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Mirrorless Camera Maniac: Does Form Follow Function?

When it comes to Mirrorless cameras, you’ve got two basic styles to choose from. The traditional SLR-shaped camera with a viewfinder in the center of the body, and the rangefinder style, with the viewfinder mounted at the top left corner of the body. Interestingly, you can’t divide the styles up by brand because most of the manufacturers make bodies in both styles.

I’m interested in this because with mirrorless cameras there’s the opportunity to start over completely in regards to design. Film cameras required a lens mounted to the camera in front of the film, a place to store unused film, a place to store used film, and way to see through the lens. The entire desire of SLR cameras is based on those needs. DSLR’s carry on the form factor for the sake of nostalgia.

Digital mirrorless cameras, however, only require a lens mounted in front of a sensor and a place to store the battery. The viewfinder can be mounted anywhere, and all the buttons can be placed conveniently.

So here’s my question:

What form do you think would actually be best?

Viewfinder

I use my right eye to photograph, so I favor the corner mounted viewfinder because then my nose isn’t smashed against the back of the camera when I shoot. Left-eyed folks get little benefit from it, however, and center mounted viewfinders just punish everyone.

Have you ever seen a twin lens reflex camera? They have a large viewfinder that you look at with both eyes (as you would an LCD screen) but the view downward so you still get a steady shot, not like holding your camera out if front of you at eye level. They also have a pop up single-eye viewfinder.

Or how about the Hasselblad and Bronica medium format style with the downward facing viewfinder that can be replaced by a prism and single-eye viewfinder?

Or, how about a binocular viewfinder so that you can use both eyes to make pictures? My left eye gets tired after I shoot for a while and will actually appear to give me out of focus vision–the optometrist says it’s because I’m squeezing that eye shut so tightly that I’m deforming the surface of my eye, but it recovers within a few minutes each time. It’d be better if I just didn’t get that problem from using a single-eye viewfinder.

Grip

SLR’s are shaped wide and thin because that’s where the film moved across from the unused section into the used section and then it got spooled back in. Later, when the makers added motor drives and batteries, the right-hand side of the camera became deeper to house those things, and that’s the shape we’re left with for DSLR’s, today, and mirrorless cameras have largely stayed true to that shape, or they’ve gone to the older slim SLR shape, like Olympus and Fuji, or they’ve gone to the slim rangefinder style, like my Lumix GX8.

A couple of brands have ignored those shapes in the past. Sony had some very interesting camera shapes a few years ago, and Sigma’s excellent DP0, DP1, DP2, and DP3 cameras went completely against the grain. Instead of changing lenses, you just change cameras and the fixed lens was tuned precisely for that body.

But this gets me thinking about the best shape for a camera. The Hasselblad style was very stable, with the shutter release mounted on the side of the body. One trouble now is that photographers easily get excited and plunge down hard on the shutter release which moves the camera and leads toward blurry pictures. What would be a better way to hold and manipulate the camera buttons?

Conclusion

My brand new Lumix GH5 arrived the other day, and I love it. But, it’s got the center-mounted viewfinder, so I’m back to smashing my nose against the back of the camera to shoot. I’d love to see a totally innovative shape and layout to a camera. I personally think something between a twin lens reflex and a classic Hasselblad would be the way to go. What do you think? What critiques do you have for the way your camera is designed?

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