I am curious to know why today's DSLRs (including the top of the line ones) have:

  1. A primitive interface
  2. Do not do wifi out of the box
  3. Do not have touch interface
  4. Do not have full fledged OS like Andriod or the iOS and the like
  5. Have very poor screen resolution and the list goes on.

And this, I am comaparing with a cheap 50 dollar android phone. Your specific reasons/answers are much appreciated.

  • 13
    Have you ever used a DSLR?
    – dpollitt
    Feb 28, 2013 at 1:49
  • 3
    You are assuming that I was hurt or felt disrespect, that is not true and I meant no disrespect to you either. I honestly am wondering if you have ever used a DSLR. I use one everyday and haven't ever and would ever ask questions 1 and 3-5. It is easier if you have a real problem or issue with your DSLR that you are trying to solve, and not a theoretical issue. Sorry if I was misunderstood.
    – dpollitt
    Feb 28, 2013 at 2:22
  • 6
    @Regmi I suppose if you look at it from a different perspective you could ask: Why are cheap android phones so primitive when it comes to taking pictures? They do different things and have different priorities. As the answer below shows though, they are not at all primitive for what they do :D. Feb 28, 2013 at 2:23
  • 1
    Another important thing to consider. Your "cheap" android phone is really probably around $4-500, just the phone company footed most of the up-front bill for you.
    – AJ Henderson
    Feb 28, 2013 at 14:48
  • 4
    Hmm, not sure why this question is being voted down. While the question certainly has some misconceptions about what is "primitive" in regards to a professional camera, it is a perfectly common viewpoint from the wider community of point and shoot photographers. I think the question adds a lot of value and wanted to speak up about that rather than having the quick, knee jerk reaction that the question is wrong and should be downvoted.
    – AJ Henderson
    Feb 28, 2013 at 14:53

9 Answers 9


The technology is not primtive but actually quite advanced. Every component important to photography is constantly being researched and improved. The cost of those improvements are passed on to buyers, just as with everything else.

Furthermore some of what you suggest would render a camera worse for photography:

  • The interface of each manufacturer is highly tuned and evolved over years and even decades. At the high-end, it is designed for extreme efficiency and use under pressure with the camera at eye-level.
  • WiFi is probably a good thing and is appearing in high-end cameras, including one DSLR already. This will be beneficial except for battery-life and cost which is a compromise that has to be taken when building such products.
  • Touchscreens are completely unnecessary for a DSLR and most cameras. Anyone who has a touch phone knows how much fingerprints they get which makes them hard to see in bright light. Cameras have to work in all sorts of conditions and touchscreens have trouble to be usable with gloves on.
  • The throughput needed to process images and video coming out modern cameras is better implemented by tuned processors. The ones found on DSLRs are quite powerful and highly specialized to do that while maintaining reasonable battery-life.
  • Resolution of displays are constantly increasing but this has a cost on battery-life. The latest LCD screens have 1.2 megapixels at 3.2" diagonally or 1 megapixel at 3". To improve screens of DSLRs at this point, contrast, color gamut and visibility is probably a priority over resolution at this point.

ADDENDUM [Missed the OS point]:

  • A DSLR is ready to shoot in less than 1.5s. This startup speed is critical to photographers as they might have to capture a fleeting moment. A general purpose OS takes much much longer to boot and would be unacceptable in any camera. As a matter of fact, if you look at the ultra-compact Nikon S800c which runs Android, it also runs its own operating system which turns on quickly while Android boots in the background. Before Android has started, you can take photos and review them but not access Andriod apps.

While you see camera makers experiment from time-to-time with new technologies to see which ones attract more customers, priority has to be given to those which help photography. Most unneeded feature takes space, battery-life, increases cost and may have other consequences.

What we need is the right tool for the job and just like I would not drive a car with a touchscreen instead of a steering wheel unless it did the driving, I pick cameras that have a good number of buttons and dials which makes me extremely efficient.

