What DSLR Photographers Really Want

I recently ran survey on Facebook asking Nikon D850 group members what they would like to see in the next iteration of this camera from Nikon. I don’t know what Nikon would call it, perhaps the D900. None of the items on the wish list will come to you as a surprise. Nikon, Canon, we hope you are reading this. Survey participants were given over 20 possible features to choose from.

So here is what we are asking for in order of importance:

1. Focusing system that combines phase detect with contrast detect: Phase detect auto focus (PDAF) is fast and gets the focus fairly close where it needs to be. Contrast detect auto focus (CDAF) is slow but when the camera is almost focused it can fine tune better than PDAF. Many mirrorless cameras incorporate both.

2. Eye AF: Definitely want our next DSLR to detect the eye and focus right on it. A lot of us own bright f1.4 lenses and want to nail focus on the eye wide open. We want this to work for our pets as well, and perhaps Safari animals, and maybe sharks too.

3. Even better low light performance and better dynamic range: Even though the D850 has the best low light performance  and dynamic range (DR) of any full frame camera, we realize that medium format digital cameras have an advantage. We want to close this gap. Therefore, we are asking for a 16 bit sensor and perhaps 14 stops of DR. We don’t really care for the megapixels, I mean 60+ MP would be nice but we are OK with our current near 50MP resolution.

4. In body camera stabilization (IBIS): All our mirrorless photographer frenemies have been throwing this one in our face, and we don’t have a line of defense here. We have heard rumors that the upcoming Nikon D6 will have IBIS and we want this on our next DSLR as well.

5. Hybrid view finder: Please don’t get us wrong. We love our optical viewfinder and it works better than an electronic view finder could in many situations. However, every now and then we would like to take advantage of features available in EVFs. One such feature would be focus magnification and fine tuning, another would be seeing the exposure histogram.

It should not be a surprise that focusing came out on top. The D850 has a high resolution sensor and if the focus is just slightly off it will show up when we magnify the image in Lightroom or CaptureOne. I think the current state of affairs is that we are forced to accept images with near perfect but not perfect focus. We want the camera to go that extra mile and get it exactly right with a high hit ratio. 

The Eye AF feature is obviously important to portrait photographers, although I did not think it would come at number two. However, in hindsight, it is clear that focusing right on the eye in portraits can be a challenge when shooting close to open or near wide open. Since I mostly use manual focus lenses, I am able to bracket my focus and get the focus just exactly right on the eye, however, with AF I have rarely been able to get my DSLR to nail it unless I stop down.

Improved DR and better low light performance is the most important for me personally, and I am pleased that it made the list coming in as number three. I really do care to see the detail in the shadows while not blowing out the highlights. I really have medium format envy and want to see 16bit raw files in full frame. I don’t want a medium format Hasselblad for $50K. Just give me 14 stops of DR in my DSLR.

IBIS is my second personal favorite and I am happy that fellow DSLR shooters agree. I think that high resolution sensors necessitate IBIS. I often feel like I need to shoot at 1/250 or above even with a 35mm lens or the results are substandard; and I shoot with the Nikon D810 which is only a 36MP camera. I think IBIS would allow me to shoot with LED lights more which I love. It is clearly important I do expect we will see almost all future DSLRs incorporating it.

Hybrid viewfinder came in at number five. But then again, I think that this is the enabling technology for features such as CDAF, Eye AF, and IBIS. I also want the magnifier feature for shooting manual focus.

I still shoot on the Nikon D810 and even though I love what I see in the D850 I did not feel like it was going to improve my photography much over what I could do with the D810. I am waiting for the features on the list and I want them in a DSLR. I don’t want a mirrorless because I just love the handling and form factor of a big DSLR. However, I eventually will switch to mirrorless if I can’t get these features in a DSLR.