So what do I think of about camera ergonomics?
Traditionally, its all been about quick and easy access to the major controls, focus, shutter speed and aperture. With a Large Format Camera, like my Ebony above, all the key controls are built into the lens. The camera is just a big box, and focusing is even more simple, you just move the front lens bellow backwards and forwards, hence the leather bellows linking the front and back.
Ergonomic wise its all simple and easy but it is not the fastest way to work. A major advantage is the huge glass viewing panel at the back. The down side, once a film or digital back is mounted you can no longer see the viewing screen,and setting up is very slow.
My D200 is possibly the ultimate modern digital SLR with the typical controls of most high end cameras today. With so much automation available the camera is covered with switches, dials and buttons but the basics are still there. A manual focus ring for those who want to use it on the lens, and a dial on the front for aperture and a dial on the back for the shutter speed; with this being an electronic camera, if your not happy then you can swap round what the controls do. Buttons for drive modes, the main program and semi program modes such as fully auto, shutter priority, aperture priority and finally manual for those who want it. With it being digital you also have controls for ISO and White Balance. While seeming very complex its actually very easy to use, the best of these would be the Canon 1D , 5D, the Nikon D3/4, D800. All the control you need easy to get to, but they are big and heavy, compromised slightly in there image quality compared to Medium or Large Format, or even the simple lens designs in a 35mm Leica due to the retro focus design of SLR lens in order to accommodate the mirror box, but still the best all rounder.
Generally it seems to be the less you pay the fewer controls you get, with most compacts and a lot of the early Micro Four Third cameras having key controls missing or buried in a sub menu.
My Nikon V1 is much like this, all the key functions are hidden in the menu with just a few mode functions (not the ones you need) easily available.
There are a few compacts and CSC that are now getting better, and the tradition control layout does seem to be making a come back, with Fuji using its traditional control layout of a shutter dial on top and an aperture ring on the len. Most of them even have traditional optical viewfinders.
If I am honest, the traditional control layout while easy to see at a glance whats set on the camera as you pick it up, it not as good as some of the modern electronic customisable systems now available. With your camera to the eye its not quite as easy to adjust the aperture of say a Fuji X100 as it could be, but the traditional layout is my favourite.
The Sony NEX range while having a terrible menu layout was not my faviorate to use camera, but with the introduction of the tri control layout with the NEX-7 it is now one of the best out there. Very customisable, allowing you to adjust shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, iso etc, what ever there controls you wish, also with customisable buttons its arguably the best CSC camera yet available. It needs very little improvement to make not only one of the best CSC’s around but one of the best all round cameras.
Would I buy one, no not yet. For me the view finder needs to be better (though it is the best EVF currently available) a few button arrangement tweaks, but the biggest issue is the lens, while the 24mm is very good, they cannot do justice to the sensor.
When Fuji released the lens for the new X-Pro1, the 18mm was criticised for being the weakest of the set, but even that lens is better then the best lens available for the Sony NEX range currently.
Camera manufactures need to consider the whole system, its an area that not only new starts like Sony are weak at, Nikon released the Nikon System 1 over a year ago now and where are the fast zooms, the fast primes, the small pancake lens.
When all cameras are to a degree compromised then for me my choices are simple, i’ll take the bad ergonomics of the Nikon V1 but with its very small lens and very fast auto focus, excellent EVF, and if wanted the best quality, i’ll use my Leica M’s, with lens that are un-compromised. Still if set up time allow and your willing to carry the weight a Large Format Camera cannot be beaten.