PetaPixel

9 Features Every DSLR Should Have Now

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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).

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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.

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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?

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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.

GPS

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.

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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.

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Programmable

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


 
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  • GM

    Headphone output!

  • jackregnart

    I don’t think my DSLR has any of these… I must admit, I don’t even want some of them.

  • http://www.girafxmedia.com/ blair thornton

    Faster flash sync, c’mon. a Nikon D4 or D4s practically shoots in the dark – no flash mount or required!

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com/ bob cooley

    While a couple of these might be nice, I don’t want most of these features on my DSLR – I want my DSLRs to work fast, have a great sensor, and help me to make amazing photos – if I want all the other nonsense, I’ll go to my iPhone, or one of my mirrorless point-and-shoots which have all of these features.

    In short, speak for yourself. Don’t assume that we all want some of all of these features.

  • Earl Von Tapia

    Focus peaking is the beez kneez! I won’t use manual focus without it.

  • SeoulFood

    Did we read the same article? I’m pretty sure Allen said these are the features he and his team wants, not everybody.

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com/ bob cooley

    You could always just learn to focus – we shot with no focus peaking for years, and were able to capture sports action, and everything else for decades :)

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com/ bob cooley

    I know what article I read… I saw no mention of his ‘team’, in fact the article states clearly “so here are a few features we think every DSLR should have now” – operative word being every… meaning everyone would have this feature if they owned a DSLR.

  • wavesummit

    The higher flash sync is primarily used for low powered strobes on a sunny day.

  • mtnredhed

    Oh geez, where to start. This list has been making the rounds and isn’t getting any smarter for the retelling. Many of these feature DO exist in DSLR’s, just not at the bottom of the lines.

    1. Focus peeking – 5dmkII and III and 7D can do this (although thats not what they call it)
    2.Live Histo – 7D+5DmkIII
    3. Vari rate drive- Your lack of understanding of how a modern camera works is showing
    4. Faster flash sync – see #3. There are reasons why we don’t use electronic shutters and very specific reasons why FP shutters are limited to the speeds they are. You want faster, try a leaf shutter.
    5. WiFi – 6D anyone? I will grant that Canon has been slow to integrate that into their lines and their add on option is priced stupidly.
    6. I’m not sure which photo pro’s you’re talking to, but the only ones I can think of who really want gps are probably landscape shooters. Maybe PJ’s. Otherwise, I just don’t hear that come up much.
    7. Facial Detect – Um…go back to shooting with your Iphone. It’s not a pro feature.
    8. Programmable – most are at a basic level. Installing apps or having a more customizable UI…maybe. From the forum comments I read, most users are barely able to manage/understand the capabilities they have.
    9 Video A/F – -70D

    This whole article shows a painful lack of understanding. Other than link whoring, I don’t understand why it stays in circulation.

  • Glen Berry

    Of all those features, focus peaking is definitely the one I’d want most. Faster flash sync, WiFi, and built-in GPS would be nice too.

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com/ bob cooley

    Agreed, but you can never have to fast of a flash sync – you can always slow it down if you want :)

  • Earl Von Tapia

    No I’d rather have focus peaking. It makes focusing with live view faster and easier, and makes manual focus lenses a joy to use.

    Focus peaking through an EVF would be even more sexy.

    The technology is there. There’s no reason not to use it.

  • Earl Von Tapia

    All DSLRs should have these features. If you don’t want to use those features, then turn them off/don’t use them.

  • David Arthur

    Some of these (live histogram, focus peaking, FASTER SYNC SPEED, wifi) would be awesome. It would make a huge difference for lots of shooters, me included. But I could really care less about things like face detection and gps tagging.

  • Glen Berry

    No, the operative word in that quote was “we”. The author was speaking on behalf of a limited number of people. He wasn’t speaking on your behalf at all. There’s no need for your reactionary “speak for yourself” comment. The author WAS speaking for himself (and a limited number of others), and not speaking for you.

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com/ bob cooley

    You can only focus peak thorough an EVF, its not available on OVFs

    I’d say the reason not to use it is that I can manual focus faster by looking through the optical viewfinder than by using peaking w/ an EVF. A lot faster. Understanding and being able to use our fundamentals is key.

