You could replace the full set of controls with some much more intuitive and integrated click-wheel or touch-screen controls. But a good chunk of photography classes (my wife has taken a few courses) goes to teaching you how to use the horrible control setup, and backward parameter units such as f-stops.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You underestimate how much in common today's cameras have with film cameras of old. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2, 2016 at 4:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Dear camera manufacturers, please never, ever, ever force me to use a stupid touch screen interface for any mission-critical aspect of taking a picture. Thank you. Sincerely, everyone who ever tries to take pictures under moderately adverse conditions anywhere, evar. :P \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2, 2016 at 7:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Even modern cameras require light, so f-stops are just as relevant as ever. FYI, touch-screens are not a good way to control anything other than a smart-phone, and even that is debatable. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2, 2016 at 11:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Touchscreens are absolutely fabulous! When they're big enough. And it's not raining slightly. And your hands aren't cold. Or wet. Or dry. Or in gloves. Or shaking. Or slightly larger than average. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2, 2016 at 11:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ If f-stops are a backward unit, what would be a current one? What unit would you prefer? \$\endgroup\$
    – null
    Feb 2, 2016 at 12:49

4 Answers 4


You could replace the full set of controls with some much more intuitive and integrated click-wheel or touch-screen controls.

Most DSLR's use wheels and buttons to set the most-used parameters (shutter speed, aperture, ISO, focus, AE-lock, etc.). Some have touch screens in addition or instead. However, most photographers want tactile controls so that they can find controls by touch and make adjustments as they work without taking their eye away from the viewfinder.

The thing about intuition is that it often depends on expectations that develop over time. Android users initially find iOS devices frustrating (and vice versa) not because the device is hard to use, but just because it's different from what they've experienced. For photographers, the traditional grip (left hand supporting the body and lens, right hand gripping the right side of the body, index finger on the shutter release) is highly intuitive. And putting wheels, buttons, and joysticks where the right thumb and index finger can easily reach them just makes ergonomic sense.

But a good chunk of photography classes...goes to teaching you how to use the horrible control setup...

Maybe you need to be more specific, but other than the positions of the shutter release and the viewfinder, I see very little commonality in controls between my 1970 Olympus OM-1 and a typical DSLR.

...and backward parameter units such as f-stops.

The units involved have much more to do with physics than they do with the particular sensor technology. The f-number, for example, is a measure of the ratio of focal length to apparent aperture. It determines the illuminance or "brightness" of the projected image for a given scene regardless of the focal length of the lens. That is, for a given shutter speed, if you know you get a good exposure at f/8 with your 50mm lens, you can get a similar exposure with a 28mm or 100mm or 200mm by setting the aperture to f/8. That's true whether you're using film, CCD, CMOS, or glass plates.

There are plenty of good questions and answers on this site that explain specific units; I only want to point out that although digital photography is strongly influenced by a history in which film was pervasive, there's not all that much about modern cameras that's justified purely by that history.

Perhaps the most important influence of film on todays camera is in the sensor sizes. Because digital cameras evolved from their film-based predecessors, they were designed to use the same lens systems. Those lenses have the same sized image circle that they always did, so digital sensors needed to be about the same size as a frame of film. Camera manufacturers had a lot of existing infrastructure for building lenses, and photographers had already invested in lenses, so it made sense to use sensors that could work with those lens systems. But even though that influence is still felt today, it's also diminishing as new systems like Four-Thirds gain traction.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "It determines the illuminance or "brightness" of the projected image for a given scene regardless of the focal length of the lens"- such an excellent point. It is a parameter that will always give you valid and comparable exposure information regardless of any other setting. It's the very opposite of a backward parameter. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2, 2016 at 11:53

I highly recommend you read Neal Stephenson's essay In the Beginning Was the Command Line. It's a decade and a half old now, and about computers rather than cameras, but a lot of it is very relevant. Particularly:

Obviously you cannot sell a complicated technological system to people without some sort of interface that enables them to use it. The internal combustion engine was a technological marvel in its day, but useless as a consumer good until a clutch, transmission, steering wheel and throttle were connected to it. That odd collection of gizmos, which survives to this day in every car on the road, made up what we would today call a user interface. But if cars had been invented after Macintoshes, carmakers would not have bothered to gin up all of these arcane devices. We would have a computer screen instead of a dashboard, and a mouse (or at best a joystick) instead of a steering wheel, and we'd shift gears by pulling down a menu:


A few lines of computer code can thus be made to substitute for any imaginable mechanical interface. The problem is that in many cases the substitute is a poor one. Driving a car through a GUI would be a miserable experience.

This is the situation with cameras, too.

Now, there are plenty of simple, "point and shoot" cameras which insulate you from direct control. Many even sport touch screens, these days. That's certainly the case with smartphone cameras — certainly the most common camera UI in use, in fact.

