The Big Problem You Don’t Have

(commentary)

Last week I asked you what your biggest photographic problem was and then followed that up by reporting what you said were your biggest problems.

I’m closing in on a thousand fairly long email responses to the article. You know what absolutely none of you said was your biggest problem?

Go ahead, think about it a bit. 

Think some more.

Okay, go to dpreview’s fora and see what everyone asks for and debates incessantly about there. 

See it yet?

Not a single one of you phrased your biggest problem as being “I need more pixels” or “I need more dynamic range.” None of you really said your problem was that the camera’s frame rate was too slow to capture what you shoot. 

What are we getting from the camera makers? More pixels. Better dynamic range. More fps. 

Now, that’s not terrible. I think all of us will agree that if we get more pixels we get better digital sampling of the scene we’re photographing and more cropping options. That if we get more dynamic range we can produce better highlight and shadow detail when we want to. That if our camera is a Formula One race car when it comes to frame rates that we might get some shots, or at least choices of shots, that we’re not currently getting. Those are all okay things to gain. Solving some of our smaller problems is something we want done, too.

But those three things were not your biggest problem.

This is another reason why I asked the question the way I did. Had I asked the question “what camera specification would you like improved” I would have gotten plenty of responses that spoke to pixels, tonality, and acquisition rates. 

I first encountered the “be careful how you phrase the question” issue with product design back in the Kelly School of Business at Indiana University in the mid-70’s. Specifically, it came up first when we hit “focus groups” in the MBA program. A properly run focus group doesn’t seed questions in a way that dictates what the answers will be. You’re really just trying to see what the true customer/user reaction is to what you present them. You want their words, not yours. Their answers, not answers that fit your narrow questions. 

Had I sent you a survey that asked “How many pixels do you have in your current camera” and then asked “How many pixels do you think would be optimum in your future camera,” a large percentage of you would have answered the second question with a number larger than your answer to the first. I didn’t ask you about pixels at all, and it turns out, you don’t think of pixel count as your primary problem. It very well could be a secondary or tertiary or peripheral problem, but it’s not your biggest problem.

Yet, let’s consider how much time and effort the camera companies place on various aspects of improving a camera. Workflow? Zero percent. Pixel Count? Oh, thirty percent maybe? Certainly a higher percentage for pixel count than workflow, no matter what numbers we eventually come up with. But workflow was by far the biggest problem you said you face. 

So I just went back and re-read my D810 review. After all, the D800 was the camera I wrote for two years was the most well-rounded DSLR you could buy. Anything new in the improved model that addresses workflow? Doh! The Bayer filtration seems to have changed, making me re-address my workflow for converting raw files. 

Some might say that the sRaw addition addresses a workflow problem (need smaller files to work faster post processing big shoots). Only it slows down the camera (smaller buffer), and doesn’t really save you any space over 12-bit Compressed NEF, which you already know how to process (after you adjust for the Bayer change ;~). 

Yep, frame rate changed. Not a workflow problem solver ;~). The shutter got quieter. Not a workflow problem solver. We got a Flat Picture Control. Not a workflow problem solver for still shooters, potentially useful in video workflow, though it adds a step to workflow ;~). 

Here’s one thing in the D810 that corresponds to something I wrote: did Highlight metering give us ETTR? No. Moreover, it’s not documented well enough to truly tell what it’s doing, another thing I pointed out that we needed from the camera companies. 

Well, gee. Did the D810 solve any of my biggest photographic problems? No. Does it solve any of yours? Probably not, though some changes to the focus system performance probably do address big things for a few of you. That’s not to say it isn’t a nice camera. It’s an excellent camera and has quite a few “improvements” over the D800. It’s the new “best all-around DSLR” in my mind. 

One of the questions I get all the time is “should I trade my D800 for a D810?” Probably not. As I noted in my review, the D810 is a nicer camera. Plenty changed that makes it a nicer camera. But did it solve any big problem you’re facing? Probably not. 

The longer the camera makers don’t address the big problems and keep addressing the little ones, the longer the camera market will experience the malaise it’s currently experiencing. 

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