  • Earl Von Tapia

    That’s great that you can manual focus faster through the optical viewfinder. What would stop you from doing that if your camera had focus peaking?

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com/ bob cooley

    Adding more features to a system (especially some of those mentioned here) slow down the overall system, decrease battery life, and are a lot of added flotsam and jetsam that most pros don’t want or need. That’s why they add these features to consumer cameras and leave them off pro bodies.

  • Eric Lefebvre

    Some of those options are available on canon DSLR with the use of Magic Lantern.

    Mainly:

    FOCUS PEAKING
    LIVE HISTOGRAM

    PROGRAMMABLE

    And this was designed by one guy … why can’t Canon (or other manufacturers) implement these in their stock Firmware?

    Some DSLR’s have built in wireless (Canon 6D for example).

  • SeoulFood

    Bingo! Glen read the same article I read.

  • Glen Berry

    You could always stop being so crass and insulting. I shot manual focus cameras for years, and had no trouble focusing them. However, I do agree with Earl about focus peaking. Trying to accurately manually focus your typical autofocus DSLR is far more difficult than focusing an typical manual focus film SLR. It’s far more difficult than it needs to be. Unlike film-era SLRs, most DSLRs don’t have effective manual focusing aids.

  • Eric Lefebvre

    It’s avalaible on Canon DSLRs with Magic Lantern … I have no idea why Canon hasn;t just implemented it in the stock Firmware.

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com/ bob cooley

    Not being crass or insulting; I still manual focus most of the time and I have a lot more control over my images than letting the camera do it for me…

  • SeoulFood

    His team would be the folks at PhotoShelter, the site that he co-founded and where the article was originally posted. The operative word would be “we” for him and his team. SO he and his team thinks that those features should be in every DSLR. They don’t give 2 bags of grapes what we think should be in a DSLR or they would be reading our articles and posting in our comments section.

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com/ bob cooley

    It can’t, since focus peaking is only available on EVFs, and I’m not going to use an EVF for focusing through the camera, it much slower than optical, even with the fastest EVF systems.

  • Jeff Ladrillono

    I’m not sure you understand what faster flash sync is used for. There’s a reason a lot of action sports photographers still use manual Hasselblad film cameras and it’s not the autofocus speed.

  • Earl Von Tapia

    Focus peaking is not only available through EVFs. It can be done through live view (the back LCD) which is how I use it.

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com/ bob cooley

    Regardless of where it was posted, he never makes mention of this being a need for his team, he explicitly states that these are features that should be on EVERY DSLR – which means everyone would have to have them if his thesis were true and you were the owner of a DSLR…

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com/ bob cooley

    Live view (the back LCD) is also EVF (Electronic View Finder) it doesn’t matter if you are looking through your eyepiece or not, its still not optical.

  • Martin Nilsson

    For facial recognition Can on had something like it in the EOS 1100D. Think it was called a-depth or something like it. Makes sure EVERYTHING is in focus, so amatuers can get a perfect group picture.

  • Glen Berry

    Well, maybe not literally “all” DSLRs should have all these features, but I’d readily agree that these features should be much more commonplace across all the major brands.

  • YouDidntDidYou

    Sounds almost like the Panasonic GH4

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com/ bob cooley

    No, stating that EVERY DSLR should have these features is implicit that anyone who owned a DSLR would be forced to have these features added to their cameras. If the OP had his way, it would affect everyone who uses a DSLR.

    It’s great if they want to put these on consumer DSLRs, but I like to keep my pro DSLRs quick, nimble, and with the best battery life possible.

  • Glen Berry

    Since you could care less, it’s nice to know that you do indeed care somewhat. :)

  • Stephen

    I’m not sure what you have in mind as quick and nimble. But I think we’re increasingly in a market where DSLRs are (1) for professionals and serious hobbyists only, and (2) limited offerings. In other words, I don’t think it’s practical to think Canon or Nikon are envisioning making lots of different DSLR models for different purposes, long term.

