9 Features Every DSLR Should Have Now


They say that the DSLR’s better days are behind it, but it’s still the choice for most working pros. Rapid advances on point and shoots, ILCs (mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras) and smart phones have left the DSLR looking like the camera of yesteryear, so here are a few features we think every DSLR should have now.

Focus Peaking

While not necessarily practical for moving subjects, focus peaking can be extremely helpful for still life or portrait work. Focus peaking (the highlighting of the in focus area of an image) is becoming commonplace on point and shoots and ILC cameras, and there’s no technical reason why it couldn’t be adopted for the Live View mode on DSLRs or DSLRs with EVFs (electronic viewfinders).


Live Histogram

The histogram has become a fairly indispensable tool for photographers to understand the distribution of tones across an image. DSLR owners are used to viewing the histogram of an image after capture, but many non-DLRs have live histograms so you can adjust exposure prior to capture.


Variable Rate Motor Drive

The shooting rate of your camera is in part limited by the mechanics of the shutter mechanism, but it’s also gated by the rate at which your camera can reliably move all that data to your flash card.

A Nikon D800 can shoot 4 fps natively, and 6 fps in DX mode with the optional MB-D12 Battery Grip, which suggests that the frame rate limitation is a software limitation that probably prevents people from complaining about an inadequate buffer size. But what if you could enable a higher burst for, say, three frames only? Magic Lantern hacked the Canon 5D to shoot RAW video and more, shouldn’t this be a trivial hack?

Faster Flash Sync

The Nikon D1 had an electronic shutter with a 1/500th flash sync. Although issues of synchronizing a flash are myriad and complex, it’s been fifteen years since the D1 was introduced and now most systems top out at 1/250th of a second.

Higher sync technologies like Nikon’s Auto FP High-Speed Sync” and Canon’s “High Speed Sync” can dramatically reduce power output. Why can physicist slow light down to a virtual stop, but we can’t have higher flash sync?


Wireless networking

By far, the most sought after functionality is WiFi and all the associated capabilities one could enable with it. Cameras like the Sony QX100 have done away altogether with a viewfinder or screen, relying solely on a WiFi connection and your smartphone.

In our instant-on world, sharing your next photo via Instagram, Twitter or Facebook shouldn’t fall within the purview of amateurs only. Pros should be able to interface directly to their phones where a wealth of apps already exist (FTP, web browser, app ecosystem) to share an image just a little bit faster.


We geotag our photos with Instagram. We check-in with Foursquare. Our phones automatically (if allowed) record the GPS coordinates for every photo we take. But GPS is an afterthought and accessory for the people who arguably need it the most — professional photographers.

Concerns about battery life are legitimate, but modern DSLRs have much more capacity than smartphones, and GPS chips aren’t very expensive relative to the cost of a pro body. Better yet, use a protocol like low power bluetooth to send data from a smartphone to the DSLR in realtime.


Facial Detection Focusing

Your point and shoot camera and iPhone have had it for years — that yellow square(s) that lights up, automatically detects faces and helps you focus on the most important subject in your image. For all of the awesome advancements in autofocus technology (continuous tracking, 3D tracking, etc), I still occasionally miss a shot because a person is out of focus. Give me a mode that biases focus for faces and I’ll be happy.



Since the introduction of the iPhone’s App Store in 2008, we’ve become accustomed to having a highly programmable and customizable device in our pockets. But cameras have woefully lagged behind in such capabilities.

The focus preset button found on many long telephoto lenses and custom function buttons are the closest we have to programming our cameras. But what if you could toggle between two exposures at the press of a button, or use your phone to perform such an action?

What if a fully programmable button could use protocols like IFTTT to trigger a remote and then send off the image to your photo editor 2,000 miles away? What if a third party app could help better navigate the atrocious menus that most camera manufacturers employ? That would be so 21st century.

Video auto-focus

The hybridization of cameras continues with the high quality video capabilities of many DSLRs. However, the downside is that most DSLRs use traditional phase detection focusing systems which are disabled when the cameras go into Live View. Mirrorless manufacturers like Fuji have solved this problem with hybridized systems or phase detection on the sensor, but Nikon and Canon have yet to release such a system.

As the push to increasingly high resolutions of video (2K, 4K and 8K) come into the mainstream, better autofocusing is a must.

h/t: Andy Biggs, Robert Deutsch, Robert Hanashiro, Chris Owyoung, and Todd Owyoung for their input.

