Canon EOS 40D w/Canon EF 100 f2.8 Macro USM
I shoot a lot of photographs. My preferred tool is the Canon EOS 40D, for quite a few reasons. It’s the most sophisticated camera Canon has released with an APS-C size sensor, for one thing; for another, it is just loaded with features I have found to be useful. And of course it can take terrific pictures. But, like anything, I think it could use some work. So follow the jump for my thoughts on where the camera line could go for a putative “50D” or later model.

Most of all, I’d like higher and lower-noise real ISO. I would take higher ISO even if the sensor were fewer megapixels, though due to market pressures, I’m sure that’ll never happen. There is literally nothing as important to me as the camera’s performance in low-light conditions; I do a great deal of direct photography of the night sky with the camera using standard lenses (no telescope), and while I will say that the 40D does a better job than anything else I’ve used, there is plenty of room for improvement.

I’d like the ability for live view to see dark images. This could be done the same way that a long exposure is; just keep adding the output of the sensor to the preview image until enough brightness has been achieved to resolve the image. It is presently impossible to focus the camera on a dim star, although the camera can see it fine with a second or so of accumulated exposure. Focus would be slow, and AF would require an in-image contrast-based algorithm, but at least you could focus.

Orion and Flame nebula, Horsehead
This is the Orion, Running man, and Flame nebulas

The above image is a streak-corrected dual mode (amplification / noise reduction, applied left to right) stack of two, 8-second bare camera (no telescope) exposures; the viewfinder shows nothing when shooting this subject matter, so you cannot focus the camera. You have to pre-focus on something else, such as a bright star elsewhere in the sky. This makes things more tricky than they need to be.

I’d like the camera to be able to keep a reference image (or equivalent data set, these pixels, these noise levels) of dark noise, something you could re-generate at any time, for any length of time you (or the camera) might choose. This way, dark noise reduction would not require a second exposure for every image you take at a particular group of settings. This could work in an auto mode, too. For instance, say you’re going to take a series of ten 20-sec exposures; the camera takes the dark noise measurement once and then stores it; the other nine shots are cleaned by referring to the stored reference, saving 180 seconds — three minutes — of shooting time as compared to the 40D’s current approach.

I’d like the magnified LCD image review to be as sharp as the actual image the camera has saved. Shooting RAW, when zoomed in, the 40D’s LCD-based picture review bears little resemblance to the actual captured image quality. Consequently, it is impossible to know if you achieved critical focus or not. I would actually call this a needed bug-fix for the current camera design, rather than a desired feature.

I’d like real AF with live view on. This could be based on contrast information coming from the sensor, instead of the dedicated focus points. Anything would be better than losing the image, which is what it does now.

I’d like the Auto-ISO setting to use the entire available range of ISO. As it is, it is more like a tease than a usable function.

I’d like in-camera image stabilization for use when the attached lens does not have its own stabilization hardware. Yes, I know it is inferior to lens-based stabilization, but it is still considerably better than no stabilization. There are literally millions of non-stabilized Canon lenses out there, and several of them have found their way into my camera bag.

Automatic focus bracketing. This would work like exposure bracketing; you set the focus, or the AF does, and then the camera uses the AF focus motor system to back off some amount you set, and then step through a range of focus until it is past the focus you set by the same amount, for a number of images you choose. This would really help in situations where you’re trying to achieve critical focus, and where lenses have slightly “off” AF characteristics. It’d also be useful for dark situations where you can’t see your target to focus. As an adjunct feature, it’d be nice if the focus setting were both on the display and in the EXIF data.

I’d like the next camera to be designed without a built-in infrared filter, or with one that could be flipped out of the image path. This would allow the camera to take high speed infrared shots. If the filter was missing entirely, then you’d have to place an infrared cut filter on your lens for normal shots, which I’m sure would kill the feature at the marketing level; but it could be quite practical to flip a built-in filter out of the way. Infrared photography is hugely interesting and fun. While they’re at it, they could add sensitivity to deep infrared so that shooting in pitch-black conditions would return heat imagery. That technology is still a little bit out in the future, though… so far, video sensors with 256×256 deep infrared are selling for $5000 when attached to $5.00 video cameras. May I say for all of us… Ouch!