  • 1
    +1 For an insightful answer that makes the issue a lot clearer.
    – Regmi
    Feb 28, 2013 at 1:41
  • 5
    regarding point #3, as you move from consumer to prosumer to professional cameras (at least in Nikon range) one feature is that a lot more functions are accessible via buttons, knobs, switches, rather than through menus, much less touch screens, so that an experienced photographer can quickly dial in changes without the eye leaving the viewfinder.
    – MikeW
    Feb 28, 2013 at 1:46
  • @MikeW seconded. I find that with just my right hand positioned correctly on the 5D MkIII i can change every setting on the camera without taking my eye out of the eyepiece.
    – NULLZ
    Feb 28, 2013 at 5:55
  • 1
    Right on, In general the more advanced a piece of technology is the less beautiful to the uninitiated the interface may seem. A good interface in the hands of an expert dissolves the boundary between human and machine.
    – Phil
    Feb 28, 2013 at 17:01

I'm totally with Itai on this one. DSLR's are by no means "primitive". On the contrary, they are very advanced and refined tools for serious photographers. To answer each of your points directly.

  1. A primitive interface
    • If you are referring to the menu systems...they may visually look primitive, however they are designed for functionality, not looks. Photographers familiar with their system (such as Canon or Nikon) should be able to rip through the menu systems and reconfigure their camera on the fly in short order.
    • If you are referring to the button and dial nature of a DSLR, it is pretty much the same deal as the basic looking menu systems. Buttons and dials are even better though, as they give you direct and immediate access to the most critical functionality. Buttons are excellent for single or limited option settings. Enabling or disabling AF AF-ON button, Temporarily locking auto exposure settings with the AE Lock button, etc. Dials are perfect for cycling through extensive settings, such as a wide range of apertures or shutter speeds, ISO settings, etc.
  2. Do not do wifi out of the box
    • Some DSLR's indeed DO support WiFi out of the box. The Canon 6D comes to mind as a recent entrant, full-frame to boot, that offers both WiFi and GPS built in.
    • Not all DSLR users care about or need WiFi or GPS. Many professional photographers need a connection much faster than WiFi can offer, which is why Gigabit Ethernet is built into high end professional grade cameras instead of WiFi.
    • Wireless and GPS require the antenna to be outside of a metal cage in order to have useful range. Magnesium is not a great EM shield, however many magnesium alloys are, and most higher-end DSLR bodies use magnesium alloy bodies for durability. Built-in WiFi and GPS are not always as viable as it may seem.
  3. Do not have a touch interface
    • As mentioned before, DSLRs are designed to support efficient control of their functionality. Touch interfaces are inherently inefficient in the context of photography. They require more attention as they are highly visual, require the photographer to take their eye away from the viewfinder in order to interact with a touch UI, etc.
    • A touch interface would actually be a major detractor for serious photographers. We WANT our clunky-looking buttons and dials...as in reality they are far more efficient. We can program procedural memory to interact with the buttons, freeing up the creative aspects of our minds to focus on what really matters: The Art!
  4. Do not have full fledged OS like Andriod or the iOS and the like
    • It's a camera...not a PDA!
    • DSLRs are specialty products, not general purpose products.
    • They actually have very advanced, and highly specialized, firmware that is supremely tuned to maximize their potential at what they are designed for: taking high resolution, high quality, digital RAW photographs. A general-purpose OS would only be a drag on efficiency, wasting resources on pointless features that offer no real benefit on a tool designed for a very specific purpose of limited breadth.
  5. Have very poor screen resolution
    • DSLRs may not have 300ppi screens, but that doesn't really matter. What we have now is generally enough to do what we need them for: Verify exposure, focus, and general IQ factors.
    • As Itai mentioned...higher density screens need more power, and battery power is an extremely precious commodity in a DSLR.
  6. and the list goes on.
    • So does the list of reasons why a DSLR is currently the most optimally designed device for taking the best photographs in the world, in the most situations, for the broadest range of types of photography. I'd LOVE to see you get front-page photos of sports, the olympics, birds or wildlife, etc. with a puny little Android or iPhone! :P

To wrap all of that up in a nutshell:

DSLR's are tools for creating art, not decorative pieces of art themselves. They are designed to be the most effective, efficient tools at one thing: taking photographs, often of instantaneous action, where split-second decisions must be made and settings changed in another split second in order to get a good shot...without ever taking one's eye away from the viewfinder. It's all done on instinct!

