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A Modest Proposal

Suggestions for the Next 1 Series Canon

As this is being written the biannual Photokina trade show in Cologne, Germany is just 9 months away (September, 2006). By the time of Photokina it will also have been two years since the Canon 1Ds MKII was introduced, at the 2004 Photokina. That means that in dog years, as well as in digital camera years, it's time for a new 1 Series camera from Canon.

Now, I have no inside information as to what that camera might be like, or even if such a critter is actually due next September. But if it is, that means that it's not too late for Canon to receive some advice about what new or improved features and capabilities photographers may be looking for.

Over the past few months as I have been speaking and working with professional photographers, authors, and amateurs alike who use Canon 1 series equipment, I have been querying them about what they would like to see changed or added to any next-generation camera. Here then is a synthesis of these comments, along with my own input.

Antarctic Sun. December, 2005
Canon 5D with 24-105mm f/4L IS lens @ ISO 200

First of all – we have no specific request regarding megapixels. Undoubtedly Canon you'll continue to produce high resolution sensors of excellent quality. Our concerns are related primarily to features and functions.

Mirror lockup: I may as well get the most obvious request out of the way first. Please make mirror lock-up a one button selection. The way that it's currently buried in the Custom Function menus, four or more button presses away, is simply unacceptable and has been a major annoyance for many photographers for years.

Menu Functions: There may be photographers out there who like the menu system on 1D series cameras, but I've never met one. True – the current design prevents accidental settings. But it also slows down intentional ones. It simply is counterproductive. And some functions, such as switching between CF and SD cards, is so obscure that even after using 1 Series cameras for four years I still forget how to do it.

It also isn't as if there isn't a model for the company to copy – its own 20D and 5D bodies, which have a simple and straightforward menu interface. Adopting this would also make life easier for the huge number of 1 Series owners who also use these various 'lesser" cameras as their backups. Obviously these two menu systems were designed by two different groups of engineers who are in competition with each other. But it means that we, your customers, have to suffer with two very dissimilar interfaces on our equipment. Why can't we have one unified menu interface?

Programmable Feature Sets: Most competitive cameras, including many inexpensive point-and-shoots, have one or more programmable feature sets. These allow the user to configure the camera with a given combination of settings, and then program them into a single button push or knob twist. You made a start on this with the 5D ( though a flawed one ), so please continue this feature trend with the new 1 Series. At least 3 separate combinations, if not more, would really be appreciated. And of course make sure that they don't lose new user settings during auto-power-down.

ISO Button: Simply put, ISO setting on a digital camera is as important to the photographer as setting the aperture or shutter speed. Please make the ISO not only visible in the viewfinder at all times (which it currently can be if set by the user), but also provide us with an easily assessable one-press button that allows the ISO to be changed quickly, simply, and without removing ones eye from the viewfinder. The Sony R1 does it perfectly by placing such dedicated a button right next to the shutter release.

User Definable Buttons: Most every maker of video cameras has incorporated user definable buttons for years, including Canon. Why can these not be a feature of still cameras, especially Canon's flagship 1 Series? Give us at least three user definable buttons – please. (If you do this, then maybe you don't need to make a custom button for mirror lock up. I'll take whichever one you give us).

Naming Convention: 1D, 1Ds, 1DsMkII, 1DMKII, 1DMKIIn – can we please have some sanity to your model naming? It makes speaking and writing about your products difficult and confusing. This isn't a nit pick. It's truly annoying.

Voice Control: Most $100 mobile phones have voice recognition capability; "Dial Mom". Every 1 Series camera has a built in microphone used for audio notes. So why can't we have some element of voice control in a $7,000 camera? Most of the time the camera is being held up to ones eye and therefore the microphone can be very close to ones mouth. Why can't I say, Bracket On, F8, ISO 400, Continuous Mode – or any number of other voice commands? I doubt that the cost of the voice recognition chips can be more than pennies given that they are found in inexpensive cell phone and children's toys. This would be a real boon for photographers.

Digital Lenses: I don't mean lenses for 1.6X factor bodies. I mean real digital lenses – ones designed to match the resolution capability of 16MP or bigger sensors. Right now there are precious few lenses in Canon's otherwise impressive line up that are equal to the demands of the 1Ds MKII, let alone what newer bodies may offer. It seems that there's little point to making higher resolution imaging chips if the weakest links in the chain are the glass, especially when it comes to wide angle lenses. The Schneider Digitar lenses for medium format digital are a good example of what can be achieved.

