5 Not-So-Easy Upgrades DSLR Makers Could Make That Would Make This Photographer Very Happy

5 Not-So-Easy Upgrades DSLR Makers Could Make That Would Make This Photographer Very Happy

DSLR makers have developed a rather interesting propensity to focus their R&D budgets on creating the fanciest, most marketable sensors possible. A camera, however, isn't just limited to the scope of its sensor. There are so many other upgrades that could be made that have nothing to do with megapixel numbers. Below are a few straight out of my dream list that likely would be pretty difficult to make work.

This article is a follow up to "5 Easy Upgrades DSLR Makers Need To Make Right Away" from a few weeks ago which included a similar list but was more tailored to potentially easy changes rather than the seemingly much more arduous development the below features would likely require to bring to market.

1. Better Bright Light Performance

Have you ever noticed that we have developed an obsession with expanded low light performance of cameras but we almost never give situations of extreme bright light much thought? ISO numbers keep heading towards the stratosphere but they never really shrink on the other end of the scale. Having to depend on neutral density filters is not only expensive but also annoying and a burden to switch out repeatedly during a shoot. Sure, you could crank up your shutter speed or shrink your aperture to compensate for bright light but sometimes your creative vision demands that you not make such a technical compromise. 

2. Full Frame Autofocus

​The range of autofocus has been creeping slowly outward towards the edge of the frame over the years. I have been grateful for this but the reality is that the vast majority of photos that I shoot involve a focus point towards a frame edge. In order to focus in such situations we must depend on recomposing after critical focus has been made (or manual focus). This method can become incredibly challenging when shooting with a narrow depth of field. The time has come to support autofocus points all the way to frame edge. I know it won't be easy or we would already have it. I still want it.

3. Color Lookup Tables For Image Previews

I often find it can be very difficult for a client to visualize what a final image might look like when they take a look at the back of my camera. They expect images with color grading like in my portfolio but instead really only get to see a raw image with the contrast bumped up to make it look a bit more punchy. I'd love to be able to walk into a shoot with all my most common color grading LUT files loaded right into the camera and to be able to set it to auto apply one or more to the preview of every image shot.

4. Better Manual Focus Assist

Anyone who has ever used a focusing screen knows how much easier it is to manual focus than with a DSLR. Focusing screens, however, are a huge pain to install, often void your warranty, and usually are very limited. DSLR makers have addressed this by adding focus assist features to their viewfinders. For example, Nikon has a little green dot that appears in the bottom left of the viewfinder when the spot under the focus point is in focus. The problem is that I'm never looking down into that corner while trying to focus, rather I'm focused on my focus point. I'd love it if some sort of better manual focus assist detail was actually projected onto the viewfinder so I don't have to dart my eye away from my subject to confirm that my focus is critical. 

5. Lighter!

Ever noticed how companies like Apple seem to be able to continually make even their most pro-grade components lighter and more compact with each generation? Why is it that DSLR makers haven't been able to do the same? I completely understand that the largest form factor is necessary for a full-frame sensor and to make using it comfortable in hand but DSLRs never really get any lighter from generation to generation. I'd love to see my camera getting lighter and lighter (without forcing me to move to mirrorless) to not only spare my back but also to make it easier to make it under those baggage weight limits at the airport. Every ounce matters.


Those are my dream features that probably won't be all that easy to add to a DSLR lineup but if a magical genie popped out of a lamp and gave me a few camera wishes those would certainly be ones that I'd be thinking about. What about you? Are there any changes that the manufacturers could make that would make your life as a photographer significantly better?

Ryan Cooper's picture

Ryan is an mildly maniacal portrait/cosplay photographer from glorious Vancouver, Canada.

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Always good to dream isn't it.
I'd also add.....better USB connections that LOCK in place.

Nikon D810?

Yes....two of them with the SAME issue. One is at Nikon now getting repaired with a new USB port that has been worn out in just over a year.

I know many prefer DSLR because of reasons I sometimes fail to understand, but I'd like to say that 3 out of 5 of the upgrades you mentioned (full-frame af, focus assist and weight reduction) are already a reality in most mirrorless cameras


Why would you say "ish"?
Well my Fuji X-T1 can focus all the way to the edge of the frame. I have 3 different modes for focus assist in mf, namely simple zoom, split image (rangefinder style) and focus peaking. I can access this feature both on the LCD screen and viewfinder (without the need to use a different "live view" mode. The camera weight(and size) is a fraction of let's say a nikon d750 (because I also own one). I don't want to sound harsh or something, i'm just merely curious and open to discussion :D

I have a Sony A7II, the zoom function is kinda clumsy, the focus peaking is worthless. I don't know about the Fuji, but I'm not all that impressed with the Sony. It works but could be a lot better.

Seems odd. It works incredibly well for my MF lenses. Stuff like the Minolta MC Rokkor 58/1.2, Leitz Cron-R 50, CY Zeiss 50/1.4, and the Minolta MD 135/2.8. Lots of varying dof struggles there, too. Is it a technique thing for you? Its easily the best MF system I have used, even going back to the old split prisms.

The X-T1 isn't full frame. Crop sensor DSLRs get you much closer to the edge than full frame ones. On the A7RII, which is full frame, I believe the phase detection AF points are all grouped in the center, and even the contrast detection AF zone doesn't go all the way to the side. My guess is there's probably lens physics getting in the way of focusing at the edges of larger sensors, but I'm not an engineer.

Even on my A7 (the first type) I have a nearly full coverage of pdaf points. (something like the top and bottom 5-5% are missing only)

Until sensors can read 20 stops of dynamic range, like the human eye through an ovf, many of us have to pass on mirrorless. This is especially relevant to interiors photography.

