar around the shutter button. This is more accessible but captures all the real estate around the shutter button leaving no space for other high value UIM's.
* The basic hold position with top/rear shutter button is less comfortable than that used with a well designed forward shutter button position.
* On many cameras which I have used the right side strap lug manages to dig itself into some part of my right hand, usually the pad over the base of the index finger. In addition there is no clear space where the strap itself can drape while the camera is in Capture Phase.
Shutter button position on the mockups The process by which I make mockups involves shaping the camera and all it's parts to conform to my hands and fingers. I work on the body, handle and thumb support until the resulting shape feels comfortable in my hands. I do not draw the shape. I start with blocks of roughly cut wood then cut, file sand and often fill them until the shape is right. Then after that I put the shutter button exactly where my index finger wants to find it. On none of the full featured cameras did the shutter button end up in the top/rear position. My only mockup with top/rear shutter button is the compact. In that case constraints of the very small size forced the shutter button onto the top of the body. A very small mini handle is fitted. This works but is not as comfortable as the larger models.
Summary There is no functional or ergonomic rationale for the top/rear shutter button position on any camera larger than a small compact.
Recent cameras with top/rear shutter button location The Nikon Df, all the Fuji X-Cams, Sony A7/R, Panasonic GX7, Olympus Pens, EM5/10 all have the top/rear shutter button location and they all have ergonomic problems as a result. It is my carefully considered and researched view that all these cameras are headed backwards ergonomically. In my view one of the few things Canon has gotten right in recent times is a steadfast commitment to the shutter forward configuration on it's DSLR's. Of course I think many of those DSLR's should be MILC's but that is another story.
The retro phenomenon Over the last few years we have seen several new camera models released with some variant of the traditional control system, always as a hybrid with the designers trying to blend traditional and electronic controls in the one device. My work with ergonomics leads me to the view that the retro phenomenon is actually retrograde and leads to a less efficient user experience than a well designed fully modern control layout can provide.
Basic features of the traditional user interface All the user interface modules (UIM's) are of set and see type. This means what it says. The dial or lens ring has marked settings which are selected directly. An example of an all manual 1960's/70's traditional camera is the Pentax Spotmatic shown in the photo.
Advantages of the traditional UI
* Settings for primary and in some cases secondary exposure and focus parameters can be set and are visible from above the camera, without needing to turn it on and without needing to look through the viewfinder or monitor or LCD panel.
* Some users have expressed in user forums a preference for setting and viewing exposure and focus parameters on set and see dials as they say it forces them to think more carefully about their "firing solution" (ISO/Shutter Speed/Aperture) than is the case with a modern UI using a Mode Dial and Control Dial.
* Some users say they "like" the style, appearance or idea of a traditional camera. I say beware the pervasive influence of "likes", any one of which is likely to be idiosyncratic and temporary.
Disadvantages of the traditional UI
* In Capture Phase of use, when one is looking through the viewfinder, all those set and see dials are invisible. But Capture Phase is precisely when you most need to see readouts for primary and secondary exposure and focus parameters. So the makers have to provide repeater readouts for all that camera data in the viewfinder.
* So now we have a key camera data set appearing in two places. But there is a considerable opportunity cost to this. A set and see UIM can only be used for one data set. If the module is used for, say, ISO setting, it cannot be used for anything else. My ergonomic studies have led me to realise than set and see UIM's are actually most useful for Prepare Phase adjustments to the most frequently used Modes. Individual preferences vary but these would I think usually be
* Focus Mode (AFS/AFC/MF)
* Autofocus Mode (On Panasonic cameras, Face detect/Tracking/1-Area/23-Area/Pinpoint)
* Drive Mode (On Panasonic cameras, Single shot/Burst/AE Bracketing/Timer delay)
So these should have highest priority for location on camera top set and see dials. But if primary exposure parameters are on those dials the modes have to be bumped off to a Q Menu or in some cases to sub levers beneath the top dials. This can make the top deck a very busy place, not easy to read or operate manually.
* Without a Main Mode Dial you cannot have a Novice's (point and shoot) mode or Custom modes.
* There is no direct access to P,A,S, auto exposure or Manual exposure settings.
* My time and motion studies of the actions required to operate the camera in Capture Phase show that in most cases the traditional UI requires more actions each of greater complexity than is the case with a modern style UI.
Advantages of the modern UI
* Permits a cleaner layout with less UIMs required than the traditional style.
* Permits direct access to capture modes including a novice (point and shoot) mode and custom modes.
* Gives direct access to the P,A,S, auto exposure modes and manual exposure mode.
* Almost all actions required to operate the camera are carried out with fewer, less complex movements of the fingers and hands and fewer associated movements are required to enable the primary movements.
* There can be more space on the camera for UIMs the function of which can be user set. Fewer UIM's have only one function. This allows each user to effectively design their own interface.
Disadvantages of the modern UI
* I really can't think of any. The operator cannot see readouts for aperture, shutter speed and ISO without looking in the viewfinder or monitor but I don't see that as a disadvantage. That is where and when you need to see that particular data.