Yes, we know that these will likely be very expensive. But if someone is spending $7,000 or so on a camera body, they will be willing to spend a commensurate amount on high quality lenses to match it. There are currently quite a few Canon owners who are buying up Zeiss and Leica wide angle lenses and using mount converters, with all their inconvenience, so as to have higher quality optics for their high-end Canon bodies. Why not address the needs of this market segment? Further higher resolution sensors without better lenses seems like pointless pursuit to many of us.

Lens Switch Override: All Canon lenses have physical AF/MF switches, and all Image Stabilized lenses have stabilization on/off switches and mode switches on the lens barrel. Since these transmit their status electronically through the lens mount it should be easy to override the switch positions electronically so that their configuration can be set from the camera's controls regardless of the actual switch positions. The programmable buttons on the super-telephoto lenses show that it can be done.

This would have several advantages. First, it would prevent accidental switch movement, which is all too common, especially when lenses are being handled with gloves on. Secondly, it would allow all lens settings to be integrated as part of programmable feature sets. And thirdly, it would allow voice control of these functions. There is of course then the potential for confusion between the physical switch positions and their actual settings, but this can easily be managed via a mode indicator in the viewfinder and on the top LCD. I would vote for having a setting change on one of the physical switches override a soft setting.

– Arca-Type Mounting Plate: I don't wish to take business away from companies like really Right Stuff and Kirk. But the Arca type mounting plate has become an almost universal standard among photographers. Adopted by Arca Swiss, Really Right Stuff, Kirk, Whimberley, Acratech and others, it seems curious that no camera maker has bothered to put a slotted mounting groove in the camera's base plate so that the camera can be directly mounted on a matching shoe. (Hasselblad did this years ago, but with a proprietary system). If Canon were to adopt the Arca standard it would be very well received by many photographers.

Real-time Histogram: One of the pleasures of doing critical exposures with a digicam is the availability of a real-time histogram. Adding this feature in the form of a heads-up type display within the reflex viewfinder of a DSLR would simply (though not so simple) involve siphoning off some light through the semi-silvered portion of the mirror, just as is currently done to feed auto-focus and the exposure meter. If the camera were then to incorporate a small sensor chip that had the same spectral characteristics as the main image sensor a real-time histogram could be implemented with only a moderate increase in power consumption.

Wider Range Bracketing: Canon cameras have lagged behind the competition when it comes to bracketing range. It should be possible to build a wide range of intervalometer-type capabilities into the camera itself. After all, it's only software. With interest in HDR increasing, the ability to pre-define a wide range of exposure increments and number of exposures would be welcome, such as eight exposures, one stop apart. Limiting us to just three bracketed exposures is so... so 1990's, don't you think?

There are numerous additional suggestions which could be made, but this list has grown long enough. If even a handful of these were implemented on Canon's next generation 1 Series bodies it would make working with these cameras easier and more productive for photographers, and would also help differentiate the company's products from the competition.

But, of course, since this is an open letter, others are also free to pick up these suggestions. Let's see who can implement them the soonest.


Ps to Canon: Please retain some real photographers as testers at the production engineering stage of new camera development. That way some of the small inconsistencies will be caught before going into production (the reversed charging lights on 1D series battery chargers comes to mind). These testers might even come up with some good ideas that your otherwise excellent engineers have overlooked. Like a simpler mirror lock up procedure.

December, 2005


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Concepts: Single-lens reflex camera, Camera, Digital single-lens reflex camera, Image sensor, Film speed, Canon, Photography equipment, Full-frame digital SLR

Entities: Cologne, Canon, Sony, Leica, just 9 months, ISO, confusion, chargers, Michael Reichmann, Photokina, Arca Swiss, Michael, Kirk, Hasselblad

Tags: camera, buttons, series camera, user definable buttons, programmable feature sets, menu, real-time histogram, switch positions, wide angle lenses, voice control, digital camera, 1ds mkii, digital lenses, sensor, canon 1ds mkii, mirror, mirror lock, resolution sensors, menu interface, higher resolution, viewfinder, voice recognition, Right Stuff, high-end canon bodies, Canon lenses, Image Stabilized lenses, Schneider Digitar lenses, real digital lenses, assessable one-press button, Most competitive cameras, new camera development, high quality lenses, wide range, next-generation camera, single button push, exposures, biannual photokina trade, Canon cameras, straightforward menu interface, high resolution sensors