More buttons: Currently, white balance and metering share a button on the 40D; as do AF style and drive mode; ISO and exposure. I long for six actual buttons. As a mini-rant, an old Marantz stereo with knobs and buttons for every function is far superior to a modern stereo requiring scuba-like immersion in deep oceans of menus. If it’s a shooting option, put it on a button. Texture them while you’re at it (one dot, two angled dots, serrated surface, convex, concave, vertical bar, horizontal bar, etc.) so that I don’t have to look away from the subject to find them.

Give me explicit control over the duration of the sub-LCD illumination. The darned thing turns off right while I’m thinking about what it is telling me about half the time.

Remote firing via infrared remote. This is so superior to the 2s/10s timer I can’t believe this isn’t a current feature. My old Olympus E20 had this years ago. Zero shake, more than enough time to get into a group yourself, etc. This isn’t difficult.

Allow me to turn off that blasted yellow LED that scares the heck out of my fish when I want to shoot them in 2s/10s delayed mode.

I’d really like the LCD moved or inset (which would also help with daylight washout) so it wasn’t right where my nose lands every time I look into the optical viewfinder. This isn’t very likely for the next model, especially if the change were to be considered at this late date, but I just want to go on record as noting it is a shortcoming of considerable magnitude — I fight it every time I use the camera.

It would be nice to have more range in the diopter setting for the optical viewfinder. I’m nearsighted, and the stock camera doesn’t go far enough to let me shoot without glasses. I know there are optional slip-ins, I’d just like it to work out of the box.

The on-off switch is kind of annoying too. First of all, it only needs one position; that whole “turn off the sub-dial idea… that belongs buried in the menus somewhere, if it belongs anywhere. Secondly, the thing is so poorly designed that every few times I try to use it, I fail to turn the camera on at all. Poor angles, poor positive control, inexplicable middle state… speaking as an engineer, that thing really needs work. Speaking as a camera user… no, I can’t say that here.

The USB plug cover needs a real door with real hinges. That rubber thing is going to wear out, plus it’s quite difficult to open.

I’d like it to connect to the computer via wifi. I don’t want to be plugging and unplugging cards; I don’t want to be plugging and unplugging USB or firewire, I don’t want to be plugging and unplugging anything, frankly. Why put physical wear on connectors as well as risk ESD damage when there’s a 11 MB/sec RF standard with ultra-cheap chips and a whole industry ready to help integrate it?

Here’s a real “you’re never going to get it” wish: I’d like the camera to be able to do in-camera image stacking. This is a technique where multiple images of the same scene can be aligned, added together to achieve higher sensitivity, or added together and then divided by a number (usually the same number of images to get an average) for the purpose of noise reduction. I’ve written the tools to do this into my photo software, but it would be awesome to do it in-camera. It has the memory, the high speed image processing hardware, and the physical controls you need to get the job done, so it’s “just” a matter of software. The problem here is that the number of users who would take advantage of such a feature, or even appreciate it, is limited to those who shoot very dark scenes of relatively static objects such as starfields. Still, I’d love to have it.

Why stack high-ISO images?
Left, 12 images, stacked. Right, one exposure, no stacking

What do I not care about?

I don’t care if it has a metal body, as long as it has a metal frame.

I don’t care if it is more than 10 megapixels. Many lenses aren’t good enough to take advantage of the ten the 40D has now; going further seems like a complete waste of engineering talent to me. As I mentioned at the beginning, increased light sensitivity and lower noise are the keys to my heart. Not megapixels. Ten is good. Ten is a pretty sweet spot. But you know what? If you could double or triple the sensitivity and cut the noise by similar amounts, I’d be delighted to take a reduction to 8 megapixels. If I want to get closer to something, I can always use a different lens. But noise and light sensitivity are ultimately limiting factors.

I don’t care for a full frame sensor. I like the narrower field of view I get with the sub-c sensor. I shot with a friend’s FF Canon for a couple of weeks, hated it. The effect was like being further away from everything for any particular lens; you get less detail. Vignetting is also more of a problem for any particular lens, because you’re using portions of the lens closer to the edges.

Yeah, I’m a pixel peeper. :-)