* Some people have expressed the idea that the modern camera looks like a lump of plastic without a "soul". Maybe it doesn't look retro chic funky cool. The top deck is not loaded with "real metal" dials. So what I say, it works better.
Next: Worked examples
Heading the previous post is a photo of a small kestrel in flight. At the moment this little raptor glided over my head I had been about to make landscape photos with a telephoto zoom lens. The camera was set to Aperture Priority Mode. My Task was to switch from Aperture Priority auto exposure to Shutter Priority auto exposure and set a shutter speed of 1/1000 sec, which my previous experience had informed me is about right for birds in flight. Completion of the task requires actions.
GH3: With this camera I was able to carry out the required actions while continuing to look through the viewfinder. The actions are
* Shift grip with right hand to apply right thumb and index finger to the Mode Dial.
* Turn Mode Dial one notch from A to S. See confirmation of setting in viewfinder. I had previously set the shutter speed to 1/1000 sec so this was automatically recalled.
* Return right hand to normal operating position and take the picture.
Fuji X-T1. Photo courtesy of Digital Photography Review dpreview.com|
Some people have said they really like this camera but as Michael Reichmann said on his Luminous Landscape site "be careful what you wish for".
X-T1: I guess with a lot of practice an experienced user might be able to perform the required actions while looking through the viewfinder but I suspect most will lower the camera so they can see what they are doing. Actions required depend on the lens mounted. The Fuji X lens system is a bit complicated. Some lenses (mostly primes) have a clicking aperture ring with marked stops, some (generally variable aperture zooms) have an aperture ring with no marked stops and a third type (budget models) have no aperture ring at all. Let's assume we have a variable aperture zoom with an aperture ring. The required actions are:
* Release grip on the camera/lens with the left hand.
* With the left hand, locate the little slider switch on the upper left side (as viewed by the user) of the lens barrel and move this to the red A position.
* Take the weight of the camera/lens with the left hand, shift grip with the right hand and move the right index finger and thumb onto the Shutter Speed Dial.
* Turn the dial off the red A position around to 1/1000 position.
* Return the right hand to normal operating position.
* Return the camera to eye level and take the picture.
Comment You can see that the GH3 completes this task with less actions, most of which are less complex and with fewer support actions being required.
Here is another task example: Change ISO setting.
GH3: The required actions can be carried out while looking through the viewfinder and without having to shift grip with either hand.
* Move the right index finger back from the shutter button onto the ISO button (with a little practice the ISO button is easily distinguished from the buttons on either side). Press the ISO button.
* Change ISO setting with either the front or rear control dial (depending on user selected function settings for the dials)
* Take the photo.
X-T1: It might be possible for the experienced user to complete the required actions while looking through the viewfinder but I suspect most will prefer to lower the camera to see the ISO dial.
* Release grip on the camera/lens with the left hand.
* Grip the ISO dial with the index finger and thumb of the left hand and turn the dial to the required setting.
* Return left hand to the normal holding position.
* Take the photo.
Comment Again you can see the modern UI allows the task to be completed with less actions, most of them less complex, with fewer support actions required.
I could go on for ages detailing the actions required to complete each and every task of operating the camera but I suspect this would become tedious. The same result comes up every time. I think the point is made.
Conclusion A well designed modern UI allows the user to carry out the tasks of operating a camera more quickly and efficiently than is possible with a hybrid traditional UI.
By the way.... The Fuji X-T1 is one of the more coherently designed cameras with hybrid traditional UI. Some are much worse to the point of being ergonomically chaotic. Check out the Nikon Df.................This thing is like an ergonomic train wreck with miscellaneous cluttered user interface modules scattered about incoherently. Some have functions which operate at odds with others. Very strange...............
|Mockup compact camera. This one is the same width as and only 2mm taller than a Sony RX100 (II) to allow for the inbuilt EVF. The oblique type handle improves the holding and operating experience.|
|Holding the mockup compact. You can see how the middle finger wraps around the oblique handle. The relationship between the hand and camera here is completely different from that seen in the photo below.|
Rest area for goats, Barrier Highway New South Wales.
All right it's not really for the goats but they have taken up residence.
Some cameras have a front dial, some a rear dial, some have both. I am referring here to control dials (Command dials in Nikon speak) the function of which is mode dependent and which usually complement a Mode Dial on modern cameras. However hybrid traditional cameras with no Mode Dial often have one or more control dials too. There is always some task which a control dial can perform.
The camera which ignited my interest in ergonomics was the Panasonic G1. One of the several reasons for my frustration with this camera was the unsatisfactory location of the front dial. It was positioned near the top of the handle, in front of and below the shutter button such that with the right hand in normal hold position the third finger lay over the dial. As a result I had to change grip every time I wanted to use the dial. As this dial is the second most often used UIM after the shutter button, I found that to be a very big ergonomic problem. It was also a completely un-necessary one since locating the dial optimally would have been just as easy to fabricate and cost no more.
Over the years I have used many cameras and am regularly astounded by the apparently whimsical fashion in which the front dials of various models are scattered about the upper front region of the body or handle with wanton disregard for human functional anatomy.