For me the EVF is what keeps me off Mirrorless, they are getting better and better but even on the latest ones the EVF drives me insane whenever I try to use one. The day EVF tech reaches a point where it is indistinguishable from an optical viewfinder is the day I switch.

the OVF is what keeps me from going back to DSLR's. Being able to see exactly the exposure you're going to get, saves me hours of editing in post, means I never miss a shot because the camera metered for the background instead of the subject, and means I never have to chimp, because I know what i'm getting before I take the shot

For night work I would like to get rid of the 30 seconds limit to shutter speed and build an intervalometer into the camera.

The way that Nikon does? :-P
And i think the 5d4 now too.

I think with Sony mirrorless, you can get/buy an app that does that.

Just one. Is it so hard to make the buttons on the back of the camera have illuminated symbols? So when we're in low light situations and we need them we can see them!

Barring some catastrophe, I won't be upgrading/replacing my camera body until ISOs go lower. Mine goes down to 80, and the newer, better models in my chosen system only go down to 100. How hard can this be to implement?

Sub-100 iso values are mostly just software darkening a shot taken at iso 100. (Expanded iso values) So you basically can take the same image at iso 100 and darken it in post process, for the same effect. I haven't seen a camera, with a sub-100 base iso yet.

Nikon d810 - base iso is 64. There is pull mode to 32 and it is good enough for studio work.

Most medium format CCD camera backs have native ISO 50, and e.g. Phase One IQ180 had native ISO 35.

I've wanted super low iso years! ...or an internal ND filter that I can activate with a switch after focusing the camera.

The fuji x100t has a 3 stop nd at the flick of a button. It's a high quality gel internal nd, it's amazing.

The focusing problem could be solved with a gyro-sensor to track the movement of recomposing and adjusting/recalculating the right plane of focus. I think Hasselblad has done this in the H-bodies. But I don't know if this system is protected by patents.

As far as low light capabilities-just look at the vast improvements in the last decade! I'm blown away by what these cameras can do now!
The number one thing I care about is dynamic range, I feel lately (the last 5 years) that there hasn't really been much of a breakthrough in it in general!

I've been using my Red Weapon for stills a lot lately for this reason-pretty sad though! I prefer strobes overall!

As for # 4 mirror less and Sony SLT have Focus Peaking. And # 5 mirror less and SLT are lighter than DSLR's. As for # 1 I agree better bright light or low ISO settings are needed.

I find EVFs too frustrating to move to mirrorless just yet, at least personally. Perhaps once they have improved.

What exactly is frustrating you that much about the EVF?

The delay and poor dynamic range. When I look through an optical viewfinder I see the dynamic range of my eye. When I look through an EVF I see the dynamic range of the sensor.

I you're not shooting in low light I fail to see this as a downside :P

I do. ;) I often am shooting flash in completely dark or near pitch black situations

I'd like to see an option for histogram and image previews that reflects the RAW data instead of jpeg only that is available now.

the title of this article is horrible. Makers make make, really?

Hybrid viewfinder with EVF.

Sounds like you need to be shooting sony

Number 3 has sort of been around like 7 years. Download picture styles editor

I would love to see focus peaking implemented, I really liked that feature on a Canon I tried that had Magic Lantern installed.

I have built in 3 stop ND on my x100s, together with the 1/1000 sync speed i am a happy camper at F2 and a 35mm lens FOV.

On the low ISO subject, there has been movement, at least on the Nikon side, but it is slow. Base ISO on a D100 was 200, and now D810 owners can enjoy ISO 64. I never thought moving from the D800 to the D810 that I would care about the base ISO, but ISO 64 really has been a life saver sometimes. I recently used a D800 again for a project and really missed the sub-100 settings. Why it's taken so much longer than movement on the top end is a good question, but it has happened.

Maximum af-points in viewfinder's screen :). Oh gawd!

I've got your MANUAL FOCUS ASSIST solution. I posted a video illustrating how this can be solved, in a manner that allows for your eye to REMAIN on your subject... yet know exactly when you are in focus.
Have a look here:

Personally, I'd like to see the following:

Illuminated buttons on all cameras.
Vastly magnified 100% viewfinders
Faster flash sync speeds ( 500th of sec would be a good start)
And lastly.... (And this is a BIG one)
Viewfinder information that ROTATES when I shoot in Portrait orientation.
And if we were to talk about Medium Format bodies, I'd like manufacturers to take a page out of the 645z's book and up their frame rates to a respectable 3fps!

I would like to see one of the main manufacturers actually build an operating system around the camera so that other developers can add functions and features via apps, similar to smartphone revolution and RedLantern/Canon.

I believe many of the wishes above could/would be solved in no time. IMHO, none of the Big Brands know how to do good UX, but seriously impressive chip/sensor coding. Should stick to what they do best and let the community of professionals and enthusiasts work out solutions for themselves and other users.

Think Big and do the Drop-Acid Dream. It's what made Apple what they are (were anyway) :D

Nothing moves me to another body than clearly better dynamic range, better low and high ISO performance, better noise handling, higher pixel count and sharpness ( no OLPF please! ).

For the "geeky" stuff, I wouldn't mind a good built-in WiFi in case I shoot tethered, and a button/switch controlled eyepiece magnifier like 1.5x - 2x for manual focusing.

GPS, instagram/fb upload tools, and other non-crucial geeky stuff make no difference for me at all, I simply do not care.

Instead of putting the green focus down in the corner, if it was in the center of the viewfinder and would pop up when you are focused would be a great concept. In the mean time I am relying on the "beep" to let me know and the multi-focus selection with all 52 points.

Last thing I want is something flashing over my subject.