    If that’s true, then increasingly, all of us pros and hobbyists are going to be using the same cameras. E.g., the Canon 5D Mk III. And that means those devices will include features that are individually important to sports photographers, landscape artists, wedding shooters, etc, but unimportant to others in the set. I think it’s unlikely you’ll see a market that caters to each type of photographer with a serious-yet-nimble-for-that-purpose DSLR.

  • Justin Walker

    Bob, you seem quite negative and opinionated about things. You tell the OP to speak for himself then tell people what they want is wrong or that if they want something, then their fundamentals are wrong. I completely disagree. I too can focus through a dslr viewfinder without focus peaking. I can also focus using manual focus film cameras, of which I have several. However, there is no reason to deny the technology that helps one in the business. On my mirrorless cameras, focus peaking indeed helps me focus extremely quickly. You sound like the photographers who hated technology at the advent of digital. Go with the flow man.

  • SeoulFood

    Well, why don’t we write him and ask him what he meant because arguing over a post on a different site than where the original article was posted is dumb!

  • Andy

    >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?

    The author may wish to do some research.

    The limitation of the D800/e is the Expeed 3 processor. It’s so full of code that features need to be removed for new ones to be added. As capable as it is, the unit is at the end of its development cycle which is why it’s (likely) the last camera to be using it.

    The Nikon Expeed 3 processor’s memory architecture is entirely internal so there’s no way to intercept it to make it run external code. Nikon is moving to a different memory architecture and extra memory spaces are available to the new unit.

    Secondly, a huge part of frame rate is built into the power management system of the camera, and is NOT software related. Why? Heat. The faster you cycle the camera sensor, the more heat is generated and this contributes to image noise.

    Google is your friend.

  • Nathan

    Okay technically not a DSLR, but the Sony A99 has all of these…

  • Josh Wahawa Ruchty

    Here’s an idea for facial focus: using feedback from the autofocus system, the camera could figure out the physical depth between the closest and farthest face. then, using that information, it could automatically set a minimum aperture to get the appropriate depth of field while blurring the background as much as possible.

  • Avrazo

    Hail Magic Lantern.

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com/ bob cooley

    No, actually I love technological advances – I just don’t want to be force-fed every widget under the sun just because its available.

    I’m also not a fan of anyone saying “we all should have all of this” based on their personal preferences. They are certainly welcome to buy cameras that have all the widgets in the world on them if they want, but to say that every camera should have them, is in essence speaking for everyone’s needs, which they aren’t the final authority on – no one is.

    I’m very happy with the bodies that I own, and I bought them based on the feature sets that I need – to be forced to make my camera slower, less efficient, have a shorter battery life because of un-needed bells would be a negative experience for me, and a lot of other pros.

    Opinionated, guilty as charged – its helped me to get where I am; negative – notsomuch – I just don’t like being told what I need.

  • keewa

    Good for you. Want a cookie?

  • Justin Walker

    Well, either way, you come across a little negative. On a nice note, I really like your portfolio. Nice work.

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com/ bob cooley

    Really? Canon has about 20 DSLRs in their current lineup and Nikon has about a dozen.

    And you absolutely see that right now – example – My D4 is great for sports, heavy use journalism and low light imagery. My D800 is more suited for architecture, landscape and fine-art applications where I want to produce large prints – My Df is my street camera that’s small, light and very fast for when I don’t want / need to lug the larger bodies and glass around. And because I need all of these applications, I have all 3 (well, the Df is less of a need than a personal preference to not lug the big bodies) – but why would Nikon sell me 1 body when they know they can sell me 2 or 3? (plus a backup). Canon is moving with the same strategy. I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

  • Burnin Biomass

    What would be really nice is if DSLR’s could be like car pricing. We can order them with the options we want, and leave off the ones we dont. People who just want a simple version of the camera can get one for cheaper. Those who want some of the bells can decide the specific ones they want, and can order them for an extra price for each.

  • Kuro

    I know it’s not technically an SLR, but my Sony A77 has most of these features in the SLR form factor, and it’s been around for a while now.

  • sdtransfertomich

    Boy…not many on this list I care to have. Doesn’t bother me they are not on my DSLR.

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com/ bob cooley

    Never mean to come off as negative (well, unless I do) :) – its hard to judge inflection/tone in written comments (at least I’ve never been able to master it well). And thanks! Much appreciated.