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01-22-2008, 12:01 PM   #1
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Why aren't modern (pro) cameras more modular?

If you look at the latest generation of manual focus pro camera's of the seventies and eighties they seem to be conceived as a "system" that could be adapted to suit your needs: winder, motor drive, extra large film housing, data back, replacable focus screen, interchangeable view finder, etc. All film cameras also have an important built in modularity: the film. The choice of film type (Velvia, T-max, Kodachrome, etc.) offered a wide range of creative possibilities that are not easily replicated by digital post processing and/or changing the ISO value in the DSLR.

Wouldn't it be useful to have more modularity on DSLRs? A few ideas:
  • A power pack for high fps. Many people need high fps, many don't need it, why not make it a choice?
  • A slap on memory module to contain extra memory cards or for very fast writing speed.
  • A flash interface that can be exchanged for a dedicated studio flash interface.
  • Especially the sensor should be interchangeable. Now, the sensor has to be good in all situations, kind of a Jack of all trades but master of none. Why not having a sensor tweaked for low light photography or black and white or portraits or action shooting etc. Also, sensor design progresses very quickly, why letting a camera become obsolete just because of the sensor?
  • DSLR cameras also have some modularity built in: upgradable software. Perhaps part of the camera software should be made accessible fo third party developers?
Do you think there will be more of a system or modular approach in futur DSLR cameras and what kind of modularity would you like to have in your camera?

Bsbxl

01-22-2008, 12:25 PM   #2
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QuoteOriginally posted by bsbxl Quote
If you look at the latest generation of manual focus pro camera's of the seventies and eighties they seem to be conceived as a "system" that could be adapted to suit your needs: winder, motor drive, extra large film housing, data back, replacable focus screen, interchangeable view finder, etc. All film cameras also have an important built in modularity: the film. The choice of film type (Velvia, T-max, Kodachrome, etc.) offered a wide range of creative possibilities that are not easily replicated by digital post processing and/or changing the ISO value in the DSLR.
Note that many of the above items, such as
-extra large film housing (256MB to 8GB memory cards)
-choice of film (variable ISO, WB, & contrast)
- replaceable focusing screnes (aren't there about 100 discussion threads in this forum aout these, who uses what, not only supplied by Pentax but third party)
QuoteQuote:

Wouldn't it be useful to have more modularity on DSLRs? A few ideas:
  • A power pack for high fps. Many people need high fps, many don't need it, why not make it a choice?
  • Note that the FPS is highly dependant on the rest of the mechanical structure of the camera and shutter. the motor winder in ALL of torays cameras is at what the manufacturer sets as a maximum limit. we could of course have a menu option that let's us reduce this rate
    QuoteQuote:
  • A slap on memory module to contain extra memory cards or for very fast writing speed.
isn't this our user purchased memory card?
QuoteQuote:
  • A flash interface that can be exchanged for a dedicated studio flash interface.
  • don't know enough about this
    QuoteQuote:
  • Especially the sensor should be interchangeable. Now, the sensor has to be good in all situations, kind of a Jack of all trades but master of none. Why not having a sensor tweaked for low light photography or black and white or portraits or action shooting etc. Also, sensor design progresses very quickly, why letting a camera become obsolete just because of the sensor?
  • isn't this what RAW and JPEG settings are about
    QuoteQuote:
  • DSLR cameras also have some modularity built in: upgradable software. Perhaps part of the camera software should be made accessible fo third party developers?
  • I like this
    QuoteQuote:
    Do you think there will be more of a system or modular approach in futur DSLR cameras and what kind of modularity would you like to have in your camera?

    Bsbxl
    Overall, I would say that except for the high frame rate for a real pro camera, at 6-9 FPS, everything else on this list already exists in multiple Pentax cameras.

    DSLRs have made many film "modules" obsolite, and although lots of us would love interchangeable sensors, that just won't happen.

    as for not as many options as film, for all but the most demanding client, a 6 MP DSLR FROM ANY MANUFACTURER equals film for prints up to 13 x 19. In fact we have really passed film in many respects.
    01-22-2008, 01:05 PM   #3
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    QuoteOriginally posted by bsbxl Quote
    Wouldn't it be useful to have more modularity on DSLRs? A few ideas:
    • A power pack for high fps. Many people need high fps, many don't need it, why not make it a choice?
    • A slap on memory module to contain extra memory cards or for very fast writing speed.
    • A flash interface that can be exchanged for a dedicated studio flash interface.
    • Especially the sensor should be interchangeable. Now, the sensor has to be good in all situations, kind of a Jack of all trades but master of none. Why not having a sensor tweaked for low light photography or black and white or portraits or action shooting etc. Also, sensor design progresses very quickly, why letting a camera become obsolete just because of the sensor?
    • DSLR cameras also have some modularity built in: upgradable software. Perhaps part of the camera software should be made accessible fo third party developers?
    Do you think there will be more of a system or modular approach in futur DSLR cameras and what kind of modularity would you like to have in your camera?