Consider the motor car. I can get aboard almost any passenger car and drive it safely without having to look at the main controls. If the brake and accelerator pedals and other essential controls were not predictably located the road toll would be horrendous. Cars have evolved such that their control systems are well designed in the ergonomic sense. Cameras don't usually kill people so the ergonomic imperative is less intense. But it is still there and the ergonomic muddle of many current camera models will ensure plenty of customers who might be aware that there is some kind of issue with their camera's usability but can't find the words to identify the reason for this.
Is there, like the motor car, a "right" or "best" or at least "most effective" location for the front dial ? Some people might say that ergonomics is all subjective but so is image quality. Yes at the end of the day these things are subjective. But they are also capable of analysis. There is a discoverable and measurable reason why one camera has better image quality than another. Likewise there are discoverable and describable reasons one camera is nicer to operate than another. Ergonomic characteristics can be identified and compared as to their fit with functional anatomy.
Samsung NX10. Although quite small this camera is comfortable to hold. The control dial is well positioned just behind the shutter button and at the same height. It could be angled a bit to better follow the finger.
I have been researching this for several years and I say yes there is a most effective location for the front dial. This follows from an ergonomic analysis of functional anatomy. Allow me to explain.
Those who follow this blog will recall that in my previous post I proposed that there is a most effective design for the handle, that being the inverted L type. I said that one of the advantages of this handle type is the platform it provides for the placement of user interface modules (UIM's: buttons, dials etc) adjacent to the shutter button. One of those UIM's is the front dial.
This mockup is the same size as the Samsung above but has a larger inverted L shaped handle and quad control system on top. It is difficult to convey in photos but this feels more secure and substantial than the Samsung above.
Please follow my reasoning I propose that the basic ready to operate hold position should approximate closely to the half closed relaxed hand posture which I have been discussing in recent posts. This position is stable and strong yet relaxed. In this position the distal pad of the right index finger will lie naturally on the shutter button. There is substantial separation between the thumb and index finger but very little separation between the index and third fingers. The index finger spends most of it's time on the shutter button with brief excursions to the control dial and other nearby UIM's. It is preferable therefore to locate the shutter button forward and the control dial behind the shutter button. It is also desirable to place the top of the shutter button and the top of the control dial at the same height relative to the pad of the index finger as it moves side to side on a forward tilted plane from one to the other. The optimum distance between the two is the minimum distance which will prevent accidental activation of either. In my work with mockups I have found the optimum distance between the center of the shutter button and the centerline of the control dial to be 12-13mm. The optimum orientation of the control dial is that which follows the line of movement of the right index finger. This means the attitude of the dial will usually be tilted in two planes. The shutter button and control dial both sit about 4mm elevated from the top deck so the index finger clears the two buttons which make up the quad control group. Read more about this in a post coming soon.
When the reader looks at photos of my mockups, you might think that the buttons and dials are just placed in approximate positions. In fact I adjust and re adjust the shape of the body and handle and the precise location of all the buttons and dials in 3 dimensions until they are in exactly the optimum positions. A single millimeter here or there makes a significant difference.
Conclusion Photographers mostly become accustomed to the camera which they own. Even if it has suboptimal ergonomics users find workarounds for most operations. They will often declare that they "like" their chosen camera and may reject a different one even if it has in fact a much better user interface. I suspect the usual reason for this is change fatigue. I am suffering from this myself at the moment. Our family has just bought a Microsoft Surface Pro 2 and we are struggling to adapt to the new UI. I am sure that in due course it will prove itself but the learning curve is steep.
Photographers may initially reject the control dial position which I advocate if they are unaccustomed to it. In the long run however a camera with optimal ergonomics will be more enjoyable to use than one which is not quite right.
The thumb rest at the rear complements the handle on the front to make the camera secure and comfortable to hold without strain. If well designed and positioned the thumb rest also positions the thumb so it can move easily to adjacent user interface modules (UIM's).
On digital cameras the monitor takes up the lion's share of available real estate on the back squeezing the control panel into a relatively small space on the right side. Therefore the position and shape of the thumb support and the location and design of its adjacent UIM's is of critical ergonomic importance.
I identify two main types of thumb support: the angled and vertical as illustrated in the photos. My experiments with mockups and my experience using actual cameras indicates clearly that the angled type is ergonomically preferable.
My concepts about the functional anatomy of camera ergonomics start with the half closed relaxed posture of the hand as shown in the photo. This is the natural position the hand adopts when relaxed. From this position the fingers and thumb can function most effectively. When I develop mockups I shape the timber until it fits in my hand with the hand in this position. The hand comes first. The camera shape has to fit the hand. When I shape a camera this way the thumb support always ends up being the angled type. This allows the hand to adopt a strong/relaxed attitude when holding the camera ready for action.
When a camera is fitted with a vertical type thumb support close to the right side of the body the hand is forced into a cramped/squeezing attitude. This is less effective at supporting the camera and restricts the possible movements available to both the thumb and index finger in the service of operating interface modules.
Summary Good ergonomic design is just as easy to implement at the design and construction stage as suboptimal design. The difference to the user experience can be very substantial.
