My favourite cameras have a few things in common, but possibly the most important is when you pick them up it feels like coming home.
Put another way, these cameras fit so well in my hands, the edges between me and them blur, we become as one.
Now this isn’t purely about the physical size and shape.
Other factors include how intuitive the camera is to use, creating the minimum amount of obstacles between yourself and having the most enjoyable and rewarding experience.
You can have a camera that feels amazing in your hand, but is awkward and clumsy to use, and seems to always deliver poor images.
But that physical shape – how well it fits your hands, and how comfortable and natural it feels – is a huge factor for me.
Conversely, cameras that don’t handle well, despite their other considerable charms, can be non-starters.
The Panasonic Lumix LX3 was a case in point for me.
On paper, the LX3’s spec is excellent for my needs, and the combination of lens, sensor and especially the high contrast monochrome mode, had my mouth watering from the first few shots.
What was frustrating to the point where I almost relisted the LX3 as soon as I’d unpacked it, was the poor handling.
The camera is just too thin, and the overall deepest part of the camera is the lens, which even when fully collapsed still protrudes significantly further forward than the pathetic couple of millimetres grip they did bother to include in the design.
Plus the “grip” that is there (calling it a grip feels like feels like false advertising), is coated only with a thin strip of faux-leather that provides no adhesion whatsoever, meaning the camera is not only uncomfortable to hold, but easy to drop.
The rear is no better, with a tiny grid of nine dots where your thumb rests, again offer no grip or adhesion.
How could a camera that is so wonderful in virtually every other way, be so poorly designed in this area?
Fortunately, before I wrote off the LX3, I came across another photographer who said they nearly always add tape – and sometimes putty or similar – to their cameras to shape them to their own personal handling requirements.
So, with a combination of foam tape and the kind of sandpaper-like grip tape usually found on skateboards, I fashioned a more substantial and, well, grippy, grip at the front, and additional grip tape on the thumb rest helped there too.
It may not be pretty, but it transformed the handling, and elevated the little Lumix to one of my all time favourite cameras, and one I’ve now owned longer than nearly all others.
Other cameras, like the Ricoh GRD III or Pentax K100D or Pentax Q have such fantastic ergonomics for my hands out of the box (and proper, you know, grippy, rubber coated grips), there’s no need for further modification, and it’s no wonder these cameras also remain high in my all time favourites.
How about you? How important is the grip and shape and handling of a camera to you? Can poor handling be a complete deal breaker for you?
As always, 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).
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28 thoughts on “The Incomparable Comfort Of Camera Curves”
you are right, a firm comfortable grip is super important, especially if you find yourself with the camera in your hand all day!
Yes and strangely sometimes a camera has a grip that’s almost too contoured for longer periods of use. They seem shaped beautifully when you first wrap your hand around them but then stop being comfortable after a while, like your hand is too closed and in too fixed a position. I guess the ideal is a contoured grip that still has enough freedom for your hand(s) to move around a little!
I strongly agree for the LX3! I use it with the bottom of an “ever ready” case which allows to get a good grip. In addition it gives it kind of a vintage look which is nice. I would have no pleasure to use the LX3 without it, it would be even worse than using a phone!
Good idea Joel, I hadn’t thought of using a case, because generally I find them too bulky, and don’t like taking them on and off to access battery and memory cards.
Yes, your last point is the critical one… Fortunately that does not happen too often because I’m a lazy photographer 🙂
Ha ha. I generally like to download photos after every photowalk, which means removing the SD card and using a card reader. I guess you could modify a case so this part was cut out and accessible and it would still offer the benefit of the additional grip front and rear.
I agree; how easily it handles (and not just the controls) is a big factor. Unfortunately manufacturers think “smaller is better” and this leaves a lot of us fumbling to hold some tiny, thin form that we are apt to drop or at least not be comfortable with. And I can’t help thinking the “small is better” is routed in production cost rather than form design: less material = less expense.
Yeh I think that’s just another marketing angle, look how much amazing tech we can cram into such a tiny body! When actually sometimes it doesn’t need to be so tiny, and being larger would aid the handling no end.