    Bsbxl
    Are your ideas useful? Sure. Are the feasible? Not remotely

    Bottom line is no I don't see what you're proposing as something that'll be seen in the near future. Technology is expensive. The feature you described would cost way more R&D than the currently given price ranges of dSLRs.

    - The Nikon D3 already does 9+fps. You can bet there was a lot of R&D that went into that mechanism. If you need the speed, and can afford it. Then I suggest it's time you switch to that Nikon. There's a lot more to making a dSLR do very high speeds than just giving it more voltage. The steps the digital camera has to go through is far more complicated than a film camera.
    - More memory does not = faster writing speeds.
    - Every major Camera company has invested in their proprietary flash system. Making an open standard is great, but I doubt Nikon and Canon (who have the best flash systems so far) will likely give up their titles.
    - A sensor is nothing without support hardware. Noise reduction, color interpretation, pixel mapping, SR, etc are all based on additional hardware. Yes the sensor is very crucial, but thinking a plug and play sensor is unrealistic at this point in age.

    There's a better chance of someone inventing a DIY dSLR than a major manufacturer giving away so much of their technological secrets only to destroy their profits.
    01-22-2008, 02:13 PM   #4
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    Modularity

    As others have pointed out, much of the modularity of the past is no longer necessary in a dslr.

    As for high frame rates, the basic camera must have a shutter/mirror mechanism desinged for this. The power consumption is not really the issue. Since the power winder of old is no longer necessary, that space is now occupied by the (optional) battery grip. So, in a way, you've already got your wish on that score.

    It seems to me that about the only thing that could remotely be made modular is the prism viewfinder. However, it seems to me that the wealth of information that is displayed in the viewfinder of a dslr makes that more difficult. One of the major uses for removeable viewfinders in the past, was a waist-level finder for macro or instrument work. This seems about to be superceded by the coming live-view, swing-out rear LCD panels.

    As for interchangeable sensors, that would require opening the camera by the end-user. This is a good way to introduce foreign matter, such as dust or condensation into the works. Also, the sensor is a pretty delicate device that requires rather precise positioning. This is especially true for a camera, such as the Pentax, that has the shake reduction in the camera body.

    Dust getting into a film camera is not as big an issue, because you get a brand-new "sensor" for each frame.

    All interesting ideas, but I'm afraid that most are unnecessary, and the rest are not really feasible or would be prohibitively expensive. But then, I could be wrong and you could be right.

    Paul Noble

    01-22-2008, 02:53 PM   #5
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    Thank you for your thoughts.

    I was looking at Dimitri Bojidar's Pentax K-mount website before I posted my thread here. If you look at all the accessoires that were available for the LX, it is quite impressive. Basically the LX was a rather compact camera that, with just a lens mounted, could be used for discrete photojournalism. On the other hand, if your photographic needs required it, lots of bells and whistles could be attached to the camera to make it do better what you wanted it to do. I kind of like this modular system approach. I think IIRC that the pro Nikon and Canon offerings of the same period where similar.

    The current top end Nikon and Canon dSLRs are of course of very high quality, no doubt. However, they are "all in one" machines. I can imagine that a photographer would like to have the image quality of a Nikon D3 but at the same time would have absolutely no need for the 9fps. Or vice versa, that for example a newspaper photographer would need even higher fps for shooting action sports but his newspaper only requires medium quality jpeg images.

    So instead of buying THE Canon 1D or THE Nikon D3 or THE Pentax K1D you could buy a configuration of the 1D system or the D3 system or the K1D system. The buyer would have some choice in putting his system together (body, sensor, processor, flash system, power, etc.). More like when you buy a computer. You can choose the housing, the processor, video card, hard disks, etc. according to your needs. The camera configuration could be fixed after being manufactured (like the iMac) or still be customisable by the user (or a technician) afterwards (like the MacPro). I am not necessarily advocating the opening of proprietary technology to third parties, however third party software plug-ins could prove to be useful.

    Bsbxl


    P.S. I am not a pro photographer and I have no intention nor the need to buy pro gear. My personal dream dSLR would be a dSLR inspired by the Pentax MZ-5n or MX...
    01-22-2008, 03:35 PM   #6
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    Of all those ideas (from everyone), the one I like the most is the idea of opening up the software (go figure ). Especially if Pentax was to open-source the code and provide (sell, even) an SDK. If anyone here is familiar with the work done by Rockbox on various MP3 players, you know just how wide open this premise is. The possibilities wobble the mind.

    Rockbox - Open Source Jukebox Firmware

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