February 6, 2021

Cameras are about ergonomics

In the old days of film cameras, you wouldn’t choose a camera because it performed better in low light, or had more dynamic range, or had better resolution. The sensor was on the cheap roll of 35mm film you bought, which worked just as well in a beat up manual K1000 as the fancy F5 shooting sports.

When digital sensors arrived, they were terrible, and all of these things mattered because such-and-such sensor was much less terrible than another. When the Nikon D3 came out in 2008, it was a “godsend” for getting usable ISO 6400 images – and only at 12 megapixels. Today, practically every consumer grade APS-C camera (let alone full frame) has usable ISO 6400 in twice the resolution of the D3.

I think we’re somewhat back to the world in which the sensor doesn’t matter. Yes, there are differences: Fujifilm has its “fuji colors” and Sony cameras generally have the best dynamic range. The truth is the differences are slight and modern sensors are so good, they are beyond capable of anything most people will use them for.

Phones still compete on sensor quality (and, more and more, the machine learning involved in constructing images from them) – but I think dedicated cameras are now about ergonomics. If you’re thinking about buying a new camera to take photos, that should be the number one priority. Is it too large, or too small? Is it too heavy or too light? Do the controls make sense, and feel good in the hand? These sound simple but they matter a lot.

The number two priority should be getting a 50mm prime; but that’s for another post.