Another annoying thing with some smaller bodies, is how all the buttons and controls then become too small and/or too close together so they’re too fiddly to use. Or on a touchscreen, which I can’t stand with a camera (and don’t like much on other devices, which is why I answer 99% of comments on my Chromebook, not on my iPad or phone!)
Yes indeed; I keep hitting buttons on the back of my a6000 with the pad of my thumb!
Yeh I can’t think of specific examples, but when you follow the lineage of some (digital) cameras, you note how the earlier models had a smaller screen but plenty of room on the back for buttons and your thumb. As they tried to add a larger screen and more buttons, in the same surface area, obviously the available thumb space (and thus the handling) suffered. Really dislike when cameras have so little space to rest your thumb you end up kind of clamping your grip so tight to hold on to the space you do have and avoid dropping it. Then the inevitable tension required means your hands are aching only a few minutes in…
A big curvy grip you can still hold in a fairly relaxed way, and not fear dropping the camera. Which makes the whole experience more relaxed.
The biggest comfort issue for me is how steady I can hold the camera against my cheek, nose and brow for low shutter speeds, in both landscape and portrait orientation. The thread mount Leicas I have been using for 60+ years are the best of all the cameras I have ever used in landscape orientation, and very good in portrait orientation. The M mount Leicas I have occasionally used are much worse in both orientations. Every SLR and DSLR I have ever used has been impossibly bad in landscape orientation. (Due to the more central location of the viewfinder window.) Some of them, including my Nikon F, have been fairly good in portrait orientation.
That’s an aspect of handling I’ve hardly thought about before. I guess I know my limits with shutter speeds and if it’s below 1/8s I usually don’t attempt the shot, or I’m very aware it’s going to possibly blur.
How could an SLR or DSLR be better in landscape, by having the viewfinder eyepiece protruding more so your face isn’t awkwardly squashed against the rear of the camera when you’re trying to compose?
My favorite camera for photos is, some days, the Canon EOS 7, a film camera; and other days the Fujifilm X100s. But my hand thinks the best was the Sony R1 followed by the tactile pleasure of the Fujifilm X100s, sadly the Sony R1 is a memory and I only have its leather camera half case. So good that I was thinking to adapt it to the Eos 7 to have a better grip, it is a bit small and slim.
A curious case is the Samsung ECX-1, when I hold it is comfortable, but curiously if handed backwards, with the lens pointing towards you, it is fantastically ergonomic xD Thank you, Dan; I think certainly a good grip is much of what makes enjoyable to grab a camera.
That Sony R1 we come back to repeatedly. I’m still curious about one, and still haven’t tried one.
I did have a Samsung ECX1! Wow, it had every feature you could possibly want in a compact film camera, plus a dozen you didn’t. But it was so bulky! I had smaller cameras from the same stable, with very similar features that I quite enjoyed though.
Looking at my Flickr I realise I compared two, the Samsung ECX1 and Rollei X70.
I found very interesting the text in the photo on Flickr, and the comments. Porsche got to do a better job with the Rollei QZ, a camera a time I was chasing because I started with digital compacts (with their silent shutters and easy to check focus in the display) so I was attracted to compact film cameras; but time taught me they are quite different. I adore my Fujifilm DL Super MiNi though, I’d only wish it had the shape of a camera hehe.
That Rollei QZ looks a really neat camera, and one that would definitely go on my wish list if I was still shooting film!
I’ve heard good things about the Fuji before, but the handling looks pretty non-existent. I don’t know why the manufacturers can’t but a slight curve to the outside of the body and a few well placed textured or rubberised parts, it makes a massive difference!
It’s important… but the most important to me is the sensor output.
I have had a Pentax K-S1 (along with my CCD cameras) for a while now, and like it very much despite the poor grip, and last year bought a K-3 for better ergonomics, among other things. The K-3 is gone now and there’s a K-S2 on the way (the K-S2 is a K-S1 with a more “DSLR”-like factor including a decent grip).
How do you like the K-m ergonomics by the way? I’m considering it as a small camera for when I want to go out with my small lenses, I’m finding it a pleasure to go out with nothing but my 21 and 70 pancakes.
