Old Controls Make A Comeback?


The Nikon Df

top panel controls

Are the control layouts of the Nikon Df and Fuji X-T1 a return to the “good old days?” Did early digital camera makers throw out the baby with the bathwater by discarding the time-proven ISO/Shutter Speed/Aperture dials in favor of push-button auto technologies?


Although the Nikon Df drew some harsh criticism when it was released due to its awkward handling (i.e., the power switch has no tab to easily flip it on, it has to be gripped by fingertips and turned; the PASM dial is very small and must be lifted to unlock and turn; the +/- exposure compensation dial is on the left instead of the right, and must be pressed to be released; reinforcing the fact of inconsistency that nearly every dial works with a different turn, lift, or twist)1 it gained many followers, particularly with longtime Nikon fans, who found the dial layout reminiscent of Nikon’s previous film cameras, like the FE or FM.


Clearly, Nikon did not try to reinvent the FE or seek an innovative solution in the
Df, and merely colored within the lines making the layout of controls a hash of its previous cameras.


To me, the issue of good or efficient camera design is rooted in whether the
controls are intuitive and accessibly placed, rather than just labeling it “retro”

or looking “cool.”










Efficient camera design is an issue which Fujifilm has tried to address head-on with release of the X-T1 just two months after the Nikon Df came to market.2 The controls
of the Fuji X-T1 also echo the layout of the past but actually go beyond it in several positive ways. It has no PASM dial (Program/Aperture Priority/ Shutter Priority/Manual). It’s lenses have an aperture ring. The top deck controls, such as ISO dial, shutter speed, shutter release, and exposure compensation dials, are logically laid out and every dial turns in the same way. Are all the body controls perfect? No, but it is certainly far above in accessibility than the typical controls found on most DSLR’s and mirrorless on the market. By retaining dial controls, removing the PASM dial, and incorporating aperture rings on nearly all its lenses that can be alternately placed on “A” (automatic), Fuji has re-evaluated the standard “givens” that nearly everyone
has taken for granted as the status quo in camera design and displayed genuine innovative thinking.





















Most photographers I know prefer having physical controls on a camera rather than digging through menu choices on an LCD. It is faster and more efficient to see settings at a glance. But it begs the question, is speed the only priority for a photographer? Speed is not the only consideration, but the best camera is the one you don’t think about while you are using. In other words, if it enhances the process of photography with well-placed and aptly designed controls that do not hinder, obscure, or delay operations, then it is an efficient tool for the user. Some would say that handling any new camera takes some getting used to, and that is true to a degree. In my experience, that should be a matter of days not weeks.


Granted, today’s digital cameras have many more options than any film camera of forty years ago (choose jpg or RAW, movable AF spot, multiple AF choices, variable ISO, etc.) and we cannot expect that every single option will be operable by dial or button. But the cameras that handle best are reasonably designed, configurable for user preference, and smooth the flow of picture taking.




 2  [ release dates: Nikon Df  Nov 2013; Fujifilm X-T1 Jan.2014 ]



April 16, 2014

The Fujifilm X-T1 top panel controls

Photo taken with the Fujifilm X-T1

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