Simplistic but effective menus, buttons, and dials all support this need, and do it orders of magnitude better than having to muddle through a relatively clunky touch interface with the caveat that the camera must be pointed away from the scene and the touch screen oriented to the eye in order for navigation of a touch interface to even be possible.

  • 4
    For buttons/dials vs touchscreens, you can set these by feel/in the dark/as you're looking through the viewfinder. You can't do this with a touchscreen.
    – NULLZ
    Feb 28, 2013 at 5:58

I think the answer (link) provided by Itai covers a lot.

Allow me to add in a few more answers to your questions.

  1. The design and interface of the DSLR are considered quite advanced as they take into thoughts on the button/grip placement when the DSLR in use. The design of the DSLR allows DSLR users to easily change the parameters (such as ISO, Aperture, Shutter speed, Focus-mode, Focus-points, Exposure-bias) while looking through the viewfinder. Additional info, within the viewfinder, there is also an information display that helps DSLR users to make judgment on which parameters to change to achieve the shot that they want.

  2. WIFI is somewhat good to have but not everybody uses it. Bundling it out of box will incur additional cost. For some people, they prefer to shoot their DSLR in RAW format and they will process the photos at their leisure later as this gives them a wider range of control. The WIFI feature is more useful for users who shoot in JPEG and wishes to upload them into the internet instantly. By keeping it as an additional feature, it allows camera makers to keep the price at a competitive level so that you only pay for what you need.

  3. As mentioned previously, most DSLR users will view through the viewfinder during a photo shoot. The reasons are, most DSLR uses phase detection for their focus system which is much faster. This phase detection autofocus is usually available while viewing through the viewfinder. If you were to use the Live View instead, a contrast detection or hybrid detection will be used instead thus sacrificing some autofocus speed. Therefore, a touch screen based control will be difficult as your nose will be constantly touching the screen. The screen input can be turned off while you stick your face into your camera, but the buttons are still needed, thus the touch screen became another added bonus (paid by you).

  4. The OS in a DSLR is well tuned for the tasks that it is meant for. It can calculate the distance of the subject, keeps track at it while it moves around your line of sight. Calculate the exposure required to expose the scene. Determine if your subject has back lighting and how much exposure bias to apply. DSLR does not need phone OS functions such as making phone calls, sending SMS or even playing games.

  5. I think for this question, Itai answered it well enough. :)

That's all my thought on this.


Alex Lindsay of PixelCorp has been arguing that the UI of cameras are primitive for years. His arguments have some merit, but only on the menu systems. If you are first picking up a DSLR, I agree that the menus seem clumsy. But Canon and Nikon have been building on their menu systems for years, and their loyal customers have been trained to use them as they are. If they "Fixed" the menu systems, they would have a lot of angry customers.

All DSLRs have touch controls. My finger controls the shutter and shutter speed, and my thumb controls the aperture and focus points. I can use these touch controls with my eye to the viewfinder, where it belongs.

Ital has answered the other topics.

If I were to rant about DSLR controls, I'd say why do cameras aimed at enthusiasts and professionals have all the lazy "scene modes" and bizarre JPEG adjustments, when we all shoot RAW and ignore them?

