Camera Design – The Difference That Makes The Difference

Once you’ve been photographing a while and have settled on a narrower path of obsession, the differences between the few cameras you use become less.

But in some ways this makes them even more prominent.

I’ve been shooting mostly with my Pentax K-30 for the couple of months, and now I’ve settled on colour and b/w set ups I’m happy with, there’s been less fiddling, more photography.

I still need to take multiple shots to get the exposure right, but that’s partly from using a variety of lenses of different types and ages, from a late 50s Asahi Takumar 200/5.6 to a modern Pentax DA 35/2.4, over half a century newer.

Whilst most of the features of the K-30 bring a smile to my face (especially the size, build, grip and handling, decent bright viewfinder, and ability to save two preset user modes), a couple still jar.

Especially as on my older (2008 vs 2012) K-m these are so much more intuitive.

When you take a picture with the K-m, it appears on screen after. You can choose how long – 1, 3 or 5 seconds, or not at all.

Rotating the rear control wheel instantly zooms in to 2x (you can adjust this too between 2x, 4x, 8x and 16x) and the direction pad allows you to navigate the image and check your focus accuracy.

I use this for a high number of shots, especially with manual focus lenses. 

In practice, I usually check the exposure of the shot by eye, then zoom in like this to check focus. Then tap the shutter button to get ready for the next shot.

On the K-30 though, you still get the option to review the image made, but you can’t zoom in and move around, unless you first press the play/review button.

Many times I instinctively roll the rear control wheel and end up changing the lens aperture (if an auto aperture lens is attached).

Sometimes I want to check the histogram as a back up to what my eyes see, after taking an image.

I don’t like having it come up on screen in the instant review as I want to check the composition of the image overall first.

So I go into the play/review screen.

With the K-m by default I have the image display with no info so I can see just the composition and check exposure by eye.

If I want to view the histogram, I press play, then the Info button, and each time I do it cycles through – image only > image plus minimal info > image with histogram > thumbnail image with full info.

Whichever screen you leave this on, it remembers (you can set this in the Memory bank, along with various other settings – I leave everything on so the camera has the same settings each time I pick it up).

So after taking another image (which one does if the exposure is not right on the first) you can go straight back into the play/review screen with the histogram there where you left it.

Again, to just see the image on its own, press the Info button repeatedly to cycle through the screen options.

This just feels very simple and instinctive to me. 


With the K-30, again it’s somewhat more complicated.

On the play/review screen, like the K-m, it does remember what screen you were on before, once this is set up.

But to cycle through the different display modes, you have to press the Info button first, which displays another screen, with five different options – image plus minimal info > image with detailed info > histogram > RGB histogram > image only.

To select any of these, you need to navigate with the four way pad, then select with the OK button. Four option are on the top row, one underneath.

Which would be fine if you did it once every photowalk.

But as I said, I usually want to see just the image on its own first, then check the exposure by eye, and then see the histogram as a further check.

To do this I have to press play/review, view the image, then press Info, then press up, right, right to the histogram option, and press OK.

To view just the image on its own again (which with the K-m just needs two presses of the Info button to cycle back) I need to press Info, move left, left, down, then OK.

It’s not instinctive and always feels awkward – and far more clumsy than just having one button to press multiple times to cycle through a few options, which your muscle memory quickly learns. 

These two examples might seem trivial, and if I’d only used the K-30, I wouldn’t think so much about it, it would just be how the camera interface was designed.

But when the set up is so fluid on the K-m, it’s annoying that the K-30 seems to have taken a backward step, design-wise, in these two areas.

Adding more options and complexity, has made the user have to work harder.

Which isn’t a good balance, in my view.

It makes using the K-30 overall slightly less fluid and more clunky than the K-m, or put another way it makes the camera less invisible.

Combined with the CMOS images not being quite as pleasant as the CCD ones from the K-m, means if I had to pick just one of the two, it would be the K-m, no question.

Some would of course say that if I just stuck to one camera I wouldn’t have this issue because I’d only ever be using one system and would have nothing else to compare, for better or worse.

But I’ve come to realise that I do like a little variety in photography life!

How about you? What are the little differences that make the difference with your favourite cameras?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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8 thoughts on “Camera Design – The Difference That Makes The Difference”

  1. The noticeable difference between my Nikon D610 and D750 is the swivel screen. I like to shoot using over and under exposure compensation in a burst, especially when photographing wildlife.

    1. Do you mean the screen allows you to make shots you can’t get into position for with the other camera? I had a Sony NEX that I used heavily for a couple of years with all manner of lenses (and adapters) and the tilting screen meant I could easily get low down shots in amongst flowers and leaves that I couldn’t with a DSLR, even laying flat on my belly!

  2. My recently acquired Pentax K200D feels so familiar to me and behaves like what you describe… and I started with the K20D so this is basically the same but with the much better 10MP CCD sensor (and smaller and lighter…)
    The other thing I like is that the preview that you see right after the shot is taken can come with the histogram, which does not show up with you press the “play” button to see the picture at more detail. These were the small details that really make the shooting experience fast and enjoyable and I agree that these things seem to have been left behind in newer designs. I hate that in newer cameras like the K-S1 I actually need to go through menus to see a picture histogram – or leave it on permanently. Grrrrr…..

    1. Are you sure there’s not some kind of memory setting in the K-S1 for what you see when you review shots? I have this in some form on all four Pentax/Samsung DSLRs I think. Just some are easier to cycle through the different views than others.

      1. Well it’s not just on/off on the older models. On my K200D and K10D I can have the histogram on in the histogram on the instant preview (that I set for 5 seconds usually). Then when I actually go and view my previous pictures, it’s not there, because at that point I want to see the whole picture. I love that. But if I do want to look at the histogram again, one touch of the Info button brings it up. And the OK button makes it go away.
        With the K-S1, it’s either on or off. And you have to go through the menus to turn it on by pressing Info, then going through the Info options until you find the histogram, and pressing OK.
        Is the K-30 not like that? Or do you not use histogram? The histogram is why I want the display…

      2. The K-30 remembers what you last viewed, but to switch between either no icons (ie just the photo) and histogram display takes all the convoluted button presses outline above. With the K-m you just press the same button to cycle through, it doesn’t get any simpler than one button!

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