Just as the optimum placement of front dials can be studied from a functional anatomy perspective so can rear dials. In the previous post I expressed the view that there is an optimum type and location of thumb support. With this in place it becomes possible to explore the optimum placement of a rear dial. Just to clarify I am referring here to mode dependent control dials, the function of which depends on the current operating mode.
Whether the rear dial is the only mode dependent dial or is paired with a front dial makes no difference to it's optimum position on the camera.
I have used cameras and built mockups with rear dials just about everywhere on the top and rear section of the body. There is little to be gained by analysing all the poor or suboptimal rear dial placements. I will just describe what I regard as the optimal position, which is:
On the thumb support as shown in the photographs. If the thumb support has the optimum projection rearwards, is designed to be wide enough and is the optimum shape then a rear dial can be fitted very nicely into the optimal position on the support.
The thumb should be in the relaxed/strong position for holding the camera while previewing and while making photos. The thumb spends most of it's time in this position with occasional excursions to operate the dial and/or other UIM's. If the handle and body are well shaped then:
Without having to change position of the index finger or the other three fingers of the right hand, the thumb can:
* Move from side to side diagonally across the upper rear of the camera and
* It can also flex at the interphalangeal joint, pressing the distal pad into the top part of the camera back.
The optimum disposition of user interface modules which encourage the thumb to efficiently hold and operate the device is shown in the photos.
|0||0|Canning Stock Route, Western Australia
An inverted L shaped handle can have a substantial top deck which can host some key user interface modules (UIM's) for adjusting primary exposure parameters in Capture Phase of use. It would be a waste of top value camera real estate to locate UIM's which control Setup, Prepare or Review Phase items in this area.
These UIM's are operated by the right index finger, ideally without the user having to move a muscle of any other body part.
The configurable camera There is a multitude of modes, functions and features on a modern camera. Any individual user will have his or her own ideas about which ones to bring out onto the hard buttons and which ones to leave in a menu. Therefore most of the hard UIM's must allow the user to select from a long list the function to be assigned to each.
As outlined in a previous post, each Phase of use brings with it a task list. The tasks of Capture Phase present the highest demand for speed and efficiency.
The fingers of the right hand can be categorised as having gripper or operatorduties. The index finger is the only one with no gripper duties at all so we should assign to it operation of the UIM's controlling the highest priority Capture Phase tasks. My work with mockups and experience with real cameras leads me to the view that the index finger can effectively manage 4 UIM's. Here is my suggestion about which ones should best be allocated to the index finger:
1. Shutter button. I think just about everybody would agree on this one. Maybe with an on/off lever around it.
2. Front control dial. Most cameras with a front control dial locate it close to the shutter button. Well, the usable ones are close to the shutter button, anyway.
3. Button 1. I would assign ISO to button 1, others will have their own ideas.
4. Button 2. I would assign exposure compensation to button 2, other will have their own ideas, which by the way will likely change with time and experience.
How should these UIM's be disposed on the top deck ? I have spent much time experimenting with the locations of UIM's on cameras. I sort of blundered into the quad control group layout by accident on my second mockup. Please refer to the photo and caption.
Each of the 4 UIM's has it's own distinctive shape and deliberately strong texture so they can easily be identified by touch. Buttons on the more recent mockups are Phillips head screws which have a nice strong texture. The shutter button and control dial are higher than buttons 1 and 2. Thus the 4 UIM's are fairly close together but none will be activated in error. The precise position of each UIM in 3 dimensions is important. The buttons and dials on my mockups are significantly larger and more prominently textured than those you usually encounter on actual cameras. As a result they are easier to find and operate with the fingers which must use them.
The Quad control group allows the user to drive the camera most of the time with just the right index finger. It can do the following quickly and smoothly:
* Shutter button: Initiate AF and AE, hold AF and/or AE (with half press) and capture the shot.
* Control dial, directly: Change aperture (in A Mode) or Shutter Speed (in P Mode).
* Button 1: Change ISO (or another parameter if selected), by pressing button 1 then rotating the control dial.
* Button 2: Adjust exposure compensation (or another parameter if selected), by pressing button 2 then rotating the control dial.
That's not bad for one finger. Best of all the quad control group is really quick and easy to use. The curious thing is that I have not yet encountered a real camera with precisely this top deck layout. The recently released Samsung NX30 is heading in that direction with regard to the positions (but not the functions) of the 4 UIM's.
|0||0|Birds in bushfire smoke
In the early days of autofocus Some cameras could only AF in the center. This led to the strategy of "focus and recompose" which some people still use.
Eye controlAF was used by Canon in several SLR models in the film era. I had one of these for a time. The technology worked but was prone to focussing on a point adjacent to the one desired and there were issues with calibration. So this feature was soon discontinued. I suspect one of the complicating factors was the way our eyes actually work. When we look at something our eyes are always scanning in little skips. They do not rest on one spot for more than a fraction of a second. So, I do not anticipate a return to eye control any time soon.
Touch screens It seems every kind of device these days has a touch/swipe screen. Even motor vehicles have them, creating a highly dangerous source of driver distraction.