About the author: Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and Co-founder of PhotoShelter. Allen is a graduate of Yale University, and flosses daily. This article originally appeared here.

Image credits: Header photo by Hanabi123, all other photos by Allen Murabayashi

  • Sky

    Yea, only with a sensor that doesn’t make people laugh.

  • Sky

    I just recently moved from A77 to Canon 6D and I don’t miss EVF or any of these features at all. The only thing that I’m really missing is rear control dial. I honestly said the same to myself: I don’t miss OVF – while using A77, but getting back to decent OVF after using only EVF for 2 years is like a fresh shower. It got this depth and natural feel in it that makes your eyes rest while shooting. Much better than EVF, even the best one. Still though: STF and 70-400 will be two lenses I’m gonna miss forever :( Really loved them and Canon got nothing alike (100-400 is a joke).

  • Sky

    Every Pentax DSLR got intervalometer.

  • Sky

    Every DSLR on a market can plug in optional GPS module with it’s own batteries. Heck: There are even 3rd party GPS modules for DSLRs.
    No idea why people complain about GPS in dSLR when there are so many options out there for it. Besides: I used DSLR with GPS for quite a while and used it only twice. It’s grossly overadvertised feature. Intervalometer would be more useful.

  • Sky

    Yea, let’s cripple ourselves in a name of few gimmicks that got little to no practical value.

  • Sky

    There’s 402 lenses for A-mount. Don’t complain. It’s still few times more than any mirrorless system out there and people everywhere around argue that mirrorless like m4/3 got “more than enough” lenses.

  • Sky


  • Sky

    For every purpose: It’s DSLR with EVF.

  • Sky

    “6-year old DSLR work just fine, no real reason to replace either.” – your DSLR is a joke comparing to modern image quality. For that one reason alone it’s worth to upgrade.

  • Bridal Clipper

    I’ll think you’ll find that the GH4 has the right size optimum size sensor for video, lenses, sharpness across the image circle etc and gives excellent performance.

  • Zos Xavius

    Pentax cameras have intervalometers too! :)

  • Zos Xavius

    My pentax cameras do this. I’m kind of surprised canon doesn’t offer that feature.

    edit: to be fair, steven points out below how you can achieve that. just use center focus, set spot metering and lock focus and exposure and recompose. not all that automated, but still.

  • agour

    Some of them are features that you can live without, but are quite nice to have. For example I bought a 6D with wifi.. I thought it would be completely useless, but I’ve actually found it to be quite handy.

  • Zos Xavius

    Most cameras, if not all, have sensors with temperature sensors built into them, so the camera will shut down long before the sensor overheats and bakes itself. My cameras will do this in live view after 5 minutes or so in 100 degree Fahrenheit temperatures regardless of their different sensor manufacturers.

  • Zos Xavius

    Really? Canon cameras will follow your eye and pick a focus point just like the old film cameras? And they have face detection built into pdaf? do you even know what you are talking about?

  • Smarten_Up

    It makes me happy, does what I want, without any more complications than necessary. Money stays in my pocket, not Megacorp Cameras.

    I still (happily) use film cameras that are as old as 70 years.

    Watch out, that someone stops respecting you, as you get older and become in their eyes, “a joke.”

  • tmronin

    yep – most SLRs have a physical split prism system that covers a good chunk of the view finder, so when something is in focus, it’s very apparent. modern DSLR’s usually only have a software based small focus confirmation point. I can manually focus with ease and speed on my 6×7 and get a bit frustrated on my 5D3 when trying to get things razor sharp.

  • Alan Klughammer

    I would go farther in that some of these “features” are impossible without compromising the advantages of the SLR design. Focus Peaking would just be annoying and, along with live histogram, would require an overlay in the viewfinder. I still prefer a real viewfinder to an EVF.
    Faster motor drive? 10 or 11 fps is pretty fast.
    faster sync speed? there were problems with the electronic shutter. I admit that leaf shutter lenses for a DSLR might be nice in certain situations, but still maxes out at about 1/500 sec.
    Wireless networking? generally too slow with big raw files
    GPS? Might be handy, but every major camera has an optional dongle.
    Face detection? Please God NO!
    Programmable. Yes this would be nice. Custom banks are not always versatile enough.
    I don’t shoot video.

    this list looks very much like an amateur lusting after a pro body without understanding a pro photographers needs.

  • Alan Klughammer

    I might agree than every entry level DSLR could use these features. But not higher end cameras.

