Buttons and Dials

If there is one constant in the world today it is that every camera on the market has at least one of these. Some of them such as the EOS-M or the Leica-T don’t have many of them as they rely on a touch-screen interface to control many of their settings; however this is the exception and not the rule for ILC’s – Interchangeable Lens Cameras.


One of the latest phenomena at the moment is that a large number of cameras, particularly the mirror-less models are going “retro” in that they are returning to the older control methods of the earlier film cameras. For example the return of the shutter speed dial, aperture rings (on the lens) and in some cases even an ISO dial. The best, and most extreme example of this is the Fujifilm X-T1:

Fuji X-T1 top-plate (no lens)

Most of the Fujinon lenses have aperture dials too; the only exception here are the cheaper XC lenses and the XF 27mm f2.8 which is too narrow to have one:


Even Panasonic which has until now followed the more usual D-SLR route of using “context sensitive” control dials to change settings has added an aperture ring to their expensive 42.5mm f1.2 Leica prime lens:

Panasonic 42.5mm-f1.2

Although Olympus follow the older SLR “style” for their models, they are still using DSLR style controls for their models.

One of the more unusual cameras out there is the Nikon Df; Nikon states that the “F” is for Fusion”, but other says it is for “Fail”, you make the choice. Here they which tried to produce a digital 35mm full-frame model with retro-style controls and in the end showed how not to do this. The main issue is that depending on which mode you are in and/or options chosen, the values on the dials may or may not be in effect. It also doesn’t help that they removed the aperture dials from nearly all of their current lens line up (the lenses with “G” in the model number) so you cannot use this method to change the aperture; Fujifilm were very smart here as nearly all of their lenses have an aperture dial.

Nikon Df with 50mm f1.8 lens

The second issue is that this does not do video; for some reason Nikon decided to disable this, I think that this is something about maintaining the “retro” feel. The entire market of the mirror-less model cameras (retro style, retro control or otherwise) have the ability to record video. The big shame of it all is that the Df has the D4 sensor in it which produces gorgeous files; if only they had put this into the D800 body.

Is there a point?
My feelings towards the retro style controls is no secret (I am not a big fan); the main advantage is that you can see what the camera is set to been if switched off. The big disadvantage is that they cannot be set as part of a custom setting and there is always the chance that various buttons need to be pressed to change their settings. You are also limited to what you can do remotely if a hard-coded dial is used. Fuji however seem to have overcome this problem as their remote control software ignores the dials but you are locked-out of the camera when in this mode.

I prefer the DSLR “context-sensitive” style controls and find that the Canon EOS models present the best way of selecting any changes to modes as there are very few hard-coded control dials. The Panasonic and Sony (to a certain extent) don’t have them either. Nikon is probably the worst for this as they even on their flagship cameras have too many specific dials for the drive mode and metering mode, until recently they still had a wheel on the front of the camera to select the different focusing models (Continuous AF, Single AF and Manual AF); however to select MF you still need to turn a specific dial.

EOS 7D Top Plate

EOS 7D Top Plate

Canon puts the main settings next to the LCD adjacent to the main control dial although their last two iterations of their “XD” line-up (the 60D and the 70D) have reduced the settings available meaning that the White Balance and the Flash exposure compensation settings are now buried in menus.

EOS 70D Top Plate

EOS 70D Top Plate

Contrast this to Nikon’s current pro APS-C camera the D7100 (as well as the D7000 before it and the lower models) which have decided that the ISO button should be on the back of the camera to the left of the LCD. At least the higher models (as well as the now discontinued D300/D300s) have this select-able on the top of the camera although I’m not sure if the left side of the pentaprism is much better.

So although I have a preference for how I wouldl ike to control the settings on my camera I am not everybody and everybody is different; if we weren’t the world would be a very boring place.


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