The distracted photographer is unlikely to kill anyone but touch screens on cameras face a problem similar to that on cars. Just as the car driver should be looking out the front windscreen at the road ahead, the photographer needs to look through the viewfinder at the subject ahead. In each case having to attend to a touch screen is a distraction from the main task. There are also simple physical problems. It is effectively impossible to get a finger onto the screen with the eye to the viewfinder. Panasonic has a feature called Touch Pad AF. This allows the operator to move AF area by touching the screen while looking through the EVF. I found it impossible to use effectively although I have had feedback from one reader that he was able to make the feature work on the Panasonic GX7 with it's EVF at the top left corner. The touch screen works quite well on a tripod mounted camera as you don't have to hold the thing as well as access the screen.
Hard user interface modules (UIM's). Some cameras have a complicated rigmarole by which the AF area is moved up/down by the front dial and left/right the rear dial. Or maybe it was the other way around, I forget. I once had a Canon SLR which used this system. There was a great deal of button pushing and dial turning. It was so clumsy I gave up and used focus (with the center area) and recompose.
Many cameras these days use a 4 way controller located on the lower part of the control panel on the right side of the camera for AF area movement. This works quite well if set up properly so the AF area moves immediately when one quadrant of the controller is pressed. However this arrangement does require the user to release grip with the right hand in order to operate the 4way controller. This is not a tragedy but some method not requiring the right hand to change grip would be better.
Some high spec Nikon cameras use a kind of mini 4 way controller a little higher up on the control panel. This is more accessible and therefore an improvement. Some Canon cameras use a "Joystick" in a very similar location, again an improvement over the standard 4 way controller.
The JOG lever This is a generic term for the Canon Joystick. If optimally designed and positioned this should provide the best ergonomic solution to the problem. The JOG lever is always on. This means it moves the AF area immediately when pushed up/down or left/right. It is operated by the right thumb. The best position is such that the distal pad of the thumb falls directly onto the lever when it swings to the left from the basic hold position.
In my work with mockups this has led to an issue which could be a problem. Every time I go through the exercise of locating UIM's on one of my mockups the best position for the JOG lever ends up right on the top right corner of the monitor screen. If the JOG lever were to be placed there it would necessitate chopping off the top right corner of the monitor screen housing. I don't know if there is some engineering reason why this should not occur, but I suppose it might clip off the top right corner of the preview or review image in some aspect ratios. Some users might be sanguine about this others might not.
In the event I have located the JOG lever on my recent mockups 10mm above the position I regard as ideal. This is probably satisfactory for most users but some with small hands or short thumbs might have to shift grip slightly to get their thumb far enough over the top of the lever to tbe able to operate it.
Not withstanding these concerns I think the JOG lever is the optimum solution if it can be well implemented. It can also undertake selection and other duties in Setup, Prepare and Review phases of use.
|0||0|Small camera left hand under lens. A comfortable position with the camera held low for monitor viewing, as shown here.
Because cameras are right handed most of the high value UIM's are clustered on the right side and are operated by the right hand. I like to think of the right hand as being captive. If the camera has an anatomical handle and a well designed set of control modules, the right hand fits into a carefully defined place and can fit nowhere else. The possible functions of the right hand are closely prescribed.
|A left hand position like this is more likely to be comfortable with the camera held up to the eye.|
The left hand however has many more degrees of freedom. I like to think of it as the rover. It can be held under the lens, over the lens, around the left side of the body or under the body. The position of the left hand relative to the camera and lens changes 90 degrees when the camera is turned from landscape to portrait orientation. The left hand will find a different relationship to the camera when moving from eye level to monitor viewing.
The left hand has holding, supporting and operating duties often all at once.
With a larger lens like this and eye level viewing the left hand over position is likely to be comfortable. |
Lens based UIM's User interface modules on the lens need to be easy to for the left hand to find and operate in any of the varied relationship positions above. When designing control modules for the right hand I literally do sometimes find that shifting one 1mm makes a significant difference. The situation with the lens is quite different.
Capture Phase I have found that the most reliable type of UIM for Capture Phase actions on lenses is the circumferential ring/collar type which can be located and operated with the hand and /or lens in any orientation. The usual functions allocated to circumferential controls are manual focus, zoom and aperture. These are primary Capture Phase functions.
Prepare Phase Some lenses have many other UIM's. These can control OIS (VR) on/off, AF/MF, focus distance limiter and many others on some high grade long zooms. In general, buttons, levers, switches, small dials and sliders work best for Prepare Phase actions. The reason for this is that these types of UIM are difficult to find and operate by feel given the many different relationships between lens and hand which can occur.
Power zooms These are generally intended for motion picture use in landscape orientation with monitor view. Within that limited envelope of circumstances switches, sliders and the like usually at about 10 o'clock on the lens barrel as viewed by the user can work well. But if you flip such a lens over to portrait orientation the zoom slider becomes very difficult to find and operate.
