Being a camera nerd is usually a fun hobby, and a pretty decent career too I might add, but it does have its moments of frustration. As an engineering dropout and as an ADHD person who can hyper-fixate on mastering a thing, photography in general has provided a never-ending supply of things that capture my attention. Maybe you can relate?

Cameras in particular, however, are the greatest source of both excitement and frustration, especially thanks to how complex they have gotten in the last decade.

Today, I want to talk about some of the things that truly perplex or even frustrate me. These are very minor complaints, but also, they have seemingly easy, simple solutions, and that is why I don’t understand why they’re still even issues at all.

If you can relate to any of these things, please leave a comment, or share these thoughts on social media and tag your favorite camera manufacturer; I’d love to see any of these minor changes appear in cameras someday! (Or, if there’s a camera that I haven’t tested yet that offers these features, please let me know so that I can get my hands on it and try it out!)

Date-Related File Naming Sequences

This is something that all cell phone cameras adopted many years ago, and I am utterly perplexed as to why professional cameras are stuck in the 2000s with their old 3-digit/letter file naming options.

It is incredibly useful to have every image captured with date or even time related information in the file name itself. I’d be happy enough with just a year, month, day related file naming sequence, I don’t even need there to be hours or minutes or seconds attached to the file name I’m sure that would get excessive and some professional photographers might complain about how it interrupts their workflow, but my whole point is not that this should be the new default, I just don’t understand why it isn’t even a menu option that the people who want it can set it up.

Raw File Type Default Instead of Jpeg

There are indeed some things that I believe ought to be a factory default, and not just an obscure menu option. Most notably, I have always been very annoyed that digital cameras have the (now utterly ancient) factory default of capturing images in the jpeg file format.

Seriously, I totally understand why that was the default ~20 years ago when digital cameras started having a raw file format. Back then, storage was expensive, memory cards were bonkers expensive, and there were literally only one or two softwares on the market that could even open a raw file, at all. Today, storage is dirt cheap, memory cards are a dime a dozen, and there are also literally dozens of free or affordable raw photo editing applications out there.

For these reasons, I absolutely believe that camera manufacturers should set their factory default to at least capture “RAW plus JPG”, if not RAW only.

I realized that it is very rare that you must factory reset your camera, but it does happen, and especially if you are a working professional, you can usually assume that if you ever take your camera in for service it will be returned to you at factory default settings. 

GPS Built-In

This was a feature that tried to become commonplace in cameras at various points in the last decade or so, but it failed. There are a few excellent cameras that I absolutely loved to recommend for things like wilderness adventures and astro-landscape photography/time-lapse photography, such as the Canon 6D and the Nikon D5300. These were some of the old DSLR cameras to have the rare GPS capabilities, but unfortunately even their successors usually removed the GPS feature.

Today, things are dramatically different, much to my own dismay, actually. (As a nightscape photographer, I am loathe to admit any benefit to the tens of thousands of new satellites that are cluttering “my” night skies all night long. And no, it is a lie that they disappear after blue hour; satellite clusters such as Starlink will, in fact, ruin your nightscape imagery literally all night long if you’re using a fast enough lens aperture such as f/1.4.) /rant

With that being said, it seems clear that GPS technology is getting very cheap, very quickly. Within the next few phone generations, and even within the next Apple iPhone iOS updates or so, GPS communication will be a built-in feature.

So, how come we haven’t started seeing all cameras include a GPS again? I suspect this might have something to do with the fact that the technology may be completely changing, and a tool that was installed in a camera ~5 years ago might not be compatible with what is coming soon. However, with that said, I do hope we see the return of GPS technology in pro cameras, ASAP. I suspect it will be cheap to do, while also not consuming much battery life at all. Fingers crossed!

Built-in User Manuals

Next, let’s switch from an obscure setting that only adventurous travelers might value, to something that probably EVERY photographer has been frustrated by at some point. That is, the bizarre notion that it’s okay for a camera to just say, “sorry, this function is unavailable at this time” …or something along those lines.

Excuse me, what? I’m a professional who is trying to get a job done here, and you can’t do any better than a “nope, sorry, can’t do that!” And don’t tell me to just read the user manual, of course. Due to the fact that cameras are really just small computers now, the sheer number of obscure functions and the different combinations of settings is almost infinite. So, no, I am not going to ever be able to memorize every single detail of which mode is going to lock me out of which other, seemingly unrelated, mode or function.

Thankfully, there is a very simple solution to this: Just give me a hint! Nikon has been doing this for a while, with a dedicated “question mark button” on most cameras for many years now. Other camera makers are beginning to catch on, too. In some cases, when a function isn’t available, the camera might give a cryptic reason, such as, “drive mode”, or, “AF mode” …but that’s it.

So, to all camera makers: Just put a little more effort into this. For example, on Sony, there is no reason why I shouldn’t be allowed to change almost any camera setting just because the camera is still clearing its buffer. This was utterly infuriating on almost all of their cameras until recently when it started being less of an issue. Either way, any time there is a legitimate reason to block the user from using a particular control or function, just throw a simple explanation onto the screen instead of the useless, infuriating “no can do, boss!” catch-all message. Something as simple as “change AF mode to (insert options here)” …would be a huge relief.

