Why Are So Many Cameras Limited by Design?

Photography Gear

Expensive cameras often lack basic features. The most common limitations-by-design are fixed screens and no flash. I suspect that some camera designers aren’t photographers and don’t realize how much these two features will be missed.

Let’s consider these two limitations. Other limitations will be discussed later in this article.

Cameras with Fixed Screens

A movable screen has many uses, yet is missing from many very expensive cameras. A movable screen saves wear and tear on your knees. Some of the ways I use a movable screen include:

  • Achieving a low point of view for photographing pets and children.
  • Using my tripod set low which is easier to set up and more stable.
  • Table-top macro photography.
  • Shooting selfies (still or video).
  • Steadying my camera on low posts, fire hydrants, etc.

Cameras with No Flash

Unfortunately, all full frame cameras lack a flash. They may have once been classified as pro equipment. And perhaps it was thought that pros only use big, powerful flashes. But there are countless situations where a low power flash does the job perfectly. Also, of course, many amateurs use full frame cameras and photography forums ring with complaints about missing flashes.

And there are many closeup situations where it’s best to have the flash close to the lens, such as shooting the anthers (pollen clusters), or insects, deep in a flower:

Flash freezes action and shake. It’s often better and easier than using a tripod.

The easiest way I’ve found to photograph a watch is with a pop-up flash. I just shoot from slightly below center to avoid reflections. But a shoe-mounted flash is so high that I must shoot from well below center to avoid reflections – leading to an oblique view. (The crystal of this watch is flat. Domed crystals pose a greater lighting challenge).

The long exposure (with camera on tripod) alternative is far less desirable, resulting in blurred second hands or pulled-out crowns to hack the movement. And, of course, not all watches can hack (stop the movement).

Flash can dramatically isolate the subject because its brightness diminishes with the distance squared. So the background will appear dark if distant from the subject.

A touch of flash is great to fill harsh shadows with sunlit portraits.

Let’s consider two other limitations by design. Fixed lenses and monochrome only.

Fixed Lens Cameras

These cameras have a short, non-changeable, prime lens. They are valued for instilling a discipline by confining the users to one, moderately wide, field of view. Henri Cartier Bresson and Fan Ho did their greatest work with this limitation.

I only recently discovered Fan Ho, who used a Rolleiflex with a 75mm lens. It has the field of view of a 35mm lens on a full frame camera when cropped to square format. I find Ho’s work to be absolutely stunning. What an eye! Of course, Ho held his camera at belly level, which we can do with a movable screen.

The idea of walking around with a short, fixed lens has intrigued me. I recently wrote an article about it.

My favorite walk-around rig is my Sony a6400 ILC with a 24mm lens having the above field of view. I use either a manual focus lens or an autofocus lens in manual mode. I set it at f16 and focus at 6 feet, which is the hyperfocal distance. This is faster than autofocus and there is never the error of the autofocus focusing on the wrong thing in the picture. With this setting, everything from 3 feet to infinity is sharp. I think it’s the perfect setup for street photography.

But the above is not the only type of photography I enjoy. I also shoot wildlife with a long telephoto, portraits with a slightly long-ish lens or zoom, and insects with a macro lens. My ILC does it all with the appropriate lens.

Many of us have asked, “Why buy a limited camera when you can make the equivalent by putting a short lens on your ILC, or not zooming your point and shoot?” But owners of fixed-lens cameras love them.

Let’s and move on to the final limitation by design.

Monochrome Only

Currently, only Leica offers monochrome-only cameras. But when you shoot with a mono camera or a color camera in mono mode, you lose a wonderful advantage available in edit. That advantage is the freedom to control the brightness (in the mono image) of selected colors.

Consider this image:

Below are two mono treatments of the above image.

The left image is relatively straight mono, about what you would get from a mono camera or a color camera in mono mode. The right image was adjusted in edit to make red brighter.

This just one example of the flexibility of creating mono in edit. You can create any effect that you can imagine.

Filters in front of the lens can achieve these results with monochrome cameras. But I like to play with these effects in edit.

Leica states that their monochrome cameras have higher resolution than their color versions because the pixels are not screened by the Bayer filter. But this greater resolution is apparently difficult to perceive because color cameras have such superb resolution.

Fstoppers did a detailed comparison of the Leica Q2 in monochrome mode and the mono-only Leica Q2 Monochrom, which costs $700 more than its color cousin. The reviewer could not perceive the sharpness benefit of the mono-only version.

“One of the other things that Leica claims about the Monochrom is that the new camera will produce better, sharper, and crisper details,” photographer Usman Dawood writes in the review. “The removal of certain filters means that details will be much clearer in the Monochrom.

“In our testing, we haven’t found this to be the case. In almost every scenario, both in ‘real-world’ and controlled scenarios, the details and clarity between the two were pretty much identical. There is no noticeable change in how much detail the Monochrom captures when compared to the original.”


Personally, I strongly prefer cameras that have movable screens, interchangeable lenses, and built-in flash, and I would love to see more cameras (especially high-end ones) offer all three features.

About the author: Alan Adler lives in Los Altos, California. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. He has been an avid photographer for 60 years. He is also a well-known inventor with about 40 patents. His best-known inventions are the Aerobie flying ring and the AeroPress coffee maker.

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