Mixing use phases, functions and UIM type. Some combinations are ergonomically suboptimal, to put it mildly. In June 2012 I posted an analysis and critique of Samsung i-Function. This is a process which requires the user to juggle the camera while shifting grip from the right hand to the left and back, and in the process pressing a button on the lens, looking in the viewfinder, rotating the focus ring then pressing a button on the body. All this to make adjustments which in every case could be made much more efficiently with the direct controls already on the camera body.
Basic shape I have been studying camera ergonomics and design from a user's perspective for the last five years. In that time I have used many different real cameras with a variety of shapes and styles. I have made ten full body mockups and five handle only mockups, each exploring some aspect of the shape and design of the hand held camera. On the way I explored several unusual approaches to the underlying concept of a camera's shape. Most of these ideas were discarded before completion of the mockup as each had some deficiency which I regarded as terminal.
|Top/rear view of the three mockups|
Through a process of refining my ideas via mockups and actual cameras I have come to the view that there are really only three basic camera types which make much sense to me. My reasoning behind this position follows.
The camera in a smartphone world The snapshooter who once used a standard compact camera now uses a smartphone. Sales figures show cameras, especially compacts, are down and smartphones are up. The people who buy any kind of camera in future will be those expert (or prospective expert)/enthusiast buyers who currently buy DSLR's and MILC's. Some people might think that the unique selling point for the camera as opposed to the smartphone would be image quality but I think it is the user experience. In a few years the better smartphone cameras will deliver image quality good enough for most users and uses. A well designed camera can provide a much more engaging experience for the user prepared to learn how to drive it fast and well.
The proper camera I call the camera which can deliver this type of user experience the proper camera. It has a built in electronic viewfinder (or OVF for DSLR's) of good quality, a fully articulated monitor, an ergonomic, fully anatomical handle, built in flash unit and a full suite of hard controls for the driver to operate. The user can adjust all primary and secondary exposure and focus parameters while looking continuously through the viewfinder and without having to shift grip with either hand. It has or can be fitted with a zoom lens covering wide angle to telephoto view. The lens could be fixed or interchangeable.
The user interface My studies show that the best user interface is based on the modern Mode Dial and Control Dial(s) system. The traditional system which locates ISO, Shutter Speed, Aperture and Exposure Compensation on fixed function, set and see dials or similar modules, is slower and less efficient to operate, with no ready access to a novice's mode.
The modern camera places the shutter button forward, on the the inverted L style handle, not back on the camera body. This enables the designer to optimise the layout of user interface modules (UIM's) on top of the camera.
Some things are not so important
Having the largest possible sensor Camera makers at the moment are, or are rumored to be, rushing to produce "full frame" MILC's. Sony has done so. But when full frame is compared to smaller sensors, the only thing you can be sure of is that lenses for full frame will be larger and heavier (and usually more expensive) than those of the same angle of view and aperture for smaller sensors.
More pixels More pixels is better, right ? Nonsense. Increasing pixel count just makes for larger files and a selling point for the marketing people. Picture quality is determined by many other factors.
Spectacular high ISO performance The latest full frame cameras can shoot at ISO 409,600. Again, this is mainly a selling point for the marketing people. Yes that sort of capability is amazing to behold and will be useful for a small number of users but is of little value for most of us most of the time.
Convergence <> divergence
Throughout a large part of the 20th Century the shape of 35mm film SLR's was characterised by convergence. Most SLR's looked very similar and worked very much the same way. Some attempts to find a new shape for the 35mm SLR such as the ill fated Rollei SL2000 failed. There could have been many reasons for this but I think one of them was that the standard SLR design with prism on top worked much better ergonomically.
Now in the early part of the 21stCentury we are witnessing a period of divergence. Modern manufacturing technologies have enabled the production of cameras which can be almost any shape with almost any kind of user interface. Add to this the present market conditions which are pressing hard on makers to invent some kind of unique selling point which will, they no doubt hope, allow their brand to survive the impending extinction event which several commentators are predicting.
We have flat tops, hump tops and retro style in several variants, some ergonomically incoherent. We have DSLR's large, medium, small and smaller. We have MILC's in a huge range of shapes, styles and sensor sizes. We still have a profusion of models labelled compact despite the steep decline of this market sector.
This divergence is producing something approaching ergonomic chaos. We find many different approaches to body size and shape, handle size and shape, shutter button location and many different types of user interface. If cars were designed like cameras the road toll would be horrendous. By the time drivers figured out which pedal does what and where to find it, there would be dead people all over the place.
I think it is time for another convergence era. This is, of course my considered opinion with which others will feel free to disagree. However this opinion is backed by a good deal of experience and practical research.
The ideal proper camera I have specified in general terms the features which I want to see in my proper camera. The next question is......
"Is there an ideal or best shape/style/layout for the proper camera ?"
If one was to review the actual cameras on sale right now one might think the answer to this question would be "No", such is the diversity of concept and execution to be found on display.
But I think the answer is "Yes". My studies have taken me to the view that many cameras on the market today offer a suboptimal operating experience which could easily be improved with a more user focussed approach to ergonomic design.
