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Monday, September 26, 2016

The Perfect Nikon Camera

This article was conceived not during a stormy night, like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, but during an online chat with an AmateurNikon reader, who asked me what would the perfect Nikon camera look like, in my opinion. As you will see, the reference to Frankenstein was not an accident.
So, in all effect, this is basically an article of the "speculative review" series. Unlike most of those, however, this one is not based on any market need, or any educated guess on my behalf regarding cameras or lenses missing from Nikon's lineup. I was simply asked to come up with my perfect Nikon camera, and that's what I did.

We've come a long way from the D100. What would a future Nikon look like?

To keep it within a realistic framework, I will not be too bizarre in my demands. After all, the purpose of this article is not to think of a magic camera, but of a potential camera. More importantly, the purpose of today's article is to force us to think which aspects of technology are truly relevant for photography.

With these in mind, let's begin!

If I need to design a perfect camera, the natural first step would be its body; this is the first thing... my body meets when it needs to operate the camera.

  • My perfect Nikon camera has a body around which my own palm wraps naturally.

In the current, real-world Nikon lineup, this is the D500 or D810 body. But, as always, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Check my next requirement:

  • My perfect Nikon camera has a body small enough to be easy to carry.

To me, a "small enough" body is about the size of a Nikon D3400. Now, this obviously poses some serious problems, as it directly conflicts with the item above. Short of getting a hand transplant, I really must choose either of those two.

Or... must I?

After all, this is a speculative article. Perhaps one still framed within a realistic context, but speculative. So, waving my magic speculative wand, what if I asked a camera the shape of a D500 but one which could fold? I'm not an engineer, but I bet there are several challenges to be overcome in this. But I don't think it's impossible. Heck, google "folding camera" and you'll see this isn't anything new - of course it's still not what I had in mind, but you get the idea.

  • My perfect Nikon camera allows me to completely fine-tune every possible setting altering a text file

Computer programmers (or anyone who has adjusted the settings of a game or other program) know what I'm talking about. Let's take something simple as an example, such as the diameter of the center-weighted circle. Nikon offers you preset diameters for this - if I recall correctly it's 8, 12, 15, and 20mm. Well, what if I could plug my Nikon to my computer (better still: connect it via WiFi) and access a file called metering.nsf (in this imaginary scenario, nsf could stand for nikon settings file), where I can change the following line:

center_weighted_diameter     = 8
to this
center_weighted_diameter     = 13
This is something that is probably entirely feasible already, it's just locked by Nikon programmers for reasons that are irrelevant to the availability of technology. An advanced version of this ability could allow the user to use IF-statements for a course of action. Imagine a scenario in which you could upload simple scripts on your Nikon that could do something like this:
IF focal_length <50:
    fps = 5
    fps = 8
This way, in this imaginary scenario, you could limit the fps speed to 5 for shorter lenses, keeping it at 8 for longer ones. Want another one? How about a mini script that lets you fine-tune the Auto ISO function?
IF exposure_mode == Manual AND white_balance == cloudy
    auto_iso_max = 400
    auto_iso_speed = 1/125
This can be basically limited only by your imagination - with a provision for error codes in case the user asks the camera to do something impossible

I have one last wish for my perfect Nikon camera:

  • My perfect Nikon camera uses modular hardware components

This means, in plain English, that I can choose from a selection of several autofocus servos, sensors, viewfinders, and even batteries. It's not anything new either - take Nikon F4 for example. Indeed, it even makes more sense in the digital era (at least from the consumer's perspective).

Want long-lasting battery? You can pick a monster one. Want to go light? You can pick a light one. Want clear, bright viewfinder? No problem. Want a viewfinder for precision focus with f/1.4 lenses? No problem either.

In conclusion, what I hope this speculative article has shown, is that we have (or ought to!) basically two grand requirements from a "perfect" camera: ergonomics and customization. If you think about it, these basically refer to the same thing: a camera that is as suitable as possible to your personal needs. I don't care about ISO, dynamic range, megapixels (if you do, you were probably disappointed by me not referring to any of the sort, but try to take this as a learning experience). I do care about being able to physically handle the camera, and even more so about fine-tuning the camera in a way that suits my needs.

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