  • BTW, if you have used a camera with a touchscreen, you would feel even more strongly! Touchscreen controls have to be bigger and therefore take more clicks to navigate. On Panasonic models with vs without touchscreen for example, this is very clear.
    – Itai
    Feb 28, 2013 at 14:11
  • The bigger trick is that a "touch screen" isn't tactile. Try using a touch screen while your eye is up to the viewfinder and your finger is on the shutter. You can't do it. Having a little D-stick that can quickly browse a simple menu is simply a better UI for the purpose since it can be used while actually doing what a camera is designed to do. Particularly when said menu can be customized to bring your common tasks to the front.
    – AJ Henderson
    Feb 28, 2013 at 14:50

The differences between a smartphone and a dSLR camera are due mostly to the fact each product is made to the demands of a particular market segment. Each has a different primary purpose that is not at all related to the other; the primary purpose of a dSLR camera is to produce digital image files of high quality and resolution. The primary purpose of a smartphone is to provide a mobile communication facility including an interface with the internet, while its picture taking function is an accessory that is not essential to its primary function.

Todays cameras are made according to the demands of picture making process that has an over 100 year history, and photographers often have been using cameras for many years. They expect the handling and control interface to be consistent with what has been established as a standard with cameras. While a smartphone is a new device without a history of use or a market whose demands are influenced by a long span of user experience. The features you find attractive that are inherent to a smartphone may not be ones that photographers would find are needed or appealing.Producers follow the demands of the market they sell to and if they ignore it, their product does not sell, as has been the case with many "contemprary" camera designs that ignored photographic tradition.


The trick here is that it is a professional device. This is almost a question that I think would fit better on UX, but the key is that what is good design on a phone is not what is good design on a camera. A DSLR, particularly high end ones, are professional tools designed to do one thing and do it excellently. That is, take photos, at as high quality, as quickly and easily as possible while giving the photographer as much or as little control as they need over the process.

In that regards, a modern DSLR has outstanding technology. The autofocus is constantly advancing, new features are constantly added to support better color and contrast via on-board processing. Major advances are being made in coordinating multiple flashes with RF based flash sync. Light sensitivity is constantly increasing. The technology that matters to taking a great photo and pushing the envelope for the field of photography is constantly pioneered by DSLRs.

As for the things you ask about specifically, many of them are secondary to the needs of a photographer or even run counter to it. The UI is basic, but informative. The interface is designed to be used with a single finger from a control stick that doesn't require moving your hand from the shutter. As such, it can't be some big fancy, flashy, battery and processor hogging touch ui. It would be a waste of battery and would be counter-productive to the professional photographer since it would require moving away from the shutter to use. This addresses both points 1 and 3.

In fact, the My Menu functionality is great because it allows a quick menu to be made for ease of use and customization for the photographer. Additionally, a HUGE amount is customizable on a good DSLR. I can reprogram just about every button on my 5D Mark iii to do what I need it to do. I have a one button help system that will refresh my memory on what any feature or setting does on the fly as I need it. Thinking about it from the key areas of what's important to a photographer, does the UI really still sound so primitive?

As far as built in wi-fi, I think we may see this more, but ask any pro photographer if they would rather have wi-fi or more cache to support longer burst shooting, or simply a lighter camera body, and the answer will almost universally be the latter. It's a nice to have feature in some cases, but also unnecessary in far more. When you want a device to be as small, cheap and low power as possible, throwing in excess junk is not a good design decission.

Instead, you see it provided in high quality modular component such as wireless sync hardware or the Wifi syncing SD card. Modularity is a big part of DSLR design so that a rig can be modified for the needs of a particular situation instead of trying to do one-size-fits-all, jack of all trades master of none. That's what point and shoots are for.

As far as a full fledged OS goes, the same argument applies. The OSes on a modern DSLR are extremely advanced, purpose built systems that run against custom hardware that provide the absolute best performance in the cheapest package with the least overhead. Quite simply, running Android on a DSLR would result in sub-standard operation, a waste of battery and would be a major net-negative for the usefulness of the device.