Somewhat to my own surprise that design has, in the larger than compact size, turned out to be a hump top camera with handle which looks and in many ways operates like a small to medium DSLR or MILC. I just followed the ergonomic logic of every aspect of the user interface and that is where the journey took me.
The three wise cameras Let us stay with hand held consumer cameras for this discussion, excluding large format and special/industrial purpose devices. I think that the great majority of user's requirements can be met with just three body shape/size configurations.
1. The compact. (mustard mockup) There may be some life yet in the compact camera market in the form of an advanced compact which meets my proper camera requirements, something which very few compact cameras currently manage.
2. Small full featured model (orange mockup) This would be very suitable for an entry/small interchangeable lens camera (ILC) or an entry/small superzoom type.
3. Medium full featured model (Gold mockup) There is no large full featured model, none is required. The medium sized version would be ideal as an expert/enthusiast/professional ILC or advanced superzoom.
Next - detailed descriptions
|Medium sized full featured mockup|
Sizing them up You can see from the table below that the compact mockup is just slightly larger than a Sony RX100 (II) to allow for the EVF and a fully articulated monitor. But it is really diminutive for a camera with a full set of controls. I have fully described this mockup elsewhere on this blog site. Because of it's very small size the compact has a different shape and configuration from the other two mockups described here.
The small fully featured mockup is about the same size as a Panasonic G6 MILC. This basic design could accommodate a small superzoom model with fixed long zoom lens or a MILC suitable for sensor sizes ranging from 15.9 mm diagonal ("one inch") through 21.5mm (Micro 4/3) up to 28mm (APS-C). There is enough room for a Sony E Mount. This size would be suitable for an entry/ mid range model. It would suit smaller hands, but it is still very comfortable in medium/large adult hands.
The medium fully featured mockup is about the same size as a Panasonic GH3 MILC. This size could accommodate a superzoom with fixed lens having a very large zoom range or a MILC suitable for the enthusiast/expert/professional user. The increased overall size allows for a larger monitor, larger EVF, larger battery for more shots per charge and larger handle. It also has a twin dial design.
It could accommodate sensors up to 43 mm diagonal (so called full frame) and lens mounts up to the Canon EOS which at about 65mm outside diameter is the largest of the full frame mounts in current use. An adapter/spacer would be required if EF lenses were to be mounted due to their flange back distance of 44mm.
|Width mm||Height mm||Depth mm||Box Volume cc|
|Compact Mockup||102||61||41 with lens||255|
|Sony RX100 (II)||102||58||38 with lens||225|
|Small Mockup||118||81||65 no lens||621|
|Panasonic G6||120||81 excl hotshoe||70 no lens||680|
|Medium Mockup||131||89||80 no lens||933|
|Panasonic GH3||133||90 excl hotshoe||79 no lens||946|
Key size determinants
On the back, the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the monitor are critical. Many modern cameras have such large monitors that there is insufficient space left for the control panel on the right side. This leads to small buttons which are too close together and too close to the right side of the body. The consequence of this is difficulty pressing the buttons cleanly and frequent inadvertent activation. In addition the thumb supports of many cameras are of inadequate size and are of the vertical type which is less effective than the diagonal type, which requires more horizontal space.
The monitors of both the small and medium full featured mockups are a little smaller than those found on several comparable actual cameras but still provide a sufficiently large monitor view. The benefit is a substantially larger control panel with larger buttons none of which is close to the right edge.
On the front lens mount size and location relative to the left side (as viewed by the user) of the body are key. If the lens mount is moved over to the left, this opens up space for a properly designed ergonomic handle.
On top the hump top style allows the EVF eyepiece, hot shoe and built in flash to be lined up front to back. This in turn frees up horizontal space for set and see dials and other user interface modules. The designer can fit more useful stuff on the top of a hump top than a flat top.
|0||0|The road to.................
I often read reviews of camera gear which compare camera specifications. The implication is that if one has more pixels on the sensor or dots in the EVF or whatever, then it is presumed to be "better". My experience tells me that I have to actually test a camera in real world operation to find out if one delivers a different performance in some respect from the other.
Workable methods of measuring image quality and performance have been developed and are readily available for consumers. These measurements often include some system of numerical scoring. This information enables consumers to compare one camera with another and to engage in discussion with other consumers.
However when it comes to ergonomics no such measurement or scoring system is available. This makes it very difficult for consumers to evaluate any camera with respect to it's holding, viewing and operating qualities. Professional and user reviews of cameras lack adequate evaluation of ergonomics because there is insufficient language, taxonomy and system of measurement for ergonomics.
"Ergonomics is very subjective" When I started reporting my findings about ergonomics on this blog and on user forums, I several times received feedback stating that "ergonomics is very subjective" or similar words, and therefore apparently not a proper subject for analysis or comparison. Well, of course some aspects of ergonomics are subjective but so are aspects of image quality. Subjectively appreciated characteristics of any object or system can be measured and compared. Even something as arcane as "Personality" can be measured with substantial reliability.