Fully Customizable Menus & Controls

Now, I must give kudos to Sony, after brutally raking them through the coals for so many years for their “impossible” learning curve due to a horrible menu interface. Yes, that’s right, I learned to love it. I grew to prefer the fully customizable controls that Sony offered, even though I still complain to this day about how some of the buttons on pro Sony cameras don’t even have a function assigned to them at factory default.

Now, whenever I pick up a Canon, Nikon, or almost any other camera, I immediately feel limited in terms of which buttons I can re-assign to which functions. Furthermore, even when a Canon/Nikon button does make it onto the custom controls menu, another maddening frustration awaits me: The options for that button are usually extremely limited.

So, here is my request to all camera companies: Please, make as many buttons as possible customizable. I know this isn’t a fair comparison, but for example the Sony A9 III now offers something like FOURTEEN buttons that can be customized to almost ANY menu item. Yeah, that’s excessive, and only the highest-level camera nerds will appreciate that. But that’s just how high the bar is being set these days.

Furthermore, if you are going to make a button customizable, there is virtually no reason to limit which functions it can perform. Yeah, it might require a substantial investment in software/firmware development to add some of the more complicated controls, such as allowing a custom function button to toggle/cycle through different crop modes on a full-frame camera. But it’s an investment that you could use on ALL subsequent cameras that have any of those same buttons, so it will definitely pay off quickly.

Lastly, a message to Sony in particular: No, you don’t get off the hook that easily. I’m very thankful for how you have led the competition with regard to button customization, however, your menus are still abysmal. Even the most recent ground-up redesign of the entire menu interface, I still find very frustrating. Specifically, there are a lot of settings that just aren’t organized in the right place; settings that are clearly related to image playback are still stuck in the “deepest” customization menu, among other examples. I could write an entire article on how I think Sony menus ought to be organized, but honestly, maybe that should be a professional service that I charge money for, lol.

EVFs That Behave Like OVFs

This is one that younger folks may not fully understand or appreciate, if their entire experience with photography is using phones and mirrorless digital cameras. However, as someone who started on a film SLR and spent nearly 20 years using DSLR cameras, I am yet again perplexed that this simple implementation doesn’t exist yet. Thankfully, this is another thing that could happen with existing technology, even with the existing physical parts that are already present in any camera with an EVF.

To fully understand my complaint/request, I must first describe how I used to operate a DSLR camera:

With an optical viewfinder, you never had to worry about an image automatically playing back inside the viewfinder, of course. Image playback was only ever possible on the rear LCD. So, I would always leave “auto-review” on, so that any time I needed to check a photo, all I had to do was take my eye away from the viewfinder, and the most recent photo would be right there on the rear LCD, as long as I didn’t half-press the shutter, of course.

Mirrorless cameras aren’t that simple; you have to worry about whether or not you allow images to play back inside the viewfinder, or on the rear LCD only. Each camera maker has slightly different options, and some of them are getting pretty close to what I want. Unfortunately, MOST of them still operate something like this: You can choose whether or not to play back images automatically when using the EVF, and you can set this setting differently from auto-playback when you’re using the rear LCD.

HOWEVER, there isn’t a good enough bridge between these two settings. In other words, the rear LCD usually only plays back images captured DURING usage of the rear LCD.

I want a setting where I can use the EVF freely and never worry about images automatically playing back. However, any time I want to review the most recently captured image, all I have to do is pull my eye away from the viewfinder, and auto-playback will activate, even for a photo that was captured a moment ago when I was using the EVF. 

…Then, if I bring the camera back to my eye, the played-back image goes away, of course, and I can resume clicking photos without any risk of not seeing the active moment in my viewfinder.

Honestly, the first camera company that fully implements this feature exactly the way I want it, I will dedicate an entire article or even a whole YouTube video to sing their praises.

Flicker-Reduction That Actually Works

This is really just a bonus that I slapped onto the end of this article so I can gripe about how little progress has been made on a feature that does already exist. Yes, digital cameras already have flicker-reduction features, and some of them are decently effective. However, considering how long digital cameras have been around, and how the flicker of artificial lighting has only gotten worse and worse over the years, I’m just disappointed that it’s still an issue at all.

This is one reason why I’m very excited about the Sony A9 III and its global shutter. Hopefully, the global shutter technology will rapidly trickle down to more affordable models! The technology may be expensive now, but every price range ought to have at least one or two options with global shutters to completely eliminate that nasty flicker.

Alternatively, I really hope that camera makers are pouring R&D money into simply doing a better job of reducing flicker. Because, right now, even with such features turned on, I still often find that I’m extremely limited with shutter speeds; it is often completely impossible to use the fully electronic (silent) shutter on some cameras in quiet churches, for example, due to the ineffective performance of flicker reduction.

Conclusion | Cameras in 2024 Are Amazing, But…

This is one of those moments where, looking over this collection of complaints I have, I realize they’re all minor issues, I’m just surprised they still exist. One humorous, sarcastic thought that often pops into my head is, “we put human beings on the moon more than 50 years ago, and yet we still haven’t put enough R&D money into these little tiny conveniences yet?”

Again, I know they’re minor complaints. None of them are a deal-breaker in terms of which camera system I choose. HOWEVER, with that being said, imagine if one camera company suddenly offered ALL of these things, or even just 5-6 of them? That would absolutely be a very tempting offer that I would consider. So, to the engineers at Nikon, Sony, Canon, Fujifilm, Panasonic, Olympus, Pentax, Sigma…. Hopefully somebody is reading this!