I should have clarified that I like the output of the 20MP sensor that Pentax used on the K-S1 and K-S2 and found out I don’t like the output from the 24MP sensors (K-3, K-70, KP) in terms of colors and rendering – even in PP it’s super hard to get the pictures to look anything like I want them to.
My favorite though is the 10MP CCD found in the K10D, K200D (my favorite camera) and the K-m (which I’m curious about).
The 6MP and 10MP Sony sensors in the old Pentax bodies are quite lovely.
I’ll have to dust off the K-m again, but I do remember that the K100D, K-m and Samsung GX-1S (A Pentax *ist DS2 clone) are near identical in handling, and blindfolded I’d struggle to tell the difference. But all are very good! Most Pentax DSLRs I’ve had have been very similar in size, the K30 and K-x being the others. The exception was the K10D and its Samsung sibling the GX10. Both very hefty beasts. Very comfortable to hold, but only for a short period at a time, and not cameras I enjoyed using for say a couple of hours at a time.
You haven’t used your K-m? Say it isn’t so 🙂
I use my K200D for family pictures whenever possible. And the K-S1 has been used if it’s darker. I like the pictures much better than anything done with my phone…
Just received my K-S2 today. Very similar to my old K-r if memory serves. Very comfortable with small lenses and I’ll make it work with larger lenses when I shoot my kids’ sports.
I haven’t used the K-m for some months, not since I bought the Samsung GX-1S I don’t think. Yikes I just checked my eBay purchase history and that was June 2020, so 18 months! The last time I used the K-m it was being a bit flaky with exposure and I went back to the K100D. I will dust it off again at some point, charge up the Eneloops and see if it behaves!
Remind me, why did you get a K-S2?
Do you remember the Canon T90, Dan? Still one of the best for handling feel I think… I won’t say ‘there’s nothing like it now’ because I really haven’t looked at the camera market for years! In the digital era, I liked my old Konica Minolta A700, good amount of heft, height and density in the grip to it.
My current Sony A7R 3 was one of the first using a larger battery than Sony had used before, hence has a deeper grip section to accommodate that bigger battery. It is getting there, but I still had to get a small accessory grip to give the grip slightly more height. It feels nice and dense though, can’t stand the hollow-feeling or thin flexing plastics that used to be prevalent at the cheaper end of cameras.
Camera feel has always been an issue. it is certainly possible to have all the toys in a tiny space, as manufacturers show they can build it, but it is harder to use them than just admire them sometimes.
Hi Bear, good to hear from you. I never had a T90 but I did have a T70, a predecessor I guess. It was a bit of a beast and not very pretty from any angle, but did handle very well and performed admirably too.
Not sure which Konica Minolta you mean, I googled Konica Minolta A700 and it didn’t come up with much. Did you mean 7D?
Yes I think you’re right, with a tiny camera there’s that moment of awe at how they packed so much tech in a titchy body, then you realise it was made for the hand of a five year old child. Handling is so much more important than most manufacturers give time and design thought to, in my view.
Had me thinking I’d imagined the A700 for a minute, but it was real! https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/sonydslra700
Had that lovely 12mp sensor too… as used by Pentax et al.
Ah, it was in Sony badged form! I’ve had the A100 and A350, both had plenty going for them, and lovely CCD sensors. I’m pretty sure these sensors were the same as used in my favourite Pentax CCD bodies too. Some lovely old Minolta AF lenses too.
I just drifted back to Pentax as overall they just feel better built to me, and less plasitcky, and I don’t know, I just have a better chemistry and connection with them somehow.
But that’s kind of the story of my relationship with many things Sony – technically excellent, but somehow just cold electronic devices with no soul. I remember when I got the original PlayStation, again technically wow, but it just didn’t feel anything like as good as playing on my trusty old Super Nintendo.
Ah… yes, my bad it was a Sony… See, I’m definitely not in tune with this stuff these days! I think I went with that one because it was still compatible with the stuff I already had.. and then stuck with the brand in the transition to mirrorless now. Know what you mean about a slight lack of ‘soul’… but then, it’s a camera ,and none of them really have such a thing anyway… that should still be behind the viewfinder.
Yeh, they’re just machines, but some machines are more machine-y than others. 🙂