Ergonomics is also objective Many aspects of ergonomics are determined by hard, observable, measurable factors. For instance: Does the camera have a built in viewfinder ? Does it have an anatomically shaped handle ? Can the user change key exposure and focus parameters while looking through the viewfinder and without having to shift grip with either hand ? The list goes on.... All these things can be readily identified. The tasks of operating a camera require actions. The number and complexity of these actions can be observed, listed and compared with the actions required to operate another camera.
How many angels can dance on the head of a pin ? This has been a theological question of no relevance to anything in the real world since the middle ages. Unfortunately many discussions about image quality and performance are similarly irrelevant to 99% of real world photographic requirements. I read on user forums a statement that camera A with 4260 line pairs per image height is "better" than camera B which can "only" manage 3600 lppih. As both exceed the resolution of large format film the difference between them is of academic importance. Or I see one camera being put forward as "better" because it can shoot 60 frames per second and the other can "only" do 30 fps. A recent camera release offers ISO 409,600. Reviewers praise this amazing achievement, which, by the way is indeed amazing but of little relevance to the vast majority of photographs which the vast majority of photographers might wish to make.
For most photographs, most of the time, a large percentage of cameras (and quite a few smart phones) on the market right now will deliver good enough image quality and performance. Many on line forum discussions and manufacturer's specifications are no more relevant to the ordinary world than arguments about angels on the head of a pin.
So, what does matter ? Which characteristic does meaningfully differentiate between various camera models ? That is the user experience, including all aspects of ergonomics and the user interface.
Is it possible to measure and compare such things as "user experience" and "ergonomics". Until now the answer to this question has been "no". As a result us consumers are not getting a good deal from camera manufacturers. On my assessment, many cameras on the market today offer the user an experience which ranges from "truly awful" at one end of the spectrum to "could easily improve with better detail implementation" at the other end.
This is how I see things in the camera world at the moment.
1. Manufacturers, facing declining sales in all sectors are casting about for the next really good new idea (even if it is actually a recycled old idea) which might bring buyers back to the fold. Hence the multitude of new models, many of which have styling cues which reprise old film cameras. It seems to me that the product development people either
b) have decided that their ship of state is sailing along quite well so they just reiterate the same old ideas with very small changes from one model to the next. This might be called the "It ain't broke so we don't need to fix it" approach, of which I would nominate Canon as the most prominent exponent.
2. The only group of people who can guide manufacturers towards the development of cameras which are enjoyable to use and will therefore sell, is the consumers.
3. The pathway to cameras which are more enjoyable to use is better ergonomics.
4. But designers, makers and consumers are all constrained by a deficiency of language about ergonomics and a complete absence of method by which the ergonomic capabilities of a camera can be scored and compared with another.
5. I take the view that until some reasonably acceptable method of scoring ergonomics is found then no sensible discussion about ergonomics can take place and consumers cannot provide reliable guidance to camera designers about the way forward.
6. Hence this present enterprise of mine, namely an attempt to devise a method of scoring camera ergonomics.
Some, perhaps, will argue this is not possible or even desirable. Some might say..."Everyone is different". Well, yes, but not to the extent they have the hands of a possum or a chimpanzee. The creatures who use cameras are humans who are more ergonomically alike than different.
What about likes, wants and preferences ? Of course everybody has these. However I want to be very clear about this: likes, wants and preferences can form the basis for a fertile line of enquiry which is completely different from and unrelated to an evaluation of ergonomics through time and motion studies.
An example: Bill might say "I really like camera A because it makes me slow down and think about the settings for aperture and shutter speed". On ergonomic analysis we discover that camera B requires less than half as many actions to change aperture or shutter speed and each of those actions is less complex than those required by camera A.
As objectively evaluated, camera B clearly has better ergonomics. This in no way invalidates Bill's preference. Bill can choose what to like and dislike for his own reasons whatever they may be.
However the converse also applies. Bill's preference does not invalidate ergonomic analysis by time and motion study either. They exist side by side. If Bill's preferences were shared by 99% of the population of camera users then designers could simply do whatever Bill recommended. But what actually happens is that the individuals in any group will have a whole lot of different preferences. Probably not many of them will want a camera which is slow to operate. They will have other priorities.
The message is spreading It did seem to me for a few years that I was a voice in the techno wilderness. But now it appears the mainstream camera commentariat is catching on. I close this post with a quote from Richard Butler, writing for Digital Photography Review on 24 April 2014. The context is a shooters experience report of the Sony Alpha6000.
"While shooting with the Sony a6000, I've spent a lot of time thinking about what aspects of photography I enjoy, and about what I demand from a camera as a consequence. Every day I read comments about how 'Camera X' is best because of the capability of its sensor or 'Camera Y' is, because of the lenses available for it. These are mostly arguments that relate either to specifications or the image quality that a camera produces. But what of ergonomics, handling, user-interface and shooting experience?
I found myself wondering whether the truism about 'the best camera is the one you have with you' shouldn't really be something like: 'the best camera is the one you enjoy shooting with enough to have with you.' The point being that, for me at least, the process of taking the photo is almost as important as the final result. Of course I want the results to be as good as possible, but I also want to enjoy the time spent using a camera, as well as the images I come back with."
My thoughts exactly.