But, for serious photography, a menu/touchscreen GUI is just plain miserable. You want direct access. There's a steeper initial learning curve, but once you've mastered it (and, really, it's not that hard!), it's more user-friendly, because it's at your fingertips and gets out of your way. This is why retro-styled cameras like the Fujifilm X-Pro or Olympus O-MD are popular — it's not (just) a fashion thing. The direct controls are really better.

You also complain about "backward parameter units such as f-stops". It's probably best to pause and understand exactly why these units are used — What does f-stop mean? will provide a good start. In short, they're a direct number which corresponds to light per area regardless of lens used, which is quite handy.

Yes, it's an arcane sequence, but it's not like it's a long complicated one. (See What is an easy way to remember the full stop scale?). We could reduce the sequence to the log₂ scale, so instead of f-numbers, we'd have

f/1.4  = Aperture 1
f/2    = Aperture 2
f/2.8  = Aperture 3
f/4    = Aperture 4
f/5.6  = Aperture 5

but that doesn't really gain us much — and, because of the preponderance of existing practice and documentation, you'd basically have to memorize the above chart anyway, adding to the complication instead of reducing it (the same reason the United States finds it so hard to go metric — or the whole world to switch to some sort of rationalized metric time system).

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    \$\begingroup\$ "This is why retro-styled cameras...are popular" My first interchangable-lens camera was a Nikon FM. 35 mm film, 100% manual controls, with the only electronics in it being the light meter, which was fully optional and only indicated whether the camera believed the current settings would give underexposure, correct exposure (I think to within +/- 1/2 stop or so), or overexposure. Couple that with a few prime lenses. My success rate with that was significantly better than with my current DSLR, though in fairness the types of pictures I take has changed quite a bit too, toward action photos. \$\endgroup\$
    – user
    Feb 2, 2016 at 12:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelKjörling I'm not sure how that relates to the quote..... \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Feb 2, 2016 at 13:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ It does as an anecdotal example that you don't need all the fancy stuff of modern cameras to learn photography. (Though instant feedback is nice!) But if you feel it adds nothing, I'll delete it; after all, anecdotes are just that. \$\endgroup\$
    – user
    Feb 2, 2016 at 13:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ No it's fine... I just wasn't sure where you were going with it. :) I might add something about all of the additional controls and features which are available on modern digital cameras that are different from your Nikon FM or my Pentax K1000..... \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Feb 2, 2016 at 13:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, I'm really peeved the US doesn't use the ISO 216 paper size standard (A4, etc.). /rant =) \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb
    Feb 2, 2016 at 14:07

I'm finding it very difficult to avoid reading the question as:

I don't know what I'm doing! It's too hard! I don't wan'a learn a new interface! Waaa!

I'll resist the urge to slap you and instead calmly explain that...

Cameras are complicated. Photography can be complicated.

If you've come to this from a world of point-and-shoot or smartphones, you've been living life on auto. Whatever it is you've been calling a "camera" up until now has been picking white points, exposures, shutter speeds, apertures, ISO settings, flash modes and intensities.

Now you have a devices that lets you set all those things. More than that, you have a device where it is encouraged that you set those things. This is how you make those difficult shots. Auto doesn't work all the time.

And time matters. There certainly are situations where you can sit back, work out all your settings and spend 10 minutes logging them in, but there are also cases where a cloud comes over. Or you want three shots within 10 seconds at different apertures/ISOs/etc.

I'm happy I can press a single button and spin a wheel that's [already] under my thumb.

I'd get pretty bored of diving into a three-to-five touch menu process. "You could have gestures!", sure, but then you have a load of stuff to learn. You're better off with the buttons and wheels that works regardless of weather and handwear.

f-stops (as with focal length) are certainly terms that take a while to understand. But you're a homo sapiens. Your specification sheet tells me you have the ability to learn. Enjoy your classes and if you still can't, at least try to be a good model for your wife.


A very literal answer to your question, to go along with the ones that go further in explaining the value of the things you seem to doubt the value of:

  • Because manufacturers continue to believe that enough people still value these things to the extent that removing them would negatively impact sales.

This is worth mentioning, because as touchscreens become increasingly common on devices, manufacturers will be increasingly tempted to move more and more of the control interface to that mode, in order to reduce the costs of including physical interfaces.

To some extent, this might also apply to hiding the scary-looking (but very meaningful) things like f-stops from eloi consumers... the fact that phone lenses tend to have fixed apertures has made this somewhat of a moot point for the moment, but it's reasonable to assume that many compact cameras will come more and more to resemble phones with zoom lenses.

Many people, those who's experiences have convinced them that an overly-abstracted interface can cause more problems than it solves, aren't terribly excited about seeing this trend creep its way up the product line, hence the strong response to the "ha ha, only serious" comment I left above. Hope this added explanation makes it seem less snarky. :)


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