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Camera tech to the rescue…. or not?

EOS R child blocking ears

I had a chance to use Canon’s new EOS R mirrorless this week and was reminded of something, here’s a hint…it’s not all about the tech.

Of course, mirrorless options have been around years, Olympus, Sony, Nikon, Canon, Fujifilm & others have all been in the game, with well established DSLR alternatives, so it’s not that we don’t have options already, and it’s not that our existing cameras aren’t good enough either, they’re as good as they’ve ever been, but now we’re finally seeing the big players prepared to take on their own bread and butter, the DSLR’s with mirrorless options, cutting down size and weight, and generating new possibilities.  Some exciting prospects are coming through but are they really a meaningful leap forward?

So back to my experience with the EOS R.  Smaller….Check.  Lighter….Check.  Electronic viewfinder….Check (though I’d still prefer an optical one).  Flippy touch screen….Check.  Image quality….Check.  Different controls….oh oh.   Canon have made a few…. should I say…. ‘tech driven’ changes to the controls on the EOS R which in my opinion seem a little problematic (but feel free to form your own opinion if you care at all about this model).   Now without writing a full camera review, lets just say that some of the controls are easily bumped, knocked, changed, and can be a bit awkward, at least for the way I’m used to shooting.  For example, the new touch screen control to move focus points uses the LCD screen as a thumb pad, a brilliant idea but where’s the LCD?  Right under the eyepiece, so trying to squeeze thumbs in under your face can be a little tricky, and then your nose gets in the way, not really the new nose control feature I was hoping for.  And don’t even get me started on the rear ‘touch bar’.

EOS R child blocking ears
Image taken with EOS R as I struggled to set the focus position correctly

Now you may have a different experience with the EOS R, but this isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this trend where technology takes us both forwards and backwards, how about our smart phones?  No buttons any more, have you ever struggled to end a call after the screen blanks out and disappears, or is that just me :), would a couple more buttons be too much to ask?  Have you driven a new car lately?  Ever noticed how often your eyes are off the road to operate controls now buried in the touch screen menu’s.  What are we loosing in the pursuit of sleek designs and show’s of technology?

I’m not saying the EOS R has lost all the tangible controls, that’s not quite true, it’s just that the tech doesn’t seem to have made the controls any better, they’re a step backwards while most of camera is a step forwards.  Notable mentions on the EOS R are the improvements in size and weight, and the image quality, the 24-105mm lens seems at least as good as existing options in that zoom range as far as I can tell from the couple of hours I’ve had with it.

But my point isn’t all about the EOS R, the take away point is this….with my attention directed to the controls, what do you think happened to my photography?   Unfortunately it was a lost cause, the tech didn’t improve my photography at all.  Which leads to my second point, practice.  Could I have improved with more practice, yes, but did I feel I had the controls I needed, unfortunately, no.  So we do need cameras with great ergonomics, features, quality and reliability, but it may just be that practice is even more important than any of the new technology coming along.

Fortunately so far it seems the other manufacturers haven’t gone down quite the same path, and given the emphasis on mirrorless, I’d put my bets on Canon having an alternative model available within the next year or so which addresses most of the control issues.

So what do I make of the wave of mirrorless camera’s about to enter the market?  Bring it on!  We’re in for some exciting options as the makers fight for volume, with new technology bringing new thinking, ideas, features and quality.  Lets just hope that when it comes to usability, the tech doesn’t get in the way.