Finally, as far as screens go, you are simply wrong. Screens on high end DSLRs are some of the best screens around. They will generally favor color accuracy over vividness, but the screen on my 5D Mark iii is exceptional. What you do see is that for a $600 DSLR the screen isn't that great, but that's because it is a $600 DSLR. The other components are more expensive than a $600 smartphone and the majority of the budget goes in to the sensor and processing hardware, where it should go. You aren't going to get a screen that rivals your $600 smart phone in a $600 DSLR, but when you get in to the $3500 DSLRs, you get even better screens.

I hope that helps clear up some of the misconceptions and shows why the initial (if overly blunt and unclear) response was simply "have you ever used a DSLR." It all just comes down to what's important for a DSLR and the design decisions are made based on that which is why DSLRs are loved by those who use them. It is also why DSLRs are not the ideal option for everyone. This is particularly true of high end models where they are actually "harder" to use than a cheaper model, but far more powerful for someone who knows how to use them.

  1. primitive interface
    It's functional, it's very fast to use, simple. No diving through hundreds of buttons, menu options, dialog boxes, to do basic things like in an "advanced" user interface.
  2. wifi
    I don't want wifi on my camera, I don't need it. And the same is true for most all serious photographers. When I'm shooting I'm in places where there is no network, the files are too large to transfer quickly over wifi anyway, and the battery drain of wifi systems is horrendous.
  3. touch interface
    Thank god there's no touch screen where I have to use 2 handed "gestures" using multiple fingers, look constantly at where I am pressing my fingers, etc. etc. but instead a couple of nicely AND DIFFERENTLY textured and shaped buttons that I can manipulate blind.
  4. no android of iCamera
    See above. It'd be massive overkill.
  5. low resolution screen
    is ideal, saves power, is cheap, and it does what it is intended for, a quick view for menus and histographs. Camera screens on SLRs are NOT intended to replace a computer monitor or camera viewfinder. Anyone using an SLR like that should be banned from ever touching a camera again.

One question went unasked in the previous answers.

Primitive, compared to what?

My old film SLR is primitive. It only has:

  • manual focus
  • a dial to set shutter speed,
  • a ring on the lens to set aperture, and
  • I set ISO when I load the film cassette in.

Wait, there's more. It has a button to press when I want to check DoF. And another button to engage exposure meter, which tries to advice me to correct exposure. And shutter release button.

Compare this to a modern DSLR, and ask again what is primitive.


Ouch ! You have to understand first that every market segment has its own needs and expectations. The Android-powered touch camera sounds to me like a toy : the professional will find it slow and battery draining, with no added benefit. Android is not a real-time OS nor an optimized one so don't expect a 15 fps burst on it. It would drain battery and time for no reason.

Moreover, the latest DSLR have Wifi built-in (Nikon D5300 to 5500, D500 etc.), the problem is you can divide the battery life by 4 or 5 if you use it all the time. And you have to fit a Wifi module inside your camera body, so probably make it bigger. Every fancy feature comes with disadvantages because everything in engineering is just compromises.

We could argue about the interface though. The fact is that DSLR are not designed to be fun to use : they are workhorses. And the professionals have their habits, their routines they don't want to change because they are paid to be efficient, not to learn their job again. I recently moved from studio photography (still subjects under control) to wedding photography (randomly moving subjects not willing to cooperate), so I went from consumer range APS DSLR to pro full frame, I can tell you they are much more reliable. Their interface offers fine-tuning options which could be repulsive for most amateurs, but powerful tools need deep knowledge.

Every added functionality consumes more energy and computation power (thus operation time), and increases the price. Manufacturers have to ensure this increase is justified and not just a gadget.

And, as said above, most of the sexiest innovations are under the hood (autofocus speed, accuracy and low-light performances).

Believe me, DSLR are the most advanced cameras ever made. They release their power in a professional use : all these buttons are actually carefully designed.

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