  • Matias Gonua

    Magic Lantern made it possible. NOt for every DSLR though.

  • George

    Probably because it adds head to the internals and murders the battery. Remember: battery life is the a feature that consumers complain about. Joe consumer will “blame” the manufacturer when misusing a feature.

  • Andy

    Another issue to consider is that the Expeed 3 processor is being replaced for sheer bandwidth internals.

    It appears almost for sure that EXPEED 3 simply couldn’t process more than 144 MP/sec which translates to 6fps at 24MP without adding significant extra electronics that the D4 has which only got it up to 176 MP/sec. The D610, D7100 and D800 all process exactly 144 MP/sec. For inexplicable reasons, the Df is quite a bit slower.

    But, the EXPEED 4 is now here (already shipping in the D5300, though not being asked to go fast in that camera – the D5300 is using new video processing features in the EXPEED 4). The EXPEED 4 is based on a new Fujitsu Milbeaut processing core that says it can do 12fps at 24MP. While those are Fujitsu’s spec numbers and we don’t know exactly what the max throughput of the EXPEED 4 will be, it seems likely that it could at least handle 8fps at 24MP.

  • Whatever

    I think most DSLR made since 2008 have had them. It may be that the article writer is new to the DSLR world.

  • OtterMatt

    >I don’t understand why people get all butthurt about having more options?
    Maybe because I really don’t want to PAY for the right to turn all of these “features” off? And no, I haven’t tried focus peaking, because I don’t need it. I’d rather train myself to focus and compose on my own, thanks. Almost none of these have anything to do with shooting real pictures. Trying to shoot off of a screen instead of a viewfinder is a last-ditch measure in most cases, and staring at one while shooting to check your focus is for hacks, frankly. WiFi is a battery eater, and people already complain enough about battery life while shooting. And face detection? Seriously? Besides being under-researched, this article seems to have been written by someone who would rather shoot with a phone than a camera.

  • Tobias W.

    Half of the things the author specified require a live and direct readout of the sensor. That is only possible if you do away with the mirror completely or make it translucent such as Sony has done. Essentially, if one wants these things, one cannot have these with the mirror box in the camera. In other words, these features will always be an ugly Frankenhack in a DSLR. Digital system cameras without a mirror don’t have this problem. The writing is on the wall. It’s only a matter of time until DSLRs will be a niche and not the professional mainstream as more and more viable mirrorless products make it to market.

    The one thing where I can see DSLRs surviving a little longer:

    * much better battery life than cameras that constantly read out the whole sensor and need to power an electronic viewfinder
    * optical, through the lens viewfinder for precise, optical framing

    These are very niche requirements.

    So, if the author is right about his list of requirements being a market demand, this will only mean that traditional DSLRs are doomed rather sooner than later.

  • BrianMcCullough

    Except for the video AF …

  • Rufus Nobbinns

    Canon 6D has WiFi and GPS, and the 70D has autofocus in video.

  • gochugogi

    Love my 6D but didn’t find the Wi-Fi useful for my my hand held candids and street shooting. Would probably be great for a studio photog beaming LV to an art director or client.

  • gochugogi

    In the case of my 6D, WiFi and GPS greatly reduce battery life. However, disable them, and the battery lasts at least as long as it did in my 5D MKII and 7D.

  • agour

    yeah I think it’s more useful for a slower style of shooting. I use it for landscapes and it’s great, especially if you want to get a self portrait from a reasonable distance away.

  • Dhaval Panchal

    Haha yeah it was intended to be a Samsung reference.

  • Vsevolod Zhovtenko

    Nikon cameras can sync at any shutter speed when nikon flash is mounted.

  • Alan Klughammer

    Old Canon film SLR’s had that. I moved away from Canon quite a while ago, so I don’t know if their digital cameras retained that function.

  • Alan Klughammer

    Great idea, except it would drive the price of the base camera up significantly. Probably higher than the price of a full featured camera now.

  • Alan Klughammer

    I thought the 5D did that. I am pretty sure my Nikons do…

  • Dan N

    Canon EOS 70D has AF in video….

  • Dennis Pike

    The 5D absolutely does not do it. I have the 5DIII, when doing spot metering the spot it uses is always the center point. No Canon camera does this. It is my most wanted feature.

  • Traingineer

    Ever heard of Bulb?

  • Kyle Clements

    That camera exists! It’s called the D7100